October is pregnancy and infant loss awareness month, a time for us to remember all those babies who were born still, all those mothers who have experienced miscarriage, all those families who have lost a child. One of our own midwives, Bree, courageously shares her story of losing her daughter Sage.
My story of losing ~Sage~
written by Bree Forsyth
This afternoon we picked up our baby girl’s ashes from the crematorium, the woman showed us three little urns with teddy’s holding balloons, she said “Green, pink or blue?” not for the first time today the tears rolled silently down my face. We picked green, a very Sage colour. Then we wandered the gardens where, just a little over two and a half months ago, we held her funeral.
This morning I went to see the specialist at the hospital to discuss her autopsy findings. Most likely a cord injury, he said, there was nothing else obviously wrong with her.
These are things, as parents, we should never have to do and yet here we are, in this strange place of grief and love and emptiness.
Early last year we started trying for a baby. Our son was just a little over two and the time felt right. I fell pregnant the 2nd month we tried. Two glorious pink lines and our journey began. I was due on Torin’s 3rd birthday, the 11th of February 2010. I had all the ordinary things of pregnancy, I was thankful my morning sickness had mostly left me by 14 weeks and then I felt great. I felt the first little flutters at 10 weeks and started to feel that intense love that comes with the beginnings of awareness of growing life.
I felt pretty sure it was a girl this time, I felt so different to my sons pregnancy. I was big, much bigger than last time. Second time round, I had belly memory, I told myself. At my first appointment with my midwife at fifteen weeks, she commented I was big for my gestation. Must be a big baby, I said, I can handle that.
At twenty two weeks we went for our first ultrasound and I nearly fell off the table, “there’s two babies there” she said as she scanned my belly. Our son thought it was hilarious, my husband looked surprised but delighted and I was overwhelmed I think. We had decided to find out their sex and discovered I was having two girls, which seemed to fit with my intuition.
Then in the car on the way home as we digested the news, joy surged through me. Two baby girls had come into our lives and we were just brimming with joy, yes there was more than a little trepidation at the task ahead, but mostly we absolutely welcomed the challenge. We entered the world of twins and I felt lucky to have been blessed with the journey.
I spent my next couple of months in a pretty blissed out state, my pregnancy hormones were just beautiful and I felt great, I had physical discomforts, but emotionally I think I was in the happiest place I could have been. I marvelled at my strength and my body’s ability to grow these babe’s.
I told anyone who cared “there are two babies in there” and revelled in the specialness that society holds for twins. I threw myself into research around how best to birth my girls and consulted other mothers of twins who had achieved natural births. I sought out caseload midwifery care and was so blessed to have a wonderful midwife as my primary carer (a mother of twins herself). I devised a succinct and practical birth plan that I felt was well supported by my carers and was above all my choice.
Aside from a degree of physical discomfort due to my massive belly I actually felt quite good considering I was carrying twins. My ultrasounds showed I was growing two very healthy babes’, who had separate placentas and amniotic sacs (the safest kind of twins). I felt sure we would make it to term. And as the weeks went by I was filled with a confidence that all would go well. I didn’t develop any of the complications common to twins and my pregnancy was so very normal.
We organised ourselves, our lives, created systems to make life easier when our girls came. We stocked up on all the things we needed to deal with two babies at a time and with the enthusiastic help of my Mum amongst other family, we acquired lots of gorgeous little baby girls clothes.
The blissed out state lasted until around thirty weeks and the last couple of months were a struggle, I was huge and a simple task such as picking up toys off the floor was a challenge, looking after my almost three yr old son was exhausting. But it was all going to be worth it and we looked forward to meeting our twins. We nested and planned and set up support for our January of waiting for their arrival and for when they came. My girls bounced around in there and took it in turns who was twin 1 and who was twin 2, they couldn’t decide who was first in line to meet us. They turned from breech to head down to transverse so many times in the last few months it was ridiculous. Yarralea was very jiggly and active all the time and would do little sporadic moves constantly, Sage was more purposeful in her movements, and her movements were slower and stronger. She seemed a more relaxed character. We have an adorable 3D ultrasound picture of them with their heads snuggled together, nestled beneath my chest at 29 weeks gestation. I would laugh and say they just wanted to be close to their Mummy’s heart.
