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'How I Came To Hold You' features the stories of 17 families who have experienced the thoughts and emotions that come with expecting a child after one has been tragically taken away. Merry's story is just one of them.
With thanks to Merry Raymond for allowing us to publish her story online. Visit Merry's blog at patchofpuddles.co.uk
It was five years after the birth of their fourth daughter when Merry and Max Raymond decided to try for another child. It was about eight months, though, before they successfully fell pregnant; surprising, as with each of Merry’s four daughters she had conceived instantly.
Both Max and Merry were delighted; however, six weeks into the pregnancy, Merry suffered from bleeding. “I had enough to make me think that it was all over,” she recalls. Fortunately, a blood test and subsequent scan showed that there was a baby, but that it was smaller than Merry thought likely. The doctors also suspected that Max and Merry’s child had once been a twin, but that the second baby had been lost. Merry is remarkably honest about how she felt at the time.
“Rather glibly, I thought it was probably better there were not going to be two,” she says, “but I was worried by how small that tiny thing with a heartbeat was. I put it out of my head.”
Unfortunately, the blood test had collapsed Merry’s vein onto a nerve in her arm, and she was in agony. Expecting to lose her baby, she did not protest when a doctor prescribed codeine for the pain. A few days later, perhaps triggered by the painkillers, Merry had a nightmare that she was looking at a baby who wouldn’t open his eyes; a dream that would recur once more during her pregnancy.
The pregnancy itself was a nervous time for Merry – a marked contrast to her previous four pregnancies, during which she had happily written about her experiences. With her fifth, Merry was relentlessly anxious, tense during every test or scan. During the early weeks she told only a few close friends that she was pregnant. Nothing could calm her: “I just assumed something was going to go wrong.”
This feeling of dread persisted, and manifested itself in unusual and incredibly unsettling ways. Three months into her pregnancy, Merry read about the death of a friend’s daughter, who tragically died at just six hours old.
“I read a line about her children on the first night of knowing their baby sister had died, and my heart just sank,” she remembers. “I thought: ‘This is going to happen to us’. I remember the moment so clearly. It was just… I can’t explain it: a moment where the future felt like it rushed in at me.”
By this time, Merry’s friends had become accustomed to her worry, and – although supportive – were “definitely rolling their eyes at me.” Because of this, they were not told of her bizarre thoughts and sense of foreboding.
Ever since the twelve-week scan, Merry was convinced that she would be having a boy: and, eight weeks later, her suspicions were confirmed. After four daughters, it seemed they would indeed have a son. Merry recalls their reaction to the news.
“We’d never wanted one, and yet suddenly it seemed like an exciting idea. Max took a while to come round to it, but in the end he really fell in love with the idea. I was thrilled, but nervous, and was increasingly having very disconnected moments of thinking ‘What have I done?’ which didn’t make any sense, because I had been quite literally desperate for a baby for three years.”
Merry’s feelings of dread evolved into an ongoing feeling that she was lying to herself about being pregnant. She found it almost impossible to visualise being in hospital and giving birth, and describes “feeling stupid” when buying breast pads and a baby outfits. Her friend demonstrated how to wrap a sling, and Merry couldn’t help but wonder why she was bothering. She and Max bought a feeding cushion, which – to Merry – seemed a pointless task.
“I felt as if I had told a huge lie, and very soon I was going to get found out,” explains Merry. “I felt like Mary Tudor with her phantom pregnancies. I never, ever felt like I was going to have a baby.”
At around seven months, Merry noticed that her baby was behaving strangely. If she lay on her left side, he would get fretful and move a lot. “I described it to Max as being as if he scrabbled away from that side of me, and wondered out loud if perhaps the baby had his cord around his back and didn’t like the feeling of lying on it somehow.”
Although her baby moved well and often, Merry’s bump was noticeably small for the stage she was at; but, although concerned, she did not panic. In hindsight, she and Max both recognise that she was unusually calm, almost fatalist. “I barely shouted, ranted, wailed or stropped,” she recalls, “and frankly, that’s not normal!”
