Ironically my wife is away for work this week and I choose to go back through my daughter Esther’s little box.
Esther was born and died on the 14-01-2011.
Her little box contains her birth detail card, the newspaper on that day, all the cards from family and friend. Alongside the box on a shelf sits a pink teddy, a small quilt and the ashes of our beautiful daughter.
We were faced with the decision to terminate our pregnancy – a story not told out loud.
Here is her story.
I am a builder and my wife is an industrial officer. We both work really hard and balance our work and family life. At the time we had two boys. Henry was 7 and Joshua was 5.
My wife and I had decided to put off telling people about the pregnancy, as there was restructuring going on in her work and it seemed more sensible to keep it quiet.
So that year on Christmas day we told our family that we were expecting a baby due on the 1st of May which made my wife around 20 weeks pregnant.
She did not end up having the 20 week scan until the middle of January which made her 23 weeks pregnant. In those three weeks from Christmas to the 20 week scan, we told our friends and work colleagues. As you would expect, everyone was excited for us and pleased. I didn’t think anything of it and we were in the clear. We’d made it past the 12 and 15 week milestones and had no other problems with the other two babies.
I had remained pretty much out of it, the pregnancy that is. I’d been there before. My wife would say, can you feel that? I’d hold my hand on her tummy for a short while then retract it after giving little time. In my head thinking that was nothing compared to the kicking that would be coming in the later part of the pregnancy. So for me, I had not really started to bond with our baby at all. I had not been to any of the scans or trips to the obstetrician. Thinking I had the rest of the child life bond with it.
My wife had a great idea that as a family we should go to 20 week scan so our other two boys could see the baby. The boys were on school holidays and I agreed it would be good.
So we all went. Our doctor was scanning around and showing the boys and I was none the wiser, but my wife seemed to think he was spending too much time on the scan compared to others. From memory, the boys had to go to toilet and he said to us, “it’s probably nothing but I would like you to have another scan in the hospital.” So within a couple of hours we were in our city’s major hospital having more scans on the baby. We figure that there was no point worrying until we had something worry about.
They seemed not too alarmed as they carried on in normal professional manner with a typical poker face. Plenty of smiles and small talk.
It was not until they asked us what arrangements we had with our doctor and whether we had to go back to him after the scan.
We both said – if you have something to say then say it.
At this time we began to worry what had they found. Our poor little baby had had a bleed on the brain and she had a bleak life expectancy. Half the baby’s brain was a big black void of mush.
Me, the bloke, the emotional rock for my wife, burst into tears and sobbed with my head in my hands. My wife, however, did not blink. She sat there and asked all the questions we needed answers to.
It sounds like she was hard or heartless but it was an amazing thing. She went into a child protection mode – she needed to know everything so that we were fully informed of what we needed to do and how we were going to get around this. She was cool in a crisis and I respect her for how she reacted.
Obviously the first question is what do we do? The doctors explained to us that this was one in a million thing to happen and that there was nothing anyone could do.
The chances of the baby making it full term was highly unlikely and if she did survive, her life expectancy and quality would minimal. By then we were both crying and in shock.
“So what your advice?”
Their advice was to terminate the pregnancy. BANG.
The rush of grief hit me like a train – a heavy buzzing numb wired feeling.
For our other two children we had found out what sex the baby was but this one we had left to chance. We both really wanted a girl but when in to it being happy with whatever we got. As long as it’s healthy and happy – we all know that one. Well this one wasn’t and by a long way.
So I had to ask “What sex is the baby?” and of course it’s was a girl. This brought me undone even more.
The choice to terminate a baby’s life. People say all sorts of things about what they would or wouldn’t do. If you had a Down’s Syndrome baby what would you do? I don’t know. If you had a baby with heart trouble or something that you could at least try to fix. Something to fight for, then I have no doubt we would have had the fight. But we were faced with a baby girl that if she made it full term was going to die or be on life support to keep her alive with no chance of a future.
I don’t think you are entitled to pass judgement on anyone in this situation unless you have been there. To be asked if you want to kill a baby inside your wife seems a bit strange. She (the baby) is moving around, she was normal a minute ago everything was fine. It was just a matter of the four months and we would have our complete family.
We had a choice but we didn’t. We had two other boys to think about and also ourselves. The advice from the doctors at the hospital and our obstetrician was to terminate the pregnancy.
We made the decision that we would follow the advice from the doctors. It was an easy decision to make which sounds terrible, but living with it would be harder than making it.
The guilt. What if? What did we do wrong? Did my wife use some cleaning chemicals? Did she work too hard? Was playing sport early on the wrong thing? What! How! And Why! It’s not fair. If we could have had miscarried then the decision would not be in our hands. I felt sick.
Three days later my wife and I went to hospital where the drugs which would induce and invariably kill our daughter were administered. It was ten or so hours of labour with about two hours of intense labour at the end. Our daughter Esther was born at 23 weeks weighing 360 grams and 34 cm long. She was beautiful, perfect. Fingers and toes, arms and legs, a chin that looked just like one of her brothers.