I was discussing with my birth team the possibility of either one or both births breech and were having to accept here was a chance I’d be having a caesarean due to their position. I read everything I could find about giving birth to twins naturally and was trying to prepare for every possible scenario, including the possibility of one or two breech births.
So it came that in late January, roughly two and a half weeks before my due date, my sister was staying with us. I hadn’t felt these babies would come any time soon, I’d had none of the pre-labour niggles I’d had for the last few weeks with my first child.
Then on the Saturday night, the twenty-third of January, my sister, my husband and I all sat up to watch a movie. We laughed at the antics of the babies kicking around and creating mayhem in my belly. It was the most activity I had seen or felt. They had been extraordinarily active that day but this was wild.
The next day they seemed quieter and I had started to get very mild tightenings irregularly on the Sunday night. I put their quietness down to the fact that I was probably getting ready to go into labour and this is something that happens.
It kind of threw us into a frenzy, the realisation that, technically, these babies could come any time. We still hadn’t packed the labour bag or put the car-seats’ in the car or really got our heads around the fact we could be meeting them imminently. In retrospect at thirty seven plus weeks pregnant with twins, I was probably a little underprepared!
We went the following morning to get the extra fixtures for the car-seats’ and installed them. That night Lachlan and I had dinner out on our own while my sister stayed with our son. We went for a walk along Lake Burleigh-Griffin, watched the most magnificent sunset and I was feeling in a fairly divine state. I remember saying to Lachlan, “Isn’t it amazing that I’ve had such a good pregnancy with twins, they’ve been so healthy and everything has just gone so well” and then there was a silent moment between us and I finished it by adding “…so far”.
I niggled some more over the next 24hrs and then on Tuesday night we were feeling ready, my tightenings were becoming more frequent and I did feel that I would probably go into labour soon. But I went to bed and slept. At around 2 or 3 am I awoke conscious of stronger tightenings, I dozed in between but then at 4am my waters broke all over the bed.
I was incredibly excited, I got up and my husband woke up, my sister came in and I told them what had happened. I then phoned the hospital to let them know I’d be coming in soon and quickly showered and got ready. We left the house saying to my sister we’d call in a few hours to let her know what was happening, we were all thrilled, relaxed and looked forward to meeting our girls.
We arrived at the hospital around four-thirty in the morning and the lovely midwife I’d spoken to on the phone was there waiting for us. She took my observations and checked the babies heartbeats, it was a little harder to find the baby on the right’s heartbeat, but I told her she was always the more difficult one to feel movements as well and was sort of nestled underneath her sister a little so we weren’t worried and eventually heard what we thought was her heartbeat, it was a few beats slower than her sisters.
Marg, the midwife then called the registrar in to do the routine ultrasound scan to check our babies’ position. He came in and began the scan, it was soon obvious that our girls had changed positions, ~Sage~ who was nestled on the right and had been the presenting twin in a breech position when we’d checked on the Friday, was now head down and no longer the presenting baby. Her sister, Yarralea, was still breech but now first in line. We knew this meant that we would need to have a caesarean and we were just digesting this news when I realised after a few minutes the registrar was still scanning and looking intently at the screen. I then asked, very casually “Why are you still looking? Are you having trouble finding a heartbeat?”…..the silence and pause alerted me to the seriousness of the situation. He said, “I need to check with the specialist, but I am having trouble seeing a heartbeat.” I then looked at the screen and where there was normally valves opening and closing there was complete stillness, nothing.
It’s very odd how in situations like these you don’t feel quite in your body, I felt like I was an observer. That wasn’t really me howling for my baby. I guess it’s a protective measure our minds put in place to somehow ease the initial impact. I was scared, I couldn’t stop shaking or crying.
The specialist came to confirm that there was no heartbeat; I can’t remember what his exact words were when he told us. By then however, we just knew.
My labour was continuing and it felt awful, there was no positive pain, I just wanted it all to stop. It’s amazing how fear can change the experience of pain in an instant.
I became worried that something would happen to Yarralea and I wanted her out as soon as they could. Things moved very fast from then on. They hurried to prepare me for theatre and we were on our way upstairs. We were so scared, I remember saying to Lachlan or him saying to me (can’t remember which way round) “We need to be strong for Yarralea, we need to focus on her now” and we tried to summon what little strength we could for meeting our daughters. I
remembered we left our camera back in delivery suite, and the nurse who had been so comforting to us already went and grabbed her camera phone from her bag and took some great photo’s we absolutely cherish.
