I should be 33 weeks pregnant. I should be huge, uncomfortable, and thinking about having a nap right about now. But I’m quite slim, slender even. It doesn’t matter anymore that I’m drinking coffee and eating a toasted ham and cheese sandwich. Because I’m not pregnant.
You know when you’re watching a film and the star collapses because they’ve had a huge shock and you can see how devastated they are; well, that was me, only I’m not a star and I’m not in a film. I’m just an ordinary mum. I worry about getting the washing dry in winter, and how to get my three-year-old daughter to eat her veggies and use the potty. I’m not special. Nothing extraordinary is supposed to happen to me. But it did.
Being the great planners that we are, we decided to try for a baby to arrive when Hannah was about three. Life was going according to plan and I fell pregnant straight away. I had morning sickness that lasted until 27 weeks. It may have lasted longer.
We trotted off for our 18-week scan and were delighted to discover our second baby was to be a girl. As we were leaving the office, the doctor said rather nonchalantly that we should mention the baby had a full bladder at the next appointment with our obstetrician.
The obstetrician didn’t seem too worried about the bladder, but sent me off to the maternity hospital to get another scan. The operator there said everything looked fine but she would probably see me again as they would like to keep an eye on the situation. A couple of weeks later and the baby’s bladder was getting bigger. My ob stopped referring to bub and now started to refer to the pregnancy. Little alarm bells sounded very softly in the back of my brain but I chose to ignore them. I downplayed all of my husband’s fears. I said everything would be fine.
So we were off to hospital again. I lay on the bed and the huge ultrasound machine had screens everywhere from every angle. The Head of Department said straight away that she knew what was wrong. I kept talking. If you talk and talk, no one can get a word in, not even a doctor. But I eventually stopped and the doctor said those words that no parent ever wants to hear. I starred in my film and collapsed dramatically. My God, I didn’t want to be in this film and I didn’t want the ending that someone else was writing for me.
We were put into a recovery room (I’ll need the rest of my life to recover from this, I thought) and were told someone would come in to see us shortly. We weren’t going to wait for that, so we disappeared and went to pick up Hannah from daycare. No matter how hard you try to run from bad news, it always catches up with you. My husband started researching Megacystis microcolon intestinal hypoperistalsis syndrome and we discovered how cruel Mother Nature can be. Our baby would not survive.
We decided almost straight away that no child of ours would suffer needlessly. We were given a number of options. All of them were terrible. We asked about an interruption of the pregnancy and were told that an ethics panel would have to decide, as I was so advanced in my pregnancy. The panel met and decided that Eliza’s prognosis was so bad that a termination could be performed.
I tried to be calm in the last week of Eliza’s life. I wanted her to be calm as she rocked and rolled safely in my womb. I wanted her last days to be precious and how precious they were. I wanted to go to hospital soon to get this all over with but I also never wanted to go. I wanted to keep her safe. But she wasn’t well and she was suffering.
I went into hospital on a Thursday. As we walked in, we saw a mother with her newborn in one of those glass bassinets and I thought my heart would break. But we kept on walking and we were greeted by some lovely midwives in the delivery suite.
I was sedated. Eliza was on her tummy face down. Not a great position when the doctor needs to give her an injection into her heart. She moved and the needle went in. I was so well behaved and not at all like a movie star whose baby was dying.
I was sent back up to the delivery suite and my labour was induced. The next 24 hours were among the happiest of my life. This may sound strange but I wanted to labour for Eliza. I wanted to feel the physical pain. I wanted to hurt. My baby had died and I wanted to suffer. The labour was a beautiful thing. I was really able to be Eliza’s mother and nothing else during that time. I laboured well but then she was born.
There was only silence and then huge rasping sobs as my husband held her in his arms. I was exhausted. I just wanted to sleep but people kept coming in and eventually, by the time everyone went away, I couldn’t sleep.
Hannah held her little sister. “You’re so cold, Liza,” she said as she kissed that tiny face. She piled the blankets onto Eliza and arranged all of Eliza’s things in her crib. Eliza was wrapped in a delicate pink shawl my mother-in-law had bought her and my Mum had sent a beautiful handmade teddy to watch over her.
The Anglican priest was amazing and he blessed little Eliza. We had a funeral on the Tuesday after her birth. Four of the six midwives who had cared for me in hospital were there and I can’t begin to thank those amazing women for what they did for me.
I am no longer numb. I am slim. I wear waterproof mascara because I never know when I’m going to cry and I cant bear to look at pregnant women or baby girls. I go out for dinner with friends and I contemplate buying a clothes dryer but I am changed.
My husband asks me when will I stop being sad. I want to answer, “Never.” There will always be sadness in my heart. But I am not a quitter. I want to be the woman I wanted Eliza to be. I had started to compile Eliza’s baby book and this is what I wrote as the hopes and wishes for my second daughter:
I pray you will be a strong, confident, loving and compassionate woman. I wish for you to choose your own path in life. I want you to be happy; to be surrounded by loving and supportive people. I want you to be able to reach for the stars and to know your own heart. I pray for you to be safe and well. I want only good things for you and for you to know that you will always be special to me.
I have a goal. In honour of my child want to become the woman that Eliza was supposed to be. I’m not sure how we, the grief bearers, go on. Somehow we do. It’s a terrible journey we have to walk but we just have to keep on travelling. My aim now is to live well in honour of my little Eliza. Her legacy is awesome for one so young. She gave me hope and love. What better purpose can anyone have in life? She was only ever alive in my womb, yet she still fulfilled her purpose of bringing hope and love to the world.
I believe that my youngest child has taught me more than anyone about life, and what it is to be human. Eliza has taught me how precious life is and how important it is to connect with people and to act with compassion.