I have been dreading the writing of this post. This tribute to my son James, stillborn in 1996, has been approached with much trepidation. I know I owe it to him to write this post, he is after all, one of my children.  I know it will be an emotional journey. I hope to achieve some kind of peace with the publication of these words. It has been so hard to sit down and start….. harder still to think these memories out onto the page.

You never really get over losing a child. You just move forward in time from the place you were in when it happened. Other things occur in your life, but at the base of your being, is a lost moment. A future being constantly mourned by the mother you would have been, to that child. I have been very reserved in my mourning. I don’t like to share this very private grief, as the emotional backlash whenever I speak of James is uncomfortable for others. They cannot possibly know what to say. Even mothers of stillborn children are at a loss with each other. We know we feel more or less the same way, but no two experiences are the same. No two mothers will grieve in quite the same way, therefore making it impossible to find comfort and closure. Ever.

James, whom my partner and I nicknamed Jimmy very early in the pregnancy, started out his life as an unplanned, but very welcome addition to our growing family of boys. I have never been able to explain how I knew that all my babies were boys before they were born. I. Just. Did.

I have often thought I might be slightly psychic, bear with me, as you will see what I mean.

My experience, especially with pregnancy, (my own and my very close associates), is that I always just know stuff about babies on the way. I can tell if you are pregnant before you reach for the test. Just ask a few of my friends and my sisters. I predicted both my sister’s first babies!

I just know,  I say “are you having a baby?” “No freakin way!” is usually the reply, then a few weeks later the announcements are made. I don’t know what it is. Science has enough information to research the phenomenon, and they say it’s a hormone reaction, or an ability to “smell” the change in hormonal activity and “sense” pregnancy. Whatever? I’m hardly ever wrong.

When I was about 28 weeks along with 5 I had been hospitalized briefly for some bleeding. Not a lot, but enough for my Doc to advise bed rest for a few weeks and then to take it very easy for the remainder of the pregnancy. I worried for the next 14 weeks, but 5 was born bouncing and healthy with no further problems two weeks past his due date. No interference, just a natural labor and birth from start to finish.

I knew about my pregnancy with James very early on. I could feel my body changing in the first few weeks. I didn’t even bother with a test. As 5 had been a very difficult baby, with his acid reflux, screaming and constant feeding for 10 months, and here I was pregnant again. I sensed trouble.

When I fell pregnant with James I recall being very adamant that we tell everyone straight away. I had a funny feeling in those early weeks. I can’t explain why it was so important to let everyone know. In hindsight I guess it’s plain to see. I wanted to share as much of his life as I could in the limited time I was given. It still freaks me out a little how I knew?

As we moved past the 8 week and 12 week period I began to feel in two very distinct minds about him. On one hand, we had passed those milestones without a hiccup and I was feeling good and healthy. On the other hand, every time I would pass my hand over my belly, I would get this feeling, “sick, sick, sick”. Especially in the shower. One day as I brushed my hair in the bathroom mirror, (and I will never, ever forget this moment), I had a clearly defined thought. That this baby was not going to make it. That I would have another baby one day, and that baby would be ok. It wasn’t so much like a voice in my head, just a very clear thought.

I know you’re all thinking what a kook I am, but I have trouble believing this experience myself. Only that it happened to me, can I know that it happened. I had been sent a message. A warning not to hang on too dearly.

If only I had listened, as I clung on so much more fiercely to my baby’s life from that moment on. I denied what I was feeling on the inside and clung to the fact that I had made it to 15, then 20 weeks, and there had been no outward sign of a problem. No bleeding. No cramping. I was enjoying a full nights sleep for the first time since 5 was born, and he had fully weaned himself before his first birthday. Things were going well, the only thing I couldn’t feel, was my baby’s movements.

This worried me, as 5 had been a terribly active baby, and I had felt the first flutters of his movements very early on. With James I never felt a movement. Not ever. I just assumed he was a lot quieter, or that my uterus was getting “old” and stretched and wasn’t as sensitive this time around.

We had our first ultrasound at 21 weeks. I looked forward to it, as I wanted to see this quiet little person who was making me so concerned. I wanted confirmation that everything was ok.

He who used to be was working out of town, so I attended on my own. It’s not the nicest feeling to be laying there on the table watching the face of your ultrasound technician darken, become hard to read. Frowning at her instruments, trying this way and that way to get a different result. Eventually she turned to me and said, “Your baby has a problem. I’m not getting any movement at all, and for a 21 week fetus, that’s really not normal. From what I can see there is a lot of dark material surrounding the baby, that is possibly an internal bleed.”

A fetal heartbeat was found to be present and strong, but the dark mass and lack of movement was a big problem. No other abnormalities were found at this time, however measurements were hard to take because of the “mass”. She sent me to my Doctor, who referred me to a Specialist in Sydney. A better, internal ultrasound was required so they could diagnose the problem properly.

He who used to be and I went off to Sydney with heavy hearts. We were still hopeful. “He had a strong heartbeat!” we would say to one another.

Again I found myself in that situation of being at the mercy of the ultrasound technician, this time with a team of Specialists in tow. Minute by minute the tension in the room grew. We knew at that point that the news was bad.

