When my wife gave birth to our son 18 months ago, he entered this world silent, his body was limp, his skin was blue and he was stillborn.
Just a month ago when my wife was deep into labour with our daughter all the emotional burden of the past dissipated when the doctor told us he could see the baby’s head. But then suddenly there was doubt when he announced, ‘you’ve been pushing for 45 minutes I need to suck her out.’
I had watched videos of babies being born at parenting classes and thanks to my family had been regaled with a myriad of horror stories of difficult childbirth. But I knew nothing about babies being needed to be sucked out. So when my daughter came into this world with her head attached to a vacuum device, her body limp, skin blue and not making a sound, I went back in time to when we lost our son Angel Wombat. Having him pass away just a few weeks before his due date was devastating. Over the past year and a half the grief came in waves and then eventually plateaued into something bearable.
In contrast, the anxiety and fear my wife experienced while she carried our daughter was constant for 39 weeks. It completely changed her personality. I feared her calm, peaceful nature would be replaced by anxiety and fear.
These setbacks made me wonder if the universe was trying to tell me kids aren’t for us.
Even though we were still recovering from the shock of our loss, we never contemplated giving up on having another child. Over the coming months though, we were confronted with more heartbreak after experiencing two failed IVF attempts. These setbacks made me wonder if the universe was trying to tell me kids aren’t for us.
Wombat’s death was a result of Trisomy 9p - a chromosomal disorder so rare that since it was originally discovered in 1973. Only 55 cases around the world have been reported in the medical literature.
Then our fertility specialist told us devastating news. That due to my wife being in her early 40’s and her ovarian reserves being low our third IVF attempt would be our last and if that didn’t work we should consider donor eggs.
Everything came down to one embryo which we nicknamed Yoyo. By some miracle and huge luck, Yoyo the embryo became Sia the baby, growing in my wife’s belly.
We were ecstatic. But we didn’t tell our parents or friends until we found out the results of an amniocentesis. This was to make sure that our daughter did not have the same chromosomal disorder that her brother had. At week 17 a needle was inserted in my wife’s womb and a sample of amniotic fluid was taken. To make it even scarier the procedure carried the risk of the pregnancy miscarrying.
As the needle went in, my wife began to weep. It was her body reminding her of the first amnio test she took that preceded Wombat’s death. After waiting an excruciating fortnight for the results, the day of reckoning arrived. When my wife called to give me the results I hardly heard her voice through the phone as she sobbed and cried her way through two of my favourite words in the English language: “She’s okay”.
I had tears streaming down my face and felt a jolt of energy leave my body.
The hardest period of the pregnancy for my wife came when she reached 33 weeks’ gestation, the period when Wombat was stillborn. I naively thought passing this milestone would lessen the load for my wife. But instead it brought back the grief of losing our son and the fear of it happening to our daughter to the surface.
The only way my wife would be at peace during this pregnancy was through constant reassurance that our baby girl was alive in her womb. This meant regular visits to the hospital delivery suite. One visit out of the almost 40 stands out the most. It began as always with my wife fearing the worst after she hadn’t felt the baby kick for a few hours.
After the requisite 40 mins of following the baby’s heartbeat, the nurse gave us the all clear. We were set to leave. As we were about to exit, the nurse inadvertently pulled the handle door right off its hinges and we found ourselves trapped. It was 1am. When the nurse tried to call her co-workers for assistance no-one answered.
I frantically tried to put the door handle back on but that didn’t work. The nurse tried to call again but frustratingly there was no answer. I asked her if there was an emergency button. “Yes there is!’, she said.
When she found it and pressed it, a loud beeping alarm rang throughout every level of the hospital. I was still trying to attach the door handle when suddenly it flung open. I almost fell on the floor from the force of the stream of nurses and doctors who ran into the room with concerned looks on their faces yelling, “Is everything okay?”.
The look on their faces when they found out that the emergency was a broken door handle was priceless. But even though my wife and I both saw the humour in the situation, that night, on the way home I snapped, “You get the relief but I get the stress.”
I was exhausted from the constant fear something was potentially wrong with my daughter and it started to take a toll on our relationship.
I was exhausted from the constant fear that something was potentially wrong with my daughter and it started to take a toll on our relationship.
What kept our marriage together was seeing a grief counsellor together. It allowed both of us to get our feelings into the open. During one particular session my wife said this pregnancy was worse than losing Wombat.
I knew she was suffering but I didn’t realise the enormity of what she was going through. The counsellor’s response was, ‘if the grief of losing a baby is a sprint, then the grief and anxiety of a pregnancy after a loss, is a marathon.’
When I saw Sia attached to that vacuum device and not moving my heart was in my mouth and I feared the worst. Suddenly she began to wriggle and cry. There it was that magic moment. What followed was relief, sheer relief.
The doctor let me be the first one to hold her and so there we were, father and daughter together, united in tears. Sia, because she left the confines of her safe watery home of the last 39 weeks and me because the blood and white creamy wax she was covered in, ruined my favourite Adidas shirt.
But seriously, the wave of emotion I felt when I stood there holding my daughter turned me into jelly. I had tears streaming down my face and felt a jolt of energy leave my body. The reason I was so overcome with emotion was because in my arms was also my son. Then my wife held her and the weight that was holding her down lifted. I saw her return.
Physically there were three Stamocostas’ in that room. But as I held my daughter and witnessed her first few breaths and gazed at her alert eyes looking intently at me, I knew we will always be a family of four.
Con Stamocostas is a freelance writer. You can follow Con on Twitter @constama10.