At six twenty- nine am on Wednesday twenty-seventh of January 2010 Yarralea came earth-side, she was pink and crying lustily, I think they brought her to me straight away and the moment she was on my chest, she stopped crying and calmed down. I was so grateful to hold her, that she had made it safely here, that she was perfect in every way and there was absolutely no cause for concern.
Then there was silence, I was listening intently for any sounds of life. I couldn’t see anything beyond the blue sheet in front of me and all I could here were the hollow metal sounds of an operating theatre. Part of me was waiting for that miracle, somehow hoping it had all been a mistake and my baby was actually fine, but there was nothing, just a long awful silence. I wanted to ask “is she ok?” After what felt like an eternity, but was only a minute or two, ~Sage~ was born at 6:30 am. The theatre nurse said, “your baby is out now and they’re just wrapping her to bring to you”, then I think it was the midwife, who came over and said something along the lines of “she was very tangled in the cord…. wrapped tightly around her body, around her arm and neck…quite a bit of old looking meconium….looks as though she’s been gone at least a few days”.
And then the midwife brought us our Sage.
My husband cradled her and sobbed over her divine little body, we’d asked that she be wrapped in a red muslin wrap we’d brought from home. I just wanted to hold her and it felt like a really long time and a lot of reshuffling, before I had her in my arms. I looked at her and was really awestruck by the beauty of this quiet, still little babe. I really wanted to un-wrap her and see her hands and feet, they’d wrapped her so tightly, I felt panicked that I couldn’t see all of her.
Then I began to realise, as I looked into her sleeping, bruised and peeling face, she wasn’t going to wake up, that we had really lost her, that there was no way now that she could possibly, miraculously take a breath and come join her sister earth-side. The heaviness of grief then rested solidly on my chest where it remains still.
Lachlan showed me a tiny translucent insect wing, he had noticed on the red muslin wrap when he first held Sage, and there was a small sense of peace amidst the sadness with that simple tiny wing. It was the first of many signs we have had from our mystical child.
Our little family were kept together the entire time in theatre, nobody rushed us or tried to separate us. Going out to recovery I saw passing wards men, nurses and doctors on our way and wondered if they knew that our world had just collapsed.
Our time in hospital was actually profoundly beautiful in many ways. They put us in a special room for people like us who had lost a baby, it was nice. It was in this cocoon that we spent time with Sage, we caressed her little body, bathed her, dressed her, did hand and footprints and photos’. We tried to absorb enough of our baby in that short time to make up for a lifetime without her in our world.
I remember picking her up after not holding her for maybe half an hour, and her skin was cold. I think before that, part of me could make believe she was just sleeping. The contrast to Yarralea’s warm skin was a shock to say the least.
Holding them both together was so very heartbreaking, I had Yarralea on one side noisily feeding from my breast and
Sage on my other side still and cold. I had imagined the joyous moment so many times when I would finally hold my two babies in my arms and the vast expanse of emptiness I was now feeling was big enough to engulf me.
It took us a while before we felt we could call anyone, what do you say? Everyone had so eagerly anticipated our girls’ arrival and it felt like I’d let everyone down.
We knew we had to let my sister, Sarah know soon because she was with our son, Torin and had seen us off in the wee hours of the morning. I rang her at around 9am, she was apparently in the shopping centre with Torin, I told her one of our babies had died, but not to tell Torin because we wanted to be the ones to tell him. We asked her to come in as soon as she could. Apparently Torin laughed at her tears and said “You’re just crying ‘cause I won’t give you a cuddle Aunty Sawah”. I couldn’t fathom how to tell Torin one of his eagerly awaited baby sisters had died. I didn’t know what I would say. Lachlan bravely stepped up to the task.
We only rang our parents, which was incredibly hard for both of us and we both sent out a group text message later that morning to tell our friends what had happened.
Sarah and Torin arrived a little bit later in the morning; Lachlan met them outside the room and took Torin aside to explain that Sage had died. I don’t know exactly what words he used, and I don’t know how he had the courage to do it and stay strong during this, but he did.
Sarah came in and was just devastated, I think seeing that look on her face brought home how big the loss was for everyone.
