Please tread softly.

My daughter would have been 24 today and I feel the need to type. My first pregnancy and all that usually entails. The joy, the pride, hopes for the future and a healthy dose of fear. Everything progressed normally in every way. I puked, it got better, I bloomed and then felt like a whale. Everything was ready, the Moses basket made up and waiting. I went full term and had a normal labour. I delivered a beautiful, perfect baby girl, with a thick head of red hair. But she never took her first breath.

No abnormalities inside or out. The post mortem later revealed nothing wrong whatsoever. “It’s just one of those terrible, sad, mysterious things” they said. She’s normal, your delivery was normal and you’re fine. Fine?

I won’t describe my feelings over the next few days or the pain of having to remain on a maternity ward. Of having to sign consent forms for the post mortem and knowing where she was going when I finally let her out of my arms and my sight. Seeing the vicar, going to the town hall to register both birth and death and making funeral arrangements.

Some things are still so painfully vivid and yet others are hazy. I can’t remember the outfit we chose for her to be buried in. I know she had a picture of me and her father in one hand and a tiny pink silk carnation in the other. So why can’t I remember her clothes? I remember screaming ‘don’t touch her’ when they asked if they should cut off a lock of her hair for me to keep. I regret that decision now, I think.

I remember thinking how cruel it was. If she ‘wasn’t meant to be’ why couldn’t I have miscarried at 6 weeks? I went to one SANDS support meeting. (Stillbirth and neonatal death society.) I listened as a woman wept while she told her story, of her little boy who died at 2 weeks old of a heart defect – and I felt overcome with jealousy. She had looked into her child’s eyes. I never did that. She took out pictures and another piece of me died inside. I have pictures. Pictures of a perfectly normal looking baby girl with bright red hair. But I’ve always kept them hidden. Because I know, in those pictures, she’s gone. And it just doesn’t seem right. I wish she’d lived, even if for just an hour – so I could proudly display her picture with those of my sons.

Her cemetery is next to a garden centre and on the funeral day I went in for flowers. There was a pregnant woman outside smoking. I’d never felt rage like that before. How I went passed without screaming at her, I don’t know. I did nothing wrong – and I was about to bury my daughter. Here was a pregnant smoker, who in my opinion did not deserve to be carrying that child.

The funeral. Tiny white coffin, carried by one. I’m not sure if my family have forgiven me for that day. Grief affects people differently in strange ways. I felt like I was holding on to my sanity by the thinnest of threads and so wrapped up in my grief I couldn’t cope with anybody else’s. I requested no one else be there, but me and her father. Utterly selfish in grief. Then the part I hated the most. A container of soil handed out towards me. I took a handful. And then I stood looking down at this tiny white coffin that contained my hopes, my dreams, my child – and all I could think was ‘he wants me to throw mud on my baby’. Opening my hand and letting that soil fall, is still the hardest thing I have ever had to do.

Over the years, I have lost other people I’ve loved. It’s so different though. Obviously no one should have to bury their child – but the grieving process is so different. Usually, amongst your grief, you have those fond memories to carry and reminisce. Stillbirth grief differs though, because you don’t know. As well as losing the physical presence, there’s so little to remember and smile about. It’s about the not knowing. The what ifs. And what could have been.

I suppose if you spend enough time in cemetery’s this phrase seems cliché. But it was the first time I’d seen it- and it’s stayed with me.   3 graves to the right of my daughter, a baby boy’s grave has part of a Keats poem. It reads:

Please tread softly, because you’re stepping on my dreams.

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