Writing the story of Fionn's death and birth is something I've been meaning to do for months. I knew in my mind that I had to do it, but I was afraid. I was afraid to relive all the painful moments of that time. But today I just decided to do it, to get it off my shoulders. I hope this isn't too upsetting for you to read. I debated whether or not to put it here, that maybe that was making myself too vulnerable. But it's his story and I decided that it would be respectful to him to share it.
The first 19 weeks of my pregnancy with Fionn were uneventful. I remember feeling hesitant, at times, about the health of the pregnancy, but given that I’d had two early miscarriages, I would have felt that anyway. I first felt him move at 16 weeks, and that movement quickly became regular. I remember when I’d put Síofra and Paddy to bed at night, I’d lay on my back on the floor of their bedroom, and he’d always move then. I really enjoyed that quiet time I had with him as the other two children fell asleep.
On the evening of the 12th of December, I was lying on the couch and the kids were playing. Fionn began kicking vigorously, so that I could see it from the outside of my stomach. I called Síofra over to feel it. I remember feeling like I could really relax into the pregnancy then, that it was real and I began to feel excited. The next few days were very intense; in the early hours of the 15th of December, my friend Dee gave birth to her son at home, and I was with her. The midwife didn’t make it on time, so her husband Richie and I caught her baby as he was born. It was a great experience. But the same thought kept creeping into my head-When did I last feel my baby move? It had been Wednesday night. Two days without noticeable movement at 20 weeks pregnant didn’t seem to be a cause for alarm. But I was alarmed.
On Saturday morning I had been up all night at the birth of Dee’s baby, and only managed to get about 3 hours sleep that morning. Daithí had to go out to work, so I had the kids on my own for the afternoon. I called the midwives, and told them I was concerned about not feeling the baby move. They told me not to worry, but that I could come in for a quick check with the Doppler. I tried to convince myself that all my worry was just down to exhaustion and lack of sleep. I headed into the hospital that morning, Saturday the 15th of December, to see the midwives, bringing the kids with me.
I laid on the examining table; Paddy was in the buggy, and Síofra was standing next to him. The midwife ran the Doppler over my belly, and picked up what she said was the baby’s heartbeat. I felt relieved. She told me to believe in my baby and relax. When we got Fionn’s postmortem results, it showed that he’d already died by this time, so what the midwife heart couldn’t have been his heartbeat. But I wouldn’t have wanted the kids to be there when I heard the news he’d died, so it was probably best that I didn’t find out that day.
The next day we headed out to see Dee, Richie and the new baby. We visited them for a while, and Dee gave me a beautiful crystal necklace as a gift for being her doula. Then we got the bus into town and took the kids to see Santa. We debated whether or not to go that day, or to wait until the next weekend, and thankfully, we did go, because we certainly wouldn’t have had the chance the following weekend.
I had a regular, 20 week ultrasound schedule for Tuesday, the 18th of December. I went into work for an hour or so, then headed off to the hospital to meet Daithí. As we waiting for the appointment, I was very anxious. I still hadn’t felt the baby move again. I sat there concentrating, hoping to feel something, but I didn’t. They had given me a pamphlet about ultrasound, and what they could tell from the scan. I couldn’t even bring myself to read it, because I was so afraid there was something terribly wrong with the baby.
When we got into the darkened ultrasound room, I laid on the table, and Daithí held my hand as the technician put the wand onto my belly. There was quiet, as she moved it around a few times. And then she said, “I’m so sorry, there’s no heartbeat.”
This was, by far, the worst moment of my life. I felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach. I felt a cold tingle throughout my body. And my heart was pounding. Daithí put his head in his hands. I felt trapped in my body, unable to stay still, but too afraid to move. I kept screaming “No! I can’t do this!” as the midwife continued to scan to try and get more precise measurements. It was the same feeling you get when you have a terrible dream, and wake up. But this was real, and I couldn’t escape it.
After a few minutes, they got me calmed down enough to go to another room, to meet a doctor and discuss what would happen next. I couldn’t look at anyone in the hallway as I walked there. As we waited for the doctor, Daithí started to make some phone calls, to let people know what had happened. It was so sad for me to hear him telling people, to have to say that our baby had died, over and over. The doctor arrived, along with one of the community midwives who I’d been seeing for my antenatal care. The doctor explained to me that I’d be given a tablet to ripen the cervix, and that I’d come back two days later for more medication to induce labor. The thought of waiting two whole days to end the nightmare seemed like something I couldn’t withstand. But the midwife explained that it might be a good thing to have some time to process what had happened. In hindsight, she was right. I took the tablet to start the process of having my baby, something that went against every instinct I had, but I knew I had to do it. I said to Daithí then that we had to name this baby.
