I’ve wanted to write about the story of Oscar for a long time, way before this blog came to mind. It’s only now I feel brave and strong enough – there seems to have been a watershed moment where I finally feel I can use my words to help me deal with a whole load of BLEURGH that’s going on in my head. I promise this post will be followed with a much happier one.
Right, here we go. I hope this will help me, but I also hope my words can strike a chord with others who perhaps have been through the same thing and find it hard to come to terms with.
Oscar is the name of my son who was sadly stillborn on June 1st 2013 (about 1.15am, but who’s counting?). My wife, Emma, had to give birth to the little man at 38 weeks, about a day-and-a-half after we found out that he had passed away in her belly. I’d like to tell the story of what happened.
We had a routine appointment with the community midwife, but because Emma said she did not feel our little boy moving around inside her for about a day there was a little more tension. It’s always my job, throughout our relationship but certainly during the pregnancy, to keep Emma calm and remain optimistic about everything. I didn’t think anything bad about the fact the baby had not made himself known, they sometimes like to hide away or rest up, and because we had gotten through what I consider all the danger dates I didn’t think there could be anything terrible going on. I always felt that if there was a problem with baby at such an advanced stage of the pregnancy, we’d get to hospital and he would be pulled out alive.
So anyway, the midwife can’t get a heartbeat with that crappy machine they use. I continue not to worry – the handheld ‘doppler’ had already proven itself to be unreliable in the past. But we don’t get any resolution. And Emma starts to visibly panic. So I step in, and I tell her everything’s fine, it’s just the machine playing up. The Midwife says the same, and she’s the expert on these things! But she says we should get up to the hospital and get a scan done anyway. Good idea, I think. I like scans, it’s cool when you see the little one moving around and sometimes they give you pictures you don’t have to pay for😉
Emma drives us to the hospital, and a student midwife comes with us. She (the student midwife) was really nice but I think she was a bit nervous. It wasn’t until afterwards that it dawned on me she may have been a little more up on the possibilities than the blind optimist I am. We go straight into Scan Room 3, which is a room we’d never been in before.
They’re a professional bunch – Emma is covered in the gunk right away and the magic wand is placed onto her belly immediately. I’m holding Emma’s hand but I vaguely remember her not wanting to look up at the monitor (though this may be coloured by the fact she doesn’t look at the monitors now). Anyway, our baby boy is up on the screen right away. We’ve had a few scans and the picture looks instantly familiar, I feel almost relieved to see the blobs of white on the black background. It’s the classic side-on photo, head on the left and legs on the right. Nothing looks wrong at all. But then I look for a split second longer. And there is no movement. Something is different, then it hits me at the very same moment the Sonographer says she is very sorry. The little pulse of light in the middle of the screen is not there. Our lad’s heart is not beating.
The Sonograper has removed the magic wand now, seemingly after just a few seconds. I want her to put it back on, to check again for myself, but I also know that my sight was not deceiving me. Emma has turned away from the screen, towards me, and I can feel her grab my hand much harder. Her body curls up and she lets out the most heartbreaking sound I hope ever to hear. It’s a ‘No’ but it’s mixed with a cry. I don’t know what to do. At that very moment I felt completely empty. About 8 months of planning just felt pointless. It all flashed in front of me in a split second – buying the first suit for our baby when we go to the wedding in October; assembling the cot, chest of drawers and nursing chair; buying and moving into our brand new family home, with the nursery JUST FOR OUR BABY. Picking up muslins, nappies, toys over a multitude of shopping trips to Mamas and Papas, Mothercare, JoJo Maman Bebe and the like. Even buying our baby’s first two Arsenal kits (so he can still wear one as he gets bigger). It all feels like a complete waste.
I hope many of you have never had to feel the way I felt at that moment. I have no religious connection because of events from another time (clue: it’s a lot to do with losing my first son), but this moment in my life was definitely one where the most devout Christian / Catholic / Muslim / Whatever would have doubted having the faith in the first place. Why would any deity tease us like this? But not me. I had nobody to be angry with. I hated the fact I couldn’t be angry at anybody. It was clear that our son had passed away inside Emma without any warning or any chance for us to do anything about it. Though a part of me would love the NHS to be at fault, they weren’t. So why does the bad luck hit us?
