We were waiting until we got back from our trip to visit family in the States in July to start trying again. A third baby so soon since the last one. Would it be alright? Could we do it? Yes, we could. It would be fine. Parenthood is insane already anyway, right?! I was broody all over again.
And there they were, the first month we opened our heart to the idea. We found out we were pregnant on 25 August, David's birthday. He had asked me to take a test that day — a sweet birthday surprise — as I had been putting it off even though I knew I was already 2 weeks late for my period. Just let it be, don't get overly excited, I kept telling myself. But I had never really had that sentiment in the other two pregnancies... This one felt different somehow.
A few weeks passed, and we told our families and closest friends. Then I started telling my wider group of mom friends, too, because it's pretty hard for me to keep a secret about myself when I'm hanging out in the mother circles. But I didn't post it online. With Talitha, I think we posted within the first month! With Evie Claire, we waited only until 8 weeks to post. But this one: hold off, hold off. I won't pretend it was any real intuition — I actually just wanted to wait until both girls' birthdays had passed to celebrate them first on my socials. I'm not sure why, it just felt right. Calculating it in my mind, that'd take me to about 15 weeks (I would have been nearly 17 now) to share with my much wider sphere. Into the second trimester. What a wait and departure from my previous experiences that would have been.
But during the first trimester, I felt odd that I didn't yet feel connected to this pregnancy. I had said out loud to a few people when talking about it that "I wasn't immune to loss." Maybe knowing so many women in this season of child-bearing who had lost babies and learning more about how common miscarriages are was making me a little less naive about it all. It was growing, though: the widening of my familial dynamic, the opening up of how life was going to change again, the tender thought of a bump joining in on the festiviites this Christmas, the smile on my face when I saw families with three children. A slower connection to the baby at first than I had with my daughters, but that was to be expected with two little ones to care for all the while.
The morning of 22 September, Talitha's 4th birthday, I began spotting. We had church to attend that morning and Talitha's party planned for 2pm. Stay calm. I made it through the service without too much worry, but I told a few close friends — one who would be at T's party later, too — to pray and to think of me as we had a big day ahead still. I soldiered on. I didn't feel physically unwell actually. I was excited for my girl. But it nagged at me that suddenly it was like I was having a period. Some women spot during pregnancy. Some women bleed all the way through. I didn't actually have a real reason to fully worry, so I chose to breathe and just focus on Talitha. I told one of my friends who I knew had experienced baby loss previously once we were out on the beach steps together. I needed people to hold me as I held space for my daughter's day. It was a fun and beautiful time with friends celebrating our firstborn on the beach and under the seafront shelter in the drizzle that began.
But then there was a pouring. We were packing up the car with both girls and birthday presents when I felt a real sense to wipe. A few minutes ride in the car back up to our street. Parking outside our door. Touching between my legs to see blood on my fingers having come all the way through. Get to the toilet. I sat and wiped deep red from myself. And then I heard a heavy plop and looked down to see the darkest pool of blood. I might have reached in to fish out my heart as it seemed to sink further away from me. David was in the living room sorting the girls, but I called to him, trying to keep my trembling voice steady. We decided to call a friend to drive me to the hospital. I still sat on the toilet, and let my anxious tears flow when I told her something was wrong, so could she come take me to A&E. I put on a brave face, and told Talitha I needed to go see the doctor, because I wasn't well. She was happy and strangely calm playing with her new things as I kissed her goodbye. I won't get to spend her birthday evening with her.
We waited for my name to be called, my friend and I, chatting about any and everything. A calmness returned to me from her steady companionship, and a confidence that David and the girls would be fine at home as her husband and daughter were over to keep them company. The GP I saw wasn't terrible, but definitely crass. There wasn't much she could tell me other than my pregnancy hormones were still high and that my vitals were good. We left feeling positive that we'd come to make sure I was okay. Something my friend aptly reminded me was important, because from the moment I saw blood that morning, I had forgotten about my own well-being — is the baby okay? over and over.
I was home in time for bedtime routine, which David and I did together, and was greeted with smiling children. Those evening moments together took on a more somber atmosphere in my heart as we sang over our girls and they fell asleep blissfully unaware.
Then my body began a deep work. The discomfort of early labor came to mind. I struggled to find an easy position on the couch. My uterus cramping. My back aching. I didn't know at the time that this is what often happens when you're body is working to deliver a baby who has stopped growing. I tried to think of it as normal pregnancy symptoms, because sometimes it is. Our womanly bodies even echo this process monthly: the life-making energy indwelling within us.
