As the little black positive sign began to appear on the pregnancy test screen, Amy and I grew more and more excited, holding the test stick together with a shared sense of its value. Amy and I had been together since we were teenagers. Today, at 30, the time had come. We were looking forward to forming a family.
During the gender exam, the sonographer said we were expecting a baby girl. We called her Elowen. It means elm in Cornish. As our baby grew, our lives fell more and more into place. Our house in the New Forest has finally been finished after months of renovation, making it perfect for Elowen. And our business – a hostel in the mountains of North Wales – was doing well, we were running it remotely.
The world seemed bright and complete, like the warm months before Elowen’s summer birth. She was still kicking and dancing every morning.
It was Elowen’s rhythm, and we learned it by heart.
But on Monday morning, July 24, 2017, two days before her due date, there was no kicking, no nudging.
William Henry Searle talks about the loss of his granddaughter and his grief. Pictured with his wife and their son Eli in 2021
I leaned over the bed and called out his name: “Elowen, Elowen, Elowen.” We thought maybe she was too far away to hear us. Amy pushed and squeezed her belly.
I brought her a glass of cold water and a bowl of sugary cereal. Still no movement. We decided to go to the hospital; our bag was already packed in anticipation. Maybe it was the day we would meet our daughter and bring her home. But as we reached the freeway, we both fell into silence. Amy looked down at her stomach, holding it in her hands. I put on some music to try to wake our child. No response, no beat or kick. I grabbed the steering wheel. I got sick.
In the maternity assessment unit, a midwife strapped Amy to a CTG machine and searched for a heartbeat – searched and searched. We were then taken to another room. It was dimly lit, with a bed and a computer screen. Amy lay down on the bed and I shook her hand. The loaded screen. The sonographer moved the device over the contours of Amy’s belly again and again. Then she stopped and fixed it on a plastic hook next to the screen. She turned to us, breathed in, and said, saying each word slowly, “I’m sorry, but your baby is dead.
Our world ended there.
Amy was given a pill to induce her labor and then we were sent home. I barely remember the next few days, except when Amy sang the Elowen song to him in the shower, holding his stomach with both arms, crying. We covered all the mirrors in the house because Amy didn’t want to see herself, her pregnant belly sagging under the weight of our dead daughter. We clung to each other, not wanting to let go. We were still hoping the hospital had made a mistake.
After a long and agonizing labor, Elowen was born in our local hospital at 1:35 a.m. on July 27, 2017. We were terrified to see her, worried that she might have been disfigured or injured in some way. Another is why a screen was put up during Amy’s delivery. final contractions.
I saw her finally fall asleep at 4 a.m., pale and exhausted. I cried into a pillow until dawn.
We did not see Elowen until the following evening; she was in her cradle, wonderful and new. I had never seen such perfect beauty. I laughed through my tears seeing her chubby little hands, the wrinkles on her fingers, her fingernails.
I ran my finger over every feature of her delicate face.
On the day of Elowen’s cremation, we held our own ceremony. It was too much for us to attend. The image of seeing his coffin sliding into hidden flames would have killed us. Instead, on a windy August morning, we sat under a special oak tree that we called the Elowen Oak. We made a small pile of sticks that protected a few lighted candles from the wind.
His ashes were brought back to us the next day in a teddy bear that we kept as if our lives depended on it. But where was our child? Where was Elowen?
I was terrified that Amy and I would separate in our grief. She felt like a failed mother and I felt helpless. We wanted to die and in death go find our Elowen.
After a long and agonizing labor, Elowen was born at the local hospital at 1:35 a.m. on July 27, 2017. Image used
OUR PARENT’S HEART HAS BEEN AWAKENED. WE NEED TO KNOW WHAT IT FEELS TO KEEP A CHILD WARM AND ALIVE
I often found myself daydreaming about ways I could die. We needed help.
Eventually we contacted a counselor named Bren whom we saw almost weekly for a year. We ignored the outdated ways in which grief was once understood – by “stages” or “moving on”. I didn’t want to deny the pain caused by a Herculean effort to block Elowen from my heart. No, I needed to experience the pain because it brought me closer to her. And we could only weather the storm together, not alone. It was up to us as mom and dad to keep Elowen alive in the world somehow.
Amy and I have remained close to each other. We walked daily on the moor and ate together. I needed her. We also traveled abroad, taking time away from our country, where Elowen’s sudden absence was becoming increasingly difficult to live with. The silence of her nursery, her clothes that have never been worn, the garden in which she has never been able to play. Just as Amy felt phantom kicks in her stomach, I heard the phantom screams and cries of our baby girl. One night I even jumped out of bed to see Elowen.
We discussed whether we should try for another child. Not to make up for Elowen’s absence, but to prevent that family feeling from disappearing. In Elowen, our parent’s heart woke up and it stayed awake. We also needed to know what it felt like to hold a child alive and warm.
On October 10, 2018, Eli, our son, was born by emergency caesarean section. It was miraculous. Yet I also felt guilty that Elowen hadn’t come to this – and all that Eli might have had; all the adventures I had planned with Elowen that Eli was going to have instead.
But his life soon shone with its own light. And we also moved. A change that seemed daunting but necessary to ensure that we remained intact as a family, with Elowen firmly in his place among us.
We now live in a remote valley in North Cornwall and Eli will be five next month. In the darkness after losing Elowen, I could never have imagined we would get this far. I’m so proud. And I never take a moment with my son for granted. He is my world.
For those who don’t know us, it looks like we only have one child. But we have two: Eli and Elowen. It’s just that Elowen is felt in the heart rather than seen with the eyes.
Elowen: A Story of Heartbreak and Love by William Henry Searle is published by Little Toller Books, £18*
*TO ORDER A COPY FOR £15.30 UNTIL 17 SEPTEMBER GO TO MAILSHOP.CO.UK/BOOKS OR CALL 020 3176 2937. FREE UK DELIVERY ON ORDERS OVER £25. GETTY PICTURES