Louise O’Donnell

Life after loss

My story starts four years ago in my first pregnancy. We found out early that we were having twins, but unfortunately the pregnancy was filled with constant worry about whether one or both babies would survive. There were issues around their growth being uneven, suggesting one baby was getting more nutrients than the other. We found out this was a problem at 12 weeks, and ended up having weekly scans at a specialist hospital for the majority of the pregnancy. As we went on, the problem got worse, then evened out, then resurfaced, teasing us with hope then heartbreak on loop.

 

At week 26, they thought we were finally ok for the home stretch, only to find one heart beat had been lost at the next scan around 27 weeks. I had to hold on for the surviving baby until 28 weeks 6 days, where my body began to haemorrhage and we needed an emergency c-section. My surviving baby, Eva (who is now 3 and doing great, trashing my house and my sanity!) was taken straight to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) where she spent 9 weeks before coming home.

 

I didn’t enjoy having a baby at first. There, I said it. I didn’t sleep and was a walking milk machine. There were not only challenges of caring for a newborn, but a newborn who had been extremely premature, who had been through an enormous battle. Throw in a nice crippling helping of raw grief to manage on top, and you’re not having that much fun. Eva needed weekly blood tests back at the hospital we had only just managed to escape. She was the smallest baby of her age at any baby group, where you experience the inner turmoil of whether to tell a complete stranger why you baby is so small, or just lie about how old they are. It was incredibly lonely for so many reasons, and had so many layers of loss to it.

 

I thought I wasn’t ok initially because of the grief….as if a successful pregnancy and birth would have meant I’d be floating round like Snow White with bluebirds singing, fresh bread in the oven, cradling my bundle of joy, high off the wonders of motherhood. Then I got stronger, and kept talking, and kept connecting with other parents. I found that I wasn’t alone. I assumed every mum I saw pushing a pram was a happy, smug, unaffected woman who had breezed her way into motherhood. Wrong. They were IVF warriors, survivors of recurrent miscarriage or stillbirth, adoptive parents. They were battling postnatal depression, loneliness, mum guilt, overwhelm, and generally thinking ‘what the hell is this?’ So instead of comparing to other mums, I took comfort that we are all, in some way, living our other version of what we expected. We are all grieving something, healing, and chasing happiness anywhere we can find it. We are never, ever alone.

 

As we’ve healed and processed as a family, we are now happy and thriving. We’ve even gone on to have our rainbow baby, Maria (in the middle of the pandemic no less!) She is now 7 months old and proof that bravery pays off, because going into a second pregnancy after everything was scary! Whilst Eva is our miracle warrior, Maria is, by default, the light after the storm. She is part of our story of moving forward, chasing happiness, and finding strength. Eva is our lesson of what you can come through. Maria is our reassurance that the universe is not against us, that we can get pregnant and have a baby like ‘normal’ people. (Whoever ‘normal’ people are?).

 

Across both pregnancies, I’ve gained an appreciation of the absolute miracle of conceiving, growing, and bringing home a baby. I’ve gained an awareness of what I can get through and manage emotionally and mentally. I’ve gained an appreciation for life, friends, family, and full awareness of just how lucky we all are to be here and just live. I can see life for what it is: messy, and complicated, and not necessarily how you think it should be.  I no longer assume everyone else is ok and I’m the one drowning.  I know I am not isolated in grief, loss, or life not working out how you had planned – it doesn’t mean it’s less.  It means it’s different.  I am a survivor of baby loss, prematurity, and pregnancy after loss, and I’m not scared of what life will throw at me.  I hope if you’re reading this in a dark place, that you know you will be ok. The old me wouldn’t have believed that, but the present me is shouting it from the rooftops!

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