Disclaimer: This story contains details and images of child loss and suicidal ideation that may be triggering to some.
“My name is Lucy, and on August 5th, 2012, I joined a club no one wants to be a part of. I became part of the baby loss community. My first-born son, Ethan Robert Ross Ian MacRae, was stillborn at 35+6 weeks. I was on my own, as Ethan’s dad and I were never together, but I had a very excited and supportive family. I had a very normal pregnancy, I had an extra-detailed scan because of family history of heart abnormalities, but it was all perfect. He was perfect, and we were all very excited to have him in our arms. The day I found out he had died was a normal day. I had been on maternity leave for about a week. I was with a friend all day and hadn’t noticed the movement changes; he had been a very active baby. I couldn’t remember when I’d last felt him move, something I still to this day feel guilty about. I had been living with my nan after moving out of my parents’, and she is a retired midwife, so when I said I was concerned she checked me out and we couldn’t get him to move or hear a heartbeat. We rushed to the hospital, and as we passed the receptionist she said, ‘Calm down, it will all be OK,’ but it wasn’t. I wish I could’ve told her my baby died. I remember the midwife using a wooden funnel on my belly, and I just screamed, ‘Get the monitor, please!’
When they couldn’t find the heartbeat on the monitor, I had to have ultrasound to confirm. Then those words that will haunt me forever: ‘I’m so sorry, there’s no heartbeat.’ I broke down—my whole world rushed out from under my feet. I needed sedating; I wanted to throw myself off the hospital roof. I vaguely remember being wheeled over to the women’s unit with my mom and my nan by my side. I was given some tablet to induce my labor. I had to go back the next day to get some more. I went back to my mom’s, as my nan’s house had all the baby stuff set up and out. I remember my first morning waking up, thinking what a horrible dream and looking down at my bump, waiting for him to start his morning wriggle dance. Then boom, it hit me—it wasn’t a dream. It was very, very real. The one thing I didn’t realize, and no one warned me at the hospital, was my baby would appear to move from side to side, which felt like such a cruel trick.
Two days later, I was admitted into the hospital and they amped up the induction. But nothing happened—four days of taking stuff and my boy was not coming. My body didn’t want to let him go. I got told on Sunday they were stopping my drugs. I would have to wait until Monday to start again. I had some reflexology from my nan, and bam, an hour later my water had broken and I was permanently attached to the gas and air. Four hours from my water breaking at 8:50 p.m., on Sunday the 5th, Ethan came silently into the world. He had shoulder dystocia so he got stuck, and then because the cord was wrapped so tightly around his neck, they had to cut it so he could be born. I spent all night and all morning with him—unfortunately, at the time, the hospital didn’t have any cold cots, so he changed color really quickly, especially after being lucky enough to be born pink. I can’t fault the staff—they were brilliant, helped us make some lovely memories. But you always want more: more photos, more moments, more time.
Two weeks later, we buried him at a local cemetery. Making decisions about my son’s funeral was not something I thought I’d ever be doing. Ordering a headstone, paying for the rights to the plot, it was all so overwhelming. I desperately tried to reach out to SANDs and baby loss groups online. Unfortunately, the SANDs group had just stopped running, so I felt quite alone—like I had lost all my purpose. If I wasn’t going to be his mommy, what was I supposed to do? I also noticed as time went on, my mom and nan started to break down more often. I felt like the more I acted I was okay the more my mom and my nan seemed to go downhill, but they were so strong for me during it all, I suppose they needed their time to grieve, too. But it made me feel I had to be okay or else they wouldn’t be, so it became a vicious cycle. I tried to get back to the person I was, but she wasn’t there anymore. Especially after the test results came back.
I couldn’t bear the thought of them cutting my baby, so I decided against a post-mortem. They had said they were 99.8% sure it was due to the cord being so tight around his neck. I spent a year pretending I was okay and I was the old me. I did rush into finding someone to love, I had met someone new and tried really hard to start a new life. But I couldn’t take the emotional strain of faking the old me anymore, and I tried to commit suicide. I just kept thinking everyone would leave me if I wasn’t good enough. The crisis team got involved and I got the help I needed. I was fast-tracked for counseling, which helped a lot. My new partner was a huge support too, we had got together really soon after I lost Ethan, so he had been through a lot of it with me.
It took a lot of support and time to learn how to be the new me. I lost some friends, and I made some new ones. The thing about baby loss is it’s so sad and painful, people don’t want to talk about it. No one wants to upset you or talk about something that makes them feel uncomfortable, but you just want to talk about them—you just want to say their name, tell them he was here, he is loved and never forgotten. After a certain amount of time, people expect you to get over it and be okay, but grief is like a boulder at first—it’s heavy, and you think, ‘I’ll never be able to carry it,’ but over time you get stronger and you learn to carry it, like it’s a pebble—it’s always there, but you can carry it, and no one sees.
I spent lots of time at Ethan’s grave, making it nice and decorating as best I could. I couldn’t do normal things for him, but I was going to make sure he had the nicest grave in the cemetery. I had a proper first birthday party with a cake and balloons—the whole works. I’m sure people didn’t understand, but its okay. I hope they never understand what it’s like to lose a baby. Christmas was the same; I got a tree with outdoor lights and made sure his was the most amazing grave in the place. You start new traditions that include your baby. Our local hospital does a service for all babies who have died—it’s lovely and part of my Christmas tradition. You get a Christmas tree decoration, in which you write a special Christmas message, and put it on the tree in the faith center. You also get to light a candle and take it home. It’s just nice to have the time to be somewhere that’s set up for me to talk about and celebrate my baby, without having to worry about upsetting someone or being upset myself.
About three years after my suicide attempt, I helped start up the local SANDs group again, which still is a great comfort to me. Also, it meant I met the lovely people who help keep the group going. As much as we’d all rather not be in the position of having lost a baby, the community that surrounds it is as tight as a family and understands you more than anyone can know. A special bond to people you hardly know, but they get all the little things you do to remember your baby. All the little things that made you sad or trigger you, they all understand, rather than look at you like you have three heads. I desperately wanted another baby, but having only just met a new partner shortly after losing Ethan, it wasn’t something I could rush into, even if I’d wanted to. There is just this need to love something—your body is flooded with hormones that make you love your new baby, or at least ready to mother this new life. But, when there is no baby, you are just left with this biological need to mother and empty arms. The SANDs group was a good distraction, something to put my heart and soul into, to feel like something good had come from all my sadness. Helping other parents who had just gone through the same thing I had gave me a chance to also reflect on my own grief, and made me face the things I had buried deep down rather than face.
All these things gave me the chance to work on my mental health to be ready to try again, and be in a better place to try for another baby. We had just put the deposit on our first owned home and moved into my partner’s parents’ house, and said we would start trying once the house had started to be built. Even when we officially decided to start ‘trying,’ I didn’t want to think about it, I didn’t want to let in any hope or put any pressure ourselves. I remember going to Ethan’s grave and asking if he wanted a brother or sister, and if he did to watch over them and keep them safe. I was lucky to fall pregnant on our first try, having been on contraception for nearly four years I expected it to take maybe up to a year. I remember getting to four days past my period’s due date, thinking if it doesn’t come tomorrow, I’ll do a test. We hadn’t told anyone what we were doing, though I wish I’d had some female support, but I didn’t want to let anyone down, especially not my nan or my mom. So, the following day I did my pregnancy test, I was so shocked it came up positive. In fact, I saw the two lines as I was still peeing on it. I felt sick. I cried happy and sad tears.
My partner had said not to tell him until he got home, which was agony. I rushed out to Boots to get a Clear Blue digital pregnancy test, so nervous someone might see me—one of my biggest fears is someone other than me and my partner would know I was pregnant. I didn’t want anyone to know, I wanted to disappear until I had a baby in my arms. Silly, I know, but that’s how I felt. After getting positive with my digital Clear Blue, it all felt overwhelming. I took myself upstairs and just waited for my partner to get home; I made a little collage with the test pictures to show him. He was excited, if a little disappointed he didn’t get to try more, but being his first baby he was over the moon. I tried so hard not to ruin it for him but I was so anxious, terrified something bad would happen. I saw my midwife pretty early on, I think I was only six weeks. I also knew I was going to make sure my voice was heard. I told her I wanted the same consultant who had dealt with me when I had Ethan. I also said I wanted an early scan. She said it wasn’t normally done but referred to my consultant and booked a scan. Luckily, my consultant was amazing. He told me he would scan me every two weeks and keep a close eye on me. Which he did.
I can not fault the care I was given—I felt heard, I felt well-looked after. It helped with my anxiety and panic attacks. Don’t get me wrong, the time in between my scans and checks I thought things would go wrong every twinge, and if he didn’t move in a typical pattern I would just go straight into meltdown mode. There were a few times I had to go in and be monitored, and I would have to fight to have them to check me over. My nan would tear them a new one though, too. Ethan had given me the confidence to say, ‘No, you will see me or check me.’ I wasn’t taking any chances. My pregnancy was going well, but I just couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone outside our family. My mother-in-law was so excited, as was my family, so I didn’t want to taint the experience for them. When we found out the gender we were so happy it was another boy, but I was dealt a blow that things weren’t normal, I had reduced flow to my placenta. I was heartbroken—why couldn’t my body just keep one baby safe? Thankfully, I was being watched, and they put me straight onto a spin. I took lots of photos and paid to have the 4D, like I did with Ethan, trying to make sure I had lots of memories—just in case. This all made me extremely on edge. What was already a stressful pregnancy was now pushing me emotionally over the edge. I’m glad to have had the ladies who started the SANDs group to talk to, as they had gone on to have healthy babies, but understood what I was going through. Other than them, there was no other support for me to turn to.
