Remembering the Unforgettable – Samuel James

Pregnancy or infant loss affects 1 in 4 women. Which means more than likely it has touched your life in the form of your own journey or that of a loved one. It may have happened within your group of friends, work colleagues, a neighbour, a sister or perhaps yourself. Maybe it has happened within these circles and you don’t even know it. As a friend of an incredible mama navigating loss, I found and often still do find myself without words or a clue where to start when it comes to help or comfort for her. I realised that many others in my fortunate position not have felt the pain personally would also be wondering how best can I love this courageous woman at this beyond difficult time? Through asking, I have found that sometimes the best things to do are simply to be there and ask, acknowledge the entire journey and remember them always..

Name & age during pregnancy:
Jozie, 27

When did things first seem to change for you?
On Wednesday April 8, 2020 I went in for our 20-week scan, due to the restrictions around COVID I had to go to this appointment alone. I had been feeling anxious about this appointment and was unsure if this was to do with going alone or that I had a feeling something might be wrong.

Soon after the ultrasound technician got the scan up, I asked what she was looking at as it didn’t look normal. This was our second pregnancy, so I knew that it generally didn’t take long for a heartbeat to be heard. The technician looked up at me and I heard those awful words for the very first time, ‘I’m sorry your baby has died.’ While another doctor came in to keep scanning my tummy I called my husband to tell him the news.

I was sent down the corridor to the pregnancy clinic, which felt like the longest walk. With my head down, praying that I didn’t run into anyone I knew. At the entrance I told the nurse doing temperature checks that I had just found out our baby had died and broke down in tears. She ushered me into the pregnancy clinic, past the expectant mothers and into a cubicle where I had to meet with a midwife and the OB. They discussed the next steps and told me the safest way was to go through a natural delivery.

I was given medication to get the cervix ready and sent home to come back in two days time to deliver. During this moment all I wanted was for the doctors to put me under and cut our baby out as I didn’t want to feel anything. The medication made me cramp which was a constant reminder of what was happening to my body and that my baby was gone.

How did the rest of the journey unfold for you following this? 
The two days waiting at home were spent mostly in tears and in complete shock that this would ever have happened to us. We were also full of dread and utterly terrified by the idea that the hardest day was still ahead of us.

We made our way into the hospital on the Friday and were stopped at the door by a security guard due to COVID, asking us why we were there. As I stated that we were there to deliver our baby he almost scoffed after looking at my small stomach, but reluctantly let us in. We walked into the maternity ward, and to the heavily staffed nurse’s station. It felt as if we were walking in with death written all over us, the nurses all aware we were coming in and welcoming us with pitying looks.

They set us up in the room and soon after the OB came in and did an ultrasound to show us our baby and put our mind at ease that he was in fact gone. They discussed how the day would go, that they had to insert medication to induce us vaginally and that they would have to do this every four hours until it was over. They couldn’t tell us how many doses we would need.

Up until this point I had been feeling ok – I felt brave and prepared. That was until they got me on the bed and had to give me the first dose. I completely broke down. For the next few hours we were mostly left alone, those that did come and check on us came in walking on eggshells, unsure of what to expect.

Expecting that it would take a long time, I wasn’t prepared for how the pain would escalate so quickly and asked for morphine after about two hours. They said this should take the edge off, however I still was feeling a lot of pain. It wasn’t timeable contractions, but a strong constant pressure that wouldn’t allow me to sit or lay down.

Leigh and I paced around the room for the remainder of the time listening to a playlist we had made in the days prior full of our favourite worship songs, our wedding songs and some other favourites. Throughout the labour we would often look at each other and burst into tears but also had some sweet moments praying together, holding my belly, talking to our baby, telling him we loved him and it was ok to go.

About four hours in Leigh and I were mucking around on the gas. As we were laughing together I suddenly I felt my waters burst, except it was just a big gush of blood. We buzzed the nurses and I began to cry and feel panicked. I couldn’t stop thinking it was almost time for our baby to go and I was unsure what to expect.

Within 10 minutes our baby was born with the nurse catching him and cutting the cord. We had discussed that we wanted the nurses to take him away at first to give us a chance to compose ourselves and for them to give us the heads up with what to expect.

