My Journey... Somewhere over the Rainbow
Findlay Francis McMillan
25th March 2013
The happiest day of my life was 25 March 2013 when I found out I was pregnant with my first child. Having been with my partner, Gavin, for over 8 years it felt so right and we were absolutely delighted and so excited for the day we would become a family of three.
I had some bleeding early on in the pregnancy which caused lots of anxiety and worry but I had a viability scan and thankfully my pregnancy was confirmed and we could see a tiny little heart beat. Further scans did not indicate any problems and we began to get more and more excited about the little life growing inside me.
The day of our anomaly scan arrived and although we were aware that there was a risk we could be told at this stage there was something wrong with the baby we really didn’t think it would happen to us. It was 16 July 2013 and I was 20 weeks and 6 days pregnant. The sonographer showed us the heartbeat and we breathed a sigh of relief, our little baby was alive and well. She then advised there were a couple of areas which she couldn’t see clearly and would ask a colleague to take a look. Being a larger lady, I joked with Gavin that the scan was probably unclear due to my extra blubber.
The senior sonographer came into the room and I could see the worried look on Gavin’s face. I began to realise that something more serious could be wrong. The senior sonographer took my hand and advised she had serious concerns about our baby. She briefly explained the areas of concern however none of what she said sunk in as our world collapsed around us.
We were then taken to the early pregnancy unit where we met with a registrar who explained to us that our baby’s condition was extremely serious and arranged for us to meet with a fetal medicine consultant the next day. We weren’t given any information and not knowing where to turn I conducted a search on google and came across Antenatal Results and Choices (ARC), a small charity who provide support to people, like us, who have to make the hardest decision of their lives.
The next day, 17 July, we met with a fetal medicine consultant at St John’s Hospital then another fetal medicine consultant at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary on 18 July. Both consultants confirmed our worst fears - our precious little baby was extremely sick and was unlikely to survive to term. The phrase incompatible with life was used. Gavin and I were devastated and felt sick to the pit of our stomachs. We were advised that the best course of action was a termination for medical reasons. A termination was against all our beliefs and we could not imagine killing our much loved and much wanted baby. After pleading and pleading with the consultants to save our baby we began to realise the severity of our baby’s condition and that ultimately we really did not have a choice, our baby was going to die.
Absolutely heartbroken I took the tablets which would start my body rejecting the pregnancy and would be the first stage of the induction of my labour. Two days later on 20 July 2013 we went to St John's hospital and knew we would have the hardest hours of our lives ahead of us. We had to enter through the maternity ward and I had to put my hands over my ears to try and block out the cries of newborn babies, knowing all too well that I would never hear my baby cry.
We were shown to the family room which thankfully was a safe haven away from the happy newborn experiences just along the corridor. I was absolutely terrified about what lay ahead. How would I cope with labour knowing that I was going to give birth to a dead baby. What would happen if my baby’s appearance scared me. After nine hours our baby entered the world silently and still. We were blessed with a beautiful baby boy, Findlay Francis McMillan. We were in awe of our tiny baby son who weighed only 270g and we couldn’t believe we had to say goodbye before we had even had a chance to say hello.
Findlay was very beautiful, a perfect face and ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes but looking at his body it was evident how sick our precious boy was. Most of his organs were on the outside of his body and he had a severe spinal deformity. We could not believe this was happening to us.
We were provided with a cold cot which enabled us to have Findlay with us overnight so we could spend time together as a family. A medical photographer came and took photographs so we could capture precious family moments. We were also given a memory box which included our baby’s hand and footprints and a certificate acknowledging Findlay. This certificate was extremely important to us as we learned that we would not be able to officially register Findlay given he was stillborn under 24 weeks. It broke our hearts to know that our beautiful baby’s existence would not be formally recognised. All of these important keepsakes were due to the hard work of two local charities, SiMBA and SANDS Lothians.
Walking out of hospital the next day without our baby was the hardest thing we have ever had to do, however, we found a little comfort from our memory box which held our treasured possessions of our beloved baby son.
We consented to a full post mortem being undertaken as we felt we owed it to our baby to find out what had caused this devastation. As first time parents we also needed answers as to what the future could hold for us. We then had to do what no parent should ever have to do – arrange our baby’s funeral. We visited a funeral director and tentatively booked a date as we did not know when our baby’s body would be released by the coroner. We arranged every detail of the service as we knew this was one of the only things we could ever do for our precious baby. I didn’t think SANDS Lothians was for ‘people like us’ but I was so wrong. The support I received in preparing for our baby’s funeral was more than I could ever have dreamed of.
Three and a half weeks later I held my baby son’s coffin in the funeral car on the way to the crematorium. Knowing this would be the last time I would hold my baby boy it was the hardest journey of my life. As I passed him to his daddy we walked into the crematorium together, our last time together as a family. It was the most difficult and heartbreaking day of our lives but we had chosen beautiful songs and poems and written a heartfelt letter to our baby boy and the day went as perfectly as we could have hoped. At the end of the service we released balloons to heaven for our precious son. We hope and pray that we made our baby proud that day.
The days and weeks which followed were extremely hard. I went over and over the early days of my pregnancy in my head and wondered if I had done something wrong and if my baby dying was my fault. My confidence was severely knocked and I was scared to leave the house for fear of seeing babies or pregnant ladies. It was hard not to be jealous that they would take their baby home when part of me died that day with my baby. I knew then I would never be the person I was before.
