Nicole Regan-White, Learning Advisor, Capco
Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Mine has been grief.
My daughter was tragically stillborn in 2013 at full-term. I’d had what was deemed by midwives as a textbook pregnancy. When we arrived at the hospital during labour we were told that our daughter had died.
I can’t begin to convey the grief that swept over us - it was the worst moment of my life. I asked for a C-section as I couldn’t bear to go through the pain, but was advised against it as it could cause problems for the future. A conveyer belt of midwives and doctors came and went, expressing their sorrow at our loss, explaining what would happen next, but I was numb - I couldn’t comprehend what was happening. 3 days later Jessica arrived at 10:43pm on Christmas Eve weighing 5lbs 10oz.
We didn’t want to see her at first - we were scared. But the midwife said that there was nothing wrong with her, she was beautiful - and we changed our minds instantly. She was washed and dressed and brought to us in a cold crib to preserve her body, and we spent a couple of precious hours with her. If I hadn’t got to meet Jessica it would have been the biggest regret of my life. She looked just like her Daddy. If I want to see her, apart from the precious few photos we have, all I need to do is watch my husband sleeping and I feel closer to her.
The early days were a blur. I don’t know how I survived from one day to the next. Everyone has heard of mum-guilt, but imagine the feeling of bereaved mum-guilt. I felt guilty for having a cup of tea, getting through 10 minutes, or watching a TV programme without thinking of her. I never knew if I was going to have a good day or a bad one, what would trigger my tears or give me strength. After travelling through the five stages of grief (the Kübler-Ross model identifies denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) I concluded that I had two options: fight or flight. I decided to fight. I have been on the war path to reduce stillbirth rates in the UK ever since.
I started to return to work 6 weeks later, not to work, but to be surrounded by my friends and have a change of scenery. In hindsight, this was not the right thing to do, but if I stayed at home on my own I know I would have done something stupid.
I created my own coping mechanisms and threw myself into activity - to both honour Jessica and just keep me busy. 1 in 200 pregnancies end in stillbirth in the UK, and we are one of the worst countries in the world for stillbirth rates. I wouldn’t wish my fate on my worst enemy and set-about breaking the taboo of talking about stillbirth on radio, TV, blogs, in newspapers and lecturing at Kings College to student midwives. We have raised ~£25k for SANDS (stillbirth and neonatal death charity), and Capco have helped build a bereavement app for SANDS which will launch in 2018 through NHS Digital to aid bereavement care in the UK.
I have since been diagnosed with post-natal depression - but the lines between grief and depression are so blurred it wasn’t picked up at the time. But I turned a corner last year. Something changed in me. I DECIDED to change. I felt like it was okay for me to focus on ME for the first time in years without feeling guilty. I started planning for the future - not living in the past anymore. I set about getting fit, completed my first triathlon, and started a business.
I’m proof that you can go to hell and back and still survive. Don’t stop. Keep going. Reach out for help if you need it. And breathe… You’re going to be okay.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day over the month of March, I’d like to remind everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. So be kind - always.