A Hidden Life

adminParent Stories, Shared Experiences

Nobody likes to contemplate that thirty-six and a half weeks of pregnancy could end in tragedy. I certainly would never have believed such a terrible thing could happen to me. I lived safely in the naive belief that such tragedies happened to other people and not me. I was about to have a rude awakening and I now realise that awful things happen to very ordinary people every day, including myself.

On a cold Wednesday morning last November, I woke up thinking it was strange that the baby wasn’t moving; he usually woke me up in the mornings. Steve was showered, dressed and leaving for work so I got my daughters, Georgina, aged 4 and Charlotte, aged 20 months dressed and fed. By now I was becoming increasingly concerned because Gareth had still not moved. I remember standing in the kitchen prodding my stomach and saying, “Come on, please wake up”.

I took Georgina to school and telephoned the hospital to say I was coming straight over as my baby still wasn’t moving. I bundled Charlotte into the car and drove off. I remember trying to quell the feeling of panic rising within me. I thought perhaps, at worst, I would have an emergency Caesarean. The possibility of anything more serious was inconceivable. I was over 36 weeks pregnant and I kept telling myself that within the next few weeks I was going to give birth to our son, my little baby Gareth and he would make our family complete. I did not realise at this stage that the events of the next 24 hours would shatter this happy illusion and our lives would be changed forever. We had discovered at the 20 weeks scan that this baby was a boy and we were delighted. We have two beautiful daughters so we thought two girls and a boy would be perfect. However, the events of that day turned our dream into a nightmare. The midwives at St Peter’s Hospital were unable to find a heartbeat and an ultrasound scan confirmed that my baby had died. Amid the ensuing confusion and chaos I had the awesome task of phoning Steve at work. How do you explain to your husband that during the night your baby has died? It was my responsibility to bring him safely into the world and I had failed. My body had failed me and I had brought this sadness into our lives.

Shocked and numb we went home to organise ourselves. The only way to cope was to block the reality out of my mind. I had switched into auto. I was functioning but not comprehending. Hardly a tear was shed during our telephone conversations with disbelieving family, friends and neighbours. I wanted to feel their arms surrounding us, I desperately wanted them to protect us with their love and shield us from the pain we were about to suffer. I packed our camera, a baby vest, a nappy and his new baby-grow we had recently bought from Baby Gap.

We returned to St Peter’s within a few hours where we were installed in a cosy side-room away from the sounds of crying new-borns. It was then I felt the beginning of a kind of isolation as if I had been removed from normal life. Something so awful was happening to us, that other people could only imagine or guess at the devastation it would wreak on our lives. The midwives who shared that night with us were an inspiration. They cried with us and for us and showed such care and compassion that I will remain eternally grateful. Gareth Edward was delivered into this cruel world at forty minutes past midnight weighing 6lb 8oz and looking exactly like his two sisters. He was perfect in every way except that he wasn’t breathing. His eyes were tightly closed but he wasn’t asleep, he was gone. We had been robbed of our son and he of his life. The baby who had been kicking away inside me had left me. I felt very desperate as my loneliness surrounded me and the emptiness which should have been filled by my new-born baby grew ever wider and deeper at an alarming rate until I felt I was drowning in it.

We held Gareth and kissed him. His skin was so soft, baby soft but so cold. We dressed him in his new baby suit and took some photographs; we knew our time together would be short. The Chaplain came during the night to bless him and pray for us. As I lay there holding my dead baby in my arms the dawning of a realisation rose within me and I knew that my life had changed forever. It was hard coming home from hospital with empty arms. My arms have ached to hold him and feel his warm body next to mine. I feel very deprived that I didn’t have one cuddle with him before he left me. I am still longing for that one little cuddle.

We agreed to a post-mortem. We desperately wanted an explanation for his death. We had to have something or someone to blame, if not only for ourselves. The autopsy report arrived by post on December 14th, his due date. No obvious cause could be found for his death. This news came as a terrible blow and the timing of it could not have been worse. The day we had expected would be one of happiest will remain one of our saddest. Families, friends and other members of the community were very supportive and in the days and weeks following Gareth’s death we received numerous flowers, cards, letters and phone calls. I treasure these messages now and I know that this network of love and compassion helped us to survive the early days of overwhelming grief and sorrow.

Since then I have found it necessary to recognise Gareth’s existence in many ways. I have written a diary, compiled a book containing all our mementos, his footprint, a lock of hair sent by the midwives at St Peter’s, his certificates, photographs and messages. Our photographs are incredibly important to us and our family, especially the grandparents.

On Easter Monday we planted a small tree near his grave. When others have forgotten him, his impact on our lives will continue to have far reaching consequences for many years to come.

Several months on, I truly appreciate three friends who are still prepared to listen to me pour out the contents of my broken heart. I could never have imagined life would be so cruel, that my very own baby could die for no apparent reason before having the chance to take a single breath. The pain of losing him remains a constant living laceration inside me and my heart refuses to accept it. A friend said to me recently, “Well, you’ve survived Coral.” and I said, “No I’m still trying to survive.”

Every day charts another step along the route to survival.
These words are for my son, Gareth Edward, stillborn November 21st 1996.
“We miss you everyday and will always love you.”
Gareth Edward Ingham November 21st 1996

Coral Ingham