Bizarrely, Merry took up knitting, despite having rarely done so before. “It was incredibly important to me that this baby have something special that was just his, and I knitted squares and squares of stitches. I didn’t do anything else; we didn’t bring the cot down, I didn’t nest, I didn’t get nappies or clothes out. But I did knit, and I know it sounds ridiculous but with every square I knitted I thought about whether this blanket would be a shroud. I couldn’t shake the idea of it.”
Having kept her feelings to herself for the majority of her pregnancy, Merry finally opened up to Shona, her doula, although she does not really remember doing so. Later, though, Shona would tell Merry that during the early stages of labour she was noticeably less negative than she had been previously.
A few days after speaking to Shona, whilst with her husband, Merry had what she describes as a “hormonal weeping fit”.
“I said to Max that I wanted him out, that he doesn’t feel safe in there any more, and I want him out where I can look after him in my arms or let someone look after him if he is sick.”
Merry’s wishes were answered, and the next day she went into labour. Having had three Caesarean sections previously – one of which went badly wrong – as well as one natural birth, she opted for a second natural delivery.
Labour itself was smooth and quick, and Freddie was soon born. However, to everyone’s astonishment – and despite having a strong heartbeat – he didn’t breathe. His blood oxygen was critically low, but there was no evidence of cord compression – the signs just didn’t add up.
“Freddie was bagged and resuscitated very quickly, and made a whimpering sound, but was rushed to SCBU whilst the delivery was finished. When I next saw him, he was ventilated.”
The next few hours saw Freddie’s condition improve and then worsen in a cycle of agonising peaks and troughs. Within twelve hours he was breathing by himself, but then suffered fits. Nothing about him made sense: his condition, his response to drugs, his blood results, his brain wave patterns. He seemed remarkably well, just neither awake nor able to swallow easily. At times the hospital staff began to believe that he would go home as a tube fed child; but the trepidation that Merry had experienced throughout her pregnancy remained with her.
On the morning of his tenth day, Freddie developed a chest infection and his blood salts plummeted. Merry knew, in her heart of hearts, that it was over.
“Prior to a brief period where he had been awake and looking at us, we had made a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ decision,” she says. “Most of the health professionals felt we were being a little defeatist, but I was extremely sure I did not want to make him fight to survive for a life of disability.”
Later that day, Freddie’s condition deteriorated significantly; Merry and Max spent the night holding their son and hoping upon hope that the antibiotics he had been given would produce a miracle. The next morning they chose to remove his ventilation to see if he would make an effort to breathe without it, but he made no attempt to fight for life and died peacefully in the arms of his parents half an hour later.
In the weeks and months that followed Freddie’s death, Merry and Max experienced a whirling concoction of emotions, but never once felt rage – something which they attribute to the outstanding care given by the hospital staff. They have since raised over £2,000 for the hospital through their toy shop, as well as sending them memorial gifts and sibling support packs.
“They were absolutely fabulous,” smiles Merry, “and we couldn’t have asked for more love, care and thought than they gave us. From their support through planning the delivery and labour, to the behaviour of doctors, paediatricians, nurses and midwives afterwards, we felt incredibly supported.”
In fact, the SCBU nurses, midwives and doctors who cared so tenderly for Freddie during his eleven short days of life felt so close to him that they asked to attend his funeral. They were joined by one or two others. Family were not invited; Max and Merry felt that it would be too difficult for their four daughters to attend, and as such made the decision not to invite any family members for the funeral itself.
“Somehow the idea of accommodating the needs of others felt too hard,” explains Merry. “A service for a baby almost nobody met felt wrong, and family without the girls felt wrong.”
Merry describes the funeral as “beautiful”, and gained much more peace from it than she thought she would. She and Max both wrote letters to Freddie: Max read his after carrying his son’s coffin, and spoke of the wonderful life his son would have had.
“No parents could have given you more love and support than your mother and me. No brother could have been better loved and cared for than you would have been by your four sisters. You never would have been short of someone to play with, to talk with, to be cuddled by, and to be inspired by.”
He focussed on the small yet wonderful moments that he had shared with his son: the comfort that Freddie took when in his parents’ arms, how he seemed to relax and look as if he felt safe when he was being held. And he remembers that short time when Freddie opened his eyes and looked into his: “That moment we shared together, father and son.”
In being able to remember the special moments, Merry describes her husband as her inspiration. “Since Freddie died he has kept me very grounded, reminding me at times that my viewpoint is becoming clouded and confused, and reminding me to keep enjoying what we do have.”