I was trying really hard not to be a complete mess so that I wouldn’t frighten Torin. He was fixated on Sage and her “red eye’s” and kept asking to look at her, he didn’t seem at all sad, he just seemed interested. We showed him Sage and talked about how she was “different” to his sister Yarralea. He cuddled her and touched her. We told him how she wouldn’t be coming home from the hospital with us and we had to say goodbye to her. This concept took him a couple of months to grasp, he asked me a lot in the following days and weeks when Sage would “come down from the stars” and wondering when she would come back. He even said to me one time when we were talking to Sage in the stars that “One day when I’m feeling brave I will climb a ladder up to the stars and bring Sage back to here”.
The first night in hospital, Yarralea fed fairly constantly through the night and I drifted in and out of sleep. The realisation of what had occurred over the previous 24hrs hit me as a wave of fear and physical sickness each new time I awoke. I looked down at Yarralea sleeping and as the shadows crept in I imagined her face peeling and bruising as though she had died too. This was an awful feeling, and one that recurred for many months following their birth.
Understandably, I was very glad to see the light of the next day and both Lachlan and I eagerly awaited the arrival of our very lively, oblivious toddler to somehow distract from the pain of what we were feeling. When Torin walked into the room each morning we were in hospital, for that very brief moment, it felt like I could forget.
It was on this second day that we had to make decisions. We were asked about an autopsy for Sage, which we had decided we would go ahead with. I felt so confused with how it could happen that my 37 + week baby could die purely from getting tangled in the cord. I also felt that there could have been a cord or placental issue, her cord seemed thin and I thought we would get more of an idea as to why she died.
We had to decide on what to do about the funeral, it was Thursday and if we were to book funeral things it needed to be done before the weekend. Lachlan was faced with the horrible task of having to ring around and find a place to hold the service for our daughter’s funeral. He also had to go out to the crematorium gardens and select a place to hold her service, sign forms and make choices about coffins and cremation among other things.
By the time he came back he was a mess and I was just so astounded at his capacity to do all of this for us. He told me one of the saddest moments during the experience was writing our daughter’s name for the very first time on a cremation form.
In the early afternoon the pathologist came to see us and we were told that if we were choosing to do an autopsy then the sooner it was performed the more information they could obtain. We had decided we didn’t want to see her body after the autopsy so we were faced with the single most difficult thing I will ever do in my life and that was to say goodbye to our baby. I don’t think I was really ready, the whole previous day I had been so out of it on morphine and shock, but we agreed to have our final goodbye then in the early afternoon of the second day. We arranged to have time with just Lachlan, Sage and I while one of the midwives looked after Yarralea. I cannot describe how intensely heartbreaking it was to actually let her go.
Sage was changed from the day before, her skin had become more mottled and there was more peeling and she was so very cold. I remember feeling that she was changing before my eyes and any remnants of what she was supposed to look like, seemed to be leaving. We spent about half an hour with her and then we let the midwife take her. I tried to block the reality of where she was going out of my mind, but it has come back over and over again as I imagine her being cut open and analysed. Everything comes back, it waits for a vulnerable moment, or a trigger and it all comes flooding in.
I had been having high blood pressure readings since I’d been in labour and the doctors wanted to wait for my BP to come down to an acceptable level before I could consider going home. I just wanted to get out of there, I think mostly though I wanted to escape my own skin. Because as I later discovered, there is nowhere I would be where everything was alright.
The second night in hospital was a bit more restful, having hardly slept over the past forty hours, I was exhausted. We’d spent the evening with Yarralea and finally were able to spend some time getting to know her. We gave her a bath and began to take in the wonder of our little earth-side baby.
Lachlan and I were like new parents with her, she never spent a moment where she wasn’t being cuddled by someone, I thought that if I put her on her own she would miss her twin sister. It was one thing for me to be grieving the most unbearable loss but I couldn’t stand to imagine Yarralea was feeling the loss too. So we never let her go in those early days. Somehow cuddling her helped to ease a little of the emptiness we were feeling too.
Lachlan, Yarralea and I all slept together in the double bed on that second night. And we all slept deeply, Yarralea slept through the night as my milk had come in that evening and she had a belly full.
