Farnborough Sands

Autumn shows us how beautiful it is to let things go

I write this four years on from what can only be described as the most traumatic event in my life. I finished university in 2015, and was finally offered a job in Surrey. I was so excited to start this new chapter and although sad about leaving family and friends behind, I was ready to start my career.

I moved in July 2016 and felt like the world was my oyster. During my first month, I started feeling unwell, and felt lethargic, sick and overly emotional. I initially put it down to being homesick and away from familiar surroundings. But one day at work, I was sat at my desk and I felt a weird sensation in my tummy, a flutter like feeling. It didn’t really think anything of it and even said to my mum, we both just thought it was wind. I noticed my tummy was hardening and disregarded the fact I had no periods because I’ve always had an unconventional cycle. I could go 4 months without a period at times, so this felt no different.

It wasn’t until I had a really bad night with a bad stomach one night. The next day I headed to the doctor and he asked all the routine questions, and told me to make a diary of things I’ve been eating because it could be an intolerance. He then examined my tummy, and at points when he pressed into my abdomen, it made me wince. He asked me to sit down again and said I should go and do a pregnancy test just to rule it out. He gave no indication that he thought I was pregnant, though looking back perhaps I was too naïve to see what he was doing.

I went off to the chemist and quickly went home to do the tests. I waited 5 minutes to see a negative result. When I looked down I saw two lines on the strip. I instantly felt nauseous, more than I had before. I was sick. I thought this can’t be true. I took the second test, which was also positive. I paced around the room, with my phone buzzing from anxious family, friends and manager eagerly waiting for the verdict from my appointment. I didn’t know what to do. I dashed to work as I’d been gone longer than I said I would be. I immediately told my manager and she said to get another test done to see how many weeks. It said 3+ weeks, but I knew it was at least 6 months.

Being in a state of shock, I couldn’t even think. I phoned my mum, who at 300 miles away, couldn’t do much. We were so shocked! My doctor arranged for me to have a scan at the hospital and I went to go and stay with my Auntie. I’ll be honest, I kept thinking this isn’t in the plan, I can’t have a baby right now, I’ve just started my career. But as the nights went on, and I now knew what the movements in my tummy were, I bonded with the life growing inside me. It’s true what they say that the smallest footprints can have the biggest impact on your life.

It was finally time for the scan, I was anxious, unwell and still in a state of shock. As the sonographer jellied my tummy, I knew what was about to happen would change my life forever. She began the scan and seemed to be struggling, I just thought they’ve got it wrong, I’m not pregnant. Next thing she says, ‘I’m sorry but there seems to be a severe abnormality with the baby’. Those words will forever stick in my mind. I felt powerless, I didn’t know what was going on, and I just remember crying my eyes out. She brought the consultant in and she scanned me again. I remember her being quite abrupt in her delivery and she told me that my baby had Anencephaly.

A word I’d never heard of. I was speechless. She went on, ‘this means that your baby’s brain has not grown properly and the top part of the brain is non-existent. Your baby will not survive after birth.’ I don’t really remember what they told me next. It was like one of those films where the noise zones out and you go into a daydream except this was a nightmare. My auntie and grandma were crying, I was crying. It was horrific.

We left the hospital after being told I’d need to come back, end the pregnancy and have an induced labour. It wasn’t until I spoke to my mum, who whizzed down from Cumbria to be with me, that I realised I had to go through labour. I thought they’d just be able to get the baby out somehow. The nurses and consultant told me not to google what Anencephaly was... but being human I did. I had the whole weekend to go before that dreaded day. I spent most nights being wide awake into the early hours, reading about babies with Anencephaly, some had even survived, but most were fatal and once they tried to live without their mother’s body, they couldn’t survive. I was conflicted, I had no real choice. I was already very unwell with the pregnancy and to go on to full term could’ve killed me as the condition can cause excess amniotic fluid.

I cherish those final days of my baby wriggling around my tummy and I used to talk to her while everyone was asleep. When I did sleep, it was dreams of what she would look like. I didn’t know her sex until I gave birth, but for some reason I was convinced she was a boy! As agonising as that weekend was I’m glad I had the time to spend those last moments with her alive, savouring the kicks and movements.

The 12th September arrived and we drove to the hospital. I knew that day would be hard but I also knew I didn’t have a choice. My mum was with me the whole time and my auntie and grandma stayed in the café until we were allowed out. I had to have a medical termination which is basically a tablet that stops the pregnancy hormones and then I would be induced two days later. We were sent home and I just sobbed into my mums arms. I felt a change in the position of my baby, a horrible heavy sinking feeling in my tummy. I had a panic attack on the motorway, as I didn’t like the feeling.

The next day we returned to the hospital as I was too anxious at home, the lovely midwives allowed me to stay in the Rowan Suite an extra night as I felt more at ease at the hospital. The Rowan Suite was lovely, it had one bedroom like room with pretty butterfly photos and peaceful ornaments. The second room was a hospital bed where I would deliver the baby. The third little room was the cold nursery, which I didn’t really click until later what it was. I tried to sleep that night but I tossed and turned, my mum in the bed next to me.