Merry, too overcome with grief to speak, had her letter read by the chaplain. In it she yearns for the life her son should have had, and longs for the memories never to be realised.
“I want to show your beautiful, peaceful face to everyone and laugh at how, as it turns out, I rather like being a mummy to a boy after all,” she writes. “I wanted to see you walk in front of me, holding your sisters’ hands. I wanted to see you run and hear you shout. I never thought that motherhood could be reduced to being desperate to see you open your eyes, or being grateful forever for the times that you did. The look in your eyes when you did has been scalded into my heart.
“I wanted to tell you that you might have come last in the family, five years after the others, but that you were the most considered, the most planned, the most thought about of all our babies. I wanted a miracle for you, but I also wanted what was best for you – and from the very first moment of your life, what was best for you was not what I had planned. I want to tell you that I can remember every cuddle we had together and treasure them all.”
As well as being supported and comforted by Max, Merry also drew strength from a group of close friends. It transpired that six of them had experienced a similar loss, and seeing that they had grown to cope with the pain gave Merry belief that she could do the same. A nurse told her, in the days following Freddie’s death, that she and Max had handled his short life with great dignity; words which helped Merry, and gave her a desire to make her son proud of her.
Merry’s advice to other parents who find themselves enduring the tragedy of losing a child is simple: “Talk, talk, talk talk. Make time to talk. We went out to lunch once a month; we’d walk first to a special place and say anything we needed to say, and then recuperate with lunch afterwards. It was hard, but essential.
“I also think it is vital not to get hung up on how the other person grieves, and compare it to your own. Max is a far more uncomplicated person than me; he doesn’t belittle Freddie’s loss in any way, but he is simply a person who does not mourn for what he cannot have. After the initial shell-shock wore off, he just moved on. That was hard for me, very hard, but I did understand him by then. He made a lot of time for me to grieve as I needed to.”
Shortly after Freddie’s death, Merry and Max made the difficult decision to try again for a baby: “as much for our sanity in facing babies (and future grandchildren) as anything else.”
It took a “gut-wrenching” thirteen months, but Merry is now pregnant with her sixth child. When she first found out, she felt a number of emotions: relief, thrill, terror, sickness. Max was happy when he found out – Merry notices that he was perhaps the happiest he has been about any of them – but they are both very cautious, and taking each day as it comes, as Merry explains.
“It wasn’t the momentous moment it might seem it should be, really. We’d tried so much that year, and then when it happened it just felt like ‘Oh’.”
Fortunately, the pregnancy has progressed smoothly so far, save for a slight blip during an early scan when nothing could be seen: “Typical that a reassurance scan scares the life out of you!” laughs Merry. She does not have the sense of foreboding that she had with Freddie, and in any case is resolute to stay positive for the sake of her daughters. Again, her hospital has been a pillar of support, providing counselling, sympathetic carers and regular scans.
A year after Freddie’s death, Merry and Max held a memorial day for their son. “I wanted to do something,” she says. “I did feel that in having such a small funeral we had missed that emotional goodbye among people to talk nonsense with us afterwards. I did want to do something, and it always felt that his birthday would be the right time for that.”
Merry struggled to organise the day, and spent most of her time fretting about the weather. However, a week before the day was held, it all fell into place. She went to a party shop and bought blue balloons to which her daughters tied labels. Speculatively, Merry let her friends and family know what they were doing, and asked them to come if they wanted to and could. They came, in their droves.
“I didn’t want to drag people through my process,” recalls Merry, “so there were no speeches, no elaborate things, nothing to make anyone shuffle.”
Instead, they counted down and let the balloons go and rise, winding their way into the grey, cloudy sky, carrying messages to her son. Afterwards, she, Max and her friends talked and laughed, and agreed that they had done the right thing. That evening they lit candles all round the garden and on the doorstep, and left them to burn until they went out. “It looked beautiful. We had sparklers too: it felt joyful, rather than sad, to do that – and is a little link between him and Josie, our Bonfire Night girl who didn’t get long enough as a big sister.”
And, on Merry’s windowsill, sat three candles, which burned for twelve nights – one for each night their son was alive.