We spent three or so hours with our daughter. Our mothers came in and shared a tear with us. We got the usual little pink birth card that goes on the end of the cot.
In the hospital maternity ward, we were right up the back away from all the other delivery suites. The suites which only get used when the ward is overflowing.
We could hear the sounds of crying babies and see down the hall dads looking tired and drawn out after a long labour with their wife or partner. But at least for them it had been worth it, at least they got their baby. I already know what it’s like to leave the hospital with a baby – how will we leave empty handed?
The smell of the maternity ward, the smell of babies. Mothers and fathers walking up and down the hallway with their new baby. Making a coffee in the kitchen standing next to a new dad and him asking what I had.
“A little girl,” I said – after all, that’s what we had.
The nurses were fantastic, they gave us a little teddy and a blanket that someone who had lost a baby had made and donated.
They took foot prints and printed them on her birth information card.
It was one of the most surreal moments in my life. Here we were, holding our newborn baby daughter, knowing that we were going to walk out through the ward doors in the morning empty handed. That we were going to pass our beautiful baby over to the nurse and never see her again.
I’d never see a little curly haired girl skipping on her first day of school. I’d never have a little princess. I’d never walk my daughter down the aisle on her wedding day. I thought and still think about the relationship that a daughter has with her mother and with her father.
It’s not that much different when they are young but it is when they are much older. Of course lots of things can happen in life and not all things end up working out how you had dreamed, but these were dreams and they were my dreams about what Esther and I were going be like. The things we were going to do, and it was all gone and we had done it, we terminated the pregnancy.
What if the doctors had got it wrong, what if there had been a mistake? What had we done to our daughter?
Of course the doctors had not got it wrong, they had three different doctors check the scans. I was dreaming again.
I took my wife home the next day and we were devastated. Gutted and guilty. The guilt of what we had done was extremely hard to deal with. We didn’t talk to many people about what we had done, we just let people think that she was stillborn. Only our family and close friends would know the truth.
For some reason, when things like this happens, when I’m driving along in the car and stop at the lights, the car next to you has a little girl sitting in the car seat smiling. All I seemed to see was fathers walking down the street holding their daughters hand. I suppose it is what you choose to see. You just seem to notice what you’ve lost and it makes you angry.
Due to the fact that we had gone from only telling our family and friends a couple of weeks before that we were having a baby. The second tier of people were finding out that we were expecting a baby. You know you can’t tell everybody, the word gets around. We were getting people ringing up to congratulate us on being pregnant. Only to be told that we had lost the baby. I felt sorry for them, they felt pretty bad.
Besides what is with the phase “we lost our baby” – we didn’t bloody lose her. People don’t lose babies – they die, and in our case we had terminated her, we killed her. It was a hard fact unpleasant for others to hear about. I guess the truth hurts sometimes.
My wife and I read a number of pamphlets and books that we given to us by various people throughout this period. Reading the stories of others helped me so much. Made me feel that I was not he only one that had lost a baby. The stories of others helped put our loss in perspective. I know you cannot compare one person’s lost to another’s. But the loss is relative to your experience. I had never lost anyone other than grandparents who had a full and happy life, we celebrated their life when they died. All I felt we had was unfulfilled potential. That really left me gutted and empty.
After reading these stories I noticed that not one had spoken about how it feels for a parent to have to choose to terminate a pregnancy. Is this still a taboo subject, something that we should be ashamed of?
We made the right decision and although I still feel guilt and sadness and that empty feeling, we did the right thing and faced again with the decision, we would do the same thing. I wonder how many other people out there have a similar story that is not talked about.
I think it would help if I could have heard some stories about similar situations.
We received so much support from friends and family. Some well-intended but missing the mark. Some people came to us and by telling us how they had lost loved ones and how they felt. It was nice and not their fault but sometimes I felt that this was our time to be sad and grieve, not theirs. They had come to support us not the other way round, I knew they had the best intentions.
Some people did not know how to deal with us. A really good mate of mine didn’t even want to talk to me about it after I told him, he just said nothing.
A few people told us it was nature’s way and there was a reason for it and probably for the best. I wanted to hit those people.
The best advice I got was from my neighbour. She didn’t say a lot, she just listened over the fence. A couple of things she did say were on the money were:
“It’s not fair”
“It shouldn’t happen to us”
She was right, it’s not fair and shouldn’t have happen to us, to my family. What had we done?
She also said that you will in time stop crying so much, little by little in your own time you will feel better, you will smile again.
She was right and nearly two years on I still feel very sad and miss her so much. Esther doesn’t dominate my thoughts anymore but I still think of often of what could have been.
And so glad to have had her to know her even if it was so brief. I’m proud of her and love her.
And given the right environment, I tell people about her because she’s not the daughter I didn’t have; she is the daughter I had.
This post was written by the partner of a Mamamia reader, who has chosen to remain anonymous.