It has been 12 years since my first child, Louis, was Stillborn.
I was 21 years old, 41 weeks into a healthy pregnancy and he was a large, apparently healthy baby. We never found out why he died, he was alive one moment and gone the next.
In the 12 years since his death I have gone on to build a wonderful family; I met my husband and we have two beautiful daughters. The journey to get here has been far from smooth though. Anyone who navigates subsequent pregnancies after such a loss knows exactly what I’m talking about.
It is fear rooted in experience, you know the unthinkable is possible and that changes absolutely everything.
I got lucky, my next two pregnancies resulted in healthy babies (who are now no longer babies at ages 7 and 2). The pregnancies themselves were difficult though. Gone were the days of innocently planning a water birth and taking yoga classes – instead I was frightened and a little crazy at times. These are the things that helped me, please bear in mind that everyone is different but if just one of the following helps a tiny bit then great!
Steps to a positive pregnancy after Stillbirth:
- Talk to your midwife/consultant/family. If you’re scared, angry or overwhelmed let them know. Make sure everyone knows. I knew I wanted a caesarean at 38 weeks (that was my way of coping, I’m not saying it’s what you should do), I felt that going to term and the stress of another natural delivery wasn’t something I could do. I had to fight for it throughout my pregnancy, but in the end, I got my way and my eldest daughter was born by caesarean at 38 weeks. I also requested extra growth scans and appointments which we got. We saw a different nurse/consultant each time and some were more sympathetic than others, but generally everyone understood. I just found I had to be very honest and very clear about what I needed. My husband’s family were all very excited about both pregnancies. As my son was born to my previous partner they hadn’t been through the experience of Stillbirth with me and naturally struggled to relate to my apprehension. It was sometimes hard to be around so much naïve excitement. However, my husband did an amazing job at understanding and helped to bridge communication when it all got too much.
- Be prepared to tell (or not tell) your story. You’re pregnant, people are going to ask the usual questions, “Is it your first?”, “How many weeks are you?” and my personal favourite, “You must be so excited?” Yes, I am excited but I’m also completely terrified. Whether or not you give people an honest or abridged answer to these questions is entirely up to you and the situation, but be prepared. I still give differing answers to the “How many children do you have?” question depending on the person asking and how long I have to explain.
- Seek out like minded people. The internet is a wonderful thing at times like this. I was young, I didn’t even know anyone else who had children let alone had lost a child but I found help through SANDS. Their forums are full of mums (and dads) reaching out for and with support.
- Distraction. When pregnant and your mind is in overdrive you need to switch it off. For me, there were days when I would seriously consider just sitting in a chair counting kicks and freaking out during any quiet spells (poor baby was probably just trying to get some sleep in between me poking my tummy, jumping up and down and drinking ice cold orange juice!) but that kind of behaviour will not do you much good day in, day out. Things like going to the cinema or reading a book helped quieten my mind. So did going for a walk or swim; we all know exercise is great for calming anxiety.
- Sleep. Easier said than done, especially when heavily pregnant, but sleep is so important. Stress and anxiety are both much worse when we are tired. I found (squeezing) into a bath and reading before bed helped. I generally have a mind that races at night, so combined with feeling anxious and I would be awake for hours stewing. I started keeping a pen and paper by my bed to write everything down, brain dump so to speak. It worked so well I still do it now!
- Count the Kicks – So important. There is no magic number of kicks per day to watch out for but you know your baby and you know what is normal. If you have any doubts call the maternity department – hell, don’t even call just drive down there and get checked. Tell them your story, show them your notes. It’s OK to be scared and it’s OK to double check everything’s OK (or triple check if you’re me!)
- Take it day by day – Be kind to yourself, it’s not going to be easy. Find strength in knowing you are doing everything you can to have a healthy pregnancy and a happy outcome. With that happy outcome it will be worth all the stress and anxiety, I promise.
Best of luck if you are currently pregnant after Stillbirth. If you would like to get in touch I would love to hear from you.