Our Journey - Loss, homebirth and a valuable lesson on regret...
My name is Sarah and my family and I live in South West Sydney. My husband, Bryant, and I have 2 girls; Wren (4 years) and Clover (9 months) who you’ll see frequently on my website and social media platforms.
Despite photography having a solid presence in my life, falling pregnant with Wren never pushed me towards the thought of birth photography; I was disconnected from my pregnancy and the sadness I feel now for not documenting the pregnancy and birth will stay with me forever.
It is such a fleeting time in a woman’s life and you may wish it away at the time but once it is over you’ll be searching for and savouring memories of when your babes were in your bellies, for the rest of your life.
When Wren was 2 we decided it was time to try and extend our family and add another tiny person to our ranks. However, as the universe would have it, this story didn’t lead us to our expected destination of a happy family of 4.
I fell pregnant quite quickly but that joy was short-lived as at 7 weeks I experienced heavy bleeding.
My fears were soon downplayed by every medical professional I saw. I was seeking advice, answers, good news or hell, even bad news. I just wanted something definitive. But such is the world of pregnancy and childbirth, not everything goes to plan and despite modern technology there are still questions that can’t be answered and sometimes, little can be done to save a pregnancy that is failing.
Between 15 and 17 weeks I had been in and out of emergency and Early Pregnancy Assessment Units at two separate hospitals more than I care to remember. I ended up in Liverpool hospital on bed rest and at 19 weeks my waters broke and the reality of the possible loss of my baby started to sink in.
I remember vividly, the midwives coming to check the baby’s heart rate and once my waters broke it got harder for them to do so.
Each time they came to check the baby's heartrate my own heart would sink. Even with my eyes tightly shut, I could see the tension in the midwives as they struggled to find the heartbeat, but tried not to alert me to the fact that something might be wrong. I felt like I needed to comfort them, to tell them that it was okay, I knew that things weren’t right…
I was alone at an ultrasound, with no one to hold my hand, when the sonographer put his hand on my arm and simply said “I’m sorry…”, I thought, sorry for what? He said it as though there was only one outcome.
Two words. "I'm sorry..." It was the most definitive answer I had been given my entire pregnancy, it just wasn’t the answer I was searching for.
I swallowed the desire to scream and calmly asked what he meant; he explained that a baby needs amniotic fluid for lung development and that a baby’s lungs don’t start developing until after 20 weeks. Despite this, babies can survive in utero with no amniotic fluid but more often than not the mother will go into spontaneous labour soon after her membranes have ruptured. Babies who survive have countless months of neonatal care ahead of them and the possibility of needing oxygen support for the remainder of their lives, not to mention the risk of cerebral palsy and countless other issues…
Thus, a choice was handed to us. Wait and try to make it to 24 weeks to see if bub could survive, or choose to induce labour and end our baby’s life. Black and white, those were our choices.
I wished that this choice could be made for me. For us. I hoped it would be taken out of our hands so we didn’t have to make the decision to end our child’s life.
My absolute worst fear during this time was that I would make the choice to continue with the pregnancy, steel myself for what may come and then deliver the baby only to have he/she suffer and pass away after birth.
I spent hours at night researching the risks for continuing with the pregnancy and trying to imagine what our life might look like afterwards if bub did survive. Would I be burdening our family and sacrificing our future if bub survived and had chronic health issues leading into the future? Could I mentally cope with that? Did I WANT to cope with that?
I say ‘want’ because this is something that is very important to me. To have the ability to choose. I wanted complete autonomy over my body. Some women do not get that choice and I will be forever grateful that I was able to choose for myself, for my husband and for our family.
I wanted a baby, I wanted this baby…but I wanted this baby to be healthy and as much as it hurt to think it, I did not want to put our family through the trials and tribulations I could see laying ahead for us if we decided to continue with the pregnancy. So we made our choice, as a family.
Making that choice destroyed me. As much as I reasoned with myself and knew within myself that we were making the right choice for our family it tore me apart. No mother should have to make that choice. Though, to have the choice was a blessing and a curse.
