Two years ago, we were very excited — we talked about our baby every day, we looked forward to each new experience that pregnancy afforded. Two years ago, our lives changed forever. Our baby died.
We were holidaying in Spain. I was 25 weeks pregnant and enjoying being kicked (from the inside!) on a regular basis. Towards the end of our holiday, I was going to bed one night and laughed out loud because the baby kicked me harder than ever before. I now know that was the last kick I was to feel. The next day, I started to realise things were far from right. I’d had chocolate — the baby hadn’t responded. I’d eaten ice-cream — the baby hadn’t responded. It always kicked after I’d eaten those foods. I lay down for a rest so that I could count the kicks in case I’d missed them in the busyness of the day. They weren’t there. I finally accepted that something was terribly wrong and we needed help. We phoned family and friends in Britain for advice: ‘go to hospital’ was their only advice.
We had an ultrasound scan in a room filled with monitors. Big screen TVs staring at us all over the walls. It was there on the wall that we saw our baby — motionless with no heartbeat. The nurses confirmed there was no heartbeat and showed the smallest amount of compassion. A rub on the leg was all I got. I remember thinking, ‘I wonder what they do to get the heart going again?’ before realising that they don’t. Our baby had died.
Thanks to our very supportive family and friends, we were able to seek medical advice in our own language and discharged ourselves from the Spanish hospital after 12 hours of very little care. We turned up at the airport, paid for the next flight back to the UK and went straight to hospital in Bristol, where we live. This is where the love and compassion poured out. This is where the tears flowed. Every doctor, nurse and midwife who spoke to us knew of our plight and they knew we would be fragile, fearful of what lay ahead and grief-stricken. We were.
Two days later, our beautiful and perfect daughter came in to the world, born sleeping. She was the spitting image of her daddy, had his long legs and fair hair and managed to get her little nose and wonky toes from mummy! Until we saw her, despite everything we’d seen and been told, we still had the hope that she would come out breathing. She was the baby we had hopes for, the baby we’d spent the last 25 weeks talking about, the very first grandchild for both sets of grandparents, she was our very precious daughter.
We had a thanksgiving service for Sophie and were touched by the number of people who came. We managed to stand at the front of the church and read a tribute to our daughter. An incredibly difficult task, but, as every parent will doubtless know, we’ll do anything for our children.
How to cope?
The question we are often asked is: ‘How on earth did you cope?’ Well the answer is ‘love’. When faced with this impossibly difficult situation, nothing seemed to make sense and our minds were blank. However, we clung on to one important fact that we could remember: Jesus loves us. How important this is for daily life, whether feeling weak or strong. You may know the children’s song called ‘Jesus loves me, this I know’. This is the song that Sophie’s daddy sang to her as he held her in his arms for the very first time. He told Sophie that Jesus loves her and, in singing aloud, we were both reminded ourselves that Jesus loves us too. We needed him to carry us at this point in time and carry us he did, simply because he loves us.
His love was revealed clearly to us in another way two years ago. Our church family showed us (and continues to show us) unfailing love. We had meals brought to our door, flowers left on the doorstep, card after card filled with kind words, Bible verses to keep us strong and offers of practical help. One of the Bible verses that sticks in my mind is from Philippians 4.7: ‘The peace of God, which passes all understanding’. At the time of reading it, I remember thinking that I didn’t feel remotely peaceful. My days and nights were filled with tears, sadness, questions and sorrow. But, as I reflect, I realise how very true this verse really is. We have no understanding whatsoever — why did our daughter die? Her post-mortem showed no cause. Why did it happen to us? We were excited about our new lives as parents and all of that was taken away. Yet, we have peace. We know that Sophie is in heaven because God said ‘let all the little children come to me’ and we know that one day we will see her again and rejoice. But we still don’t understand. It is the peace of God, which passes all understanding.
The tragedy of stillbirth has implications for future pregnancies. Are we able to have more children? Will the pregnancy last nine months? Will another baby die? Grieving is a long, tiring process and it still continues today. There’s no ‘getting over’ losing a child, there’s simply ‘learning to live a new normal’. The new normal involves visiting our daughter’s grave, avoiding difficult conversations when grief overtakes, feeling fearful every time someone announces they’re pregnant, explaining that we are parents, even though our daughter is not beside us. The new normal took time to adapt to and the thought of adding another pregnancy in to that equation was an incredibly frightening prospect.
Pregnant and nervous
After all we’d been through, our desire to extend our family didn’t diminish. We simply needed time to grieve and time to adapt. Nine months later, we were expecting Sophie’s little brother or sister. Nervousness and worry prevailed but excitement also shone through.
Our main anxiety was whether this pregnancy would end with a live baby. So many people said to us: ‘It’ll be fine this time, I just know it’. This is, of course, an encouraging thing to think, but we knew deep within that they didn’t know… only God knew. Hearing this phrase so often actually led us to search our hearts and consider God’s promises. Nowhere in the Bible are we promised children, nowhere in the Bible are we promised trouble-free lives. What God does promise us is a hope. If we surrender our lives to him, we have the hope of eternal life with our loving, heavenly Father. So, in God teaching us this, we spent the rest of the pregnancy appreciating the fact that we may not be granted the healthy baby we longed for, but we definitely felt more certain of our place in heaven.
In February this year, our son Alfie entered the world, screaming. The joy of hearing him cry as he was lifted out was immense. What a journey we had been on to hear that cry. He, like his sister, was perfect.
A God who loves us
We sometimes wonder if it’s harder to suffer as a Christian. We get angry — but should we? We get upset — but should we? Deep down we know that we will see Sophie in heaven one day and however our lives pan out it will be the way that God intended. But, that doesn’t make life easy. We wrestle with the fact that we should be reflecting the fruits of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control), yet some days we fall a long way short and feel as if we’re the other end of the spectrum. Thankfully, we love a God who loves us and forgives our shortcomings. Daily, he provides strength to carry on. Daily, he provides us with eternal hope. In the words of the well-known hymn, he provides ‘strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow’.
Claire Brown is a member of Headley Park Church, South Bristol.
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