I went home then. I was exhausted but I found it very hard to sleep. Whenever I went to bed all the grief would overwhelm me. So I slept mostly on the couch, watching TV in the hope that it would distract me enough to fall asleep. I could not bear to be alone, so Daithí stayed with me all the time. I was too afraid to leave the house. Friends of ours picked up Síofra and Paddy from the crèche, and I was so glad to see them. I thought I’d loved them as much as possible, but suddenly, I loved them even more.
The next day we started to plan a service for our baby. Daithí was in contact with the bereavement officer from the hospital, and she helped us to organize it all. We decided to allow the hospital to bury him in the babies’ plot in Glasnevin Cemetary and to have the service on Saturday, so that Daithí’s family could come from Cork. And we decided what name we’d give our baby.
The next morning Daithí took the kids into the crèche at 8 a.m. I got ready to go to the hospital for 9:00. I packed a bag, something I’d never intended on doing, since I planned this baby to be born at home. I wore the necklace Dee had given me. We walked to the hospital. I was given a private room, on the labor and deliver ward, but we kept the door closed so we wouldn’t see or hear anyone else. At 11:00 the doctor came in and explained that I’d be given a dose of medicine to begin labor then, and again at 2:00. She said that hopefully the baby would be born that afternoon, and if there were no complications I could go home that evening. Daithí and I spent that day watching TV and talking. At 2:00 pm I started to get cramps, and by 4:00 they were contractions. Things went quickly then. I kneeled on the bed for a while, then I stood at the foot of the bed, holding onto the rails at the end of the bed. At 4;45 pm I got really hot, just as I had when I was about to give birth to Síofra and Paddy. The midwives had offered me pain medication, but I turned it down. I knew I needed to feel all of this to make it real, and make it over. I also felt like feeling the pain of childbirth was how I could show the baby how much I loved him.
I knew that it would be soon. Daithí opened the window and let in some cool air. The labor felt just the same as with Síofra and Paddy; it was just as strong. I told Daithí to get the midwife, because I felt some pressure. I climbed onto the bed and squatted there. The midwife came in then, but things seemed to pause. She wanted to to an exam to see how dilated I was, but I didn’t want that. I put my hands on my belly and told the baby that I was ready. He was born at 5:00 p.m., with one little push. The birth didn’t hurt, given how small and soft he was. But he was perfect.
I got cleaned up and they gave Fionn to us to hold, on a towel. His skin was paper thin and delicate, but we could see his eyebrows, his tiny ears and the little hairs on his body. They gave me an injection to help the placenta come out, as this often doesn’t happen easily in these cases. The medicine made me sick, and I threw up. But thankfully, about a half hour after he was born, the placenta came out whole.
Dee arrived ten minutes after Fionn was born. She is the only person, aside from the midwives, to see him. We sat for over an hour holding him, looking at every part of him. Then the midwife suggested I take a shower while she took Fionn’s hand and footprints for us. After I’d showered, she brought Fionn back to us in a little basket. We stayed for another hour and a half. We met with a doctor to sign the consent form to have a postmortem done. Then I felt it was time to go. I’d worried about how I’d leave our baby at the hospital. But I didn’t feel that then. I didn’t feel he was there, just his body. I was relieved to be going home, that I didn’t have to stay in the hospital overnight.
We got a taxi home, and Daithí’s sister, who had been minding the kids, stayed with us that night. When I got home I changed clothes and got on the couch. Suddenly I became freezing cold and shaking. I guess this was shock. That night I slept soundly for the first time in days.
Friday passed, and we finalized our plans for Fionn’s service. On Saturday about 40 people gathered at the hospital chapel for the service. There were so many there they didn’t all fit into the room. I held Fionn’s tiny white coffin on my lap. A friend of Daithí’s, who is a priest, did the service. Richie read A Time for Everything:
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
Dee read a beautiful piece by Sister Stan.
Everyone there took a stone from a bowl. These were the stones we used for Síofra’s naming ceremony. We played Rufus Wainwright’s version of Across the Universe and each person placed their stone back in the bowl, making a wish for our family.
Afterwards Daithí and I had a moment alone with Fionn, and said goodbye again. Then people came back to our house for tea and cake.
Six weeks later we met with a doctor to hear the results of Fionn's postmortem. They could not find a cause for his death. This was actually a good result, and the most common finding in cases like ours. It means that there's no increased risk of this happening again to us. It also meant that I can continue to see him in my mind as perfect, that I don't have a specific part of his body to think of as being made wrong.
This seems like the end of the story, but it’s really the beginning. The past seven months have been the most transforming of my life. I am learning how to allow Fionn his place in my heart, while continuing to live my life. Some days this is easier than others. But as hard as this has been for me, I am still happy to have known him for that short time, and I wouldn’t change that.
The meaning of his life continues to reveal itself as time passes.