Blogger Nicola Gaskin gave birth to her son Winter Wolfe on 23rd October 2015, Winter lived for one day before he died from a number of complications. In this raw and honest interview Nicola talks about her loss, feelings of grief and the ways that she honour her son’s short life…
Can you tell us about you and husband’s relationship, how did you meet? How long have you been together? Where did you get married? Myself and Dean have been a team for ten years. We met on the clichéd night out and realised we shared many friends in common, in particular he was close with my brother. In many respects, it was quite a feat that we hadn’t met before, but when we did the timing was perfect. We hit it off instantly. I loved the way he dressed like a cartoon and we shared the same sense of humour and love of partying and travel.
Ever since then we’ve been pretty much inseparable, travelling to 29 countries together. He takes the greatest care of me and always makes me feel loved and safe. We decided to get married secretly, not really for any other reason than we wanted to. We planned a trip to Sri Lanka and made wedding plans over there. We had had such a devastating year, we had lost our baby suddenly at a day old as well as a subsequent early pregnancy loss, and we just wanted to escape, have some fun, be a little mischievous and tie the knot so we were all connected by a family name. We got married on the beach, just the two of us. My wedding dress was made by a friend of mine, with snowflakes on it for Winter, and our wedding rings were made from his ashes. We chose the date 23rd August as the 23rd of every month marks another month of our son’s brief life. It was the perfect day, I wouldn’t change it for the world.
How did you feel when you found out you were pregnant for the first time?How was the pregnancy and the birth? We were delighted to be pregnant. I had been hoping for children for a little time, and Dean had agreed that we should start trying. I fell pregnant on our first month and didn’t realise until I was six weeks pregnant. Looking back, I just had no idea how fortunate we were. We were also both incredibly naïve, from a single pregnancy test I believed I would have a baby in nine months’ time, I really had no experience of miscarriage or pregnancy loss. We just thought ‘yes we are pregnant’ and began making plans. I loved every moment of my pregnancy, I was blessed to have very little sickness and a smooth ride, really relished it all. I loved the preparing, the washing baby clothes and folding blankets and decorating the nursery. I was so ready to be a mother, I daydreamed about it constantly. Even in early labour I set up the Moses basket with soft toys and sheets ready to bring home our baby. My waters broke at 5.30am, we went to hospital and were advised to go home and await contractions and return when they became regular and strong. At 6.30pm my mum drove us to the hospital where I laboured for a further 10 hours until we welcomed our son into the world at 4.37am the following morning, October 23rd 2015. He was placed on my chest and we looked right at each other then he looked at his dad, we all fell in love.
Can you tell us about what happened to your son Winter? 30 minutes after his birth, Winter became poorly. He just suddenly stopped breathing and became limp. The midwives hit a panic alarm and the room filed with doctors and nurses as they worked to resuscitate him. We were all in absolute shock. On the one hand, it was pure panic and I just sat there numb, on the other hand I thought ‘he will be ok, look at all these doctors and nurses…’ But after some time, he was whisked away and a nurse said to us ‘I need you to know that your baby might die’ and I said ‘But we’ve only just had him.’ The next few hours were difficult to navigate. We called family, hearing their excited anticipation for the long-awaited phone call and having to break it to them that their newborn grandson/nephew was likely to die.
That whole day Winter was in an incubator with tubes and machines, and every now and then we would sit with his doctor whilst he talked to us about a possible diagnosis, and the option to turn off the machines. I was exhausted from labour and anxiety and was hooked up to a drip to rest for the night. Early the next morning Winter was transferred to Leicester Glenfeild where they specialise in heart problems. I waited to be discharged and given medication before we drove up there to be with him. We were so full of hope in the car, I felt certain he would be cured and saved, but we arrived just in time to hold him as he died. We spent time alone with him, kissing him, bathing him, dressing him. We invited family in to hold him and say hello and goodbye. Then we had to leave the room and drive home with a memory box, to a house full of expectant preparations. It was extremely painful, surreal.
