When Claire was pregnant with Alexandra, it never even crossed my mind that anything could go wrong. We all knew that Claire’s pregnancy had been quite uncomfortable for her towards the end and were eagerly awaiting the new arrival. Claire was the first of us (the three cousins) to get pregnant.
When my Mum rang me to tell me that Claire had had her baby, but things weren’t looking good, it was difficult to process. According to my understanding, you got pregnant, carried the baby for 9 months, delivered the baby and then took it home. I had never considered the possibility that there would be any complications and I didn’t really know what she meant. I remember asking “Is the baby going to die?”. At this point, we didn’t know how long she had.
The next morning, as I prepared my classroom for my Year Ones to arrive, I got a message from Claire explaining the situation. I wasn’t sure what the best thing to do was. Did they want me there? Did they want privacy? If I left it until the end of the school-day would it be too late? I rang Claire and I can still remember and appreciate how clear she was. “I want you to come”. I drove over from Manchester to Leeds straight away.
That day sits in my mind like we all existed in an alternate reality. Alexandra died in Claire and Andrews arms that afternoon. It felt unreal – how could this be happening?
It was important to be there for so many reasons. To meet Alexandra finally after waiting for her all these months. She was so big and had such a gorgeous little frown! To be there with Claire and Andrew and my aunt & uncle. To be able to look back and gain a little more understanding of what they went through that day, as my own life changes and progresses. To truly understand that tragedies like this don’t just happen to other people but can happen to you and your family.
Alexandra was one of the first few babies in my life. Afterwards, when friends announced pregnancies, my initial reaction was panic and anxiety for them, thinking that the there was such a long road ahead for them, with so many chances that things could go wrong. I found my initial reaction, rather than being “Wow! That’s wonderful news, how exciting!” was “I really hope they get to take their baby home”.
Over the last 3 and a half years, I have learned that having children is not as simple as I used to believe. Since Alexandra, it seems like many people I know have either suffered multiple miscarriages, been unable to carry a viable pregnancy or have really struggled to become pregnant. According to the NHS, 1 in 8 pregnancies end in miscarriage and around 1 in 7 couples will have difficulties conceiving. It’s made me far more realistic about the realities of starting a family and far more sensitive in the way I talk about pregnancy and children with other people. You don’t know what anyone is really going through, so tread carefully with your words.
The last few years have also helped me understand more about grief brought about by baby loss. I know from Claire, that often what somebody says (or doesn’t say) in response to another’s loss, can be very upsetting.
Currently, I try to make sense of it like this: that just like in all areas of life, there will be things that people say that are wonderful, loving or that I perceive to be right, and things that people say that will be hateful, upsetting or that I perceive to be wrong. Sometimes people get it right, and sometimes people get it wrong. Sometimes I will get it right and sometimes I will get it wrong. We do and say what we think based on the experience we have. Having learned about and experienced aspects of Claire and Andrew’s grief, I will probably be a far better support to friends and family going through anything similar in the future.
Just over a year after Alexandra, Claire and Andrew had Ophelia. Claire’s pregnancy with Ophelia was understandably extremely anxious. I remember feeling very worried about Claire’s levels of stress and how this might be affecting the baby. I don’t think any of us could really understand the agony she went through, wondering if she’d get to keep this one.
At Ophelia’s naming party, Andrew’s sister Rachel performed a song from the Rocky Horror Show and the lyrics sum Ophelia up perfectly:
“…let the sun and light come streaming, into my life, into my life”
She’s brilliant – fun, funny and so smart. Spending time with her is always amazing and I’m so excited and lucky to see her grow up. We will also always remember her beautiful older sister, Alexandra, who didn’t get the chance to.