Other than a few reduced movements, my pregnancy was pretty normal. My family all wanted to go baby clothes shopping, and I found it really hard. Again, trying to balance my fear with trying not ruin the experience for my partner and his family, as this was their first baby in their family. I was trying to enjoy my rainbow baby, but there just a small part of me which couldn’t imagine taking him home. I wouldn’t let myself believe it, I worried I wouldn’t be good enough for him, that there was a reason Ethan had died, and it was because I wasn’t a good enough mother. I felt guilty about loving the new baby and worried that my worrying would affect the baby. Something I wish I had support or some more counseling for, but it wasn’t something that was on offer at the time. I just about made to 37+1 weeks with our little rainbow baby who we decided to call Oliver. On the November 23rd, 2015, he came screaming into the world via caesarean section. My consultant had decided for my own mental health and for the baby’s’ sake to take him out a little early.
I was told because of the shoulder dystocia I wouldn’t be allowed to give birth naturally again. I just couldn’t believe he was here in my arms, this little scrawny creature. My heart was so full of love I could burst—all my feelings and hormones had a place to go. I had a purpose; I was a mommy to a living child at last. Now, don’t get me wrong, I thought once he was here I would stop feeling so anxious, but it changed course and took me by surprise. I started thinking about all the things that could go wrong. We’d not long moved into our new house before Oliver was born. It was a new build. I kept thinking the roof would collapse, or if I heard a helicopter outside it would crash into the house. If I walked down the path near the road, what if the car ran us over on the pavement? It was exhausting, after talking to some other moms it did sound like it was normal, but it was consuming my every thought over time. Probably didn’t help that my new baby never slept more than one-hour shifts.
I was lucky enough to have established breastfeeding, just when I thought I couldn’t get closer to my rainbow boy. It created a deep connection I needed to keep myself grounded. I was so grateful to have him. I didn’t tell anyone how I was truly feeling, that mixed in with the joy was a circle of guilt, of feeling bad for loving Oliver so much. I did eventually talk to a doctor, but they just wanted to throw pills at me. So, I started a blog to reach out to others—to help myself and others connect through our journeys of parenting after loss, to support each other and make one another feel less alone, to understand our feelings are valid, not just something that can be fix with antidepressants. The milestones Oliver reached felt like such an achievement. I was so lucky to be seeing them. After going back to work, I couldn’t take the heartache of leaving him at nursery, so I decided to stay home and be with my boy. I’ve never been so happy. Something inside me just clicked. I knew I’d made the right decision. I made mommy friends and we spent our days doing play dates and mommy and me time.
I can’t believe how full my heart was, I still had guilty days, and Ethan was always on my mind and a part of our lives. We took Oliver to the grave, I talked about him and his big brother in the stars. We had a little saying with Ethan, it was, ‘I love you to the moon and back,’ so we read the book to Oliver and made sure he knew about his brother. On Ethan’s birthday, we started a tradition that we had a birthday picnic at the graveside. Oliver would choose a new ornament for the grave, too. I tried so hard to make happy memories, because even though it still hurt, I wanted to make both my boys proud. Oliver is now a healthy (sassy) 5-year-old. He just started school and has become a big brother. On the May 18th, 2020, during a pandemic, I gave birth via c-section again to another rainbow boy, Leo. He didn’t give me a easy ride, I bled for a few weeks, had three reduced movements, and was rushed to NICU with pneumonia and jaundice.
It nearly mentally and emotionally finished me off, as it was no visitors, and we were stuck in hospital for six days, but he was worth it, because we couldn’t imagine life without him. I used my blog to document my whole pregnancy. I wanted to show other people what it felt like, or to help let other know they weren’t alone. I always wondered if Ethan and Oliver would have been alike, but seeing my two boys together, I knew they would have all been total opposites of one another. Ethan and Oliver were my wriggle bums inside my bump, and Leo was my stretcher—he liked to push out and chill. Oliver is full of beans and a cuddle monster. Leo loves his sleep but like his own space. Both full-on mommy’s boys, though. I definitely feel calmer with Leo. I know Ethan is looking out for his brother, and that his memory will carry on with them. Because of him, I am a better person, a better mommy, and I feel I’ve helped others through the darkest times in their lives. I live my life to the fullest now. I try my best not to take anything for granted. I’m so grateful to be the mommy of three beautiful boys, one lives in the stars and is always with me, and two on earth to kiss and hug. My arms were empty and my heart was full, now my arms, heart and soul are overflowing. Ethan Robert Ross Ian MacRae, you made me a mommy, I love you to the moon and back. Until we meet again.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Lucy MacRae of Lincolnshire, UK. You can follow their journey on Instagram and Facebook. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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