A lot of my motivation to raise awareness of LGBT stories of loss, within and outside of the Diversity in Loss series, is to highlight the voice of the non-birth mother in both motherhood but also in loss. If any voice in loss is not greatly heard, acknowledged or catered for, it is this one. I am so moved by Kate’s voice here, her experiences as a mother and as a mother who has also had to say goodbye to her child. I urge you to sit, listen, absorb and make space for Kate’s voice, and for all the other partners out there in the world. They won’t all relate to each other, of course – there is no set rule for anyones perspective after all – but each is so valuable, powerful and important.
Please welcome Kate and Sonny to the Diversity in Loss series…
What does baby loss mean to me?
Well, this time last year it felt a whole lot different to how it does today. Last year we were dealing with the news that our 22-week old baby was very poorly… he was struggling to grow his kidneys and as a result he didn’t have enough fluid around him. But we still didn’t really think we’d lose him. We thought we were going to be faced with a poorly baby, but a baby still.
This year I am sitting writing this in a hospital room waiting for my wife to recover from her second surgical management of miscarriage after losing our third baby in a year.
A year ago at the end of the month we found out that our baby boy wasn’t well enough to survive outside of the womb and, in fact, he couldn’t survive in the womb with such a lack of fluid around him. We had the awful moment when the doctor told us there was no heartbeat and that Sonny, our son, was going to have to be stillborn.
I was a mother losing her son yet I didn’t look like it because he wasn’t in my body. As much as I wished it was me going through it rather than my wife, I was in awe of her strength at delivering our boy into the world. But we had to go through the usual rigmarole of being asked if I was Holly’s ‘friend’ or ‘sister’ accompanying her to the appointments. It gets so draining always being mis-labelled in these circumstances. How hard is it too have a quick glance at the notes before walking into a room?
I loved Sonny so much… I can’t ever say as I didn’t have him inside me, but I believe I loved him equally to Holly. I once overheard someone asking if my grief for him was ‘overcompensating’ for the fact that he wasn’t biologically my child. I can’t tell you how silently angry this made me. Holly and I went though so much to conceive him. It’s very different conceiving a child within a same-sex female relationship. I was there every single step of the way – every scan, every injection, every hormone-induced rage, every tear shed at the pain of treatment being delayed. I was there at the exact moment of conception and every moment after.
When we first got pregnant with Scout I was worried the whole way through the pregnancy about how I would feel about her. Would I feel that instant love? Would her not being biologically mine mean things were different? Then when she was born I looked at her and thought she was cool, but I didn’t instantly love her… and I was so scared of that that I threw up. But then over the next few days we bonded – properly bonded. Holly had had a c-section so she was exhausted and in pain so I took over the night feeds and the nappy changes and the strapping her into the car seat and all sorts. And within a matter of days I was hopelessly and helplessly in love.
With Sonny it was different. I already knew that I was going to love him. I knew that he was part of Holly and part of Scout and that his biology didn’t matter. He was mine. We made plans for him from the moment we got the positive pregnancy test. We told Scout she was going to have a baby (her biggest dream). We had best friends who were pregnant and due almost at exactly the same time so we planned out our futures, sitting in coffee shops, going to baby groups together, going on holidays with our babies. It was all going to be great.
We’d had a few extra scans with Sonny as there was a question mark over whether or not he might have Down’s Syndrome and we opted to find out not in order to decide whether to keep him, but just so we could be prepared if he did. We also had a gender scan as we were so eager to find out if we were having a boy or a girl. So when it came to the 20 week scan we were almost bored, wondering why it was taking so long doing all the measurements. We had absolutely no sense that there would be any problem at all.
We’d been so excited about meeting Sonny and felt, with the extra scans, that we already knew him a bit. Being a second child myself I’d made a promise to him that he would never come second to Scout – we would have a special relationship of our very own. At first I was scared of having a boy (I was worried about bringing a boy into such a female-dominated household!) but I quickly came around to the idea of bringing up this special soul who would be a proper awesome feminist! In all, we were already in love with him.
When Holly gave birth to Sonny and we finally got to meet him we were so in love with him. He was everything I dreamed he would except, well, alive. We drank him in as we dressed him in a tiny hat and wrapped him up and took photos. He was perfectly imperfect. And at the hospital the midwives all knew that I was Sonny’s Mama, and they treated me brilliantly. But then as soon as we started talking to the bereavement team, I was pushed out again. ‘Sorry’, they said, ‘but we can only talk to the birth Mother’. ‘But I’m grieving too’, I said. ‘We know’, they said, ‘but this is how it is’.
Then, as we looked at trying again, the professionals started asking ‘why doesn’t your wife try this time?’ Well… again, this isn’t a question that male / female couples get asked, obviously. And the reasons for me not trying are always complicated. Firstly, I have a disability that would make it a lot harder for me physically to carry a child. Then, I have a crappy womb and only one ovary because of a severe case of endometriosis, so again, it’s a lot harder for me. Plus within our relationship it’s always been Holly who’s been the one who has had more of a drive to carry the child. Is it ok to ask these questions? I honestly don’t know. When I get asked it I always feel a level of guilt as if I’m not doing enough for Holly. It’s hard to explain. I guess it’s just better for other people to respect the decisions you make for your family rather than questioning.
As I sit here, after our third loss, I can’t help but feel like we do have it harder than ‘normal’ couples. Obviously heterosexual couples struggle with infertility too, yet for most couples who find themselves in this situation trying again doesn’t involve vast sums of money. I’ve worked out that trying for our second child has so far cost us in the region of £16,000. And what have we got to show for it? Who has that money lying around? We certainly don’t. Yet if we are going to try again we will probably be looking at IVF which is going to cost at least £10,000 plus another few thousand on top for new donor sperm. How much I would give to just be able to just have sex and make a baby that way. Sometimes I feel guilty that Holly fell in love with me and she has a much more complicated life because of it.
These losses, as well as us grieving for these babies that didn’t make it past 12 weeks, compound our grief over Sonny. Each time we turn to each other and talk about how if only Sonny were here we would be in such a different place right now. We miss him desperately. And as we come up to his year anniversary our arms are still empty. Yet we are not giving up. And Sonny’s birth and death has only served to reinforce in me the fact that biology really does not matter when it comes to children. You love them because they are them – unique and wonderfully them – not because of the cells they have in their body.
If you would like to read more stories from LGBT families experiencing the loss of a child, head over to our LGBT Baby Loss series, here.