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On 4 September final 12 months, our son, Rayan, was stillborn. My spouse, Sara had been 38 weeks pregnant, and with a few weeks to go we had simply completed shopping for all of the issues we would want for our first little one: the garments, the cot, the nappy disposal system.

It was a Sunday morning, and it began in the way in which we thought it might: contraction-like ache, waters breaking with a sitcom gush (this was a nasty signal, we discovered later). However as an alternative of coming in waves, the ache didn’t cease. There was blood, a touch to the hospital. No heartbeat.

Stillbirth – the demise of a child within the womb past 24 weeks’ gestation – impacts about one in 250 pregnancies within the UK, extra for those who’re from a minority background like us. Shedding a baby on this approach is a horrifying expertise, and for ladies there are on-line assist teams, podcasts, books and child loss influencers. For males: subsequent to nothing.

Partly that’s as a result of the medical consideration is rightly centered on the mom within the speedy aftermath, and partly I feel as a result of males typically aren’t nice at speaking about their emotions. And look, a part of me nonetheless feels this isn’t actually my story to inform: I’m not the one who carried him, not the one who endured the bodily ache, and I’m not the one who misplaced 4 and a half litres of blood and spent days in intensive care. However I can’t cease writing it: in my head on lengthy walks, on the Notes app on my cellphone on the way in which to work, in 100 untitled Google Docs.

It’s such an terrible factor that the individuals on the sides of your life merely don’t know learn how to have interaction with it – as an alternative of the conversations you thought you’d be having about names and evening feeds and start weights (6lbs 13oz) there may be only a bleak and horrible silence.


I had been obsessive about discovering the precise title. We interrogated the choices like used-car patrons, in search of one thing strong and purposeful: a reputation that might nod to his ethnic background, however nonetheless let him transfer by way of the world with the straightforward grace I lacked. However in fact that was going to alter too. I had all these notions about what kind of dad I used to be going to be – emotionally obtainable, bodily current – and about how the act of parenting would make me a greater individual, give my life objective, rework me in a single day right into a functioning grownup.

Possibly we tried to plan an excessive amount of. I’d learn all of the books, gone to the antenatal courses, made buddies with different parents-to-be in our native space. (Now we dread operating into them on the street.) We’d written a start plan centred round cultivating an environment of calm. There had been no child bathe (tempting destiny), no monogrammed onesies or Instagram bump pictures, however we had fastidiously redesigned our lives with this new arrival in thoughts: transferring to the suburbs to be nearer to household, shopping for a smart automotive, portray the nursery an appropriately impartial shade of inexperienced. It was all for him.

The day itself is a blur, however some issues are seared into my mind. I bear in mind the second they instructed us – the wide-eyed horror on my spouse’s face, trying down to search out myself fully drenched in sweat. Alarms going off and a rising sense of dread.

Issues bought worse from there, someway. One of many many, many horrible stuff you be taught when your little one is stillborn is that the girl remains to be anticipated to ship the child vaginally. I perceive the logic behind this – shield future fertility, keep away from pointless surgical procedure – nevertheless it appears unfathomably merciless. So I sat there, feeling helpless, ineffective, pathetic, as Sara writhed in ache in a mattress on the maternity ward, midwives and medical doctors and anaesthetists coming out and in to run assessments.

Placental abruption. Rayan died as a result of the organ that had been protecting him alive for 9 months out of the blue separated from the wall of the uterus. Abruptions are all the time an emergency, however they are often small and manageable, or instantaneous and catastrophic. Ours was the latter, and because the hours ticked by with labour failing to progress and the ache refusing to subside even after an epidural, it grew to become clear that Sara’s abruption had been rather more extreme than the medical doctors had realised. She was nonetheless bleeding internally, and had been for hours.

At round 2pm on that first, countless day, they wheeled her into the working theatre for an emergency caesarean: ship the child, cease the bleeding. I spent the following six hours pacing forwards and backwards in an anxious daze, leaping at each alarm, wound tight like a spring. I didn’t sleep that evening: Rayan in a “chilly cot” on the morgue, Sara in intensive care with a tube down her throat and one other in her aspect to empty the blood, machines doing the work of her lungs and kidneys. Closely sedated. Her eyelids fluttered after I kissed her on the brow. I couldn’t bear to return to an empty dwelling, previous the model new pram folded up within the hallway. So I lay within the spare room at my mum’s home, with the rain hammering down and lightning flashing within the distance.


It’s an odd sort of grief, as a result of you don’t have anything to anchor it: no reminiscences made collectively, simply plans unravelled, garments by no means worn. And but, after I held him within the hospital for the primary and final time, I liked him – immediately and irrevocably. He had darkish hair and chubby cheeks, and his face was crinkled right into a slight frown. He regarded peaceable. His eyes had been closed. Assembly him was each joyous and horrible: love and grief and sorrow all mashed into some huge and primal factor. He was excellent and exquisite. He was ice-cold.

It was the second day. Sara was nonetheless in ICU, and our bereavement midwife, Jen, organized for a volunteer photographer from Sands, the stillborn and neonatal demise charity, to return and take footage of Rayan for us to have as a memento. He’s nonetheless the one man I’ve spoken to this complete time who’s been by way of the identical factor as me, and I clung to him like a lifeboat in a storm. How did you cope? How do you reside?

Amit Katwala standing in a park
Amit Katwala: ‘It was my job to guard him and I couldn’t even preserve him alive for a day.’ {Photograph}: Cian Oba-Smith/The Guardian

Solutions had been exhausting to search out. Nobody may inform us why it occurred. About half of stillbirths are by no means defined. Everybody assured us that it wasn’t our fault, nevertheless it’s exhausting to not suppose again to that Sunday morning and ponder whether we did one thing unsuitable – whether or not I did one thing unsuitable. I’ve realized to carry two contradictory beliefs in my head: this was a freak prevalence and there’s nothing we may have completed to cease it; and I wasn’t forceful or ready or useful sufficient and that is all my fault. All these notions I had about fatherhood appear so ridiculous now, my considerations so trivial. It was my job to guard him and I couldn’t even preserve him alive for a day.

I’ve been over the whole lot so many occasions making an attempt to determine trigger and impact. I’ve been down each placental abruption rabbit gap on Google, checked out analysis papers and meta-analyses. One put the possibilities of dropping a child at 38 weeks at about 5,000-1. One other, revealed just lately, revealed that Asian infants are about 60% extra prone to be stillborn than white youngsters. The concept Rayan died due to what I’m haunts me a lot that I can’t even start to interrogate it.

All I can give you, ultimately, is a few accumulation of small results – a small likelihood plus a small likelihood plus a small likelihood. “Nature is merciless,” is how Jen would all the time put it. A butterfly flaps its wings within the South Pacific and your complete world collapses round you.


It was the week the queen died, which lent the whole lot an much more surreal texture. I watched the information break from the room within the maternity wing the place that they had moved Sara as soon as she was out of speedy hazard. Once we went dwelling the next Sunday – making an attempt exhausting not to take a look at the comfortable new households leaving the ward – it was to a distinct nation, as completely different individuals.

These first few weeks felt like years, slumped on the couch in entrance of daytime tv whereas our mums buzzed round us, breaking just for unhappy walks across the village and horrible admin. We needed to go to the city corridor to register Rayan’s start and demise – a grotesque mirror picture of what we must always have been doing. There have been medical investigations, selections to make about postmortems. Flowers and meals packages arrived nearly hourly, till the home started to resemble a backyard centre with a very well-stocked farm store.

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Grief affects us all differently. Sara crocheted him a blanket, which we keep in a box in his room with his handprints and plaster casts of his feet. I became weirdly obsessed with quizshows, and applied to go on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. For a while I spent my evenings frantically memorising kings and queens. Everyone was a little worried about me. I think I wanted to see whether a piece of cosmic bad luck would be evened out by something good, if the scales of the universe would balance.

