Healthy babies born after a miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death are commonly called “rainbow babies” — a sign of hope after a terrible loss.
But what’s parenting really like after losing a baby? Nasara* (30) talks about losing her first baby due to medical negligence, experiencing anxiety throughout her second pregnancy and why she considered abortion.
This is Nasara’s story, as told to Boluwatife
Image designed by Freepik
Nothing prepares you for losing a baby. From the moment you see the second line on the pregnancy test strip, you likely begin to imagine what your baby would look like. You never think you might bury them soon.
Of course, that usually only applies when you want the baby. And I did want the baby.
I’d gotten married to my husband six months before I saw my first double line on a pregnancy test strip. We didn’t actively try to have a baby, but we didn’t do anything to prevent it either. Plus, we’re a Nigerian couple living in Nigeria where the prayer you’d hear at your wedding is, “In nine months time, you’ll hear the sound of a baby.” So, we were happy. Our little family was increasing.
It was a fairly normal pregnancy, complete with weird cravings. I had never tasted Nzu (edible chalk) before, but suddenly, I was consuming it by the bucket. I had some morning (read as all day) sickness in my first trimester, but I glowed throughout the following two semesters. My husband and I even placed a bet to see who the baby would look like.
Then labour came, and it was the worst day of my life.
My husband took me to the hospital that evening when I started feeling the contractions. The midwife checked me and said, “You’re about 2 cm dilated. Go back home and return when the pain becomes too much.” Go back home, how? I thought, surely, she must be joking. She wasn’t, so my husband and I decided to wait in the car.
About an hour later, the space between contractions seemed closer and more intense, so we went back. She said I’d only progressed to 4 cm and suggested we just go home and return the next morning.
My husband and I looked at each other and silently agreed we were going nowhere. He dropped the hospital bag we’d packed in a hurry and, raising his voice, insisted I get admitted to a bed.
After some shouting, they finally agreed, and I was moved to a bed. What followed was a six-hour wait. The contractions weren’t progressing, and the midwife hardly came to check on me. We got nervous.
When it hit the 12-hour mark, and I was still just 6 cm dilated, I started to panic from the pain and worry. The midwife put me on a drip, which I later found out was to induce the labour. The pain tripled, like something was ripping me from the inside. I entered active labour soon enough, but that’s when things became obviously wrong.
I laboured for almost a day, but the baby refused to come out. My husband suggested a caesarean section, but they brushed him off.
When I eventually had the baby, it was in distress over the prolonged labour. It also needed oxygen, which the hospital didn’t have. My baby died in the ambulance on transfer to a general hospital for oxygen. I never even set eyes on it, but a part of me died that day.
It was after my baby died that we found out they brushed off the caesarean section request because the doctor wasn’t “on seat” or responding to calls. Our family suggested suing the hospital for medical negligence, but my husband and I just wanted to go home and try not to drown in the sorrow.
The sorrow engulfed us for the next two years.
One bright Sunday morning, I took a home pregnancy test out of curiousity. I’d been ill for a while and wasn’t sure when my period was due. I had spare test strips at home, so I thought to just rule out pregnancy. The double lines on the strip stared back at me in confirmation. But instead of joy, all I felt was fear.
What if I lost this baby too? Was I ready to go through nine months of hope only to have my heart shattered all over again?
When I told my husband, he was over the moon… until I told him I wanted an abortion. Some part of me was convinced I’d lose this baby too, and wanted to do it before I got too emotionally attached. My husband was horrified, but no matter how much he tried to convince me, I was adamant. It took my family’s intervention to get me to abandon all abortion talk.
I was still scared out of my mind. I dreamt about losing my baby throughout the pregnancy. I slept on pregnancy and baby websites, reading up on things to do and what to avoid. I lost my first baby due to medical negligence, but I didn’t want to take any chances on my own end.
I was also wary of registering for antenatal care with just any hospital. I googled different facilities and was even considering moving states to stay with a friend just so I could be close to a hospital I’d seen online with glowing reviews. I eventually settled for a general hospital because there was a greater possibility they’d have more than one doctor on call. They couldn’t all be unavailable at the same time.
By the start of the third trimester, I’d slipped into depression. Despite my husband’s and family’s best efforts, I was convinced something bad was going to happen. I put myself on compulsory bed rest and refused to do any other thing. Luckily, I run my own online business, so I could take a break.
Then delivery day came. We chose an elective caesarean section, but I was still prepared for the worst.
Ironically, the whole experience was a breeze. I was given a spinal block, so while I couldn’t feel the pain, I was awake when my baby was brought out into the world. I still remember that moment — holding my baby and telling myself this was real life, not a dream. I had my rainbow baby. All the pain from my previous loss would disappear.
It didn’t quite happen like that.
I’m not sure why, but I went into postnatal depression. Healing from a major surgery and dealing with a newborn affected me mentally. I struggled to connect with my baby, and I couldn’t be happy because then I’d feel like I was forgetting the baby I lost.
I’m grateful my husband noticed and encouraged me to see a therapist.
It’s been a year since I had my rainbow baby, and I’m in a better head space now. I now understand that having this baby will never erase the thoughts of my angel baby, and I’m at peace with that. My angel baby has a permanent space in my heart, and my earth baby is the one I get to pour all my love on.
After the first three months of therapy, I felt like someone turned on the “motherhood” tap in me. Every day, I gush in amazement when I look at my child or when they do something funny. When they grow older, I’ll tell them about their angel sibling.
I’m still navigating motherhood, but I’m content to take it a day at a time.
*Name has been changed for anonymity.
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