I don’t know where I was when my daughter died. Perhaps I was asleep, or playing with her brothers, or complaining about the exhaustion of pregnancy. Perhaps I was sorting out the baby clothes that we were preparing to fill her drawers. I don’t know what I was doing when the placenta finally gave up, when her cells stopped multiplying. When her tiny heart stopped beating.
I don’t know who I was when my baby daughter died.
The day before the scan, we build a bunk bed for her brothers. ‘The baby will wake you in the night. Sharing a room will be better,” we tell them. They fall asleep singing and chatting, and we decide to use part of her brother’s old bed to build a dollhouse, one day, when she is bigger.
The radiologist’s face is deadpan as he moves the ultrasound wand across my belly. I have had these scans before, and know the drill. I am nervous and excited. With her brothers, I didn’t exhale until I saw their tiny bodies moving across the screen, like fish, in grayscale.
The screen shows her skull, her torso, her arms. Frozen, a photograph. Lee holds my hand and I shake my head. I stare at the radiologist, his face perfectly still except for one tiny muscle in his jaw, tensed and pulsing. He takes off his glasses and tells us that there is no heartbeat.
I don’t exhale.
We are sent to a different hospital, are told that it isn’t urgent, to take our time. We sit in the car, wiping our eyes on our sleeves, hearts on fire. My hands shake as I call my mum, my dad.
My pregnant belly enters the room before me. I sit in the same waiting room I am due to visit in a week’s time, a routine appointment with my midwife. Other pregnant women avoid eye contact as I sob into Lee’s lap. I am living their worst nightmare.
There is a specialist midwife waiting for us named Ali. She calls me darling and holds my arm and leads us into a room. I cry and cry. She waits, handing us tissues. I am amazed at how prepared the maternity ward is for these situations, but of course.
She tells me that the baby is too small for a caesarean, but too big for a curette. I will have to give birth to her, like I did with her brothers. I can’t speak.
We go home and get into bed fully clothed. We hold each other and cry.
I tell the boys that there isn’t a baby after all, and that mum and dad will be sad for a while. They say, ‘again?’ then go back to their Lego.
This is not the first sibling they have lost this year.
Ali, my angel midwife, calls later that day to see how we are going. I am still in bed, still fully clothed. Lee has made two lasagnas. We are in shock.
She tells me to sit with it, to feel the pain, that blocking it out now will make it harder later on. I agree, but don’t know how to let the pain all the way in without turning completely to dust.
We drink strong gin and tonics and watch Batman. I fall asleep on the couch and dream of little girls, of cots and carseats, of my Nana who died when I was a baby. I wake up sobbing.
We go back to the hospital. Ali takes us through a door into another section of the maternity ward, where there are no pictures of babies or pastel feature walls. It is clinical, and unmarked. This is where they bring the women like me, who have to experience a death before a birth, who have to do the one thing that no mother should ever do. Who will arrive pregnant and go home empty handed.
She hands us tissues and answers my questions about stillbirth, about preterm labour, about what the baby will look like when she is born. She shows us the birthing suite where we will stay after I am induced, and then the Quiet Room, which is dark and small and has a couch and a tiny bassinet. She shows us the tiny wraps and shrouds that the hospital will provide, if we’d like, and we both break then, struggling to stand and to breath.
I will take a tablet tonight, a name I can’t pronounce. I google it and realise that it is RU86, the abortion pill. Two days after I take the tablet, I will be induced, and will deliver a stillborn baby. So now we wait, in a holding pattern. We wait to climb a summit, to cross a threshold. It is hard now, but it will get harder still.
I still look and feel pregnant, still gag when brushing my teeth and feel my hips creaking as I roll over in bed. I am holding my dead baby girl close inside me, until I have to do the Very Worst Thing.
We are in limbo, visiting our children at my mum’s house but unable to care for them properly. I fall asleep often. A head lice infestation is a distraction. My brother brings brownies and my dad brings icecream. My friends send texts, offers of help and love. I read them in the middle of the night when my eyes are aching and my face is raw from crying, tiny capillaries spreading across my cheeks.
I don’t know who I was when my daughter died, and I don’t know who I’ll be when she is born.