Content warning: this is heavy, you may want to look at pictures of puppies after reading
To carry a baby to full term with a perfect pregnancy, to turn up to hospital having contractions and full of excitement with a car seat in the car, to have a straightforward labour and birth and for our baby boy Lenny to die as we watched helplessly is unfathomable. To arrive at hospital less than 8 months later and halfway through another pregnancy for us to be told we were losing our second baby and that I would have to give birth again to a baby who would die and again we wouldn’t be able to take home – is un-fucking-believable!!!
Lenny’s death is described as a ‘never event,’ in hospital terminology – not that it never happens but it should not ever happen. In our case the hospital didn’t do anything wrong (far from it), nor did we and nor did our little Lenny it was a tragic, unforeseeable accident. We don’t have the full details of Bhai’s death yet and we may never get them because often the cause of second trimester losses remain unknown. What we do know is that both are completely unrelated – Bhai couldn’t have died through meconium aspiration and cord entanglement like Lenny so we are looking at two totally random events. Babies dying in the second trimester occurs in around 1-2% of pregnancies – so now according to my skewed view on probability it is pretty much an absolute certainty.
It isn’t just the causes of deaths which are completely different. It is also the experience of the losses and how we process them. I say different because Bhai’s death is different but not. It is how we feel about our two boys, how we grieve for them and how we try to survive them both.
A card we received after Lenny died said, ‘we are not emotional equipped to outlive our children.’ And we aren’t. We aren’t more equipped to deal with losing Bhai so late into pregnancy because we have survived the immediate aftermath of Lenny’s death. We are less equipped. Our last dregs of emotional resilience have been used up – we have nothing left in the tank.
We are in survival mode – we had begun to work, to go on adventures, to hold conversations that were about something other than how shit we feel and we were able to look forwards and imagine a future with our second child. Our Lenny conversations were positive, about how perfect and beautiful he is and the adventures we and other people were taking him on. We weren’t ‘ok’ – not at all – but we were doing more than surviving and we had small moments of joy. We felt we were living with and for Lenny in his honour.
Now, we are shattered, waking up each day reprocessing that the worst thing in the world has happened to us – twice. But in totally different ways. We have no structure to our days and spend massive chunks of our days sleeping because grief is flipping exhausting. Once again all our plans are destroyed. Our hopes and dreams in tatters. People have asked if we feel back to how we were in December and the truth is no we feel infinitely worse.
The isolation is really hard, we even feel isolated in spaces like our SANDs group and we can’t access services for miscarriages because losing Bhai didn’t happen in isolation to Lenny dying. This time it feels even more lonely – our consultant said we were the only family she had known who had experienced both a full and mid-term loss. Apparently the perinatal psychology team won’t accept a referral for me because they deal with birth trauma – I would love to know what is more birth traumery than giving birth twice in 8 months and leaving hospital without your precious babies (I wouldn’t actually, I bet its really bad and awful) I just said that, because it is such a ‘computer says no’ approach. I feel the need to find people with similar stories who are further on in their grief than us to check that they are still breathing but then someone has got in touch who also has two babies who have died and I feel crushed – I don’t want to be isolated but more than that, I don’t want others to feel this pain.
People tell us that we will be ok – but how do they know? How many people do they know who have watched their healthy full term baby die in front of their eyes and then have to give birth to another baby a matter of months later who also dies and they all live happily ever after? I am going to take a guess at – none. Two pregnancies, two births, two post-mortem forms, two lots of funeral arrangements, two broken parents.
The thing with grief is it doesn’t fit in neat little boxes, we are grieving Lenny and always will be and we are grieving Bhai. Our grief for Lenny makes the grief for Bhai sharper, it hurts more because Lenny isn’t here, it feels crueller because Lenny isn’t here and it has extinguished any semblance of hope or joy we had or our faith in the universe. Our grief for Bhai makes our grief for Lenny sharper – I can understand (not accept) the reality of babies dying in the womb at any gestation and how devastating it is. A baby dying so late into pregnancy as Bhai did is tragic and awful and relatively rare – it has really put into sharp focus for us how unbelievably horrific Lenny’s death is.
We have described Lenny’s death as child bereavement because it is. This isn’t subjective – he was our son who was born and then he died. His death has been classified as a neonatal death in a national investigation. Just because people didn’t meet him doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist – sometimes explaining this to adults has felt like playing hide and seek with a dog, they think they can put their head behind the sofa and ignore the horrific reality of the situation. Good one – I can still see you with your head behind the sofa, your whole body is sticking out.
I accept to an extent that viewing Bhai’s death as child bereavement has an element of subjectivity (we both have science backgrounds after all) because he was born in that ‘grey area’ of pregnancy where he wasn’t grown enough to survive outside the womb but I grew him, birthed him, met him and held him, he is our son and we aren’t about to pretend he doesn’t exist. He was our hope, our sign that there was still good in the world, that good things could happen for us and that we could love additional children as well as Lenny. He taught us we could hold deep sorrow and joy at once, now we have been shown deeper depths of sorrow. No human is built with the emotional space and energy to deal with either of these tragic losses – never mind two.
I am unable to grieve both of our boys at the same time because the enormity is too much, but equally I am unable to separate them. Bhai’s death isn’t simply an ‘add on’ it isn’t subsumed by Lenny’s death so we can brush it off. Experiencing both these losses and in such a short period of time isn’t a simple addition it is multiplied by thousands. It has taken the pieces of our shattered hearts, poured petrol on them and set them on fire.
There is no blueprint. We don’t know the ropes because we survived for a short time after Lenny died. Each loss in isolation is too much to comprehend but the two together feel even greater than the sum of their parts.
After Lenny died I was broken but I also felt invincible. I had survived the immediate aftermath of Lenny dying, I could survive anything. A friend said to me, ‘what is the worst that can happen? Lenny can’t die again’ and I would repeat that to myself over and over to help me cope. I didn’t factor in that Lenny’s brother could die.
Having ‘met’ other bereaved parents online I now realise we aren’t alone in this. I haven’t come across anyone whose baby has died at full term and one who has died midway through pregnancy. I have sadly come across people who have lost multiple babies – their stories are different to ours, everyone is unique but their stories are equally as tragic. For those who haven’t experienced multiple losses – everyone has a story. Their baby has died in the context of their lives. Their baby might have been conceived through IVF, their baby might have died just after they lost their a job or another family member died, or during the covid pandemic. Dealing with the overwhelming nature of child bereavement is in itself so much but alongside other life challenges, other losses – it feels greater than the sum of its horrific parts.
So all we have to go on is our promise we made to our boys to live in their honour, some solid advice from a 6 year old to ‘never give up,’ and a promise I made to a fellow mum who I met through the internet that we will keep each other alive. One foot in front of the other.