On the 19th September 2006, 23 weeks pregnant with twins, I eased my considerably-sized self down onto the bed in the sonographer’s room and watched her go through the motions I knew so well – the paper towel, the gel, the click-click of my data going into the computer.
I was already crying.
I can’t explain why but somewhere deep in my unconscious I knew we were going to be given bad news. I didn’t know I knew it until I lay on that bed, trembling from head to foot.
In contrast my husband sat quietly and held my hand, wiped my tears away and stroked my forehead. He helped me dress, he asked all the questions I couldn’t form in my mouth, he took me to the counselling room where we waited for the consultant to arrive. He smiled and held the hand of our 18 month old daughter, gave her a snack to keep her happy and found her some toys.
As we sat talking to our consultant I woke up a little, searching for answers and trying to make sense of it. My husband held his head in his hands a while. Something I didn’t notice until a lot later when I had the good fortune to have grief counselling. My counsellor told me, in her experience men hold their heads in their hands when grieving and react to it rationally and factually. Women react physically to grief, holding their body, internalising their grief so that it can affect them physically too – diet, illness, headaches.
This is never more so than when you suffer a loss in pregnancy. Women have a physical connection to that child – we feel the tiny movements within us, hear their heart beat within our own heartbeat, cradle and grow their body inside within our own. Men can only imagine this and build a mental picture of the child and the life and future they will have with them.
I spent that first week numb, teary, quiet and all-consumed by my own thoughts. Every now and then my husband would seek me out and hug me. I would collapse into his arms and let the tears flow through me and out of me and my chest and heart ached with a heavy ache I’d never experienced before. He never cried, he felt strong, assured, the embodiment of the ‘it will all be OK’ that he kept repeating into my hair as he held me.
We had our 18 month old daughter, Georgia, to look after and precious life still growing in my tummy, a brother or sister to the dead baby I now carried inside me. These were all excellent reasons to get up, pull myself together and move forward and be the mother that I was. I told myself I could not spend the rest of the pregnancy wracked with grief, it wasn’t fair on the baby that kicked and wriggled inside my belly each day. So each day got a little easier. I still cried, I still felt angry, confused and aggrieved but these were in quiet times or at poignant moments.
My husband got there a lot quicker than me and for while it became an issue for us. He had put it into its place – filed it in the right file inside himself in order to access it later. I’d look at him and say “How are you doing this? Aren’t you upset anymore?” His answer was that it
wouldn’t bring the baby back. It had been taken for a reason and we had to accept that. Going over it wouldn’t help. Rational, function arguments against the grief that was within him. Done. Dusted.
6 and a half years on my grief waxes and wanes. We went onto to have a gorgeous singleton baby boy, Lucas, rather than the twins we started out with but he was more special than we ever hoped for. He has a beautiful, giving soul and (I like to think) a guardian angel looking after him. We then went on to have another baby boy, Ethan, 2 years later. Through this time my grief will surface, mostly unannounced and I am accepting of it. My husband watches on and supports where I need it but it is not his grief, it is very much mine. His is filed away.
So yes, we all grieve differently but there is no hierarchy to grief. It bears many faces and guises and it intensely personal. In December my husband and I attended one of the national remembrance Services organised by ‘Saying Goodbye’ who do amazing work for people who have suffered the loss of a baby. It was in St Pauls Cathedral by candlelight. It was here that our grief finally collided and combined. We listened, we cried, we held each other, we lit a candle to our baby and we looked into the lofty dome and sent up prayers. Never mind that it took nearly 7 years, we got there in the end and at the right time for us.