Tragically, 2.6 million women around the world each year experience losing a baby – through miscarriage, stillbirth or early neonatal loss. But whilst it may once have felt ‘taboo’ to talk about it, more and more parents are now opening up about their loss. Michelle Obama. Beyoncé. Pink. Gwyneth Paltrow. Courtney Cox. Lily Allen. Hilaria Baldwin. Mariah Carey. Kate Mara. Carrie Underwood. The list of high profile women who have recently opened up about their experience of miscarriage or stillbirth is long. Even health, wealth and top quality medical care are no security against baby loss.
But in opening up, sharing our stories and learning how to support each other, perhaps we can give women – and their partners – the space they need to grieve and remember their lost children.
In this article, we hear two heartwrenching stories of loss from women living in Cayman who have told us about their experiences. Please note, some readers may find these stories upsetting.
Miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal loss are nearly always the result of genetic anomalies or random complications; they are not the fault of the mother.
How many children do you have?
It seems such a simple question, but for many people it can feel impossible to answer. It’s a question I used to ask regularly as a conversation-starter, and one that I am often asked. These days I’m unable to answer without a dagger going straight through my heart. I never knew it was possible to feel such an array of emotions in any one second as I have come to experience in the last year.
On reflection, I realise there must be many other people who feel the same. It could be a result of miscarriage, fertility problems, a partner who doesn’t want another child, not meeting the right person, or a million other reasons. Whatever the reason, the resulting emotion has the power to stop you in your tracks and break your heart in an instant. There are a number of reasons why this question can be so very hard to answer. What I do know is that it took an awful experience to appreciate how much this innocent question can hurt. For us, it was the stillbirth of our third daughter.
I know what the right answer to the question is: smile and respond “two little girls”, often met with “oh how wonderful”. Behind the façade, I want to tell them this isn’t true; I actually have three little girls, but my last one didn’t quite make it. I know, of course, that this statement will not be met with the same response, so I give the more sensitive/diplomatic response (after all, despite our all-pervading grief, we don’t suddenly become immune to other people’s discomfort. You instinctively want to play by the same social rules and not bring up highly emotive subjects). Back to the most well-meaning of small-talk. The questions get tougher still as you chat more. Commonly, “so, do you think you will have any more or are you done?” follows fairly soon after. Here there is a clear junction: hide or tell the truth. I opt to tell the truth. Living on this small Island means there’s a high chance they already know, but have yet to connect the dots. Perhaps it’s the all-girls boarding school in me, but I prefer the upfront approach rather than having others discussing it and guessing my emotions. I prefer to tell my story and not have others tell it for me.
I had three full-term pregnancies in three years. My third pregnancy was a huge surprise (a happy one once the shock had worn off!). It was a pregnancy of complacency. No risk factors and no complications. I continued to work in London and to juggle my job with looking after my two small girls. My husband had a job opportunity in Cayman so we decided to relocate and have our third little girl on-Island. So we packed up the house, the girls, the pets and relocated across the world to start our new adventure.
Everything was ticking along nicely. The girls were very happy and settled in nursery, we had a lovely home, our containers had finally arrived from the UK, and I was in the last stretch of unpacking the cot and “nesting”. Although it all looked beautiful and relaxed from the outside, I was nervous about how I would cope with three small children away from friends and family. But time flew by as I settled into my new environment and home.
One Thursday (this day of the week will always have a very different feeling for me now), I was 38.5 weeks pregnant and was racing around town to and from nursery, dropping my husband at work, meeting with the paediatrician, and then onto my OBGYN for a regular scan.
I must have had over 30 scans in the last three years so I had a natural confidence that everything would be fine. I am also lucky to be young, fit and healthy; something I will never take for granted again. Bad scan results happened to other people. This particular day though, it was our turn. Our family dreams were shattered in an instant. Our baby girl had no heartbeat. I rattled my brain to think when I last felt her move and hated myself for not paying more attention. I was sure that the doctor was going to say that he would be able to find the heartbeat and get her out and save her. But when I heard the words “I am sorry but there is nothing we can do for your baby”, it slowly sank in that even modern medicine could not help this situation. I was angry – why couldn’t they do anything?