How has your faith helped you through this? What teachings have you drawn upon? How have you tried to find the positive in so much negative? Without a doubt, my Buddhist teachings have helped immensely when dealing with such a great loss. I have accepted grief as a normal emotion, and one that will last a lifetime, although it shifts and changes over time. ‘Patient acceptance’ is one of the greatest teachings I have drawn upon since losing my son. Accepting his death is something I may never fully come to terms with, but I accept all the emotions that come with grief. The realisation that death is a certainty and its timing is entirely out of our hands is also a huge Buddhist teaching. In the western world we are always surprised by death, yet in Buddhism meditating on death itself is a huge part of the daily practice. Every morning Buddhist practitioners spend time quietly reflecting on the truth that ‘I may die today’. It sounds a little doom and gloom but actually when practiced with wisdom and understanding, it is an enlightening realisation and brings greater spiritual meaning to each and every single day we live.
I also think that finding the positive amongst such pain is a matter of perspective. Winter died after a day, but he LIVED for a day. I have found that many bereaved mothers in similar situations are able to find many positives in their loss, that’s not to say their loss is a positive experience in any way, but more that the love they have for their baby and the experience of meeting and holding them greatly outweighs the pain of their loss. A beautiful phrase I have come across regularly on this journey is ‘Even if I knew you were going to die, I would still choose you’. I wish Winter had lived but I wouldn’t swap Winter for a living baby, he’s still my special baby to me.
You’re an active blogger and social media user, why do you choose these platforms to share your story, Winter’s story and your journey? When Winter died it was never my immediate intention to blog about him and share so openly on Instagram, it just felt like a natural progression from sharing my life previously and in particular my pregnancy. At the time, I had a small following and really just posted little snippets, but over time I discovered a whole community on Instagram centred around baby loss and I felt as though I had a place to talk about my baby and share my journey. To an outsider it may seem a little morbid or unnecessary but finding people in similar situations talking so openly absolutely encouraged me to find my own voice, and also the realisation that my feelings were normal and valid, and it was ok to tell people about my baby, that even though he died his existence was real and he was important to me and loved.
These days I talk about Winter publicly because he’s part of my life, just like moving house and getting married, he’s still very much part of our family and it would be unusual for me to not talk about him. I also feel like there is a need for people to share their lost babies and not everyone understands that, so we are gently educating people. About infant loss, the lasting effects of grief, the shameful rate of stillbirths in the UK. I have had many moments online where people have asked ‘why do you share photographs of your dead baby?’ And I tell them, because they are the only photographs I have and I don’t feel the need to hide him away in shame, in fact I frame them and put them on my wall. I share him because I’m proud of him, like any mother showing off their newborn baby. We should open up discussion and not be afraid of it or feel that it is wrong. I write about my grief and the feelings I have encountered, the isolation that can come with losing a baby when people don’t know what to say to you and say nothing instead, the difficulties of overcoming jealousy and bitterness when friends around you announce pregnancies and give birth to healthy babies, the lasting and ongoing trauma that doesn’t just end one day when you’re suddenly healed. This is why I share, to help myself as well as others. And I love to talk about my little boy, what mother doesn’t?!
Can you tell us about your tattoos, do you have any in Winter’s honour? I have two tattoos in Winter’s honour. One is a blue snowflake on the rib he kicked me in when he was growing in my belly. It was always this same rib and it got really sore and I would have to lie on the floor and stretch out to try and move him. At the time, I cursed that foot jabbing me so hard, but now it’s a fond memory. The snowflake is simple, it is the same pattern that my grandma cut out for the table decorations at Winters wake, it’s very special to me. The other tattoo is a quote on my arms, when I place them in the ‘baby holding’ position it reads ‘Most people only dream of angels, I held mine in these arms’. It is just the perfect reminder that I held him.
You can read more uplifting and raw posts about Nicola’s experience of infant loss on her blog.