I went to bed, slept, woke up a few times to nurse my 11 month old all as normal. David went to work. I woke with the girls like I always do. I felt alright. I remember telling Talitha I felt okay, but I wasn't sure about the baby. We carried on as normal, and oh, how we wanted everything to be just that. Breakfast with the girls. A spot of play. The slow Monday morning getting-to-nursery routine. I dropped Talitha off, and called the Early Pregnancy Unit on my walk back home, told them yes, the blood clot was more than a 50p coin size, booked an appointment, and waited. Evie Claire played at my feet as I lazed on the couch. She seemed extra joyful that morning, and I remember her little smile — that goodness — made me cry. She drifted off for a nap eventually there on the couch after mama's milk. I had to get up for a parcel at the door, and then I went to the toilet. Still so much blood I'd been wiping. I didn't understand it at the time, but I felt an intuitive nudge to push a little, and then a little mass passed through right onto the inside of the toilet bowl below me, which I quickly retrieved. Oh, God, what am I looking at? Horror, denial, emptiness, and yet a mystical tenderness I felt for what I held in my palm. I waited trying to gather myself. Even in that moment, I could feel my gratefulness for the rare and miraculous solitude I was gifted for this all too early encounter with the one who was growing within me. Talitha at nursery, Evie Claire asleep, I had room to think.
I called EPU. That's when my horrified tears began to flow. Just as soon as you hear a human being, it's hard to hold it back. She couldn't tell me much over the phone. I remember frantically asking if I could send someone a photo to tell me what I was looking at. She tried to reassure me. She sounded almost delighted that I had something I could bring in to my appointment the next day. I was instructed to put it in the refridgerator in a tupperware box. I cried cradling the little thing. Jesus, can you tell me if this is my baby? I heard him say yes. There was no form of a baby to see, but what they later called "pregnancy product" at the hospital, I knew it could be nothing else.
I called David at work. He broke down on the phone. He told me I was remarkably calm. He left to come home to us. I showed him what we had of the baby. I felt so empty, and yet there was still so much blood. We tried to be peaceful. There was nothing we could do except just be together. It was hard to do the normal family thing once Talitha was home from nursery, but we made it work for the girls. I think I was walking around in shock if I'm honest.
That evening, we had friends come visit with us. Friends that sadly knew the pain as well. Friends who love us, and we love them...
I am beyond thankful for friends. The next morning, one of my friends looked after both my girls so we could go to the hospital together. She's also the friend who wrote me a poem the day before. Inspired by watching me at Talitha's birthday party all the while knowing that I had begun bleeding, she wrote a beautiful homage to my mother heart. I read it so many times that day as I knew I was loosing my baby. It gave me something to hang some of my emotions on.
We went to the hospital. Plastic box in hand. In the nurses office, I asked her to look at it. Though she suggested she have a look whilst I went for my scan, I explained to her that I felt quite protective of it. I actually almost felt a little crazy, but I knew it was my maternal instinct to hold and protect, to love and need something to carry. My body and heart loosing and holding on to so much. She said it looked like placenta tissue. What then would we find in the scan? I immediately thought. But she gave us papers about miscarriage, told us we could send this off for testing to see if we could find out what had happened. None of that seemed relevant to me.
I carried my box in my bag as they ushered us to the ultrasound waiting area in the maternity unit. They felt bad that they send women who have likely just lost their baby to go and sit around all the other pregnant mothers. I told them it was okay. I'm around babies and children anyway. I didn't think it actually mattered to me. As I sat waiting, a friend sent me a photo of her darling miracle baby girl in one of the onesies I had sent her that both my girls had worn. It was the perfect little message to recieve to remind me of hope. During the vaginal scan, the sonographer pointed out my ovaries and fallopian tubes. Heartbreakingly, I kept trying to see a baby on the computer screen. But it was unmistakingly clear. The sonographer mentioned how sorry she was for me to have to go back out into the waiting room then. As she mentioned it, I began to tear up. Perhaps it would have been more professional of her to move right along, and it probably was because she was so kind that I cried and had to stay in the room a little longer to compose myself, but I'm more thankful she allowed herself that moment of humanity in a job that so often doesn't. Once I'd suitably calmed myself, and it was time to go back across to EPU, they let us wait in a counseling room all on our own. It was there we began to do some major processing together.