We greeted Friday with a little more energy and with hopes we would be able to go home. My Mum and Dad had driven all day Thursday and arrived at the hospital on Friday morning. I was so relieved to see them. I knew the past few days had been awful for them too. Somehow when they arrived I felt like we were being taken care of and it made things feel a little bit more manageable.
I was really disappointed to tell them it was too late to see Sage and I know it was hard for them too. In retrospect, I really wish we’d kept her one more day and they would have had the chance to see her. But the whole process was a heavy fog and we were incapable of making decisions, let alone good decisions.
I was determined to go that day and luckily my BP complied for the day, with low readings. Finally I was given the all clear and we left hospital around lunch time.
Leaving the hospital was a shock I hadn’t prepared for. I felt exposed, raw and wounded, yet to outsiders I was a Mum carrying my newborn baby and I got smiles from onlookers, nobody knew the deep wound I carried with me. As we got in the car, the space where Sage’s car seat had been was now empty (Lachlan had had to take it out, so that he could take my sister in the car at one point, he said it was another awful thing to have to do).
And then we arrived home. We got our one little baby out of the car and walked into our house. Mum, Dad, Sarah and Torin had gone off for an outing to give us the chance to come home for a little while with just us. The wave of emptiness rolled over us again for the hundredth time that day. We sat and cried, again for probably the hundredth time that day.
Yarralea was incredibly low maintenance and slept a lot, Lachlan and I both expressed wishing that she’d just be a little bit more demanding so that we felt we were needed more. The lack of chaos and busy hands was hitting hard. We just wanted a diversion from the searing pain we felt in our heavy hearts.
The weekend was spent arranging the funeral, it was good to have a focus and to be focusing on celebrating Sage.
Meanwhile, my blood pressure had gone up again and finally on Sunday evening, the night before the funeral, I had to go back to the hospital to be reviewed. My blood pressure was remaining too high for me to be allowed to stay at home, so the decision was made to put me on medication to lower my BP.
I felt really betrayed by my body; I wanted to take time to reflect and to be helping arrange our daughters’ funeral. I remember just wishing I could go for a walk by myself but I was also in a great deal of pain, I had some nerve pain and the incision site from the caesarean was really sore. I could hardly move, let alone go for a leisurely stroll. I have heard since then, that pain following a stillbirth is more intense and high blood pressure is incredibly common too, both of these are physical responses to intense emotional states.
I got home at around eight-thirty that night, the staff at the hospital were excellent in fast tracking everything, they knew Sage’s funeral was on the following morning. So I was reviewed, sent home with medication and was to be followed up by my midwife at home.
The morning of the funeral came and thanks to an incredible effort by everyone around me, my husband, Mum, Dad, my sisters and brother, the funeral was organised.
My husband had chosen a beautiful spot in the crematorium gardens that was by a huge eucalypt tree and a little stream, it was perfect. The morning was blue skies with a gentle breeze. One of Lachlan’s colleagues at work was a celebrant and she held the service. We had both our immediate families present and a few friends who came from all over, including Sydney, Coffs Harbour and Melbourne.
As the service began, I felt a gentle hugging breeze envelope me and I knew Sage was with us. I felt strengthened by that and her presence held me during the whole day. We had everyone bless a gum leaf with their hopes and dreams for Sage and it was a nice quiet way for everyone to honour her life. The ceremony concluded with “Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison being played as everyone left.
Lachlan, Yarralea and I remained to say our goodbyes to Sage, we read her “Where the wild things are” and then kissed the white little coffin she rested in. I think the funeral day is still the most uplifting day I have had since I learned of Sage passing on, I hold it in my heart as a gentle reminder that one day I will find the blessings and the strength in this journey we are travelling on.
Grief is a very strange place to be. I think for the first couple of months the impact hadn’t truly hit me, I think in many ways I underplayed what had happened in my mind and was determined to feel I was ‘coping’, whatever the hell that means!
I wanted to be moving forward and believed for a while that I was. I talked philosophically about her death and it was only about 7 weeks after Sage died that I truly acknowledged that it was ok to feel the pain, the hurt and the anger. I developed a motto for myself, saying it was ok to not be ok. Only then did the real stuff begin.