A lot of words are said by the Sonographer and, I think, another Midwife at that time. A lot doesn’t go in, as I am hugging Emma while she cries her heart out and all I can focus on is protecting her from any further harm. I remember getting the gist that they want us to go up to the Maternity Ward. We are picked up from the bed and helped outside to a waiting room full of expectant parents. I felt for them. How awful must it be to see us like that? In that place, and in that state, it was pretty bloody obvious what had just happened. We are led up to the Maternity Ward and I remember us walking along a corridor to the very corner room. Emma now starts to resist both me and the Midwife. I had understood by now that Emma had to give birth to the baby naturally. This was to give her the best chance of having children again in future. But Emma didn’t want to go through this, and who could blame her? It took a great deal of effort and persuasion, but I managed to get her into the room.
We have a Maternity room to ourselves. To us, it’s not the happy place it should be. And this room was to be our prison for the next 2 days. Emma wanted a Caesarean section, she just wanted the poor baby out of her as soon as possible. I could see her point – why go through the hard work of childbirth with nothing to gain at the end of it? But again it was explained to us that if we wanted to have children in future, the best way would be to go through a natural birth. I persuaded her to go through with a natural birth. Emma was given hormones to stimulate labour, but which took 24 hours to work.
I summoned family to the hospital (more through mumbles than words, but my sister in particular is very good at scrambling when something’s wrong), and sat with Emma while we waited for the labour to be induced. Across 4 different shifts, we had three amazing Midwives tend to us. We had one great doctor and one not so great, plus we got to see the anaesthetist we had seen a few weeks earlier too. Emma’s consultant visited us as well and was very nice. Emma’s parents, brother and sister, my parents, sister and niece all came and went at various points. I spent two nights in the room with Emma and my family stayed at our new house – I think it’s the first time my sister had even been there. The entire period where we waited for Emma’s body to push out Oscar was like some bizarre dream. I couldn’t call it a nightmare as physically there was nothing missing yet. I know that sounds strange but I was very much in survival mode – I could feel every ounce of my energy going into supporting Emma and what she had to do. I sat and looked after her when she did sleep for a few hours, I dried her tears when she cried, which was almost constantly. I hated the fact I could not change what had happened, but I was determined to make sure Emma and I could remain strong and push the little man out when the time came to do so. Like my sister and mum, I enter survival mode when things go wrong. I struggle to show emotions but I am good at being the man and staying strong.
I had had serious knee surgery less than 3 weeks before this all happened. I know, great timing and all that. The intention was to be just about back on my feet for Oscar’s due date, 13th June. Instead, I was hopping around the hospital bed in a great deal of pain because I could not get about on crutches in the room and I wanted to be able to get close to Emma when she needed me. I probably put my rehab back quite a bit those couple of days, but then maybe my mind felt a bit of pain was good for me at that time.
Before Oscar was born, Emma decided she wanted to go and light a candle for him in the hospital chapel. We may not be religious, but Emma in particular believes very much in spirituality. We asked for the Chaplain to come and discuss this. He was nice if a bit weird, but we spelt out we wanted no religious gumph at all, just to light a candle or two. Bet you can all guess how it went down huh? Emma is wheeled to the chapel in a chair, I go alongside her on crutches. Our French Midwife comes with us. We sit in the Chapel and the Chaplain takes control. He lights candles, I think we had a few but I can’t remember how many now. Emma cries, I get a bit upset, then the Chaplain starts going on about Jesus and God. I wasn’t best pleased,but what can you do? Have a go at a Vicar in a Church? That’s essentially what it would have been. I bite my tongue. On the plus side, we have lit candles for our son like we wanted to.
So, eventually, Emma has had an epidural, that injection in her back that numbs the pain, and the hormones have worked and she’s ready to give birth. It’s just become 1st June which we’re pleased about as a friend’s birthday is 31st May. Funny the things you think of eh? The Midwife, a Scottish lady called Rachael, is on hand and delivers our baby boy for us. It’s all taken about half an hour or so and Emma was great throughout. I feel a huge amount of pride at the fact we did it. Again, such a bizarre feeling that I can’t explain why it was there. I suppose it’s all that expectation and the release of it all is in the baby popping out?
Baby Oscar is dressed in the Camper Van outfit we bought him, including a snazzy hat, and we get to hold him. I call both the families and they come to meet their grandson / nephew, either then (2am) or later in the day. He’s gorgeous, looks just like his dad (see, told you he was gorgeous). His head was really heavy and I had to be so careful when I held him – he may have passed away, but we didn’t want to cause him any damage. We took hundreds of photos as I wanted as much in the way of memories as possible. We even took a photo of his knees – he did indeed appear to have the same knees as me!
