Our journey with Jack: Life after loss
After a few years of trying to get pregnant we turned to IVF.
We were lucky and after only one round, there it was – that illusive second line on a pregnancy test.
Text book pregnancy, I was gigantic but loved every second of it…until a the scan two days before my elective c-section at 38 weeks. I will never forget the expression on the sonographer’s face as she turned the screen to us: one wriggly, awake baby, one still, lifeless baby.
“I’m so sorry, your baby has no heartbeat.”
Jack had died about 12 hours before that appointment.
Our twins were delivered by emergency c-section two hours later. George was super cross about it and screamed and screamed. To this day, the most wonderful noise I have ever heard because it meant we would get to take one of our babies home. But the silence after Jack was born was deafening.
Every day nine babies in the UK are born sleeping, that’s about 3,400 per year. My precious boy was one of those babies.
My husband, George and I spent one week in a room, just around the corner from the labour ward. Midwives held our hands through dark days and even darker nights. Lactation specialists helped me feed George. I was struggling because my heart hurt and my body ached for the baby I couldn’t hold.
This was a bad dream wasn’t it?. My midwife will walk in cradling him: “So sorry Victoria, no idea what happened here, there was a terrible mix up. Here’s Jack.”
Instead she walked in and said: “It’s been three days Victoria, would you like to see Jack?”
“No thank you. I don’t think I’d be able to let him go.”
After another few bleak days having not met my son my consultant marched in, tough-love mode on a high setting, hand on my shoulder: “Victoria you have a lifetime to make memories with George, but only days to make them with Jack.”
He was right.
And so he was brought to us in a little Moses basket and my heart shattered, all over the place – tiny little fragments everywhere. I remember sobbing over and over again: “Please come back to me.” We held a naming ceremony and it was the first and last time we were together as a family of four. We placed George and Jack next to each other and George stopped crying instantly. I think he felt his presence.
I was crushed, it felt like a great big steel chain was wrapping itself around my chest and I couldn’t breath.
“Come back to me little man. We need you.”
His eyes, beautiful long lashes, stayed closed. His perfect little nose, rosebud lips – still.
My appreciation for the NHS grew. My midwives and nurses and doctors and lady who brought the never ending cups of tea cried with us. This was more than just a pay cheque to them.We left the hospital.
Family and friends rallied.
Forty years ago my brother, Gareth, was stillborn. My parents didn’t see him. My parents didn’t get to hold him. He was taken away and my Mum was put back on a maternity ward with new mummies nursing newborns. Horrific. My amazing, strong, humble Mum.
One day she said: “My darling, I wished so hard for you to be a girl who would never know this pain.”
My wonderful, broken Dad, a generation of stiff upper lips and ‘manning up’. He hasn’t spoken about his son, my Mum has never seen him cry.
My husband wears his heart on his sleeve, we live in a time that embraces male emotion. It’s ok for boys to sob. And I share my life with a wonderful man who does just that.
But while dealing with his son’s death my he had to be the strong one because I couldn’t see which way was up. Initially, when the physical pain was too much, he dressed and showered me and when the emotional pain took over, he carried me.
He picked me up and stuck me back together when I thought I was completely broken and he continues to do so. My superglue, my superhero.
We navigated the endless path of grief together. George, our perfect little twinless-twin thrived and we giggled at his baby ways and I stared at him constantly in a way only parents can.
A never ending journey of heartache and happiness.
During the initial months after Jack’s death, on the good days, sometimes I felt lucky. For nine whole months he was with us. We watched him grow – at first a little blurry spec on the sonographer’s screen then into a perfect little baby with ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes. I felt him wriggle and hiccup and we listened to the drum of his heartbeat.There was light, there was hope. There always is.
We wanted to give George a sibling but gearing ourselves up for another round of IVF was unthinkable but fate had other ideas.
A Christmas Eve miracle! There he was, our third son, the very unexpected line on a pregnancy test. No injections or hormones needed.
With elation came guilt: “I will never replace you Jack.”
A perfect second pregnancy. A wonderful, exquisite, chubby rainbow baby with the most delicious smelling little body.
And then we moved house. New beginnings.
“I am not leaving you behind Jack.”
Not long after we arrived and the last box was unpacked I woke up one night to a tinny rendition of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. It was coming from a musical book, sat on a bookshelf downstairs. We heard it a few times over a number of weeks – no logical reason as it hasn’t happened since. But I have an explanation – it was Jack, telling us you were home, that we were all home. Exactly where we should be. Together.
Fast forward two years later and: Surprise! Another baby! The most precious little Daddy’s girl and now Chief Executive Officer of our house.Again, elation and guilt: “I will never replace you Jack.”
Life moved on because it had to. For us, the initial bleakness has lifted. Smiles, happiness and laughter reign in our house.
Jack is with us. I see him in the every day. I see him in my husband and my children. I talk to him. Sometimes my six year old sets a place for him at the table and I shuffle off to cry for a few minutes then return, happy and in awe of my children.
George turned eight recently and we have weathered the storm without his twin brother.
We don’t know why Jack died, we didn’t want any intrusive investigations and I am at peace with that.
Three weeks after Jack’s death we went to a bereavement meeting run by Sands and met with empty-armed parents.
One couple lost their baby girl, Grace, many years before. They were still mad at the consultants, the midwives, the sonographers, the World and because of this they seemed very much alone.
I still think of them and my heart hurts for their suffering because anger will not help them to heal.
We are not angry. We never were.
There is no place for it in our life.
We have a wonderful network of people around us who don’t care if we sometimes ignore calls or messages when communication is still too tough.
We are surrounded by loving arms that stretch across counties and countries and oceans and time-zones.
I have learned that after loss, there is life. There is a wonderful life if you find your quiet and accept your grief. For us, after sadness came hope. After tragedy, miracles happened.
We will always have Jack. He will always be with us, in our hearts and our souls. He is flying down the banister, he is laughing in the garden, he is dancing in the hall.
“My darling boy. You are here. And we love having you around.”
Victoria Evans is on Instagram as Mummy0kids1
For further information and support on baby loss contact Sands.
*If you’re looking for a book to help children rebuild life after loss of a sibling, check out our interview with author Emma Poore.