The midwife was amazing. She treated my son with such care and respect. She leant over the Moses basket and looked inside. ‘Hello little man’ she said ‘and what’s your name?’ ‘Rowan’ I answered. She smiled and then repeated his name ‘Rowan’.
‘Well Rowan’ she continued ‘I think your mummy might want to give you a cuddle.’
I so wanted to hold him but I was afraid. He was so tiny, his skin so fragile.
She lay him in my lap wrapped in a towel. I stared at my son. ‘I wanted you to open your eyes and see me’’ I cried. ‘I wanted you to be alive – even if it was just for a short time. Just a moment.’
My triplet pregnancy was unexpected. I already had two children. But shortly after finding out, I got a strong sense of ‘triplet 1’. I had a sense that he would look like his older brother but with redder hair. I use to have conversations with him; ‘Are your sisters squashing you sweetheart?’ ‘Hey Rowan I hope you like football, your brother can’t wait to play with you’.
The frequent scans showed that he was smaller than the girls. I had had a premonition shortly after finding out my pregnancy at 40 was going to be a lot more than I expected, I woke up with words echoing in my head ‘Rowan’s not going to make it, but you’ll meet him’. I cried and I told my partner who was quick to try and dismiss my fears. ‘Perhaps he’ll have a tricky start, need some extra help for a while, but he’ll be ok.’ I knew that wasn’t true but I did believe that he would be born alive. Even though I knew I had a ‘high risk’ pregnancy and had read every book on multiple births that I could find, stillbirth just wasn’t on my radar.
The midwife dressed him in a tiny knitted gown, with a wholly hat on his head. She told us that she had taken some hand and footprints and a lock of his hair. I felt such gratitude for her kindness I thought my heart would burst. She took some photographs of him lying in his Moses basket.
A week later when I was preparing for my son’s memorial service (he was to be buried in Ireland, next to his great Grandparents) I googled the first line of a prayer I wanted to read out, ‘Now I lay me down to sleep I pray the Lord my soul to keep..’ I wanted to know the rest of the words. Instead, however, my search found Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep (NILMDTS), the charity of professional photographers who take beautiful portrait pictures of stillborn babies. Sifting through these heart wrenching images I realised that I was now part of the bereaved parent club.
A further search took me to the powerful work of documentary photographer Todd Hochberg. Hochberg’s gift lay in taking photographs, unposed and unedited, that capture all the raw emotion experienced in the short time families spend with their babies that have died.
Looking at these websites I found myself making comparisons. My baby didn’t look like the NILMDTS portraits: his skin was broken, torn away to reveal the tender pink beneath, he was purple, his mouth black inside, his face seemed to be sinking into itself like a faded balloon. It wasn’t pretty.
And Hochberg’s pictures told stories that seemed far richer than my own. Hospital rooms filled with people; linking arms, saying prayers; parents tenderly bathing their child, a room filled with siblings and grandparents reading stories and sharing cuddles. My experience was a much quieter affair.
I began to wonder why I hadn’t made the absolute most of my time with Rowan. Why hadn’t I invited his granny and my other children to meet him? Why hadn’t I looked at him properly, really looked at every inch of him? Why didn’t I bath him, put a nappy on him, dress him? I’m his mother! It was the only chance I had!
I discovered that I was not the only parent who had these regrets. Through connecting with other bereaved parents, I realised that there were plenty who wished they had more; more photographs, more details, more opportunities, more time, more memories.
The Gifts of Remembrance training days highlight and respond to this need. I offer workshops to midwives, neonatal nurses, medical photographers and support staff and teach them how to enrich bereaved parents experience and capture all the details on camera in an unobtrusive and sensitive way. My courses are funded predominantly by charities, money given by bereaved families, a testament to the value they see in this training. I know it makes a difference and that brings me comfort.
Watch Rachel discuss this emotive topic in more detail at MMB London 2017: