real life

"Is he your first?" The four little words that always make my heart sink.

This post deals with pregnancy loss and might be triggering for some readers.

'Is it your first?' Four little words make up this innocent, and natural question. I must have been asked this question at least once a day during my pregnancy. 

I thought that once my child was born I wouldn’t have to answer it anymore, but it has simply evolved into: 'Is HE your first?' 

This way of making small talk is well intended – to show interest in your growing belly or baby. But every time I hear it, it makes my heart race as I weigh up what to say. Do I smile and nod, or do I tell the truth?

I have a beautiful one-year-old boy but my journey with motherhood began before my beautiful boy was born. Because the fact is, this was not my first pregnancy, and he is not my first child. I have one child but I am a mother-of-two. 

Watch: A tribute to the babies we've lost. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia.

When my partner and I decided to try for a baby, we did all the usual things. We took supplements, we tracked ovulation, and one day in January 2019, we were absolutely delighted to see those two pink lines appear on the pregnancy test. 

We were excited, but we knew the facts – one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage, so we held our breath and remained quietly and cautiously optimistic. We went for the scans, and we did the genetic tests that were recommended for 'older' mums (I was 38!). And once we got to the momentous 12-week milestone, we breathed a sigh of relief and announced our pregnancy. 

As our pregnancy progressed we continued with all the normal stuff – scans, midwife checks, baby name lists, photographing my growing belly, and downloading the apps that compare your baby to various fruit and vegetables. 

But on May 13, 2019, at just shy of 20 weeks pregnant, our world changed forever. 

The day after Mother’s Day, I was in a work meeting when I didn’t feel quite right. It felt like I was experiencing period pain. There was a dull ache in my tummy and heaviness. I called my midwife, who told me to come into the hospital. She examined me and reassured me that our baby had a strong heartbeat. 

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By this stage, it was getting late in the day, so she booked me in for a full scan the following morning 'to be safe' and told me to go home. However, my intuition just knew something wasn’t right, so we went to the emergency room and waited to see the obstetrician on call. 

We waited in that room for hours. The dull ache continued, and after a while I realised it was coming in waves. An obstetrician arrived, and grim-faced, he explained that the situation didn’t look good – I was in premature labour and already five centimetres dilated. 

He explained that I would be admitted and that if by some amazing miracle my uterus relaxed and stopped contracting they may be able to put in a stitch to keep the baby inside me. 

But as they transferred me from one bed to another, my waters broke, and in that moment I knew. Until then I’d been holding on a sliver of hope. I remember hearing a blood-curdling scream and then realising it was coming from me. 

The doctors explained what would happen next – I would give birth to our child but it would be too early for them to survive. 

Gemma, Jake, and Finn on Say Their Name Day. Image: Supplied.

The next 24 hours passed in a haze. My partner Jake was constantly at my side and holding my hand until I gave birth to our daughter. I remember asking the midwife with a little hope if she was breathing to which she gently shook her head. Jake cut the cord, and they wrapped her in a blanket and handed her to me. We held her and together named her Everly. We counted her tiny toes and hands and looked at her cute button nose. I held her in my arms until she grew cold and I could hold her no more. Handing her back to the midwife was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. 

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After we left the hospital with empty arms, the days and weeks passed in a blur. We woke up, went through the motions, and somehow got through each day. We organised for Everly to be cremated and collected her ashes. I took a leave of absence from work and my parents flew from the UK to support us. My rounded belly returned to normal and was a constant reminder that she was gone. 

All mothers hold dreams and hopes for their children. From the moment you discover you are pregnant, you imagine their whole life ahead of them. So when that child is lost in miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal loss, or anytime after, the mother still grieves it all. I missed my baby being in my tummy and I grieved for the life that she and we should have had. 

It was hard to leave the house as it seemed wherever I went there was a reminder of our loss – pregnant bumps or mums walking with prams or holding their babies. I remember going to the supermarket and having to return home empty-handed and in tears after coming face to face with a heavily pregnant bump at the checkout. 

Eventually, needing time out of the house, I found a special place on a cliff top near the ocean. It was a safe spot I could sit and feel close to my daughter, knowing that looking out to sea I would not need to see bumps or babies and could be alone with my grief. 

I also found a wonderful counsellor who specialises in pregnancy and child loss and she helped me work through my grief and come to terms with my loss. I feel very lucky to have found her and I truly don’t think I could have coped or got through it without her help or the unwavering support of my partner Jake who often put his own needs and grief aside, in place of mine. 

Then something wonderful happened. Three months after we lost Everly, we fell pregnant. It was a beautiful happy accident. However, falling pregnant so quickly came with its own set of emotions to navigate. I continued to grieve for our daughter while feeling our son growing in my belly. It was during those months that I learned that despair and grief could live side by side with happiness and joy.

Our second pregnancy was not without complications. The doctors had diagnosed an 'incompetent cervix' as the reason for the loss of our daughter in our first pregnancy, so at 13 weeks I had surgery to stitch my cervix closed. The doctor assured me that with this surgery 95 per cent of women go full term, yet even with close monitoring I couldn’t relax and my anxiety took over. 

While we were absolutely delighted, we were also petrified that our second pregnancy would end as our first had. In self preservation, we didn’t buy any baby stuff or decorate the nursery. I struggled to leave the house or do the simplest things – I basically wanted to lie down and sleep until we reached nine months. 

But somehow, a day at a time, we got through each week. And finally, at 28 weeks, I started to relax a little. I knew babies born after 28 weeks had a good chance of survival so that had been my goal. 'Just get to 28 weeks, then 29, then 30,' I used to tell myself. 

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Listen to Mia Freedman on No Filter as she has candid conversations with interesting people who have fascinating stories to share. Post continues below.

But our reprieve was short-lived. At 29 weeks pregnant, I was admitted to hospital and told I was in premature labour again. As well as an 'incompetent cervix', I also have an 'irritable uterus' (seriously, who thinks of these medical terms?!) and our baby was on its way. 

I was given drugs to suppress labour because the doctors needed to give me two shots of steroids 12 hours apart in order to stimulate the baby’s lungs ahead of birth. They then removed the stitch in my cervix and I went to six centimetres dilated on the operating table, so I was taken straight from there to the delivery room. 

Within a few hours, I was back on the operating table with a room full of 20 doctors and nurses. There was a team there for me and a team for our baby. 

Our son was born by emergency c-section weighing 1.5kg on February 5,  2020. I didn’t get to hold him or even see him – the doctors took him straight to neonatal ICU. We had agreed in advance that Jake would go with him so I stayed on the operating table and watched my son, his team of doctors and his Dad head out the door. 

An hour or so later, my midwife returned. She showed me a photograph of my son, explained that he was on a ventilator to help him breathe, but that he was doing okay. I could finally breathe a small sigh of relief.   

The next 10 weeks were spent in hospital watching doctors and nurses care for our baby. This was filled with its own challenges – being discharged myself and having to return home while leaving our son in hospital, having to ask permission to touch and hold him, having to navigate an incubator and tubes and wires to hold him in my arms. Slowly getting used to the beeping of the monitors and learning not to panic when the alarms went off. 

During this time, our boy grew stronger, put on weight, was able to breathe without support, and learned to feed. At 39 weeks gestation he was discharged and we could finally bring our baby home. 

While he has since faced a few health challenges, including open heart surgery, he is now doing all the things a normal one-year-old should – learning to walk and clap, dropping EVERYTHING off the highchair, giggling and smiling. He is the happiest little boy, and he has the world at his feet. 

Nothing could have prepared me for the love that I feel for my son – it is like having my heart forever more walking around outside of my chest! But having children after loss is full of conflicting emotions. I have struggled with feeling guilty that loving my son so much somehow disrespects our daughter. But I’ve learned that these feelings are normal and it’s okay to be sad for what should have been while also being completely and utterly happy for everything I do have.  

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Grief is not neat and tidy. It is lifelong and comes in waves and will hit you when you least expect it. There is not a day since we lost our daughter that I don’t think of her. I can’t help but see my friend’s children who were born around the same time that Everly should have been born and think – I wonder what she would be like if she was here? And now as I watch my son develop and grow, I can’t help but think of her too. Would she have had the same piercing blue eyes and cheeky chuckle? 

There is a quote that circulates sometimes among bereaved mothers: "The hardest part of losing a child, is living every day after." Nothing could be truer. This week is the second anniversary of Everly’s passing. This year and every year after on the day that she died we will go and do something as a family that she would have enjoyed if she had been here and we will celebrate her. 

I am proud to be her mum as I am mother to our son; I am proud to still be standing after all we have been through. I know I am stronger than I ever gave myself credit for because I found a way to live every day after Everly with an even greater appreciation for all that I have and for the love and joy in my life.   

I get stronger every day, so these days more often than not, when people ask me if my son is my first child, I take a deep breath and tell our story and I say Everly’s name out loud because it not only helps me but helps others to understand the impact of pregnancy loss and raises awareness of an unspoken topic too. 

For Everly – ever mine, ever Daddy’s, ever ours. And for our rainbow baby, Finn, who every day heals my broken heart with his beautiful smile. 

British-born Gemma Hudson has adopted Australia as home for the last 15 years and now lives in Sydney with her fiancé and young son. She is the Executive Director of PR agency, WE Communications, and is passionate about using her personal experience with neonatal loss to raise awareness of the issue and educate and help others.

Do you need help coping with pregnancy or infant loss? There are lots of organisations who can provide support: 


If this has raised any issues for you or if you would like to speak with someone, please contact the Sands Australia 24-hour support line on 1300 072 637. 

You can download Never Forgotten: Stories of love, loss and healing after miscarriage, stillbirth, and neonatal death for free here. 

Join the community of women, men and families who have lost a child in our private Facebook group.


Feature Image: Supplied.