When being induced, the doctor advised that I was already 1cm dilated and it looked like I would have been going into spontaneous labour in the coming days. A small consolation for my now broken soul.
I laboured and delivered a little boy, he looked just like his Dad. Our little Tommy. The hospital advised that even if we didn’t want to take them with us, that they would photograph Tommy and keep the photos on file so that if ever we wanted to see him, we could come back and ask for them.
At the time it seemed like nothing, but thinking back now, bless those bloody midwives. How bloody thoughtful of them. When you are torn in two and riddled with grief, aching from labour and facing the real world outside those ward doors you aren’t thinking clearly and these midwives are there thinking for you. Knowing that you will want those photos. That you will want to see your baby.
These midwives deserve a medal. I took those photos and I treasure them dearly. They are held close to my heart and have healed me beyond measure. These photos helped pave the way for me on my journey to providing birth photography to other women.
The midwives measured him, dressed him and gave us time to hold and spend time with him. Then they sent us home with him in a cardboard box.
Another small consolation; birthing your baby before 20 weeks gestation allows you to legally take your baby with you. After 20 weeks, you have to leave your baby at the hospital, in the arms of strangers.
When we were discharged, I carried our boy to the car and placed him on the backseat for the drive to my Mum’s house where we planned to bury him.
This detail has plagued me ever since: on his journey to his final destination to be returned to the earth he was riding on our back seat, in a cardboard box… why didn’t I hold him? Why didn’t I cradle that box and pour every bit of love and energy I could muster into it while I could?
No amount of reasoning will heal that wound for me. I will forever feel guilt for not doing all that I could in that moment.
We buried our little man under a special tree in my Mum’s backyard then we headed home to pick up the pieces of our now shattered lives.
It goes without saying that the next few months were hard for us, after the loss of a baby the world is full of firsts you aren’t willing to face. “Last time I did this”, “Last time I went there” or “last time I saw this person” I was pregnant… and now I am not. Will they mention it? Will they ask? Do I want them to? Can I just go to sleep and wake up in another world where pregnancy and infant loss is not a thing…?
The silence surrounding our grief was suffocating. I was thrown into a world I was unfamiliar with. Usually an open book I struggled to find my feet in this new world, do I mention his name? Do I pretend it didn’t happen? Then I read an article by Alice Jolly on the loss of her daughter where she said “if we avoid the pain of grief then we also miss out on its gifts. And yes, there are gifts. We suffer losses so that we more fully know the value of what is left behind. And having suffered bereavement, we do not turn away from others who are bereaved. …grief is work, and all work becomes easier if it is shared between many hands. And there is no community so welded together as the community of grief shared.”
Reading this solidified in me that I had a role to play in this new world of mine, I refused to hide behind the stigma and spoke my soul to anyone who would listen. People would know about our loss. People would know our boy’s name and the universe would know that he had lived.
With a simply amazing support network we rebuilt and started to talk about trying for baby number 3.
Again, we fell pregnant quickly and although this pregnancy felt like it stood in stark contrast to my last, I felt a strong urge to ensure I protected the pregnancy and my birthing choices. So we went on to plan our first home birth.
I had so many choices taken away from me in my pregnancy with Tommy and I desperately wanted to claim that space back for myself. This time around I photographed myself pregnant, spoke loudly and transparently to anyone who would listen about the trauma we’d experienced with our loss, advocated for pro-choice beliefs and spoke out against the stigma surrounding pregnancy and infant loss.
Losing Tommy taught me a valuable lesson in regret; do everything within your power to avoid it. I knew I would regret not documenting this birth, so we organised our own birth photography.
My homebirth experience was amazing, empowering, healing and restorative. It returned to me the faith I once had in my body, it healed wounds I had left from losing our little Tommy and it restored my relationship with my husband.
Our family felt whole again and I have the photographs of the moment my body felt mine again. The moment our second daughter, Clover, took her first breaths and brought white light and healing energy into our lives.
If you are struggling with how to deal with grief of any kind, I highly recommend the following resources and articles. These few resources helped me on my path to be at peace with our loss...