Virginia Ironside: The joy of the morning - tinged with sadness of yesterday

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The Independent Online

Dear Gordon and Sarah

I can hardly think of a more difficult place to be in than you are today because your emotions must be - that worst of all things - "mixed". None of us wants mixed emotions. It's like having one foot on the accelerator and one on the brake. A kind of ghastly grinding sounds in the brain.

On the one hand there's the new baby. His arrival can only bring joy - and even as I heard the news, I, a complete stranger, felt thrilled for you. On the other hand, the delight will be tempered. You have had a horrible experience in the past and however healthy your new baby, you will always be anxious, fearful that lightning might strike twice.

Of course, this baby is a boy - if he were a girl it might have reminded you bitterly of Jennifer. Also he is an 8lb 1oz whopper, not a seven-week-premature 2lb 4oz scrap; he's a baby who can be held, and who can survive on his own.

Unlike Jennifer, he will not have to be whisked off to special care and then to another hospital. It will be, for you, almost an entirely new experience.

But his birth cannot help but bring back painful memories. Helen Currie, head of Sands (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society) suffered almost exactly the same way. She had a boy who was born at 32 weeks and survived only two weeks. He was followed, two years later, by a healthy girl.

She says: "I think the Browns will be elated that their new child has been delivered safely, but they will also have thoughts for the child that has died. And it's likely they will never be able to relax completely - all through the child's life.

"My daughter, now 19, has just passed her driving test and I'm a wreck every time she goes out in the car. I'm afraid it's part of the deal."

No doubt friends will pop by and admire the little chap. And there, I'm afraid, lies another problem. Your hearts will be a maelstrom of memories.But it would be nice to think Jennifer was in your friends' thoughts just as much as she must be in yours.

Openness won't make you suffer more. It will help you experience your other feelings of joy even more fully, and let you give vent to what Helen describes as "hope for the future - hope which they might easily have lost in the dark early days when they probably felt that nothing could make the situation better".

Yours, Virginia

Virginia Ironside is Agony Aunt for 'The Independent'