Oscar was placed in a special cold cot, which preserved him, while Emma and I got a couple of hours sleep. I remember waking in the big armchair next to Emma’s hospital bed, but with this wheeled cold cot between us, it was as good as we could make it but it still felt completely wrong. We were with Oscar for about 13 hours I think. We eventually decided we should let him go to rest, because if we had stayed in the hospital any longer we would have found it much harder to go at all. The hospital staff were great about it, they gave us as long as we wanted. We got all the SANDS stuff, the Midwife Natalie did a plaster cast of Oscar’s feet and also his hand and foot prints. We eventually end up with two big boxes full of things relating to the little man, stuff that doesn’t all seem that amazing at the time but we’ll treasure forever (when I’m drunk, I have a habit of showing my friends all the bits and pieces – I’m so desperate for them to understand how much I hurt inside. No idea if any of it really gets through to some of them, but that’s a story for another time).
Leaving Oscar behind at the hospital was awful, just awful. I can’t explain it any other way. I don’t think there is anything compared to a parent saying goodbye to a child. To have come so close to the dream we have had for so long. My first son passed away in 2002, so it was 11 years in the making. The rug had well and truly been dragged from under my feet. But I’m the big strong man here. Mum always taught me to stay strong and that’s what I did. Days and weeks passed by and Emma and I did very little. I paid for us to go down to Weymouth for a few days as sitting in the house, with its fully arranged nursery, was very difficult in the short term. We actually had a nice time down there, but things were very much the same when we got back.
Oscar had been taken away for a post-mortem as we wanted to know what had gone wrong. Waiting for that was dreadful. As you now know, I have a history with this. My first son, Ben, passed about a day after he was born prematurely in 2002. All I could think was ‘am I the reason for this happening twice?’, and believe me it’s a tough thought to shake.
We met with the consultant, and there was no explanation given for Oscar passing. However, the consultant believed we would be fine to have more children in the future, and that there was no genetic reason for him passing. We’ll never know what happened when he was in Emma’s belly, sadly.
We arranged to bury Oscar in the beautiful Epsom Cemetery. And as you can see from the photos, he has the most superbly pimped grave EVER, in the most picturesque setting – besides the SANDS-funded Butterfly Memorial Garden. The cemetery also backs onto Epsom Racecourse. His neighbours are all little boys who have been lost too soon, and we like to think that they all play together when nobody is around. The funeral was obviously a terrible occasion, but lots of people came along and I was grateful for the chance to show people what Oscar meant to us. We lost our Guinea Pig around the same time as Oscar, and the only place to sprinkle Blinky’s ashes had to be on Oscar’s grave – we like to think he has a little one-eyed pet Guinea Pig with him now.
What happened to Oscar is on my mind all the time. I have suffered with depression since this all happened, and am now on my second round of counselling. My employers have been very understanding, as my output has not always been that high. In particular my line manager has had me crying in his office a few times, and he is an incredibly kind man who I think understands exactly how affected I remain to this day by what happened to us last Summer.
The good thing is that I am a naturally positive person, and always, ALWAYS the optimist. Emma and I continue to be very close (i.e. this hasn’t affected our marriage), and we decided together that we wanted to make a brother or sister for Oscar as soon as possible. Well it didn’t take long at all, I’m proud to say, and as I write this, she has reached 19 or 20 weeks pregnant. As far as we know, all is well with Oscar’s brother or sister. We plan to find out at the next scan whether it’s a boy or a girl. If a boy, he will get all of Oscar’s clothes, including those Arsenal shirts. If it’s a girl, the Arsenal shirts will still be worn – we just might need to buy some dresses as well!
Lightning has struck twice for me through the loss of two children, but I am utterly convinced it cannot happen again. That would be frankly ridiculous. Emma will be getting extra checks as this pregnancy goes on, more scans as well, and I’ll make as much noise as I can if we feel we’re not getting enough care. We’re under the same hospital and, bar us not wanting to go to the same scan or maternity rooms, we are happy with everything care-wise being the same.
I’ve never known anxiety like I feel with this pregnancy. I feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders, and that there has been no break in me supporting Emma since Autumn of 2012, when she fell pregnant with Oscar. The dream for me now is for this baby to be born healthy in August. I daydream about this every single day, and in the dream I become an absolute bucket of tears and fall to the floor with relief. I think WHEN (not if – positive thoughts!) this baby comes, all the tears and stress and anguish and grief and torture and strength and pressure and guilt and strain and emotions will just fall away. Oscar deserves a brother or sister and I think Emma and I deserve a healthy child as well. I want anyone reading this who has been in a similar situation to know that the only way to survive is to have hope. HOPE is keeping me going and I am CERTAIN that it will carry Emma and I across the finish line.
I cannot wait to bring our new little boy or girl up to see his or her brother this summer
If you have suffered a similar bereavement to Emma and I, do try talking to SANDS – they’re very supportive and a helpful resource too –http://www.uk-sands.org