GUEST SPOTLIGHT: FRANCESCA BRUNSDEN OF FRANNIE + LILO
Im Francesca—a mother, wife and a Brit now living in Toronto. I moved 3 years ago, newly pregnant after having had a missed-miscarriage months before. We were very cautious about our second pregnancy. But after our 12-week scan, like most - we presumed we had the all-clear to breeze through the rest of the pregnancy. No, that wasn't to be the case.
I had a feeling leading up to our 20-week scan that something wasn't quite right. To cut a long story short, at the 20-week scan we were told our son had a condition "incompatible with life'. Words no parent ever wants to hear.
We had to make the heart-breaking decision to discontinue the pregnancy for the sake of my mental health, and as his condition being so severe, his bones were breaking every time he moved in utero. To make matters worse, we had to wait 3 weeks for me to induced. I was just shy of 25 weeks pregnant when I gave birth. For those wondering - that means I had to give birth to what would be our dead baby boy. Yes, it was a full-on painful labor. The 3 weeks we waited were like torture. I was still pregnant, yet anticipating the death of our baby. Unable to grieve. In a new country, knowing almost no one. looking pretty pregnant with everyone I came into contact with wanting to know when I was due. Absolutely heart wrenching.
Fast forward to the day my son Phoenix was born. It was the most bittersweet day of my life. I had expected to give birth to a baby who would pass away in labor. I had prepared myself for his death. as much as anyone can. As I pushed one last time. he was born ALIVE, against all the odds and much to everyone's shock. The nurse actually screamed as he was born. It may sound odd to others, but it was so peaceful. He lay in our arms for 5 or so hours, free of pain, and the room was so full of love in a way I can't fully explain. His eyes were shut, his arms and legs badly broken from his condition. (Osteogeneses imperfecta type II.)
I was so overwhelmed with love and adoration. I had all the emotions you would imagine as a proud new mother, which made his death some hours later, so much harder to handle. I felt like my emotions had nose-dived off a cliff. I had complications with the placenta, a D+C op, and 6 months to wait to find out if his condition was genetic. It was a lonely time in my life. I was lucky enough to get pregnant again and my now 18-month-old son Bodie shared the same due date, 1 year later. Ironic, considering his older brother is named Phoenix - (meaning to rise from the ashes). I like to think even though Phoenix lived for such a small period of time, his life had a big impact on this world.
Q. 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage and 1 in 8 couples are walking through infertility. With so many women being affected by these issues we believe there is power in the story. What was the turning point for you to feel safe enough to share your own?
A. I was always ready and willing to share my story. In fact, it was all I wanted to talk about after Phoenix died. I was a proud mother, with no baby to show for the love I had. I knew I made other people feel uncomfortable and that a lot of people didn't really know or understand what happened to me. Even members of our own family hadn't imagined I would have to give birth to Phoenix. After a lot of time passed, I'd had a fair amount of therapy and another baby, and finally felt I was sick of holding in my reality for the sake of not making others feel awkward for 5 minutes.
The turmoil I felt for not telling people I had 2 sons, or the guilt I felt for leaving Phoenix's existence out of my life was far worse than any uncomfortable conversation I ever had with a friend or stranger for that matter.
Q. Everyone grieves differently. What was something that helped you to heal and process your grief?
A. Talking and writing. Getting my story out of my brain and down on paper, instead of it going around and round on repeat inside of me. I found talking and writing to have been the best forms of therapy. Allowing my reality to be part of my life, not a dirty secret that I keep inside eating away at me was so freeing.
Q. Was there ever a time someone said something insensitive to you about your pregnancy, pregnancy-loss, or infertility? Knowing what you know now, how would you respond?
A. "Everything happens for a reason", that one really hurt me. There is no good reason for a baby dying, ever. Period. Although I understand the sentiment, it wasn't right to tell me that. I believe that you have to make the best of Plan-B when Plan-A goes tits up; you can find a way of making the best out of your life, with a new reality. But some terrible things do just happen to good people and there are no good reasons, or even words sometimes to explain it. Sometimes you don't actually want anyone to provide advice, you just want them to listen.
Q. We are firm believers that every woman who opens her heart to have children is a mother. What is your most favorite thing about motherhood? And what is the most difficult thing about motherhood?
A. My favourite thing is watching my son learn. It amazes me the things he picks up and his little quirks and traits. He may only be 18-months old, but he already has his own personality. The hardest part is lack of space, both personal space when they are climbing all over you, but just the ability to have space and be your own person. It’s easy to lose yourself to motherhood. I also find motherhood a daily reminder of loss, being a mother now makes me so sad for what my son Phoenix missed out on.
Q. How are you using your gifts to lift others up who are walking through pregnancy-loss, infertility, or other pregnancy-related issues?
A. I hope by sharing my story helps other women feel less alone in their journey. I know I found it helpful reading other women's stories when I was processing my own grief, even if I did find it hard to find stories similar to mine. I hope also that my positive outlook on life gives other hope in the dark moments of their loss and sadness.
Q. Grief and loss, especially with miscarriage, infertility, and pregnancy-loss, can feel very isolating. What is something you would say to yourself in the first days after your loss?
A. Don't put so much pressure on yourself to be any particular way. Lay in bed and cry as long as you want. Do whatever makes you feel ok at the time and forget everything else.
There is power in the story.
Thank you for allowing us to share a little bit about Frannie, her background, experiences, and story. We want to continue to support our community while lifting others up. Did you enjoy this? Do you know a mama who would be a good fit for a Guest Spotlight with us? Feel free to comment here, or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear what you think!