It’s been a little over two years since we had, and lost, Luca – our first son. To some, it may sound like a fairly long time, but losing a baby is something that, I believe, you never truly, utterly recover from. There’s no going back. Your life before, your own previous self, everything is separated from the present moment by the sheer trauma of the most unnatural of events: giving birth to a lifeless baby.
It’s been a little over two years, yet I think about Luca every single day, countless times a day: whenever I catch a glimpse of my ring which contains some of his ashes, whenever I water the little plants in his “secret garden” (a small greenhouse that I bought and decorated, and where his urn now lives), whenever I get ready in my bedroom and I stop to look at his photos on the shelves.
Most of the time, I think about Luca with tender, nostalgic joy, but I still have moments – perhaps once a week or so – when my mind begins to wander and I just can’t stop reminiscing. I remember every single thing, each tiny detail of my pregnancy with Luca, and of the awful day it was eventually confirmed that he was affected by an incurable, lethal genetic syndrome. I still find it very hard to acknowledge that I survived what felt – and still feels – like a nightmare.
My life, those months, did truly feel like a surreal, horrible dream: was I really asked to make the most impossible choice of all? How was I supposed to “decide” whether to end my pregnancy at 26 weeks of gestation, or continue despite knowing that my baby wouldn’t survive or, if he did, he would be in horrific pain and live a very short life? How was I going to ever recover from it, both physically and mentally? Yet, I did it.
My husband and I made that terrible choice, out of pure love for Luca, knowing he wouldn’t suffer for a single moment, accepting to carry all ourselves: the agony, the grief, the guilt, the trauma. One very hot, very sunny afternoon in late July 2018, my husband held my hand whilst I was lying on a hospital bed, catching one last glimpse of Luca wriggling in my belly on an ultrasound screen, before a procedure horrendously called “feticide” was carried out. The longest needle I’d ever seen perforated my belly, travelled through my placenta, and found Luca’s little and very sick heart, injecting it with potassium chloride and causing it to stop forever. I couldn’t look at the screen, I couldn’t even breathe, I just wanted it all to end. We returned home numb, in silence, knowing we would need to wait two more days before being admitted to the hospital for my induction.
Yes – besides having to endure a feticide, I was also supposed to be induced and give birth to my baby. My baby who was now already dead in my belly. I keep searching my mind for memories of those two days of limbo, yet I can’t seem to remember much. I suppose we simply tried our best to go on with our lives whilst knowing full well that one day, very soon, we would crumble. The morning of the induction arrived, and I remember feeling somewhat strangely excited: after all, and despite the tragedy, I was getting ready to birth and meet my son. I can’t quite explain why, but I felt there was something magical and beautiful in that – I’m glad I was able to make space for a tiny bit of hope and positivity during those hellish hours. Luca was born on a late Friday morning, after seven hours of excruciating contractions and almost no pain relief (my choice). He was immediately wrapped in a blanket and handed to me by the wonderful midwife who had looked after us during the final part of labour.
I was so broken yet so ecstatic: Luca was here, he was tiny and he wasn’t alive, but he was here and I could finally see his perfect little face. I could already spot some of the signs of his illness on his body, yet I genuinely believe he was so cute. I was advised by the midwives that, because he had been dead for a few days already, he was incredibly fragile. I couldn’t dress him or touch him, or hold him close – I feared he would dissolve in my hands. We spent the whole day with him, who had been placed in a cold cot, and went back home in the evening. That was the first day of our new life. A new life we were never told we would have to lead, a new life we would never expect to survive. A new life without Luca.
How can you go on when a very tangible, very real piece of your self has gone forever? I found immense solace in my creative side. Writing poetry, listening to music, drawing and painting. I found now irreplaceable friends in the most unlikely of spaces: Instagram. Other women like me, who are learning every day to survive the loss of a child. I found essential support in charities like ARC, through their online forum and their helpline.
Ultimately, it was the safe arrival of Federico, our rainbow baby, who brought me back to life. And whilst he is the most incredible little human I’ve ever met, he will never take Luca’s place, nor was he ever meant to. Parenting after loss is difficult, confusing, exhausting, but tremendously rewarding. My days with Federico are a roller-coaster, a non-stop whirlwind of music, playtime, laughter (and tantrums!) – but I always find a moment, every single day, to catch my breath and reach out to Luca, my son who lives somewhere in the stars. Sometimes, it’s as small and simple as listening to a particular song, or turning the fairy lights on in his secret garden, or stroking my ring. Other times, I find myself scrolling through all of his photos and sobbing, longing to hold him one last time, wishing things had been different. I do not expect this to change anytime soon – perhaps, ever – and I’m completely at peace with that.
They say grief never goes away because love never goes away. It changes and changes you, like it’s done to me in the past two years – sometimes it wants to hold my hand gently, other times it shakes me to the core like a tree in the middle of a storm. But it’s now part of me, it’s part of Luca, it’s part of our story, it’s the flip side of the infinite love I have for him. And because of that, I accept it, I embrace it, and I respect it.