What tangible evidence is there that she lived? What proof is there that she existed? What will express in words the true value of her life? Who can prove beyond a shadow of doubt that she lived? The answer to all those is “ME”, through my stories of her, though this story, I do that. Through my words I weave the tapestry to a life lived. There is not even a birth certificate in her name, no monuments to commemorate her, there is no voice that I will ever hear which would be her, she didn’t leave a lasting impression on anyone outside of her little family, her dad, brother and mother, no, she lives now only in memory, in my memory, her remains in a little wooden box, a scan picture which closely resembles that of her brother’s, a death certificate, that is all. She left no footprint on this world but touched our hearts and she crept into it and she made a place for herself there.
In March 2013, I was five months pregnant at the time and I stood in front of a crowd at my nieces wedding saying a speech which included some lines to describing marriage from one of my favourite movies “Shall we Dance”. There is one I want to share now to describe my thoughts on my daughter’s life:
‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness’.”
That is what we baby loss parents are, we are witnesses to the lives our babies who did live, it doesn’t matter how long they lived, the fact is they did and we are their storytellers. We can be silent or we can speak out about precious little lives that are undoubtedly significant.
On 16 July 2013, my life changed and I changed. I learnt that not all pregnancies end in live babies, I learnt what it is like to mother a child who you will never hear, never talk to, never bath, never scold, never watch grow. I learnt that there are different facets to motherhood. I became a mother to Zia Sarai, my second child, my daughter. I never knew until that day that babies were not always safest in utero. I remember always telling my husband, Brian, a number of times in fact, after our first baby, Brady, was born, that I sometimes wish our son was back in my tummy where he would be safe and no harm could ever come to him. How naïve I was and how I long for that kind of confidence in pregnancy.
I remember that fateful day like it was yesterday, it was a Tuesday and after dropping my son off at nursery school, I drove to the hospital, I was scared and worried but I didn’t even think that it could be this bad. I remember standing the shower that morning rubbing my very round and full belly and thinking I should tell our nanny to wash some of the clothes we had bought, just in case the baby arrived. I even remember smiling, feeling happy even and terrified all at once.
I don’t know why I would have thought that. I mean I still had four or five whole weeks to go and I was still working. I hadn’t even started preparing, I figured in that last two weeks I would wash baby clothes and set up her room, pack a bag and things like that. I was basing all this on my previous pregnancy where my son, now four, arrived right on schedule and all was well. I remember parking my car in the lot and walking into the hospital so completely unaware of what was to come. I took a few good minutes to get there.
I got to the maternity ward and was told by a nurse that my doctor had already called and that they were expecting me. I knew the drill, I explained that I hadn’t felt baby moving for about a day and a half over the weekend. I had been through this twice before in two weeks. Both times I walked out breathing a big sigh of relief. Thinking how very paranoid I must seem to those nurses.
The nurse hooked me up to the heart monitor and she struggled to find a heartbeat. She then called in another nurse, one who had helped me previously. We chatted about my son while she asked me to turn this side and then that side and commented that baby is probably hiding but that she would call a doctor to do a scan just to make sure. They could only pick up my heartbeat and my pulse and I kept thinking there was something wrong with the machine.
My own doctor was at another facility so she had asked a colleague to see me. The nurses said that the doctor would be in shortly to do the scan. I remember thinking that I should have asked for a scan two weeks ago. The doctor arrived, put some of that dreadful cold gel on my tummy and it seemed as if he were searching for hours, capturing images on a 2d screen.
Then he looked at me, possibly took my hand, because by then the world had fallen silent around me and I could feel very little, no sound could be heard except my own heartbeat, pounding in my ears and he said those words, the ones I had never imagined I would hear, “your baby has passed away, there’s no heartbeat”, “I’m so sorry, I don’t know why these things happen”, “Are you here with someone?”, and I remember nodding to acknowledge that I had heard him and tears stream down my face but I was numb, I kept thinking what did he mean my baby is gone, she’s left me, she’s left me, she’s dead. I told the doctor I would call my husband and he left the room.