I got dressed and we went to consult the specialist for a report on the situation. In a tiny office, hours from our home, we were told that James suffered from Amniotic band syndrome. This occurs when there is an internal rupture of the amniotic sac, causing fibrous “bands” to form and constrict parts of the fetus. As the fetus grows the bands do not, often resulting in arm and leg amputations and fetal death. James’ case was complicated by internal bleeds that had clotted, forming around his body as he moved in the uterus. My poor baby had basically entwined himself in fibrous “ropes” of blood and amniotic fluid. This was why I never felt him move.

However the doctors couldn’t tell us how serious James’ case was, or give us an absolute diagnosis on the outcome. There was no way of knowing “exactly” where the bands were.

We were advised the best decision was to terminate the pregnancy then and there. We had an hour to decide.

We went to a nearby coffee shop. I felt numb. Totally disassociated. I was in shock, and already grieving for my baby. He who used to be, was calmer, and more hopeful. “They said he had a strong heartbeat. They can’t tell what’s really going to happen?”

He said only God knew whether our baby was going to be ok, and shouldn’t we give him a chance?

I was surprised by his hopefulness. He usually took the easiest way out of situations, and here he was encouraging me to hope. He couldn’t in clear conscience “murder” his own child. His feelings took me by surprise, I had expected him to agree with the doctors. Together we made the decision to let God decide the outcome. One way or another, James would be born. Not “terminated”.

Lengthy discussions were then held with the Specialists, who were shocked at our decision. “You could hemorrhage and bleed to death”, they threatened. I decided to take my chances. Ultimately my partner left the decision in my hands. I just could not stop the beating of my child’s heart.

I knew I lived close by to the hospital, and that if I had to I could get there in under 2 minutes. When you make a decision like that, you have to take your life in your own hands. Literally. But who was I to end his life, in favour of my own? Deep down I knew James probably wouldn’t live, but I hoped.

A little over 4 weeks later, my son was born sleeping in the middle of a March night. I was alone in the home. I can remember feeling strange earlier in the day, and had a strange dream the previous night.

In my dream, I was frantically drawing an invisible rope back into my body. I could see nothing in my hands, but could feel the weight of something. I was desperate to pull this rope back toward me, but the more I tried to bring it back, the more “rope” spun through my hands. It went straight up into the air. I awoke feeling upset and unsettled. I spent the remainder of the night tossing and turning.

This was partially the reason why I was left in peace for the next night. He who used to be had taken the 2 older boys out to our farm house for the night, to give me a rest. We both thought I was overtired and stressed, and as 4 weeks had passed since the Specialist visit, we had both begun to feel hopeful about James. Nothing averse had happened, he was still hanging in there. I really didn’t have any fears for my own safety at this time. I was just passing the days quietly, waiting for something to happen.

Around midnight I woke with slight pains and pressure. I knew what was happening and called the hospital, letting them know I would be there in a few minutes. I called He who used to be, and advised him to stay where he was with the children. I knew he wouldn’t be able to handle the upset, and in some strange way I felt that I would be stronger without him. I also told my best friend to stay away, she was extremely upset with me, and wanted to be there to support me, but I felt the experience would be too horrible to share with anyone….my baby was about to be born dead. I think I really wanted the experience to be mine alone. After all, it was I who had carried him, and I didn’t want to have to worry about anyone’s feelings but my own.

I knew he was gone, the dream had told me so. I arrived at the hospital expecting nothing else.

The pain of the labor was diluted by the drugs they gave me. So much my head swam. I suppose they do that on purpose, so that your emotions are dulled. I felt detached from the birth, but was able to ask questions and comprehend answers.

Yes, he was a male child. Yes he was stillborn. Yes he had died sometime in the last 24 hours or so.

I was asked if I wanted an autopsy. I was advised that I wouldn’t get my son’s body back if I wanted an autopsy. He was too small.  I was told his placenta was abnormal. His femur length abnormal, and his entire body was covered in blood clots and bands.

I lay in that bed in the delivery room, all night. The maternity ward was quiet. I was left alone, offered more drugs to sleep. But I didn’t really sleep that much. All I could think about was being given some time with my son. I had one tiny moment with him, just after his birth, but there were things I needed to see for myself.

They brought his tiny body to me the next day. I was given as much time as I wanted, and left in a room on my own with him. Hours passed. I held him. I unwrapped his blankets and committed every part of him to my memory. I told him I loved him, and I was sorry I couldn’t be with him.

In time we buried him, just the two of us and the Funeral Director. We felt our grief was very private, and didn’t want any friends or family with us on that day. Just James and us.

It was a long time before I felt that I could even go to a shop, buy food for us, without feeling like screaming. I don’t know how I held myself together in those weeks following his birth. I remember feeling numb a lot of the time. Having my other boys to look after helped, and it wasn’t all bad. I had brilliant friends, and great support from them. My family struggled to understand my grief. It wasn’t something my parent’s generation “talked” about, but they did their best.

5 was around 15 months old, and strangely at this time, when at no other time would he sit still, he allowed me to cradle him in my arms like a younger baby. It was his way of comforting his mummy, the only way he knew. The rest of the time he was 100 miles an hour, and so kept me busy along with his older brother 3. At five years old, my older son was curious and supportive. Comforting me by telling me how much he loved me. He wondered why he wasn’t allowed to see his baby brother, but he soon forgot about the pregnancy. Yet, to this day, is the one most likely to remember James’ Birthday and call to ask me how I am doing on that day. He remembers.

There isn’t an end to this grief. You never get over it, but you move past it. You allow yourself some sunshine, because without the sun, the world can be a cold, hard place to live in.

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