July 21, 2016

The birth story. Told. Re-told. Mythologised and chronicled in baby books. Discussed. In staff rooms and workplaces. Amongst family and friends. Details. Hours. Pain. Interventions. Baby weights. Husbands, fainting or strong. Midwives, calm or anger inducing.

The story. Once told, we are never the same again. Perhaps that is why it is so often revisited amongst new mothers.

But some stories are not created to be told. Their telling is squeezed out of them and their participants are left, silenced.

My first pregnancy ended disastrously early. Two daughters, born too soon and sick. When I finally resurfaced, I discovered that the world did not seem eager to hear about my girls, for the most part it clamped its hands firmly over its ears and walked away as fast as it could. Understandably. Who wants to hear a sad story when there are thousands upon thousands of happy alternatives? The only reason you might seek out a sad story is when your own is a perfect match. Sad to sad. Snap.

This story, my story, was a little more complicated than usual. This wasn’t a story where something nearly went wrong, where a doctor saved the day, where it all worked out ok in the end. This was not the story of a close shave with just enough drama to make it interesting. This was a story where something did go wrong. Very wrong.

So I wrote down my experiences, my twin pregnancy, my excitement, my happiness, my morning sickness, my bulging stomach, the kicks, the pain of childbirth, the overwhelming love I felt for those two tiny children who seemed to light up the entire sky, just for me. I wrote it all down, I folded it up, over and over, and pushed it deep into my pocket. Hidden.

Disappearing myself and my children. Denying my own experiences. So that I didn’t know what it was like to be pregnant, so that I didn’t know what it was like to give birth. I erased it away. And when those discussions arose, the swapping of birth experiences and pregnancy tips, I simply sat, impassive. Because what could I possibly add? Nothing at all.

Sometimes I sat and I burned, biting my tongue. As I listened to another complaint. About pain, waiting too long, unsympathetic medical professionals, about experiences that fell short of some imagined idea of ‘perfect.’ In another world, perhaps I’m joining in, bemoaning how it didn’t quite go the way I wanted? But you and I here, we know what ‘perfect’ truly is, don’t we? When it comes to childbirth? Alive. Other things might be nice but they are the icing on the cake, the dot on the i. If you don’t have alive, you don’t have anything. Nothing else can make up for that lack.

The stories of babies who die before, during or shortly after birth seem to be hidden stories. Our pregnancies, our births, our experiences seem to disappear. Just like our children.

Our stories are poured out in bright words on a screen, or written down in journals, or spoken in front of audiences who know what they are about to hear, who have braced themselves in advance. They are not for coffee mornings or casual get togethers.

My world had been shaken up, rearranged, everything put back in a slightly different position. But when I returned, to friends, to work, it was as though nothing had ever happened, as though I had never left, as though I had been on holiday.

It’s disconcerting. I still find it difficult to know how to talk about my first pregnancy, how to mention ‘my girls.’ When I do, people hear a slip of the tongue, imagine that I misspoke and made two girls from one. I don’t want to make people feel awkward, I don’t want to upset people or to hurt them.

And yet, I would still like to talk about the experience of being pregnant with my twins, just every once in a while. I love them you see. I love that time of my life. My memories of my first pregnancy are some of the happiest that I have.  Sometimes I would like to dwell on them. Just because the story doesn’t have a conventional happy ending doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have its own peculiar beauty, that the whole thing should be written off. It doesn’t mean that, just once in a while, I might like to unfold my piece of paper and hold it up to the light. To say, “look, weren’t they beautiful? My little daughters. Forget what happened to them afterwards. Do you see them? Aren’t they amazing? I love them so much.”

How do you feel when you are involved in a ‘birth story’ conversation? As though you can join in? Or as though you should keep your story hidden safely away?

Do you ever wish that you could talk about your experiences with pregnancy and birth more openly? Or would that simply be too painful? 

Is there anything you would like to tell here about your own hidden story? 

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    My name is Catherine and I am honoured to have been asked to contribute to this amazing project. In 2008, I was thrilled to find myself pregnant with twin girls, a wonderful surprise. Sadly, my daughters arrived extremely prematurely at 23 weeks gestation. Despite the heroic efforts of many medical professionals, my eldest twin, Georgina, did not survive her early birth and passed away in the arms of her parents at three days old. We miss her terribly. Her younger sister, Jessica, spent three months in intensive care and a further month in a special care nursery before coming home to us at last. I write about my experiences of neonatal loss, premature birth, the NICU and raising a surviving twin at my blog, Between The Snow and The Huge Roses. I am also a regular contributor to the online community Glow in the Woods. I am endlessly grateful for the support and comfort I have received from the online community and I hope that I can help other parents, walking along this difficult path.

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