What it feels like, by Simon Glynn
Our daughter, Shoshana, was stillborn just over three years ago, under 48 hours before she was due to be delivered by Caesarean section. We were under the care of a consultant who specialised in high-risk pregnancies, due to concerns for my wife’s health, and were being scanned very regularly. There was no indication that our pregnancy would end this way. One minute Shosh was there, the next she was not.
It was Wednesday 4th March 2015, I got home from work and we were heading out to see some friends for dinner. Antonia, my wife, was on the sofa and said she hadn’t felt Shosh move for most of the day, we thought she was too big, or maybe resting in preparation for the impending arrival. We went for dinner, still in blissful ignorance of how our night was to end. At around midnight we were in bed, Antonia still hadn’t felt Shoshana move and we decided to call the hospital and were told to come for a scan. I still thought everything was fine, she was probably worrying unnecessarily.
On arrival we were ushered into a private room and the midwife put a scanner on my wife. Immediately there was a heartbeat but it was Antonia’s. Shosh’s couldn’t be found. We then had to wait for our obstetrician to arrive and confirm what we already knew, our darling daughter had gone. What followed is a blur, questions, calls from Australia (where we were living at the time) to tell our family, and decisions – at a time when we felt lost, the hospital gave us an element of control; when would we like Shoshana delivered, what would we like her dressed in, decisions every parent would want to be able to make.
It transpired that Shosh had twisted her umbilical cord round and round creating coils like a phone cable. Separately, she wrapped it around her ankle. At some point during that day she kicked out her leg and tightened one of the coils over the next, exploiting a weakness in the Wharton’s jelly at that exact spot and cutting off her lifeline. It was a collection of freak events that led to the worst possible outcome, but knowing doesn’t make a difference, it won’t change the fact that Shoshana is no longer with us.
The reason this is important, is that it really shaped my initial journey into the world of loss – one of shock, of a reality so different to my expectations that it was very difficult to understand. I am someone who is normally decisive and proactive, but I was thrown into a world of confusion and stagnation. That loss of self, of purpose, is something that I struggled greatly with, and can even be hit with at times now.
To this point, Antonia and I had experienced and been treated the same, but that was to change. It goes without saying that Antonia needed more medical treatment – she had carried Shosh for 9 months with all the strain involved and went through an operation to deliver her. However, I was in the operating theatre too; I held Antonia in my arms as the epidural was administered; I held her hand and comforted her through the surgery and we met our silent daughter together; and, just one week later, my wife watched me carry our daughter at her funeral. However, the treatment we received was very different, people asked me how Antonia was, how was she feeling, she must be upset. But what about me? I had lost my daughter and was grieving too! Just because my loss was not as visual, it was no less real.
One thing I did not anticipate was the need to fight for Shosh’s place in the lives of some family and close friends – that it was acceptable to talk about my dog (granted she was amazing!) but not my daughter, we had friends who at first would grimace if we said shhh, in case we were about to say our daughter’s name. We decided it was important to help people understand we wanted to talk, we shared our eulogy and pictures of Shoshana, we begged people to talk; many took our lead and stepped up, others we have not spoken to since.
I cannot forget the midwives at our hospital, they were warm, caring, supportive and absolute Rottweilers if anyone tried to disturb us as we were grieving! Thankfully, many of our friends came running, they went through hell for us and without their support I do not want to know how much harder it would have been. They were there to talk, to cry, to eat – whatever we needed at the time was done.
All too soon it was time for me to return to work and that unleashed a whole new level of stress. Antonia was still on maternity leave and we had not been apart since losing Shosh, that first day back felt like I was deserting her. I am naturally a people person but had lost my ability to analyse situations and read the tone in both conversations and written communications, I was oversensitive and felt disconnected. Trying to re-engage with the ‘mundane’, meet people’s expectation and make decisions, every minute felt like a marathon. Over time I got back in the flow, and it has given me a real appreciation of the need to maintain a healthy work/life balance and remember what is actually important.
We now walk two paths, one of grief, pain and loss; at those times I feel for what Shoshana has missed out on – she will never know the feeling of the sun on her face or the wind in her hair or the sound of the sea hitting the shore. But we are also walking a path of comfort and support, and at those times I realise that Shosh will never know pain, she will never know suffering and she will never cry. But at all times, I know she has experienced great love – there is no way that in those 38 weeks and 6 days that she was with us, that she did not feel our love for her, hear our laughing and joy as we went about our lives and every night, felt our hands around her as she kicked away inside.
At times the last three years have been tough, often to the point of breaking. However, we have focused on ensuring that our lasting story is not one of grief and loss. All our hopes and dreams for Shosh, have become our inspiration and guide, and we have focused on creating positive change in her memory. We have raised funds for a number of charities in her memory, supported other families who have lost and raised awareness of stillbirth whenever the opportunity presented. We have lost our daughter, we will never know what she could have become, but we will never allow her memory or presence in our lives to fade.