I was well into my fourth pregnancy when I felt darkness and fear descend. I worried for my baby girl, so anxiously awaited, so soon to be born.
I loved the feeling of this baby moving inside me. The delicious flutters and gentle nudges had brought me so much joy. Hours and hours could be wiled away ‘navel gazing’, watching my rounded belly move as a new life explored a world inside me.
My children would kiss my tummy and wish our baby ‘goodnight’, their small hands probing from the outside, giggling with delight when their baby sister, Yasmin, answered with a butterfly kiss. Dreams of our future with a new baby formed within my mind, growing each day like a delicate chrysalis as her birthday approached. But then the stillness came.
I poked and prodded and prayed that my baby was well, but a mother knows. The obstetrician confirmed my greatest fears, too terrible to even consider in my mind.
There were no words, just disbelief and despair. My dreams were gone, quietly stolen as if by a silent thief in the night.
I was 30 weeks pregnant and our daughter had died, yet to be born.
I needed to go home and tell my children what had happened. My already ravaged heart tore further to be the bearer of such news. How would I explain to them that sometimes babies just die? That those dreams and imaginings of our future as a family that had been verbalised daily, analysed and believed to be a reality, were suddenly gone?
The birth was induced and I was afraid. I was afraid of my memories of long, hard, labours that had culminated in tears of joy, not grief. But this baby too would be birthed and the yawning, dark, primal labour pains tore through me just as they had before, urging a baby into the world.
Our little daughter arrived peacefully late in the evening. She was perfect, with dark hair, long legs, a tiny broad nose and big lips, just like her siblings. My husband and I held her, marveled at her and cried together. Our gorgeous girl, Yasmin Alexandra.
As her mother I had wanted to give her all of me. All I could give her now was my name. On the day of her funeral, Yasmin’s tiny white coffin was lowered into the ground, adorned with pre-loved gifts from three siblings and a drawing of a family who loved her.
I cried for my lost daughter. During the day quietly so as not to alert or worry the children, who just wanted happy Mummy back. At night, in my husband’s arms I wept and keened for my little girl. Alone in the shower I sobbed, losing salty tears and sweet milk for a baby that would never suckle at my breast.
Later, I would lie quiet and still, imagining her perfect little face so clearly it was as if she was lying on the bed beside me. I would trace the paisley patterns on the pillowcase remembering her nose, her brow, her lips. I held her close to me, and only then would I feel some peace.
In time, I ventured back into the world. Some people came to me with words of consolation, acknowledging my grief. Others struggled, not quite knowing what to say and sometimes choosing to say nothing at all. It ached inside to be speaking to friends who knew what had happened but chose to speak about anything but my beautiful baby. Silently I would say, “Her name is Yasmin, just speak her name.”
Grief overwhelmed me and I struggled to mother my children. I wanted to spend my hours in the dark, asleep or crying or pretending to be with my baby. But my life continued to breathe without me trying.
My youngest daughter was in kindergarten, every day bringing new experiences. My son and middle daughter at 10 and eight years of age, sensitive and aware of our loss, needed, and wanted their Mummy and their family back. They went to school, played tennis, made music and noise. My husband held me and loved me.
I hold my kids and my husband tighter now, hug them just a little longer. Say “I love you” a few more times a day. I wake up and welcome the beauty and treasure of ‘a normal day’. I have come up from underground, no longer scrabbling through the dirt gasping for air.
There is a new life growing inside me today. I hold my breath to count the kicks and lie still for long periods willing our son to grow strong and stay safe. I am no longer naïve and I know that this journey towards parenthood is not always under our control.
I knew Yasmin for such a short time but she taught me that loss can make hope even sweeter. A new cocoon has enveloped that delicate chrysalis, the threads of two stories now forever entwined, as I wait to meet her baby brother.
“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