28th December 2022 little Bhai’s due date. Though to prevent risks of meconium aspiration I would likely have been induced 2 weeks earlier- around Lenny’s first birthday. Bittersweet. We knew his arrival wouldn’t make Lenny’s death easier or the grief easier but we also knew he would bring us so much joy.
Pregnancy after loss was scary. Really scary. I’m no wimp I’ve done the world’s highest bungee and abseil, Europe’s highest skydive, some gnarly mountain biking at bike parks and my fair share of white water kayaking but this was a real white knuckler! On paper I was lower risk than most – I had had a full term healthy or and Lenny died in a tragic freak accident- Lenny was held as a reason to be pretty confident (I understand the logic and medical science behind that but it’s painful that my dead child was given as a reason to be hopeful). I had an overwhelming feeling of dread – it’s double edged making connections with bereaved parents on the one hand you feel less alone and on the other you become painfully aware of all the other ways that babies and children can die…. And you aren’t immune from any of them – there’s no free pass.
My pregnancy with Bhai was smooth sailing (until it wasn’t) and I was well supported by my amazing midwife – (amazing Emily had started to work in the community so I had the best community midwife on the planet). I won’t go into the details of his death but at nearly 19 weeks I started to bleed, I went to the hospital and my cervix was opening. We knew with certainty he would die at 18weeks and 5 days because we had a scan which showed absolutely no amniotic fluid meaning his lungs couldn’t develop. We “chose” to induce labour to bring forward the inevitable. Whilst I was previously aware of “termination for medical reasons” I wasn’t aware this could apply in cases where a baby is perfectly healthy but would die. I will discuss TFMR in another blog as it deserves further discussion. We later discovered I had a placental abruption due to a blood clot behind the placenta and little Bhai was a perfectly healthy boy who should be here.
So that was it. Another healthy pregnancy. Another healthy baby. Ending in loss, death, devastation. I can’t describe the feeling of leaving your child in a mortuary. I certainly can’t describe doing that twice. I’ve no clue how I am still alive.
The way that Bhai died is of course tragic and devastating but as with Lenny, he is so much more than the way that he died. He brought us so much hope and specks of joy in his short life, he showed us that we could love another child as well as Lenny. He showed us we have the emotional capacity and maturity to hold love, joy and hope at the same time as devastation, grief and despair.
I wanted a blog specific to Bhai because he deserves it and because I think many people don’t understand the experience of second trimester loss. We certainly found that the reaction to Bhai’s death was much more muted, much more dismissive and misunderstood than Lenny’s. Pretty much summed up by a message I received whilst still in the hospital telling me to go home and cuddle my puppy.
For us, as I explained in “greater than the sum of its parts”…. the compounding nature of Bhai’s death broke us. If Lenny’s death broke our universe then Bhai’s death smashed it to smithereens and set it on fire. We felt new depths of despair we hadn’t thought possible while people around us including our GP repeated that “It wasn’t as bad as Lenny’s death because I wasn’t as far along” – for the record I think my GP is excellent and I think people in my life are generally excellent but if you haven’t left your child in a mortuary, if you haven’t held a funeral for your child, if you haven’t attended post mortem results for your child or done any of the unthinkable things that we have had to do TWICE then I’m afraid you don’t get a say on how “bad” it is.
Yes Bhai’s death compounded our grief but it was also horrific in and of itself. I’m sure if Lenny were here and we lost Bhai we would be devastated and distraught and think it was the worst loss in the world. We would be absolutely right because it would be the worst loss in our world! As for whether his death is “worse” or “better” than Lenny’s well…. This isn’t baby death top trumps – they are different. We feel differently about them. We would feel differently about our sons if they were here because they are both unique individuals. Different does not mean more or less or better or worse it means…. Different!!
If you’re wondering why two people with science degrees chose to name and acknowledge a child who didn’t reach “viability” – I will explain. I hope by explaining this that others who have experienced second trimester loss feel seen and heard – our experiences will not be the same but some feelings will be similar. So I will explain below.
So, initially we weren’t sure whether we wanted to meet Bhai. We were scared. We had no clue what an 18 week gestation baby would look like. Even after Lenny’s death and the regrets we have about not having enough photos of him – we still had thoughts that if we didn’t meet Bhai it would be easier for us – I don’t believe that to be the case. For some people- they may not choose to meet their baby and I can understand that and I don’t think it’s for others to judge (see above). We were fortunate that Emily was there who knows us well and thought we would want to meet him, she described how he looked before she brought him in so we understood. Well an 18 week old baby looks like….. a baby. But small. Their skin is quite translucent so they appear red.
Bhai looked like a tiny little Lenny. We could already see that his facial features were just like Lenny. He had the most perfect tiny little feet – like his dad and his brother. He also had beautiful hands. One midwife, Claire who had also met Lenny commented that his hands and feet looked so like his brothers. Emily has told me she thinks he looked calm and at peace. This is how we always think of him like a chilled, laid back hippy guy…. We think he wouldn’t have been into bikes and when he was old enough would have been more inclined towards a beer in the sun with his uncle Kiran.
We held him, we kissed him, we took photos – loads and some of us holding him (we don’t have any of us holding Lenny) – for what it’s worth I hate those photos we look like two broken souls.
It felt right for us to name Bhai. Bhai means brother in Hindi. He deserves a name, he doesn’t get a birth certificate (I know a lot of bereaved parents hate that they don’t have this for their child for us registering Lenny’s death wasn’t an activity I wish to repeat).
Parents who name their babies lost in the second trimester do so because they matter, because they may have felt them move, because the mother gave birth to them, because they may have met them, held them, cuddled them and kissed them. And even if they didn’t do any of those things…. They matter. Bhai was too young to have lived. We know and understand that in a scientific sense. But as parents, we also met our second child, he was just a lot smaller than he was supposed to be. As someone who is much smaller than an adult is supposed to be – I’m firmly of the opinion that we shouldn’t love tiny people less. These tiny souls grew in our belly’s, they touched our hearts and will continue to forever.
In terms of our grief it felt different to Lenny. It was initially soul crushing and then built steadily. It became sharper over time not easier. It became harder when I realised I should be preparing to give birth not preparing to cycle the length of New Zealand. We felt particularly grief stricken during the week of Lenny’s birthday when we think I would have been induced and felt so deeply sad that we weren’t preparing to bring our littlest boy home. Then his due date arrived – a date acknowledged by a precious few people- it knocked us for six. We ended up having an unanticipated rest day a few days later not for cycling fatigue but for the exhaustion of grief.
Little Bhai missed out on so much and so have we once again.
If you read this as a parent who has experienced second trimester loss I am so deeply sorry and I’m so sorry that our society doesn’t seem to recognise you lost a baby and the physical and emotional trauma you experienced. If you haven’t experienced this and feel confused why people grieve so hard for a baby who was born too early and couldn’t have survived…. Think yourself lucky.
I love my littlest boy as much as my first born boy. Yes his loss feels different but different does not mean less. We acknowledge his life and appreciate those around us who do too and continue to.
Our littlest boy, you should be here. We love you we are so sorry you didn’t get a chance to live. Our only tiny solace is that you are with your amazing brother. You should both be here with us though and that will never be ok.