“As a same-sex couple, we knew we would explore treatment to get pregnant – we just never knew it would take so long, or result in such pain and loss.” Jessica Clasby-Monk on IVF, miscarriage, the devastating loss of her stillborn son Leo – and the birth of 11-week-old Eli…
Our second son, Eli, is 11 weeks old. He’s just about to move into his second home – the perks of being born to a military parent – and he’s loving life. He’s growing, rapidly – and has caught up on his apparently-too-slow-regain-of-his-birth-weight that got people a little too excited in the early days.
His sleep is pretty good. And he’s starting to really explore the world, cracking the odd smile, and learning new sounds all the time. He’s done so well following his early, quick and forced entrance to the world, brief stay in High Dependency and the classic orange tan. He looks so much like his big brother.
I wish so much I could see them play together. Sadly, his big brother Leo, was stillborn when I was 37 weeks pregnant, in January 2016. Our lives are forever dedicated to honouring him. Eli was finally welcomed to the world at the end of a turbulent third pregnancy following an early miscarriage five months after Leo was born. Needless to say, the past two years have been intense.
Pregnancy after both stillbirth and miscarriage is excruciatingly suffocating and overwhelming. Whilst there are days when you can hold hope, there are others when even the strongest of kicks doesn’t convince you that they are still alive. Your reality is skewed, irreversibly, to your truth. And that is one where pregnancies don’t end in joy, they end in silence. It takes you down some very dark roads, and it is the second most difficult experience I’ve lived, only second to having to bury my first child.
Leo dying was and still is dark, very very dark. The forty-eight hours after discovering he had died, up until labour, was full of intense fear of the wildest unknowns. What would he look like? What would happen? Could we be brave enough to hold him? Why? Why us, why him, why now? Are they sure he is dead?
We have been gifted a lot of lessons from Leo. He made us parents, he showed us true unconditional love, he helped us see what the fight was for, and he opened our eyes up to the pain and silent realities that many many families feel
Feeling your baby move, through death and not life, has to be one of the most tormenting things your body can do to you. Despite that fear, the three days we had with him are my fondest memories, and I can still picture his face, and feel his weight. I can picture him in Eli, and I can see what might have been in full technicolour, with sound and movement. Everything that death robbed Leo of. It breaks my heart, still, every single time my mind goes there.
For us, the journey to Eli has taken five years. Five years ago we started the process of fertility treatment. Full of youthful energy and excitement. As a same-sex couple, we knew we would explore treatment to get pregnant – we just never knew it would take so long, or result in such pain and loss.
We started dating aged 15 for three years, back in the days when Nokias had removable covers, and reality TV celebrities didn’t exist. We separated, went off to grow up (me to university, and her to the military), and found our way back to each other by the age of 21. This time, we knew it would be for keeps. But now, we lived 600 miles apart, me in the south of England and her in the Highlands.
We long-distanced for nearly 18 months before one rainy visit to the Highlands resulted in getting engaged on our favourite beach – romance, Scotland-style. The romance of long distance wedding planning over Skype to the Falkland Islands, however, is not something I would ever recommend to soon-to-be-newlyweds! It was absolutely an introduction to military life.
Some may look on and think we should be different, and not let Leo’s death influence us so much
We had our civil partnership in 2011, and three days later, I moved to Scotland – giving up a pretty decent job that I’d landed far too easily after graduating, and signing on. Hands down, the biggest sacrifice of military life is its impact on my career. But for us, the point of it all has always been starting a family – that’s the focus, the end game, and so that’s always been the priority. Sacrifices make way for our family – we just never knew it would be the journey that it’s been.
We moved back to England a year or so after marrying, to be closer to fertility clinics and family. We were excited, naive and ready. Yet, three rounds of artificial insemination came and went, and the naivety went with them. We never expected to need three, yet three wasn’t even enough. That initial shock and grief of hope was hard. We hadn’t prepared at all for this reality – and as soon as it became our reality, we were back to long distance life. This time, England vs the Middle East. Not really the most conducive environment to readjusting life plans and trying to work out what was next.
As soon as she returned home, we started the process to begin IVF, but the first cycle failed. The endless appointments, blood tests, and schedules started to feel relentless. But once you start, when do you stop? Our second cycle, finally gave us Leo and two frozen embryos and everything we’d been working hard for over the past two and half years, was finally, finally happening. The pregnancy went smoothly. Until it didn’t. That was the end of us, as us ‘before’. You can’t go back in time, no matter how much you will it to happen.
We are new people now. We have learnt a lot. We have been gifted a lot of lessons from Leo. He made us parents, he showed us true unconditional love, he helped us see what the fight was for, and he opened our eyes up to the pain and silent realities that many many families feel. He gave us patience and taught us the importance of selfishness for your own self care. There is a lot of positive that Leo has given us. His death, however, has given us a lot of negatives, but we work hard every day to balance it towards the light, and not the dark.
I long to know what parenting Eli would be like without the subtext of stillbirth and the loss of his brother. I know it would be different, but I also know Leo will always influence our decisions and our emotions when it comes to Eli. There is no changing that now. Our priorities are on making memories, taking photos and preserving a calm atmosphere.
Some may look on and think we should be different, and not let Leo’s death influence us so much. But we are the type of parents we are because of Leo and Eli. And a lot of that is the gift of Eli’s big brother. We are moulded to them both now. We will always honour Leo’s memory and nurture Eli’s life to the fullest, complete with the love that we have for both of them. They are our sons. And each other’s brothers.