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Because family life matters

Finding hope following a stillbirth

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Jumoke reflects on how life has changed since Tomee was stillborn.

Our world changed in minutes during the summer of 2003.

Life was wonderful as my husband drove me to our local hospital to give birth to our second son, Tomee, after a seven-year interval! There was some discomfort, the occasional aches and gripes as Tomee made his presence felt, but even those pinpricks of inconvenience were pointers to a beckoning future of love, life and joy.

The week leading up to this was a roller coaster of events. There had been complications. Tomee was in a breech position on my original due date, which meant that medical intervention was required and natural labour could not go ahead under such circumstances.  I was admitted into hospital and after three days of monitoring and discussing our options, a C-section was scheduled.

The morning of the operation, a pre-op examination revealed that Tomee had moved. His head was now engaged in the birth canal, so the operation was cancelled. After one final scan, we were sent home to allow nature to take its course.

Four days later, there was an anticipatory joy during a slightly bumpy but happy ride to the hospital, then surprise and growing concern. The midwife’s anxious looks, led to insistent demands to “Push HARD!” and “We need to get this baby out NOW!” I needed no convincing!

Confusion, apologies, mumbled technical explanations; then Tomee, once a constant, pulsing bump of vibrancy, known but not seen, felt but not heard, was now lifeless! Now disbelief!

There was hope, even as the doctors frantically tried to resuscitate, even as we prayed, even when I first cradled Tomee’s limp body in my arms, willing him to be kept warm. But then hope was gone and there was nothing.

There were endless mental interrogations around “What should I have done better?”; “Why was this happening?”; “Why me?”. We had a house full of reminders; nappies, romper suits, a baby bath, Moses basket – all part of the excited preparations for the homecoming baby, but no baby.

My world was a black hole of emptiness which swallowed everything, but spat out enough grief and shock to remind me of my never-ending sense of hopelessness. Family, friends and members of our church popped round to help with tiny bits here and there.

Our seven-year-old son was too young to truly appreciate it all and too needy to ignore. My husband, stumbling and bumbling through his own grief, tried to take some of mine, praying words which seemed so empty and meaningless. For both of us, putting pen to paper was a really useful outlet whilst trying to lean on God-given strength.

And so we stumbled into and through that first Christmas. Family popping around with things and for chats encouraged us to make an effort, as did our son and the daily routines. The mammoth battle to get out of bed got slightly easier; reluctantly taking up a friend’s invite to visit an art gallery was not possible while clinging to my bed. It’s those little things, those little battles won, that distract one’s grief and draw it off, little by little, until it is a manageable but still throbbing wound.

The desire to want answers or hold someone accountable was a very real thing we had to overcome.

That first Christmas should have been extra special. Through my smiles, those painful questions lurked as I lingered around in the shops: “What would Tomee have looked like in those Christmas romper suits?” The ill-disciplined mind easily finds excuses to tip one back into oblivion. Christmas cards were addressed to ‘Ade and family’, not each individual member – a convenient way not to mention Tomee’s name.

People offered advice such as “Forget about it and move on”; “At least you have one already”; “Be strong!” All given with good intentions but not particularly helpful.

Yes, one must move – but grieving is an essential and necessary process. Child bereavement is awkward, where the right words are almost impossible to find. Hearing harrowing stories during ‘Baby Loss Awareness Week’ this October highlighted many of the issues around bereavement support.

Often, I found it was merely the presence of someone, not words, which provided some comfort. And ultimately, within that suffocating emotional gloom, it was my Christian faith which was just enough to somehow enable me to keep going. As I look back, I believe that God never left me and has given me hope.

Tomee is gone but not forgotten. The unbearable wound is now bearable. Serene, born two years after Tomee, is now 15; not his replacement but a reminder that life continues and gets better.

You can read Jumoke and her husband Ade’s story in the book ‘Tomee’s Song’ by A & J Kiladejo, ISBN-13 : 978-1844263530.  Please email bps@cff.org.uk if you would like to purchase a copy and we will pass your request on.

You may also find ‘The Baby Loss Guide’, ‘Saying Goodbye’ and ‘Beyond Goodbye’ by Zoe Clark-Coates helpful – available from bookstores.

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At Care for the Family we support couples, parents and those who have been bereaved. If you would be able to make a one-off donation to support our work, we would be very grateful. Thank you.