Christchurch mum Annie Anderson can still picture the obstetrician's expression as the words "no heartbeat" gently escaped his mouth seven years ago, during a routine check-up when she was 17 weeks pregnant.
Just moments earlier, the secondary school teacher was pointing out little limbs on the screen to show her preschooler and toddler. But as the room spun and froze around her, Annie realised she'd lost a beloved baby for the second time.
"We lost a baby at nine weeks in utero a year before and although each miscarriage presented its own challenges, we didn't realise people lost babies in the second trimester," shares Annie, 39, the author of Your Soul Is Wintering, a book about the grief and recovery of baby loss.
"I was induced and I laboured a wee baby we weren't bringing home," she tells. "We held her knowing we weren't going to hold her again – a first and last all at once."
Seven years later, the wife of building project manager Rob, 41, is sharing her experiences navigating the miscarriages of Micah and Lily, who she calls her "angel babies", to help others dealing with the pain of baby loss.
"Since I wasn't quite 20 weeks with Lily, we didn't get a birth or death certificate and it was like we experienced a disenfranchised grief, which makes the journey really difficult," says the mum of Jai, 11, Arabella, nine, and four-year-old adopted daughter Rose.
"Unfortunately, it's not unique to us. Many people experience baby loss and I thought that what helped me could potentially help others."
Although she'd never thought of herself as a writer, Annie's words poured out to create a moving and poetic memoir, which she started in 2018, three and a half years after her second miscarriage. She wrote between windows of teaching, sitting at the breakfast bar at home or at a local café with her headphones in.
She took herself back into her deepest moments of grief so she could open each chapter of her book with a flashback, so it was told as authentically and genuinely as possible.
Although Annie didn't write her book to intentionally heal from her trauma, she admits it helped and says a big theme of her work is hope. "While grief is like this uninvited friend that arrives and won't leave, it also heightens our compassion, empathy and love," she shares. "It's almost like a gift of being in that season and hard space."
Annie also wrote about how the grief momentarily worked its way into her marriage with Rob, who she met at her farewell drinks when she was moving to Wellington from Christchurch at 21, for her first teaching position.
"The big thing for Rob and I was that the different ways we grieved went unacknowledged for quite some time, which created a void between us. In the initial weeks following Lily, we were so connected, but gradually the way we dealt with it was really different," she tells.
"I wasn't seeing any visible signs of grief from him and was creating assumptions about how he was perhaps not grieving, which only made my journey feel that much lonelier."
Rob also couldn't understand why his wife of 13 years was crying every morning and night in the weeks and even months that followed, as he tried to keep life rolling as normal as possible again.
"It took for us to get extremely vulnerable before we could start to find our way back to each other and it came off the back of an argument, when he turned to me one night and asked how long I was going to cry for," she shares.
"I came back swinging and said, 'Do you not think about her any more?' He turned to me and said he thinks about her every day because he lost a little girl too. It makes me well up now thinking about it."
A silver lining in the couple's story was adopting their youngest Rose at six months old, which Annie thinks was "meant to be". She explains, "Rob's grandmother passed away and she was a really special matriarch of their family. While he was carrying her into the funeral service, we got an email to say we'd been matched with this wee girl.
"I must've re-read the email 20 times because Rob's grandmother was also Rose! The feeling was incredible, but it doesn't mean the grief just dissipates. There'll always be a Micah and a Lily-shaped gap in our family."
Annie hopes Your Soul Is Wintering will help those experiencing grief to become an active participant in life again. "Although we might want to outrun grief, at some stage, we're going to have to learn to walk with it. I like to remember that grief only exists because love did first."
Your Soul Is Wintering: Rediscovering Joy After Baby Loss by Annie Anderson (Bateman Books, $34.99) is available now at bookstores and online.
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