Before the pregnancy test was dry, there was already hope.
It was almost Christmas 2007 and we decided to keep our secret to ourselves. Christmas Day seemed like a good day to share our magical news. No one knew we were trying, so we knew they’d be elated.
That Christmas was the best we’ve ever had. Every Christmas from now will always be measured against it. We thought we had a lifetime of happier Christmases ahead of us.
We were wrong.
My pregnancy continued happily and healthily for nine glorious months. I stroked my belly, and took great delight in anyone who showed interest in my bump. I reveled in pregnancy. Loved every second of it. Many friends had already gone before me to motherhood and I was desperate to join them. I just wanted to be a mum.
August 14 2008 was my due date. Irony was always going to play a part as I’ve never been late in my life, so my baby was obviously going to be. August 15, I felt different. Something shifted. There were twinges. Pains. All unfamiliar. People said I’d know when I was in labour, and I knew. At 5.00pm we headed to hospital. I cried as my husband put our bags in the car – one for me and one for bub – and I knew in a few days we’d return as a threesome. I had no doubt to suspect otherwise. After all, a midwife assured me at 38 weeks I’d have my baby in my arms within the month.
We arrived. Baby and I were checked, but to my dismay I was only in early labour. Deflated, we did what we were told and trudged home. We felt flat but knew baby was coming. We told our families of the false alarm. Their excitement and nervousness was palpable.
My husband drew the curtains, we avoided phone calls and sat in our house for two days and waited. I was still contracting, but they never got closer together or more painful. I was coping, but barely. We called the hospital several times, but they kept saying stay home. We trusted. We thought they knew best.
At 6.00am on August 18, I lost it. I got my husband to call the hospital. I was four days overdue, I hadn’t slept since my due date and I could no longer handle it. Our weekly appointment was at 10.40am, so the midwife said to go to that. We were about to leave when I realised that could no longer feel the baby move. My husband, a nurse, has a stethoscope. We’d used at the end of the pregnancy for reassurance but this time, it wasn’t delivering. Fear set in, but he remained optimistic. I knew. He couldn’t go there.
We got to hospital and were seen immediately. We saw a young midwife. She fussed with questions and measurements, but I wanted the Doppler. When she got it, there was silence. She tried another. Nothing. Am experienced midwife came in. Still nothing. I wanted to throw up. I stared at a wall.
We had an ultrasound. And the news was as grim as could be. There was no heartbeat. The baby was dead.
The walls closed in. My husband sobbed on the floor and I was wailing, asking how the baby was going to come out of me. I was going to have a stillborn baby, yet this is not something anyone ever mentioned as a possibility, despite the fact 1 in 140 pregnancies in Australia end that way.
Our families rushed in looking like they’d seen a ghost. I felt like one. We chose to be induced the following morning. We knew we’d have choices to make around labour, but not like this. It was the first of many painful decisions we had to make.
At 8.00am I was induced. I had a normal labour, yet there was nothing normal about it. The baby was dead. I would grunt, moan, push and scream but there would be no reward. Our families came in and out of our room all day to cry with us. The midwives were gentle and tender. At 3.00pm I needed to push and at 4.35pm, after a marathon effort with a lifeless baby who couldn’t participate, our daughter was born.
Initially I didn’t want to hold her, so afraid I was of seeing her dead, but the instant she emerged, I snatched her and pulled her to my chest.
“My poor baby”, I howled over and over.
Everyone was a mess. This is not how pregnancy is supposed to end.
Though Hope wasn’t a name we’d considered, it was the name we chose. Hope Angel. It seemed like the only name for her. She was eight pounds, absolutely perfect and we were shattered.
We spent the night with Hope in hospital, cradling, kissing her and trying to create a lifetime of memories in the briefest of moments. We came home bewildered to a home so ready for her with empty arms and broken hearts. We planned her funeral, held six days after I gave birth, then commenced life without her.
Grief is awful. It is messy. And when your grief is over the death of your child, you can bet most in your life won’t understand. We struggled. We lost friends. I took the 12 months maternity leave I was entitled to. I gave myself over to the grief.
Six months later I was pregnant again and nine terrifying months later, our son Angus Leo arrived. Alive and screaming. Muted joy returned to our lives.
Things will never be the same though. We are broken people. Grieving people. Parents of two despite the fact it doesn’t look that way. We raise our son and we miss our daughter. We are everyone else’s worst nightmare.
But we live every day with Hope in our hearts.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem