When the story of the night my baby died was published in Vogue, almost a year ago, I thought I would receive a few kind words from friends. I hadn’t anticipated the reaction and familiar stories of shared grief that reached my inbox.
When I wrote my story in early September of last year, two months before it was published, I was feeling more optimistic, with a renewed sense of hope. By the end of that month, my emotional state had drastically altered – I was sinking, and couldn’t find a way to pull myself out of what had become a state of deep depression. The experience of giving birth five months into my pregnancy and watching my baby die had taken me from shock, to trauma, to cruise control. Only now I was really living it in a way that I hadn’t before.
With a social presence I felt I needed to uphold (it may sound absurd, but there was a strange pressure hanging over me), I continued to go out and post images to my Instagram account. Unless you have experienced this level of trauma, I understand how it seems questionable that anybody can fool the outside world into believing you are OK. Having lived through it, I know it’s possible.
I didn’t make the understanding that I so desperately craved easy for anyone. I went out, I masked how I felt and tried my hardest not to talk about what had happened. It had been months. Life moves on. But for me, it wasn’t moving – I was reliving my pain every single day. I continued working, not believing I could stop at any point due to running my own business. Each night, after returning home from a day of interaction with the outside world, I broke. I would cry hard the minute I walked through the door. I had returned to work five days after my baby, Axel, had passed away. I hadn’t taken the time to grieve.
With my story being read by thousands, I continued to receive kind messages on Instagram and thoughtful emails from those who had my direct address. I read hundreds of stories from parents who had experienced similar loss. I had been embraced into a community that, given the choice, I would not have wished to be a part of, but that I felt so close to because of our shared experience. It was comforting to know that my words had allowed others to feel less alone, but now I needed to find a way to lift myself out of what was becoming an endless, exhausting cycle.
I had read that women are incredibly fertile following the loss of a pregnancy, and so, regardless of whether or not I was emotionally ready (I wasn’t) I had my first IVF frozen embryo transfer a few months after I had lost my five-month pregnancy. I desperately needed to be fixed. I assumed this was my answer. The pregnancy test was, unsurprisingly, negative. A second IVF cycle followed. Another negative result.
Soon after the second failed IVF, I reached a point that I hope never to experience again. Facing another day waking up with the feeling of overwhelming grief and trauma was something I just couldn’t bear. As I lay awake in the middle of the night next to my husband, an intense fear overcame me as I contemplated how to end what had become a groundhog day reality.
Unless you have experienced this level of trauma, I understand how it seems questionable that anybody can fool the outside world into believing you are ok. Having lived through it, I know it’s possible.
I thought of the only time I’d ever been given general anesthetic, and vividly remembered the feeling of the injection being inserted into the back of my hand. The cold rush of sedative through my veins before the heaviness set in and I could no longer open my eyes. I wanted my night to end this way, with the hope that I would never wake up. Although I had no means to make these dark thoughts a reality, and had not attempted to search for any, I felt panicked and woke my husband. We sat talking for hours. The talking kept me just above desperation level, where I could begin to understand that I had reached my lowest point.
Counselling proved to be of limited help, and those around me clearly did not understand this level of trauma. How could they? Comments I found hard ranged from So, your baby just fell out? (followed, strangely, by laughter, as if their comment was somehow amusing); to someone who I had lost touch with naively saying that in a way, this was a good thing, as it led to us talking again; to a close friend mentioning how glad they were that I seemed to be better two months after losing my son.
Before all this happened, I used to find that days turned into months with exasperating speed, but I hadn’t known a year could be so long. The depression didn’t ease until spring, when I felt things were finally, truly, getting lighter. Having not been successful in our natural attempts to get pregnant, the conversation returned to IVF and my husband and I decided that as things were improving on an emotional level, we were ready to embark on another round of IVF.
Certain that now was our time, the prospect of another baby and my renewed energy for the next IVF cycle made life feel positive. The transfer was successful and the two-week wait to see if this third attempt had worked was both consuming and exciting. Another negative. Not to be beaten, we placed IVF round four in our diaries – and yes, like all the others, I thought this would be the one. Experiencing what felt like sure signs of pregnancy, I was both surprised and hugely disappointed to see only one line appear when taking the first of many home pregnancy tests.
In the year following the loss of my sweet baby, I have experienced trauma, depression, heartache and unexplained reasons why I cannot get pregnant. But I don’t in any way feel like a victim.
My life had been placed on hold. Aside from my work in the fashion industry, I am a part- time spin instructor, with health and fitness being a huge part of my life. I had willingly given up my evening classes, thinking that by now, had Axel reached full term, I would be back teaching. Early nights, no alcohol, limited exercise and a strict diet that becomes wholly monotonous may seem like small sacrifices, but a continual stop-start existence coupled with loss and hope for another child became intensely draining.
In the year following the loss of my sweet baby, I have experienced trauma, depression, heartache and unexplained reasons why I cannot get pregnant. But I don’t, in any way, feel like a victim. Through everything there is still hope. My mind refuses to believe that this will not work. In some ways, having been so close to bringing a longed-for second child into our lives makes this journey feel somewhat more unfair. However, should another baby not be a part of our lives, I can find acceptance in knowing how fortunate my husband and I are to have one another and a son.
I have asked myself numerous times if I am simply trying to convince myself that this experience has caused the redirection in my life that will allow for a stronger, more meaningful future. I am not. I now know who loves me and who deserves my love in return. There’s a lightness that cannot be explained when you can let go of anything that doesn’t have true meaning in your life. And that is what Axel gave to me the night he couldn’t stay.