My darling daughter and her husband had received the most devastating information about their beloved as yet unborn son, the precious cargo who was so anticipated and awaited. As her mother I should be there to love and protect my daughter. But I could not help in the sense of making everything better. I felt helpless, confused, scared… My daughter and her shattered husband faced the most traumatic situation. They were so anguished, desperate. They were parents-to-be facing agonising and conflicting feelings and emotions; overwhelming love for their 20 week baby and a prognosis from a scan that resulted in the medical practitioners gently uttering the word “termination”. The world had changed. An optimistic, young couple were now different. They had to think about going where no parent wants to go… what does parental love and protection mean? Perhaps it meant confronting the reality of a future life for their much wanted little one that would not be contemplatable. An absence of a part of his brain that would have left him severely impaired…
A little baby boy was delivered asleep. How can you prepare for a labour without a little one to take home? I myself remember the gush of love, superhuman in its intensity that overwhelms one once birth has happened. You love the child you are carrying but that pales compared to the seismic feelings once birth has occurred. But this was a birth that no parent wants to experience… the end of an earthly existence before it began. I felt that I had let my daughter down as I had not been able to warn or prepare her for this monumental and uncontrollable feeling of love and loss. I had not prepared her for the darkness that followed, for the grief like no other, for the fact that at a relatively young age her life and that of her husband (they were 28 and 30) would be different. Of course, all of life’s occurrences and events make us who we are but there are some experiences that are too much to contemplate and that is what the loss of a child is. I am ashamed to say that there were subsequent days when I myself would have been scared to have been in my daughter’s shoes; when to be inside her head and experiencing her pain was something I would have shied away from despite having always thought that I would do anything for my own children.
I was there for my daughter and her husband. My support sometimes felt useless and it was hard to find words that did not grate or seem hollow. I said I understood but she questioned how I could. I had not lost a child. I heard my daughter crying in the night; she was a physical and emotional shadow of the daughter I knew and loved. My vibrant, loving, previously strongminded and opinionated daughter was in the depths of the night held lovingly in the arms of her husband who himself was weeping as he tried to soothe her. I stood outside the closed bedroom door and wept too.
I cooked and cleaned and was signed off work by my doctor. I had a responsible job but recognised that my daughter could not be left alone. To get her out of bed was a task that to her felt sacrilegious. How could her life go on without her child? Her misplaced self-loathing, confusion and feeling of loss knew no boundaries. I was very worried for her personal safety and once her husband returned to work I would stay with her until he returned in the evening. And what about him? He had experienced this immeasurable loss also of course but as is perhaps often the case he appeared to be able to function better than she could. Was he really coping better? His tears and torment may not have been so visible but his pain was of course there.
I never went back to work. I could not have managed to perform my work even if I had been able to leave my daughter, which I could not. We walked the streets together rain or shine. We just got through each day…somehow. We talked about her lost darling baby boy. Sometimes she could cope with seeing friends and at other times not. A word out of place, however well intentioned, could open the floodgates. Thankfully my daughter’s employer continued to support from a distance and to continue to fully remunerate her; others of course have not been so fortunate. She was not at work for some 6 months.
Where are we now? As I said previously, the world has now changed. When I am asked how my daughter is, people expect or would like me to say “better”. To some extent she is, in that she has learnt that she is a different person now as is her husband. But she will never be “better” in the true sense of the word and I cannot make her so. In that sense I do feel that I have failed her whilst recognising that there is nothing that I or anyone can do to change the fact that she has not got her precious son in her arms. We mourn the loss of a life and question why he did not develop as he should. Why is he not here with us?
My daughter has said that she would not be here without ARC. I truly believe her. In the early days of her loss I called ARC virtually pleading with them asking for help. She met up with and spoke with Sally one to one that very afternoon. Her grief has been ameliorated at times by countless calls to the ARC helpline. I am so pleased that ARC now have some lottery funding as their work has and will continue to be so wonderful to those who face the darkest of prognoses and the most fearful time. Life has changed. I truly thank ARC and my son in law for the arms they have wrapped around my daughter.