Nine weeks after Findlay died we met with our consultant and we were advised that Findlay had a body stalk anomaly and there was no reason as to why this had happened – it was just one of those things. We later learned that the chance of this happening was something like 1 in 14,000 and although it was absolutely heartbreaking to be that one, it did give us some hope for the future knowing that it was unlikely to happen again.
I missed my baby boy so much and thought of him every day. My heart ached but I knew that I would not begin to heal until I held a healthy baby in my arms. Taking the leap of faith to try to conceive was one of the hardest things we have ever done. We were so scared that if we were lucky enough to get pregnant again that something could once again go wrong. Would we be able to suffer the same heartache all over again?
Within two months I took a test and we were cautiously excited to learn that I was pregnant again. I had no idea how I was going to get through the next nine months, if we were even lucky enough to get that far. A week later we were faced with the day that should have been Findlay’s due date. That was extremely hard but knowing that I was pregnant again and we had hope for the future in the little life growing inside me made it that little bit easier. In a way, it was like my first pregnancy journey had ended and a new one was just beginning. Although I was scared to look too far ahead, I had a feeling from early on in the pregnancy that everything would be okay and that Findlay was looking out for us and his little brother or sister.
We took each day at a time and every appointment with the midwife or consultant was a huge milestone to get through. I shed tears either before or during every appointment as I was terrified that this would be the day that we would be given bad news again. We were scared to tell people for fear of jinxing things! We told family and close friends as we knew if something went wrong we would need their support. However, as the days, weeks and months passed we became more and more hopeful and when I started to feel the baby move it was just so precious but at the same time made the fear even more real. I knew I would not be able to cope with losing another baby.
As our news became public and people congratulated us I always felt like the big black cloud in the room as I was too scared to be openly excited about this baby. I felt that many people did not understand and would say well meaning things like ‘everything will be ok’ or ‘you’ll be fine once this baby is here’. A pregnancy after a loss is commonly known as a rainbow pregnancy. The thought behind this is that although the parents have been through the worst storm of their lives something beautiful can come along to brighten their lives once again. Having a rainbow baby is, however, not a fix and does not erase the grief that will always be felt for the baby that has been lost. Thankfully I had access to a counsellor through SANDS Lothians who helped me greatly through my grief and through the many emotions experienced in my rainbow pregnancy. I attended this counselling for almost one year and it was entirely free of charge. I will forever be indebted to SANDS Lothians and Jeni for this amazing support, to be able to speak to someone who just ‘gets it’ is the best thing in the world.
My due date was 28 July 2014, eight days after Findlay’s first birthday. All through my pregnancy I told myself what’s meant to be will be but as the time grew nearer I became more and more anxious about how I’d feel if the baby arrived on Findlay’s birthday. I also felt terrified in case we would receive more bad news on the anniversary of the anomaly scan. I was constantly too scared to believe we would bring this baby home.
On 15 July 2014 I got up for work as normal and felt a trickle of water on my way to the bathroom. It crossed my mind that it could be my waters breaking but as I didn’t feel any pain and there wasn’t an excessive amount of liquid I didn’t want to be a drama queen and got ready for work as normal. I had so much to do before finishing up in a few days time for my maternity leave and that day was my leaving lunch with my colleagues!
As the day went on I still wasn’t sure if my waters had broken. I think in some ways I was in denial but I knew if I went too long it could become dangerous to the baby so I phoned the hospital for advice and went in to be examined that night. It was confirmed my waters had indeed broken and the midwife laughed that I had worked 10 hours that day trying to tie everything together for finishing up work. I was told to come back in the morning when my induction would begin.
I hardly slept that night and was absolutely terrified that something would go wrong. I couldn’t possibly let myself believe that this baby would be coming home with us. Even the next day as my labour progressed and I was moved to the labour ward I was crying convinced that something would go wrong. I allowed myself a little hope and excitement when I was told I was 8cm dilated and we would have a baby that night!
Unfortunately things didn’t go to plan and the baby’s heart began dipping each time I had a contraction. I was advised that an emergency section would be required. I was so disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to deliver the baby naturally and felt like I had failed this baby too but the important thing was to get the baby delivered safely. Even as I was being prepared for theatre I was crying convinced that I was going to lose this baby too.
Thankfully my worst fears did not come true and our beautiful rainbow baby was born at 2.28am on 17 July 2014 weighing 5lbs, 15 ozs. We had been blessed with another beautiful son, Cameron Findlay McMillan.
We feel extremely lucky to have Cameron here safely with us and he makes us smile like we never thought we would again. Having another baby has not fixed us and does not mean we will now forget about Findlay. In fact in the early days when we came home from hospital my grief for my first born baby returned with a vengeance. It’s hard not to look at Cameron and wonder what his big brother would have been like. We wish so much we could have both our children with us but we will always be a family of four and Cameron will always have a very special guardian angel looking over him.
My journey is by no means over and will continue until I take my last breath but losing Findlay has taught me to cherish every day and not to worry about the silly little things I used to worry about. Take care of loved ones and cuddle your children tightly and tell them you love them every day. That’s what I do with Cameron and I know Findlay will always be with us in our hearts.
I will always be grateful for the support of SANDS Lothians as without their support, I am certain I would not be where I am today.