Today it is almost 5 months since our baby died and still I feel the same solid weight in my chest that I carry with me wherever I go. It is a physical pain, it surges through me like doom sometimes, and other times it sits nestled in my heart like a wounded bird. I feel like I am suffering more than one loss; one is obviously the loss of my dear sweet Sage and all the expectations that went with having her in our lives, as well as the loss of the twin journey. But I also feel that I am grieving the experience of raising Yarralea, every joyful moment is tarnished with sadness over not being able to see Sage in the same way. I then begin to feel like I am somehow missing out on Yarralea too and am always clouded by the pain.
The missing and the longing are so all consuming, it doesn’t seem right that we bury our child and have to face the reality we’ll never hear her sweet little laugh, hug her warm milk drunk little body while she drift’s off to sleep, we’ll never see her become a unique and quirky character, laugh at her antics and get frustrated with her when she misbehaves.
I above all feel so incredibly sad she is not here to accompany Yarralea through life, knowing that my living daughter will someday grieve that her other half is not here to play, fight with and cry with is devastating to me.
I am still playing over in my mind the “what if’s”, the imagining of our alternate reality where we have both our precious girls with us. I feel incredible guilt for a range of reasons, I feel guilty for willing my daughter’s into a head down position, because eventually that was what killed Sage. I feel guilty for wanting a full term pregnancy; because if I’d had them at the average time twins are born they would have been here at 36 or 37 weeks, before ~Sage~ turned. I feel guilty for having a roomy uterus with plenty of space for 37 week twins to turn; most twins assume their final position from around 28-30 weeks gestation. I wonder what would have happened if I’d been overly paranoid and gone in for a check-up when I felt the huge burst of activity that Saturday evening and they’d heard her distressed little heartbeat, could they have saved her? I wondered if I’d been a different kind of person and chosen the care of a conservative obstetrician who was of the view that twins should be born by 37 weeks, we would have had them before she turned.
I also feel guilty for this occurring to my family, that somehow it was all my fault that this happened, my body failed to bring both our babies healthily earth-side. The wondering is endless, the guilt feels endless and the wishing things were different I’m sure will always remain with me.
Logically I know what I would say to someone else who had been in my position, that there is no way I could have prevented what happened and that I shouldn’t beat myself up over the guilt. But we feel what we feel and I need to acknowledge it and somehow process it into my reality.
My husband was telling me about a documentary he watched a while ago, about a man kayaking across the Tasman I think it was. He had survived some of the worst storms during the journey and was on the home stretch in sight of land when a rogue wave killed him. I feel like this is what happened to us, we were past all the usual hurdles of a twin pregnancy, prematurity, high blood pressure, twin to twin transfusion and we were almost in sight of our babies coming when we were hit by that rogue wave. It floors me just how close we were.
Fear is an emotion I am faced with on a daily basis. I am no longer the innocent, blasé mother who thinks that bad things happen to other people. I know what can happen, I know how much it hurts and I dread anything more happening to my family.
My mind goes to some awful places, especially in the middle of the night. For the first couple of months I felt certain that Yarralea would die too, from SIDS or we would find out she had some rare fatal condition. I would look at her in the night time as she slept and I would begin to imagine death coming to take her too. I think with twins, it feels like there is a pull from the other side, that somehow Yarralea would go too so that she could be with her sister.
The parts of grief that I didn’t expect were the gifts in the experience. I have been dealt the hardest blow a mother will face, the death of my beloved child and although I would give anything for Sage to be here with us, I feel I have become a richer person for the knowing. I now more deeply understand the human condition. My heart has a greater capacity for love and understanding.
Before I had my girls, I read books on raising twins. I joined the local multiple birth association. I was going to be part of an exclusive club with other’s raising multiples. Now I read books on Grief and loss, I go to SIDS and Kids groups; I joined forums with other mothers who have lost a twin. Nobody really wants to be where we are, but I know we are all glad we are not there alone.
The funny thing is that with all that has happened, I don’t regret my experience. I feel blessed to have had 9 glorious months carrying Sage and I feel blessed that she entered our lives. My Nan used to quote a saying about babies “they bring their love with them” and it is so true. Sage brought so much love with her in the short time she was in our life; she continues to bring us love from the ethereal world she dwells in. We feel her presence and have got to know her character in the signs we are given that she is around.
I am by no means “recovered” from this experience; I am learning day by day how to grow around the pain and the longing. I am the mother of three beautiful children and am learning how to mother my spirit child and keep her memory alive in our life