Where to start. At the beginning I suppose. I found out I was pregnant at Glastonbury, sitting on a wooden plank suspended above a stinking cesspit. Things with my partner were not all that serious, we hadn't been together very long and certainly hadn't planned on starting a family. But fate had other plans, or so it seemed. I told him the news and let him decide what role, if any, he wanted to play, but either way I was going to be a mum. He decided he wanted to be a dad, so we became a couple.
The pregnancy developed almost entirely normally, yes there were worried moments, but we reached every milestone, every scan, every 'safe point'. Then I fell ill. Nothing serious, just felt like I had flu. We went to the GP, who said nothing to worry about, just a mild infection, take these antibiotics and if the pain gets too bad, take a couple of paracetamol.
Maybe we were stupid, maybe we were just naive, or maybe we were just too trusting. The pain did get worse, a lot worse, and I took the pills and tried to ignore it. It was just an infection after all, nothing to worry about. The next morning things were bad, the pain was so bad we decided to go to the hospital and called a cab. Waiting for the cab I collapsed and so we called an ambulance. I still didn't know what was wrong, I had no idea my life was about to fall apart.
We got to the hospital, the white blanket replaced with a red one, and the paramedic asked the nurse if they should take me straight to delivery. That's when I knew. My baby was born, sleeping, half an hour later. We had a boy, a son, the midwife told us. We named him Ben.
The next few days, minutes and hours, were a blur. I remember a blessing service, with the hospital chaplain, posing for photographs with our baby wrapped in a blue floral blanket, not the happy photos of exhausted smiling new parents, but faces frozen like stone, no life in our eyes.
I remember collecting the tiny ashes casket from the engravers ready for his funeral, and having a fight with an animal rights protester for not signing their petition below photos of vivisected dogs. He yelled at me 'do you not care that animals are being tortured?' 'my baby just died' I screamed at him. It was the first time I ever said those words.
I remember the funeral, being stood with my family around a tiny brown wooden shoe box sized coffin on an alter designed for an adult, with a single white rose on it. I remember a meeting with the consultant at the hospital, him saying to us that our baby boy was perfect, he had just died, no reason for it at all. Just bad luck. But you are young, there will be more babies. And there were more. The next two years saw two more babies, first a girl, and then a boy.
And then came the letter. 2 years after out baby Ben had gone, we got a letter from the hospital who carried out his post mortem asking us what we wanted to be done with his organs. We all knew about the organ retention scandal, when it happened we asked if our son was one of those affected and were told no no no, he was too small, nothing would have been kept.
We called the helplines, arranged a meeting. 3 months later we were sat in a small room, the bereavement room they called it, in a hospital 30 miles away from us, in front of a beautifully carved wooden box, sitting next to a box of kleenex on the table. ' We have a copy of your babys post mortem report' the lady said to us 'but before we give it to you, we need to talk to you about something important'.
She went on to tell us that we didn't have a son, we had never had a son, we had had a daughter, and that she had died due to a brain haemorrhage It transpired the midwife who delivered our baby was inexperienced, our baby girls genitals were swollen and she mistakenly thought he was a boy. This can happen with small babies. Our hospital knew, they had known within a few days, a week before we had 'him' cremated, but they hadn't told us. Why they hadn't. nobody really knows. The hospital 'misplaced' her records, the consultant who told us our baby boy had been perfect had retired. They were sorry.
We were given the wooden box to open, it was packed full of what looked like blocks of soap and pieces of glass. They were every organ from our daughters body, preserved in wax, and some cut into slides. We decided we wanted our baby to be complete again. We arranged a second funeral, we had a pink coffin, packed with a stuffed toy rabbit, and the organs and the ashes. We had pink balloons, and pink ribbons, and pink flowers shaped like teddy bears, and we had a proper pink and girly send off for our daughter.
I have never been a pink person, but after all the time of coming to terms with losing a son, we needed to acknowledge our daughter and say hello and goodbye to her in a way that befitted a proper little girl.
We named her Benecia, and we bought her a beautiful headstone full of pinkness, and fairies and pixies and bunnies.
The guilt will never leave me,the guilt of knowing my body didn't manage to do the one thing it was designed to do, nurture and protect the life growing inside it, but also the guilt of not knowing, not realising that she was not a boy, he was a girl. I am her mum and I should have known.