My friend had sent me a song to look up that she had been playing that morning. The lyrics were tear-inducing, but I almost relished it in that moment to begin to allow my grief to come out. David and I sat chatting. "I wouldn't want to send anything off," I told him. "I want to bury it." The word bury made me cry and we sat softly crying together. "I want to name the baby," I said out loud after some time. David agreed. I pulled up the baby naming app we had recently downloaded. You swipe the names you like and paired up with your partner, the names you both like go into a seperate name bank. I had a quick look to see that there were only two names there we had both found interesting. "Rhys" and "Orion." We started looking up the meanings of the names, and it just made sense. Using the spelling "Reese" it could be for either a boy or a girl. The name means "enthusiasm," which broken down could be "en theos" or "in God." It's also the first name of the lead singer of the band that technically brought David and I together. (I was downloading a song from Five Iron Frenzy from David's computer on Napster that first made him start chatting to me all those years ago.) Orion is a major constellation, and I'd always thought of unborn babies being "in the stars or heavenlies," an image I'm not sure how or why I came to, but it seems to be a general cultural idea. Orion was a hunter in Greek mythology, so "enthusiam hunter" makes for an enchanting name to us. Our little Reese Orion: the one we wait to hold in our arms.
We left the hospital, and the same feeling that came over me when we left the hospital with Evie Claire at 4 days old (our first trip outside of the house after her home birth) struck me hard. I wanted to go to the sea to walk out there on my own and just be for a little while before we picked the girls back up. We drove to the same place I seem to always go: Botany Bay. I took a few minutes to pray and to speak to my heart mutterings in the spirit I don't always understand.
The rest of the day and that week was spent together as a family trying to process and grieve whilst also generally taking care of the girls. We had to tell Talitha that the baby in my belly died, and that there wouldn't be another little brother or sister just yet. She was sad and angry and incredibly brave for a four year old. My sweet girl who has experienced birth right there with me and now also knows the pain of baby loss — that some babies make it and some don't. We told her the baby's name that night. I also chose a flower for them like I have a flower for both of the girls. I just sort of blurted out "the baby's flower is a bluebell" over dinner, and then I remembered my due date, which would have been late April, which is also when bluebells come out. David and I shared many tears together in the evenings that week. He wrote a poem one night. We found ways to process. I bled a lot the rest of that week, but I didn't pass any other bits of tissue, which made me feel even more like what we had was everything that had begun to form that didn't grow heathily. A friend of ours made a wooden box for us with a lock and key for us to bury it in. That next Sunday morning, we took the girls to lay the little box — all our hopes and the potential of this life — to rest. Talitha decorated the sides of it with paint. That morning, I had wrapped the little mass in cloth with bits of lavendar and sunflower petals (my girls' flowers) before turning the key. Our friends who visited us the night it happened, joined us in our family goodbye. It made carrying the load a little lighter. We now have a little unmarked grave only we know that we can come back to to honour Reese as a family. I wrote a poem that night that helped me mark that week of my life.
Since then, we bought a beautiful book called "These Precious Little People" that a friend recommended to help us unpack the conversation with Talitha. We cry here and there, sometimes in front of the girls. It hits me randomly as I'm sure it will the rest of my life. We've shared here and there as well. I tried to go around to every person who knew of the pregnancy and tell them the news in some gesture of systematically processing the information. We recieved so much support from our community: meals, child-care, cups of tea, chats, texts and messages, prayers, just so much love. I can never say thank you enough for that. October was baby loss awareness month, and there were times when the posts were overwhelming as everything was so raw. But mostly, realising how very common this is and still how little it is talked about shifted something in me. Waiting to post this felt necessary. I needed time to write it all out. It took a few long sittings. But the waiting to share has also felt heavy. I need to get it out there. I need help carrying this. The first week I felt so connected to the baby and my body in the death. Since then, I have gone back and forth from feeling in tune and feeling very far away.
I know mothers who have experienced this several times over. This is pretty shitty just the once. I know friends who have lost ovaries in ectopic pregnancies, who have lost full-term babies. Every single bit of it sucks. Every loss at every stage is heart-wrenching and unfair. I used to grieve these losses not having experienced my own in a hard, real way. I have shed tears over this that I couldn't explain before feeling my own pain. It has always baffled me. Now I understand it a little more. Truly, I have been overwhelmed with what we women hold. What we loose and yet still carry.
My baby, my third child who I wanted so very much, I hold you as close as ever. You, like both your sisters, have changed my life for the better. I will wait for you. I will never forget you. You always have a place in our family life. A door in my heart is open to you in every celebration or grief we will experience from here on out. I miss you.