Thursday, July 02, 2015

Parenthood after loss

I wrote this with the intention of submitting it to The F Word blog, but since writing it I haven't gathered up the guts to submit it, and since I'm due so soon I also can't handle the editing and feedback process as I'm getting rather stressed about what will happen over the next couple of weeks.  So I'm going to publish it here and ask The F Word to link back to it as part of their weekly round up.

Talking about stress, I think I might have another post in me about the physiological and mental effects of extended stress.


What makes a mother?  Or a father?

I used to think that you became a parent once you'd given birth.  Once the baby was outside of the mother, and breathing.  But recent events have changed my opinion on this.

My first child died at full term, for no known reason.  According to conventional wisdom, I am not a parent as I have no child at home to care for.  According to conventional wisdom, the 8-9 months I grew him and carried him aren't enough to make me a mother.  From my pre-pregnancy understanding, once my son had died, I wasn't sure if we were still parents.  We had no physical, moving, breathing, child to show and talk about and cosset.  I have the evidence in my body that I carried him to full term - the stretch marks, the linea nigra, the post labour pains, the recovery period, the dodgy knees, the sore back.  Everything about my body screamed that I was a mother yet I was missing the vital proof.

Losing a baby is likely to be the most horrific experience a parent will ever go through, and denying their experience as parents is damaging.  I am still a mother even though my son isn't here.  I ate the right things, went to the ante-natal appointments, saved the scan photos, planned and decorated the nursery, bought all the right stuff, read all the right books and took as best care of him as I could.  If that's not being a mother what is?

Louise who runs the Duck in a Dress blog wrote about infertility and mothering sunday, and came to the conclusion that you become a parent when you feel like one.  I agree with this.  It might be when you discover you are pregnant, when you accept you are pregnant, when you have the first scan, feel the first movements, or when you have their baby in their arms.  Or it might be when you decide you desperately want kids.

Leigh Kendall over at Headspace Perspective recently wrote about whether she is a mummy blogger, given that her son lived for just 35 days.  Just because Hugo isn't with her now does that make her less of a parent, does that give her less of a right to be part of the parenting blogging circles?

Still Standing magazine has an article on just this subject, the writer argues that "a mother isn’t born when a child is born. A mother and father are born when the dream of a child is conceived".

I believe that it doesn't matter whether your child died due to a cord accident, placental failure, intrauterine growth restriction, pre-eclampsia or Hellp, or if their heart just stopped.  You are still a parent, if you want to be.  Even if you choose to have a termination for medical reasons you are a parent, making a decision in the best interests of your baby, the same way as parents of living children would decide whether to turn off life support should there be problems after the child is born (at age 1 or 26).

For those of us whose babies have died, if we are no longer parents, what does that say about our experiences of pregnancy and delivery?  If your baby dies in utero, after about 14 weeks, you still have to give birth, whether that is by labour or cesarean section.  The labour process is the same as that with a living child.  I know what the difference between early and active labour and I know what ring of fire refers to, and what it feels like to pass the placenta (gross, since you asked).

I think for second trimester losses, there is even more of an inclination to dismiss the baby as not real, and the parents as not parents, and that's damaging.  Baby loss parents have pregnancy symptoms and delivery stories, the same as every other mother out there, because it's the same process, but not if others don't recognise us as parents.  Not if they treat us, on later pregnancies, as first time parents.  Dismissing our children is a crushing experience.

We are still parents and it's about time the rest of the world recognised that.

Some notes:
Baby loss, through second trimester miscarriage, stillbirth (in the UK this is classified as death of a baby after 24 weeks gestation and prior to birth), is vastly unknown and misunderstood.  People think it doesn't happen, or that it's preventable, or that you'll get warning of it.  That's not always the case.  In 2013, over 5700 babies died just before, during or soon after birth.  That’s over 100 babies every week. Sometimes reasons are found, more often they are not.  Dealing with the death of a baby, whether you are the parent, other relative or a friend, is a hugely complicated and emotional thing to do.  If you then go on to become pregnant again, it's even more messy.  However there is support available:
Sands - providing support for those affected by late miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death, as well as promoting research around babies dying.  June is Sands awareness month, find out more here.
Tommys - funding research into stillbirth, premature birth and miscarriage, and providing information for parents.
Miscarriage Association - UK site giving information and support for all stages of miscarriage.
Movements advice from RCOG
Still Standing magazine - online magazine dealing with child loss and infertility


Anonymous said...

This was wonderfully written.
I'm so very sorry for your loss, but nobody can take the fact that you're a mother away from you x

Saranga said...

Thank you, whoever you are.

Saz said...

Really lovely article. Articulates a lot of my feelings about being a parent to a baby who is not with me. Xx