They took me to theatre to deliver her. I didn’t want to hold her or see her, I just wanted to pretend that I hadn’t had her. Thankfully the team gently encouraged me to hold her and be with her. She was beautiful; I was completely blown away by how perfect she was. A perfect 6lbs 11oz with perfectly symmetrical features. It was then that I was desperate to know her personality. Would she have been like my gentle, sensitive eldest or like my fiery, fearless youngest? I will never know and I have no guarantee that this will get easier to accept. After a few days I had to say goodbye to her. I wanted to keep her with me forever, but I knew I had to let her go. I dressed her in the outfit that I was supposed to take her home in. I gave her a cuddly toy and muslins passed down from her sisters. I wrote her a letter and made decisions about what urn to collect her ashes in. Finally, I found a little wooden box with a starfish on it. It all began to fall into place; she had her starry going home outfit on, star muslins, we had told her sisters she had gone up to the stars and now here was this box with a star on it. Stella the Star. Every night I say goodnight to her in the sky and in her little box. She will be with me forever, she just cannot be seen by others.
The death of a baby has a profound and lasting impact on parents and the wider family. I felt angry, alone, homesick and devastatingly sad. Sink or swim. Everything was a blur, I couldn’t imagine ever laughing properly again. But time passes, we slowly feel better and laugh a little more each week. We will never heal completely, but the pain will subside bit by bit. We move forward, not on.
As a result of what I have been through, I have established a not-for-profit organisation called Starborn Babies. Its purpose is to help parents going through similar experiences and to raise money for much-needed supplies and training. If you would like to help, or for more information, please visit www.starbornbabies.com.
In 2007, I was leading the charge as a pioneer in the healthcare industry by starting the first ever audiology clinic on Cayman. After many years of blood, sweat and tears, I found myself in a place of success. And then in December 2016, I got a little surprise. I was pregnant!
To say I was in shock is an understatement! Not only was I questioning if I could be a good mom, but I was wondering how this was going to work into my business, and my life as an entrepreneur. Was I going to be able to balance these worlds?
Then we received an even bigger surprise, when, during a routine ultrasound two weeks after finding out I was pregnant, the doctor found not one, not two, but three heartbeats! Triplets!
I was flying to Miami for regular check-ups with a high-risk doctor because Cayman doesn’t have all the equipment necessary for this type of pregnancy. On 11th April 2017, when I was 22 weeks along and preparing to leave for Miami for a final check-up, my waters broke. Within 24 hours of my water breaking, I delivered Tianna ,who was born sleeping. Her identical sister Isabella, and then their fraternal sister Emma, followed. They both lived for just a few minutes.
This loss was excruciating to bear.
After this, I chose to give myself the space I needed to heal. During the healing process, I realised that there was a lot I needed to learn and a lot that my precious baby girls came to teach me. I had spent so much of my life doing for others, not listening to the desires of my heart, not trusting myself and, most of all, not making myself a priority. Even during pregnancy, I was running around doing everything for everyone and not making myself or my babies the priority. The experience made me realise that I needed to trust in myself, take care of myself and embrace my gifts.
It took me six months to finally start to feel like myself again. Being an entrepreneur, I was blessed that I was able to take those six months off work and not have to worry about getting back to work before I was ready. Even though there were some days that I did go into the office, I felt lost there, like I no longer had a place in my business. Those times that I went in were due to other people urging me that it was time to get back to work, not because I felt personally ready. Yet again, I was doing what others expected of me and not what mattered most to me. Obviously, I still had a lot of learning to do! But eventually, I did what I needed to do in order to heal, process and start to live again. I gave myself permission to heal. And, like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, I have come out on the other side better, stronger and more ‘me’ than I have ever been in my life.
During this time, as I was dealing with my grief, I realised that there were no resources on the Island to support women and families going through a pregnancy or infant loss. Not finding the support I so desperately craved, I decided to create a community. I started Light After Loss to provide hope and healing after the loss of a baby. The organisation hosts monthly support meetings for mothers, fathers and other family members who have been affected by this loss. Light After Loss also aims to raise funds in hopes to donate much needed incubators and cuddle cots to the local hospitals.
I don’t want you to feel sorry for me. I’m not sharing my story for pity. I’m sharing the story of my three beautiful daughters to honour them. I am called to share my story because I know the message I have to share is so powerful; that we as women are here to do big things, to create change, to stand up, to speak up and to have our voices heard.
For Part II click here.
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