Brian was on his way already, he would know what to do, he will say something and make it all better, maybe I would get up from this bad dream, this awful dream, maybe I didn’t hear right. I didn’t call Brian immediately, he was on his way. I called my sister-in-law instead and mother and all the time, I thought that there must be something wrong with the machine. There was no way that my baby could be dead, not now, not ever.
How could I believe that just half an hour before I had sent a message to Brian and my sister to asking them to pray for our small baby because they couldn’t find her heartbeat and after that doctor walked in, I was suddenly still carrying my baby but she has no heartbeat. I turn to my side and I waited for what seemed like an eternity. Brian arrived and I told him that “they” said that there was no heartbeat and that our baby died. I used the word “they”, excluding them from us, those people who didn’t know and understand that she was still safe in my tummy. I didn’t accept those horrible words, they were lies, a big mistake “they” had made. Some miracle would happen and Zia would be ok.
But even in my denial, I cried, we cried, we cried for the baby we wanted, needed and waited for, we cried for our loss, for our son’s loss, for the world’s loss, for Zia, our small baby, the baby we love and the baby we would now have to live without, we cried for what was to come and what was and everything in between. We cried for the fate we never asked for, for the nightmare come true. We cried and we talked and we sat and we waited for the day to unfold.
We waited, had conversations with family, conversations with doctors about them not being able to tell us what went wrong until baby was delivered. The day can be summed up this way, shock, confusion, anger, disbelief, talking, a lot of crying, theatre prep, me wondering why this had to happen to us, me missing my baby and wanting some miracle to happen, like Lazarus rising from the dead, you know, Jesus walking on water kind of miraculous event, solemn faces looking at me with pity etched all over their faces, me wondering when I was going to wake up, Brian holding my hand, me wondering about Brady and whether he was ok at school.
My thoughts were very far away from Zia in all that time. So far away, I couldn’t connect to my baby the way I had to, the way I needed so desperately to. Oh my beautiful and crazy, strong baby that slept on her head. It took over four scans to finally see that she was a girl and still we were in doubt. Later that day I was prepared for theatre, prepared to meet her. I was supposed to have general anaesthetic but I opted for a spinal block when it was offered to me. If I was going to have this baby, I was going to be wide awake, she was mine and I would see her when she arrived.
I was wheeled up a floor to the labour ward and when Brian entered in theatre garb I considered that we were having our second baby, our small baby, I remembered that we had been there before and that it would be ok. Everything felt so silent and sterile but at the same time unclean. It was like being in a very low budget horror movie. Doctors talked and pulled and tugged and the tears fell silently and I knew she was out before they said it. I asked Brian if she was out and he said yes and he cried. The deafening silence was so loud. My doctor said “It really was a girl”, “you have a girl”, “the cord was around her neck twice”. So that was why she died, no illness, she just got strangled I thought, the cord killed her, she died, she died, she died.
They cleaned her and wrapped her in a towel and handed her to me and I couldn’t hold her properly. Her head was soft and her tiny nose had collapsed a little, she had tiny pink lips and she had black hair, she was so tiny 1,290 kgs. She was 33 weeks and 1 day. She had long legs and hands. Perfect toes and perfect fingers, her right hand was over her chest and she was lying to the side. They kept adjusting her in the blanket so her head wouldn’t flop, I wanted to scream but I was quiet. I looked at her and said “Oh Zia baby, goodbye my baby, I will love, I will love you forever”. My beautiful baby girl who would never open her eyes to look at me, she would never cry and I would never get to be the mother I want to be to her. She would never meet her older brother.
I wanted to kiss her so Brian helped me and I couldn’t move and I hated that. I hugged her lightly but wanted to grab her and squeeze her but I thought I would hurt her. She was just gone. Brian held her as they finished stitching me up and wheeling me into recovery. He held her and looked at her. I held her again. My blood pressure dropped and I hoped I too would die and join her but they hooked me up to some new medication and I was ok again.