Shortly after the nurse came in and told us that we had had a boy, in that moment I looked at Leigh and couldn’t stop smiling that our Harry had a brother. I had a shower and we composed ourselves, prepared to meet our beautiful baby boy for the first time. While he was so small and could fit in our palm, he was perfect.

While this was the hardest day, we could never say it was the worst as it was filled with sweet moments that we will hold onto forever. Holding our baby, naming, and praying for him, taking some family pictures and having our pastor come in and dedicate him. We spent the afternoon with our baby Sam. But later that night we had to do the hardest thing, say goodbye and walk out of the hospital alone with only a stuffed bear and memory box in place of the baby we should be carrying out.

Have you had any experience, familiarity or knowledge of miscarriage, pregnancy or infant loss prior to your own journey?
Working as a psych and already having an interest in the area I had recently done a course in perinatal loss which could have been the most helpful thing for our journey. Not only did I have some understanding of the physical process and grief that we would go through, as well as the importance of making memories during this time, but also knowledge of some of the amazing resources available. 

Did you previously have any friends you knew had experienced pregnancy/infant loss before?
I had previously known of a few friends who had gone through miscarriages, and more friends told us about their losses after we had shared about Sam. 
Since going through our journey, I’ve connected with a number of other women who had lost their babies around the same time. We all have different stories but all share a similar pain and grief that has created a strong connection among us. These ladies have been incredibly instrumental in helping me cope with everything and it’s always great to have someone to vent to when your day has been really hard and they just get it. 

How did you partner navigate his own pathway of loss and grief?
While I don’t think he got as many messages or people checking up on him as much as I did, I tried to include him as much as possible in my processing – especially knowing that grief can become a massive source of conflict for couples. We attended counselling together as well as some online support and info nights specifically for couples. While at times it felt hard with our grief not always matching, we just tried to keep communication open, and ultimately I think it has been something that has made us stronger.

Did you feel there were adequate sources of help offered to you at first? Or did you have to go looking for more substantial support?
Yes, leaving hospital we were provided with a bag full of resources. I was already aware of Bears of Hope, Pink Elephant, Red Nose and SANDS which all do an amazing job with providing resources, bears, free counselling and support groups. The hospital also called after a few days to offer counselling. I attended a few of the Bear of Hope groups and the Pink Elephant circles of support which were great.

What were the best ways your loved ones supported you during your loss?
We were so supported with meals, messages and gifts to remember Sam. I think the best thing you can do is to remember their baby and to continue to let them know you are thinking of them. 
Also providing them with a space to talk and share about their baby. I would often go places and see people in the early days after who wouldn’t mention it. While I think this was them trying to be kind and not make me upset, someone bringing it up may be the first chance they’ve had to debrief for a while. I would have preferred people to say something at the risk of me shedding a few tears than for them to say nothing and feel forgotten. Generally parents will take any chance to talk about their babies, and loss parents are no different. 

Having been through this journey so far, how would you approach a friend who had just gone through something similar?
Just be there, send them a message, drop around a meal. Even if you feel like you don’t know them enough or it’s not your place, simply sending a message to let them know you are thinking of them is so appreciated. You don’t know if your words could be just what they need to hear that day. Some of the biggest supports came from the most unexpected of places.

How have you found life after loss now? 
We are 6 months on from losing Sam, we had testing done to see if they could work out why, but this was inconclusive. A lot of things feel back to normal, but the sadness can hit randomly at any time and it can be hard sometimes not to focus on where we should be with a newborn and on maternity leave, instead of where we are. 

We are currently 16 weeks pregnant with a baby girl due the exact same day we had Sam. While we are so excited to welcome her next year, the anxiety in this pregnancy has been a lot harder than I expected. I am however lucky to have a great health care team behind me, and we are getting additional scans and support, mostly I think for peace of mind. I am really just counting down the days to hear this baby cry for the first time and have her in our arms. 

This has definitely been one of the hardest things we have gone through, but through the worst experience, we have seen the best in people and have been so overwhelmed with support from our friends and family, as well as the community. The connections we have made with other loss families and the awareness and conversations we will continue to make have been what has helped get us through this. 

We will always miss and love Sam, and will continue to talk about him and remember him as the very loved son and brother he was. 

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