The day my daughter died, I pack the same blue duffel bag as when my sons were born. I take pyjama pants, slippers, eight pairs of black underwear, maternity pads. Instead of breastfeeding tops and nappies, I pack a pink paper bag filled with a tiny knitted dress, a crocheted bonnet and photos of our family.
On the way to the hospital, Lee and I pass an abandoned service station and imagine how we could open a café there, with early morning coffees for the tradies and milkshakes and cookies for after school. When we pull into the hospital carpark I feel sick with guilt that I have been thinking about life after today, about happy things, when today is the day my daughter will be born, after she has already died.
I spend the day of her birth swinging between fury and despair. I hate that I have to do it, and am worried that it will forever mar the sacred and treasured memories of my son’s births, when I was a warrior, an Amazon, part of the long line of women who had gone before me, labouring and swaying and bring forth their children from their bodies. This barbaric pseudo-birth feels impossibly unjust.
I am given a round of medication to induce labour, two tiny pills tucked just under my cervix. Nothing happens, except I feel feverish and sweaty. A social worker tells us about funeral directors, about the costs of cremation, about what to tell our boys. She is lovely, and warm, and I try to hate her but I can’t.
Our room is dark and quiet. There is a sign on the door with a butterfly on it, so the midwives and doctors know not to barge in unnecessarily. This is not a happy room. This is a room for waiting, for sobbing, for grief. When I start howling, the midwives run in with tissues and stroke my hair. I am breaking apart, slowly, as the sun streams in through the metal blinds and a fundraising sausage sizzle is held in the courtyard below. I am in purgatory, in this quiet room with a butterfly on the door.
My mum and Lee are there, and we wait for hours. They take turns on the narrow couch covered in bright blue vinyl, and a hard black chair. I lay on the bed, freezing cold, the blankets coming untucked underneath me. I hate the stupid wallpaper, the resuscitation equipment in the corner, the pointlessness of it all.
I can hear a woman screaming in labour in the next room, and when there is a short silence and the sound of a newborn’s cries, I shove my fingers in my ears and press my face into the pillow.
It takes four doses of the induction medicine and almost 12 hours of waiting before the contractions start. I have asked for an epidural, for morphine, for an IV. I had no pain relief with the boys, and a midwife jokes that anyone who has delivered a 4.7kg baby won’t need an epidural for this baby. I want to punch her. I could deliver the boys drug-free because there was incentive. This time, I will labour in vain, until my daughter is born sleeping.
It turns out that there is no time for an epidural. The contractions come thick and fast, and I am leaning over the edge of the bed, rocking wildly and vomiting all over the sheets. I am ferocious, shouting at the midwives, swearing and swaying, hurtling headfirst towards the worst thing, the thing that will break me all over again.
My water breaks and splashes all over my feet. The midwives are ready to inject me with morphine but this is not my first rodeo, and I can tell that she is almost here.
There is a pause in the contractions and I feel her settle low in my pelvis. She is ready, I am not. I climb on the bed and push, and there she is, tiny and still, the colour of a plum. I scream and scream, and Lee and I grip onto each other, and the midwives are surrounding me. I am howling, I am broken, I am dust. My baby is dead, my baby is dead. My baby is born, dead.
The room is silent except for my screams and Lee’s sobs and the gentle murmurs of the midwives. She is wrapped and placed in a crib, and all attention turns back to me. There is blood everywhere, and I am shattered into fragments.
The placenta comes out in jagged parts, gripping to the uterine wall for dear life. It is ragged and deformed, like the umbilical cord. But she is perfect, my daughter. She is perfect.
Eventually, we come home, empty-handed. Leaving the hospital without a baby, carrying a stack of paperwork and our pillows, is worse than the birth. We hold each other in the lift lobby, waiting for an empty lift so we don’t have to face anyone else. The doors keep opening and faces peer out at us, but we can’t move. I catch sight of my face in the lift door and I am unrecognisable, mouth open in a silent scream.
Her birth certificate has a tiny word on the left-hand corner. Stillborn. The etymology is from deadborn, undertaker’s slang from the 1500s.
But the word has a dual meaning. It means immobile, motionless, stagnant. But it also means nevertheless, despite, yet.
And still, she was born. Despite it all, she existed. Nevertheless, she persisted.
We name her Edie Gwendolyn. We have loved the name Edie for years, and it suits the little girl I imagined she would grow up to be. Feisty, and bossy, and strong. With dirty feet and big eyes and a fringe. Gwendolyn for her great great nanna, who had a stillborn son herself, and who died when I was six months old. My grandma’s middle name is Gwendolyn, and she fought her own battle this year, being diagnosed with late stage cancer in her bones and lymph nodes. She finally, sweetly, thankfully, entered remission in the same month that her first great granddaughter died and was born. They never met, but perhaps they crossed paths somewhere in the space in between.
I have woken up crying every night since the scan. Sleep doesn't come easily, so I take a cocktail of pills - melatonin, temazepam, Valium - and read shitty fiction until I can’t keep my eyes open. My brain keeps up a relentless monologue: my baby died, my baby died, my baby died.
I have the same few dreams over and over. In one, I am in the hospital and can hear a baby crying in the crib next to me. Milk is running down my torso and I am frantically trying to unwrap the bundle of blankets in the crib, to unswaddle the baby and feed her, but there are so many layers, every blanket reveals another one and underneath it all the baby is crying and then I am crying, too. I wake up sobbing every time, the useless milk curdling in my breasts.
Lee and I navigate this new labyrinth of loss, together and individually. My grief is loud, and fierce, and exquisite, overflowing and spilling out everywhere, with floods of tears and wailing, until it burns out into a quiet, manageable despair, one that allows me to fold washing and get dinner and take the kids to kinder, my grief contained again within the boundaries of my body.
Where I am loud and messily demonstrative, Lee is quiet, and intentional, and wraps himself in the happy joy of his sons, until it becomes overwhelming and he takes himself downstairs with his guitar and comes back up an hour later, red-eyed and pale.
We cling tightly to each other for the weeks we are at home, in limbo, in grief. He organises an excavator to dig up our backyard, orders forty enormous slabs of rock from the Coldstream quarry, shovels gravel like his life depends on it. I go shopping with my mum. We cry in a French bakery and I try on clothes I would never choose in the real world. What does a person wear when their baby has died? I buy comfortable silk dresses, bright earrings, wide pants in soft fabrics. Nothing that clings. I need space around my body now, room for my grief to grow and spread. My stomach is still soft but my breasts are rock hard, filled with milk with no one to feed. All dressed up with no place to go.
We will find a place, these three boys and I. We will find a place where we can sit comfortably with both forms of our grief – the shock and trauma of the baby daughter we had, tiny and still and cold, and the loss of the person we imagined her to be. I know that we will, because babies and parents and children die everyday, and their loved ones survive, and continue to live and eat and breathe and love.
We are not there yet, and I can’t imagine what it feels like to be at that place, but we will endure. We must. We must.