We discussed names and all I had were boy’s names. My mum said I should really think of a girl’s name just in case. I had a think and Autumn popped into my head, as we were heading into the autumn season. It had always been my favourite, I love the way the leaves change and the nights draw in and that cosy feeling. Autumn Aria I decided.

The next day at 9am, the midwife came in and inserted the first pessary to induce my labour and I took some tablets to kick it off. Now I’m not going to sugar coat it, the pain of induced labour is agonising. It really knocks the wind out of you. I remember saying to my mum, I can’t do this if it’s going to be like this. The hours went on and I had to keep taking more induction tablets. The pain was more excruciating as it went on. To top things off I started to feel sick after taking Cocodamol which apparently I’m allergic to. I remember lying on the bed spaced out and vomiting. Then began the shakes/rigours, I couldn’t stop shivering. They moved me onto the hospital bed so they could hook me up to some antibiotics and a saline drip as I had an infection and a fever.

A lot of it was a blur and I just kept asking am I nearly there? Every contraction winded me and the weight pressing on my bladder made me need the toilet all the time. Going to the toilet whilst in labour is one of the worst pains. It got to around 6pm and my midwife was leaving to be replaced by the night shift midwife. The new midwife, Lisa, I’ll never forget her. She came in and said if I needed anything an epidural or anything to buzz her. We could count the contractions now they were becoming more frequent and I just kept breathing through it. She gave me gas and air as they got more painful, but that made me sick too, so I gave up on that.

It got to about 8pm and I felt a weird pressure and I knew the baby was ready to come out. I said to the midwife, ‘it’s coming now, I need to push, I need to push!’ Twenty minutes of pushing with the contractions and my baby getting a little bit stuck half way, my little angel baby came flying out after my waters broke and soaked the midwife. If anyone was to make an entrance, it would be my baby!! The midwife took her away and cleaned me up so I was comfortable. The whole thing had lasted almost 12 hours and I was exhausted. There was a moment where my mum and auntie had left the room and I was alone. I just felt overcome with emotion of what had just happened and I sobbed.

Around an hour later, Lisa brought a tiny basket in with my angel lying in it. She looked so peaceful and almost as if she was just sleeping. She was dressed in a light pink cardigan, a white and pink bobble hat and a pink blanket. Lisa told me I had a beautiful baby girl and asked if I wanted to hold her and I of course said yes. I’d been unsure before this moment, but all I wanted to do was cuddle the baby I had just birthed. She was so beautiful and precious. Her little features, her buttons nose, tiny chin and really big hands and long fingers! I thought I’d be scared of seeing her because of her condition but I loved her no matter what. As soon as I looked at her, she fit her name perfectly, Autumn Aria.

I couldn’t take my eyes off her, we took precious photographs of her and of me holding her, they would be the memories I would cherish forever. I felt numb. I was bleeding, my body ached and I was mentally a mess, and I didn’t have a living baby to show for it. I spoke to family members on the phone who wanted to see how I was doing, trying to describe her to them and I sent photos. She was part of our family even though they would never even meet or hold her.

That night I couldn’t sleep at all. The next day would be the final day I’d ever get to see my Autumn. That morning was hard, I had the hospital chaplain who blessed her, I’m not even religious but it seemed right at the time. I held her for the last time and was hysterical when I had to leave. I didn’t want to leave her. But I knew she had to go for a post mortem and we would be together again at the funeral.

One of the most amazing things about the hospital was the fact they take footprints, hand prints measurements and photos of your baby. They give you a Sands keepsake memory box to store precious mementos in. It means the world when you walk out of that hospital, you’re at least carrying something. Nothing can replace carrying a baby out of there but you’re grateful to have something.

Now the physical part was over, the mental struggles just begin when you leave the hospital. You try and adapt back to normal life, having just gone through something so horrendous. We had the funeral, which took up most of my energy. It was a blur but I think we gave her a good send off.

Guilt, sorrow, gratitude, anger, sadness, anxiety, panic, numbness are all part of losing a baby. Someone said to me that grief comes in waves and I never believed it until it happened. I grieve for the baby I never got to breastfeed, bathe, change nappies, cuddle, kiss, and look after. You feel a huge amount of emotions and it’s completely normal. There are dark days, and there are lighter days. There are times you don’t want to exist but I gain strength from my daughter. She fought for 6 months in my tummy to live, so I must fight the rest of my life to live in her honour.

If my story can help anyone and they can resonate with how I felt, then that’s a legacy for my baby girl. Grief is natural and messy but it means that you loved someone dearly. Go with the emotions, do what you need to do to get through the day and make sure you always speak you baby’s name. They existed.

She will always be my first born, my angel, my Autumn Aria – 14/09/2016.