Shanaz’s Story – for Luna

Our beautiful daughter Luna was born on the 9th September 2020 sleeping peacefully. I was 36 weeks pregnant when I had walked into the hospital for reduced movements to hear those four horrific words ‘There is no heartbeat’. And just like that, life as we knew it shattered into a million tiny pieces. I never believed for a moment that Luna dying was even a possibility. So, when the sonographer said those words to me, I went into complete shock! I felt like I was watching somebody else’s story unfold in front of me. My brain had started to shut down and close itself off for protection because it was not able to process the immense trauma and pain being felt within my heart. Initially, I don’t even remember crying…..but the tears fell later. I remember thinking – how can this be happening? Don’t they know I am eight months pregnant? This doesn’t happen to someone this far along. Surely, they had got this wrong. All these questions and thoughts swirled around in my head.

But sadly, they were not wrong…the image on the screen of my baby girl, so still, will stay with me forever. Suddenly, I could barely breathe or move. I was alone because my husband had stayed at home with our older daughter Ava who was sleeping. I still to this day have no idea how long it took him to get to the hospital once I called him, but once he was by my side then the tears really came.

Next, the doctors explained they would induce labour tonight. What?! Induce labour?! I didn’t understand. Luna was dead, surely, they didn’t expect me to still give birth to her? Up until that point I had actually forgotten about this part, that she wasn’t ok but she still needed to come out. They explained that a natural birth was best for me…but how could this be true?! I wanted a C-section, of course, to be put to sleep and woken again when this nightmare was over.

But feeling completely numb I just went along with what they told me. I wasn’t capable of making any decisions. I was terrified of giving birth to Luna because she was already gone and I remember thinking this was about to be the worst thing I could ever do. What I couldn’t have possibly known at the time was there was no need to be so scared because it was completely worth it. I would relive every minute of those hours in hospital again if it meant having those cuddles again with Luna, to feel that intense rush of unconditional love the moment she was placed on my chest. Yes, it was incredibly sad and silent…but when I think about it now, her birth was not the dark part of this journey. Her entry into this unfair world was still beautiful to me…it was the last thing I was physically able to do for her as her mummy and I am so glad I felt every part of my labour with her.

I understand this will be different for everyone and there is no wrong or right way to feel or deal with this. You can only do what you feel is right for you at that moment. The thought of giving birth, seeing and holding your baby when they have already died is utterly terrifying. But for me, getting to meet her and spend time with her was exactly what I needed for my mind, body and soul. There was no need to be so terrified, because, after all, she was just my beautiful baby girl, the little girl I had grown and carried for eight long months and these are some of the only moments I ever got to have with her. Special Luna and Mummy moments that I will treasure forever.

I remember frantically ‘Googling’ just before labour started about giving birth to your baby once they had died and so many women’s stories came up saying to take as many photos as possible because even though you might not understand at that moment, those photos will become your most treasured possession…there is so little time to try and make memories to last a lifetime. They were right – have lots of cuddles, take lots of photos, a lock of hair, and a hand print – do it all.

In the hospital, when we thought about having to tell Ava that Luna had died, our hearts broke all over again. We had promised Ava a baby sister, spoke about her for eight long months, and every night at bedtime sang to my tummy knowing our little Luna was listening, imagining what our life would be like once Luna was with us.  Ava was so very excited.

We were very honest and truthful with Ava, and we told her Luna’s heart had stopped working and she had sadly died. We thought it was very important to use the words died and death, etc. instead of using words like ‘gone to sleep forever’, because this could confuse Ava and she might become scared to sleep. Children are literal thinkers so the use of language is quite important. In those early days, we tried to speak openly to Ava about Luna. We didn’t want Luna to be a taboo subject in our house and I thought it was important and healthy as her mummy to show her that it is ok to be sad, to cry and to grieve. After all, Ava loves Luna so very much, just like we do and if you are old enough to love then you are old enough to grieve. And just like us, Ava needed to grieve.

Mental health support is vital after baby loss and I am so grateful to have received counselling from Petals –  the support they gave me was second to none. In my sessions, I was able to speak about what happened and help my brain deal with the trauma, but it was also a safe space where I could share my love and story of Luna.

My counsellor Kim was amazing and very experienced in working with baby loss. When I first reached out to Petals, I was in a very dark place, it felt like no one else really understood how I was feeling and then once I started my sessions with Kim she made me feel like I wasn’t losing my mind and that the emotions and other things I was thinking/feeling were totally normal and valid. She discussed with me how most of the parents she chats with have very similar feelings and how she thinks it is totally normal to feel/think about some of the things I was experiencing because that seems to be a running trend among many of her clients. This really made me feel like I was not so alone.

I also loved how she genuinely wanted to listen to and share my stories of Luna, she asked me normal things that no one else would dare to ask me….how much did she weigh? Her eye/hair colour and even if I would like to share a photo of Luna with her. All Mummies want to shout about their babies from the rooftops and when your baby has died this is no different…you still want to talk about them, NEED to speak about them….it’s all part of the healing and also just a natural part of parenting.

All too often during baby loss, it is forgotten that actually, you are still a new parent with the same postpartum emotions and needs. It was such a safe space to share my beautiful baby girl and I will never forget how she helped me. Petals continued to support me throughout my rainbow pregnancy too…I will always be grateful for their kindness when I needed it the most. Pregnancy after loss is terrifying and just like baby loss you feel like no one really understands, but again Kim did and she really helped me manage my anxiety.  The sessions were very much needed and what helped get me through my rainbow pregnancy.

It has been over two years now since Luna died and, although we have learned to live again, to embrace joy and happiness back into our lives, the grief hasn’t just disappeared. You see, I don’t think it ever really leaves you.  The pain and grief will always be there, but somehow it is more manageable, perhaps a different shape or weight and you are able to carry it better.  I wouldn’t ever want the grief and pain to go because I know that it is just all of my love for Luna.

So, although right now you may feel suffocated by the dark, I can promise you one day there will be light again. I can’t tell you how long that will take, everybody’s journey will be different. But in those early days, weeks, and months… I really truly believed that I would never be able to smile, laugh or live again. But very slowly, somehow, we do.  We manage to keep putting one foot in front of the other, even when it seems impossible. So please remember to always hold onto HOPE and to be kind to yourself. Give yourself time to just be…to feel all the feelings and emotions and just go with it. Some days if all you manage to do is make it to the sofa then for that day…. that’s ok.

Try to remember that grief isn’t linear or neat and it doesn’t follow any timelines. It will be your own messy personal journey and although at times it feels so lonely… there is help and support out there and if you look in the right places there is a little pocket of amazing women who also know the same depths of darkness and they are waiting with one arm reached out…to help you find the light again….

Luna is always included in some way within our family and we speak her name daily. We have her photos around our home, her hand and footprint framed, a stocking each year at Christmas time with her name on hangs beside ours, a cuddle cot (we fundraised for) with her name engraved sits on a maternity ward in an NHS Hospital in honour of her short existence and we carry her with us in our hearts always. x