It messes with your sense of probability. I’d always thought of myself as quite a lucky person – I had even said something to this effect to Sara the night before it happened (idiot). I don’t think that any more. I could feel tectonic plates shifting around in my head in those months as I re-evaluated my relationship with the world. I’ve never been a particularly spiritual person, and I’m still not (what kind of God?), but I have to believe Rayan is out there somewhere: in the bright-eyed stare of a robin on a tree branch, in columns of light breaking through the clouds.

In those early days, everything was triggering. I’d well up at sitcoms, sci-fi movies, TV adverts (a John Lewis campaign featuring a dad’s journey from birth to the first day of school). Social media was a minefield, but I couldn’t tear myself away. The real world was worse: prams and pushchairs everywhere, dads swinging their boys up on to their shoulders, playing football with them in the park – needles in the heart.

We had a funeral, with family and friends, on a crisp November morning. The hospital arranged the logistics, but we chose songs and readings, bought flowers for the ceremony and pastries for the wake. It was the only thing we’d ever get to do for him, and we wanted to do it justice. (Another horrible thing I learned: the size and weight of a baby’s coffin.) We brought his ashes home in a cardboard tube with a cartoon bear on it. I sat on the floor of the empty nursery and cried until my eyes hurt, feeling empty, guilty, broken, numb.

It’s natural to flinch away from pain. We ran. Because of the C-section, we would have a year to wait before we could try again – acres of unwanted time. We resolved pretty early on – Sara still had the IV bruises on her arms – to try to spend the year doing something, anything to take our minds off the milestones we were missing, the stolen future.

So two months after it happened I was on a black sand beach in Iceland, staring out at the cruel Atlantic and hoping the wind might scour me clean. A week there, two in South Africa, a reporting trip to Taiwan, a month working from San Francisco – north, south, east, west – burning through our savings like two people who had lost the only thing they were saving for, trying to outrun something you can’t outrun. I saw the northern lights dancing in the skies over Reykjavik, watched a cheetah stalking its prey in the savannah. I would trade it all to know the colour of his eyes.


I’ve learned a lot of horrible things in the last year, but mostly I’ve learned to think in a different tense: the future lost. If this hadn’t happened, then we’d be doing that; if this happens for us eventually, then we’ll do this. The pain has morphed from something sharp and physical into a kind of ache: grief turned into sorrow. It feels like part of me now, an extra limb. I want to scream at people: can’t you see it?

Some days, I feel as if I’m on the edge of a deep abyss, staring down at the void where the life I had planned was supposed to be. Shunted into a different timeline that I’ve come to think of as the ghost life: the curtains we hung in his room, the empty space where his cot should have been. Heart-stopping reminders all around, every moment tinged with a sense of unreality. I shouldn’t be here. This is all wrong. I was planning to do three months of shared parental leave: right now, I should be off work, walking around the village with Rayan strapped to my chest.

Amit Katwala in a park
Photograph: Cian Oba-Smith/The Guardian

Instead: Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day without him. A year of unwanted firsts. If we had struggled to conceive it would have been hard in a different way, but it’s the suddenness of this that feels particularly harsh – we had it all and it was snatched away. The unfairness of it drives wedges between you and the people you care about, poisons moments that should be pure. Before, I’d been – not ambivalent about having kids, but I could see us being happy either way. Now that I’ve met him – felt that chemical, neurological, evolutionary love – all I want is to have that feeling back.

So we trudge on, moving through the world like shadows, bouncing between despair at what we’ve lost and moments of optimism for what we might, maybe, still have in the future. More superstitious, more anxious, more damaged, but also stronger and more resilient than I could ever have imagined. Eyes open.

Nothing can bring Rayan back, but on my better days I like to think that maybe parts of the life we thought we’d have right now might still be out there for us, that maybe among the sorrow there might still be room for joy. Sometimes I even dare to dream about names again. I like Arun, for a boy, meaning “dawn”. Asha, for a girl. It means “hope”.

Amit Katwala is a writer and editor based in London. He has donated his fee for this article to Sands, the charity which provides support to families dealing with pregnancy loss or the death of a baby, and advice for their loved ones. Find out more at sands.org.uk

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