Writing by Elise Faulkner // Photograph of Sabine by Ken Spence
I was 20 weeks and 5 days into my first ever pregnancy when the doctor put down the ultrasound wand, put her hand on my leg and told me, ‘now, there are a couple of things I’m worried about with your bub’. The rest of what she said is a total blur. We spent the next 6 weeks in a hellish limbo of uncertainty, with various scans and tests getting more information about our baby’s condition.
I spent the first few days resenting my growing belly and the little baby kicks that had just become more pronounced that week. I guess I thought I needed to stay detached as we prepared for the worst, as if I hadn’t already spent 5 months constantly thinking about, talking to, and growing an emotional bond with the tiny baby inside me.
I must’ve started Googling things right away and the social media algorithms cottoned on; within a couple of days my Instagram explore tab switched from showing me stylised pregnancy and birth content to stories of miscarriage and stillbirth. Online I discovered a bunch of different terminology for what it means to have a miscarriage, late term miscarriage, termination for medical reasons (TFMR), stillbirth, full term loss, or infant loss. I searched for different conditions in line with my baby’s abnormalities and sought out studies where babies not only survived, but they lived full lives.
I was grasping at straws and clinging to hope as our test results started coming back and some of them looked promising. We worried that the diagnosis wouldn’t be clear. That maybe they’d tell us there was a 50% chance she could lead a ‘normal’ life and we’d have to gamble with that. But after all the results were in, they were very clear. There weren’t any potential outcomes where our sweet baby girl wouldn’t have a reduced lifespan, severe intellectual disability that required constant care, chronic seizures beginning from birth, and the need for various specialist doctors. She wouldn’t be able to walk or talk, she’d need a feeding tube for her whole life, and she’d have to go in for brain surgery within her first few months. Our daughter had no chance at any quality of life and we couldn’t bring her in to the world knowing that’s how she had to live. It wasn’t fair on her. Or us.
Technically TFMR is a decision parents make, but for me it never felt like a choice. When the alternative for your baby is a lifetime of suffering, there’s no other option. Signing the consent forms still haunts me. The procedure to stop my baby’s heart beating was hands down the worst moment of my life. But truth be told I would do it all again a thousand times over to protect my daughter.
Somehow, even though I was terrified to be induced and go through labour and delivery, it already felt like the worst was over. By the time we were arriving at the hospital for my induction I was just looking forward to seeing her. And in the end, her birth was kind of amazing.
Throughout the day I’d had all of the side effects they warned me about from the induction medication; the constant cramps before the contractions, the shivering, the diarrhoea, and the vomiting. Eventually, after throwing up for the third time, I ended up in the shower and the pain relief provided by the hot water against my back during contractions kept me firmly crouched in there for about 2 hours.
I’d had some medicinal pain relief earlier in the day but once it wore off I didn’t ask for more because it was important for me to be present in the moment. I knew my time with my daughter would be short and I needed to feel like myself to fully witness her.
Eventually, I could feel my baby dropping lower and the pain and pressure was getting intense so we called for the midwife. She got me a tube for the gas and it helped to take the edge off for 2 more contractions. Then, all of a sudden with only the slightest push my waters broke and my baby gushed out with them. The midwife caught her, handed her to me and there she was; beautifully tiny and peaceful.
Physically it was instant relief and emotionally I have never felt so euphorically at peace or in love. In that moment it wasn’t tragic or sad. She was my daughter and she was absolutely perfect. Sabine Elise, stillborn at 10:08pm on 20/11/21.
As we moved to the bed I just beamed down at my sweet girl in my hands. ‘She’s so cute!’ I gushed to everyone. ‘She has my dark hair!’. I laid on the bed with her on my chest, closed my eyes and took a mental note to never forget that feeling. The feeling of unconditional, all encompassing love and absolute serenity.
I’ve since learnt that almost everyone has a story of pregnancy loss, whether it happened to them or someone close to them. Whether it was a miscarriage at 7 weeks, a stillbirth at 40 weeks or anything in between. And yet, there’s a strange stigma about it all, and I’ve been wondering why no one is talking about it. When I meet another loss parent who shares their story with me I feel an instant connection and am comforted by the deep understanding and acknowledgement of what we’ve been through.
With the stigma surrounding stillbirth and baby loss, I find that a lot of people don’t know how to act around me anymore. I’m often reassuring them that they can just speak to me normally, and I explain that it’s not upsetting for them to mention my baby, it’s the opposite; it validates her existence and it shows that they care. If we can talk about these experiences openly more often, hopefully the next person won’t feel so alone.
As a loss mum I feel completely different to the person I was before. I’m in the early days of navigating the grief and I focus on doing things to honour Sabine’s memory. As much as I miss her and I wish she was in my arms, I feel at peace with the time I had with her to say hello and goodbye. I know that she will forever be a part of my life and I’m so thankful to her for existing. To me, her birth story is nothing short of beautiful. I’m full of pride when I tell it and it will never be a sad story for me. It can be everything at once; my journey to motherhood, my first experience of loss and overwhelming grief, and also my beautiful stillbirth with my perfect daughter being placed in my hands for the first time.