Brian placed her in my arms and we covered her with my blanket so they could wheel us down with me to the ward so we could have some private time with her. I passed solemn faces of family again and then it was just me and Brian and our baby in a private hospital room with so little time.
Brian sang her the Barney song, holding and looking at her the entire time. I held her some more and kissed her again, on her tiny lips and forehead. Our family came in to see her as if we were already at a funeral. The ever solemn faces of doom and dread, awful is it not, the loss of a child. I heard a few sighs and condolences, some disbelief, even horror and tears. There were a lot of tears shed that day. I recall my mother in law being the only one that kissed her without hesitation. I became an outsider looking in and wondering what on earth was happening to me? I remember the sad faces and I remember the pity. The poor young couple who lost their daughter, that’s who we were.
We were told to cry, be strong, let it all out, allow ourselves to hurt and grieve. Who can blame society; these things make people question their very own existence. One family member advised us to take a picture of her, at least of her hands and feet but we were too much in a state, we didn’t want to remember that she was hurt, that she was taken from us. How I regret not listening to her, she was the only person that wanted us to remember her, she knew we would look back someday and we would want that. If only we had listened to her.
Some people said we would have more, as if a baby is something materialistic that can be replaced so easily. Some said that maybe “it was just not meant to be” that we should try again as if it was a bad lottery play. Losing my daughter has taught me about the value of life to others. That a baby’s life is not something that others see as valuable or important. That has been my experience. I was told at least she didn’t die after you had a few years with her, all this on the day my child died.
The undertaker arrived and because the hospital didn’t have a mortuary we had to send her away after such a short time with her. We had to send her away and none of us accompanied her. She was taken in a little carry cot, grey with teddy bear pictures on it, dirty, used by others who went before her. I was stuck in a hospital bed and I watched my daughter leave without shedding a tear. I could do nothing could I. Tears were cried out, dried out; I was exhausted and completely numb. That was the day my world changed, the day I changed, the day I delivered and had to send away my baby, Zia Sarai.
But she lived and she lives in every fibre of my being. She is there in my darkest hours and in the dawn of every new day. We are a family of four although only three of us remain. As we continue on this journey of the rest of our days, we take Zia along with us. There will always be a place for her at our table; there will always be one less birthday party. There will always be sadness at the thought of what could have been but we will press on because we need to, because we have to , because we are her hands, feet, eyes and mouth, we are the story of Zia, we are the ones who keep her story alive. Every day we live, we bare witness that she was here. When we light a candle for her, when we send her helium balloons, when we speak her name, when we honour her in any way we can, we say she lived, we say we hold her in our hearts. We say death was not the end of Zia. We say she lived and we say she is loved beyond words. We say to society that every life matters, we say every life counts, no matter how small.
I do not love her any less than I love my son. I love them both differently and uniquely but I love them all the same. They are both a part of who I am. My babies didn’t start living the moment they were born, no, they were alive from the moment of conception and they lived all those long months, they grew and they each had their own unique and special personality. Brady was a lazy baby, bog and strong and Zia wasn’t, she was petit and she was very active, he kicked much harder and with more force than she did and she kicked lighter but more often. He didn’t move during his scans and she did, she stood on her head and she blew kisses, she had hiccups every day, Brady had them once every few weeks. I had morning sickness with Zia for the first time ever, I had no strange cravings with her and I was a better cook. My skin was awful and I didn’t recognise the person staring back at me in the mirror. I wore the same outfit every second or third day and a hideous pair of combat boots because they were the only ones I could walk with. I got more stretchmark’s than I could count and I was happier than I had ever been in a long time. I was hopeful and I was ready for someone new and amazing to extend our small family. Those are my memories with her, those days of watching my son colour a little house for his sister and pick out his favourite Easter egg to keep for her, those are our special times, those are things that verify she is real and those are the things that say to the world, she lived.