Harry Arter: On the loss of his first child, grief and the joy of parenthood
By Harry Arter
Last Updated: 16/06/17 6:12am
Writing on The Players' Tribune, Bournemouth midfielder Harry Arter reflects on the loss of his first child, coming to terms with grief and the joyful arrival of Raine Renee Arter...
The nurse turned to me and said: "You're going to meet your little girl tonight."
I'll never forget those words for the rest of my life.
My partner, Rachel, and I had just raced to the hospital. Our first child wasn't due for another two days, but Rachel felt like the baby was coming, so the baby was coming. We packed an overnight bag and we were off. I phoned my mum in London and told her to get on a train to Bournemouth.
When we got to the hospital, the nurse did a scan on Rachel's belly to see how the baby was doing. She found a heartbeat and smiled. She said the heartbeat was a bit fast, so she was going to do a more sophisticated scan and call the doctor.
Then she said the words I'll never forget.
"You should go and get Rachel's bag," she said. "You're going to meet your little girl tonight."
When I walked out to the car park, I was floating. I was so excited. I had come from a big family - five of us kids in all - and I wanted that same feeling of love and madness around all the time. When I grabbed the bag from the car, I thought, 'When you walk back in that hospital, your life is going to change'.
I was gone maybe five minutes.
When I came back to the room, Rachel was crying her eyes out. She was in absolute pieces. I didn't understand what was happening. There was a doctor standing by the bed, and he had a blank expression on his face.
Rachel said: "She's gone."
I went numb. I didn't understand. Five minutes before that, everything was fine. We were about to meet our little girl. She has a name. Her name is Renee. She had a heartbeat. She was about to meet this world, just five minutes before.
I just kept saying to the doctor: "Tell me what's wrong. Tell me what's wrong. Tell me…"
He explained that Renee had died in the womb. The nurse had picked up the wrong heartbeat on the first scan. She had picked up Rachel's heartbeat by mistake. That's why it was so fast.
Our baby was gone.
I can't really explain what happened next. I went into complete shock. I remember calling my mum. She was already at the train station, and when she picked up the phone, she was so excited. I had to tell her that Renee hadn't made it.
The hardest part was still to come. The doctors explained to us that at that late stage of the pregnancy, the only option was for Rachel to deliver Renee naturally. In that moment … I can't even explain how brave Rachel was. I have never felt such a deep respect for the courage of another human being. I always knew that women had a deeper inner-strength than men, but I never really understood the courage of a mother.
It was a long 10 hours before Rachel was able to give birth. It was the most difficult 10 hours of our lives. When the doctors delivered Renee, I was in such a total state of shock that I didn't have the strength to hold her in the arms.
It is my biggest regret.
I couldn't embrace the reality of what happened. It's human nature, I think: You never think something like this is going to happen to you. In your mind, these terrible things only happen to other people. And so when it really happens, you don't react in a "normal" way.
At the time, we were telling each other, 'Let's just get through this and move on. We'll pretend it never happened. It's just a horrible nightmare'.
I don't know why that was our reaction. Maybe we were trying to protect ourselves from the grief of the moment. I am just sharing this so that others who have lost a child know that they're not alone in feeling these strange emotions.
I had an immediate desire to forget. When I got back to our house, I was obsessed with packing up Renee's nursery. It was just too painful to walk past. That seems totally shocking to me now, because now I'd never, ever, ever want to forget her.
Luckily, I had Charlie Daniels and Simon Francis, two of my best mates, come and help me out of a really dark place. They came over straight away and put everything in the nursery in storage for us, because I think they knew that, eventually, we would want to build that nursery again. I can't imagine how tough it must have been for them to walk into that situation. They're true friends.
The next few days were a blur of emotion. I used football to distract myself from the pain, at least for a few hours. We had a match against Manchester United three days after we lost Renee. My heart was somewhere else, but I wanted to play, and Rachel supported it. She drove me to the ground herself.
I don't know whether it was the right decision. I just know that, when I was still just a kid, my older sister married a footballer named Scott Parker. When he was playing for West Ham, their kids used to go watch him play with their little Parker kits on, and I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. I always wanted that same feeling that he must've felt. Not that long ago, I was playing fifth-tier football. Now we were playing Manchester United. I just felt like I wanted to make Renee proud of her dad that day.
When Rachel and I pulled into the car park, I thought I was ready. But when I saw the Bournemouth fans all lined up, holding their scarves, I was paralysed. I couldn't get out of the car. Nobody except for my team-mates knew what had happened. And I saw all these people smiling, excited for the match, and I thought, 'I can't do this'.
But Rachel told me to be strong and to make our family proud. The walk to the dressing room was the longest of my life. But when I got there, I didn't feel alone at all. Our manager Eddie Howe was incredible about everything. He arranged for a chaplain to come to the dressing room, and we all said a prayer for Renee in our huddle just before we went out to the tunnel.
It was very emotional. We went out and won the match, but that was beside the point. I just wanted to finish the match for Renee. Straight after the match, we were overwhelmed with so much support from everyone. I had more than 3,000 text messages from people all over the world.
But, eventually, it all quieted down, and we were left to truly deal with our grief. Anyone who has lost a child can probably relate to this moment - when your loved ones leave your side, and the text messages end, and everyone just kind of goes on with their lives, as they should do.
Your shock wears off, and all you are left with is reality. That can be a very dark time.
If I'm being honest, my grief didn't fully hit me until about a week after Renee's death, when we were away at West Brom. It was Christmastime, and I kept seeing all these happy families everywhere preparing for the holiday, and it was just devastating to me. The night before our match, I was in the hotel trying to sleep. Around midnight, I started feeling really hot. It felt like the walls were closing in on me. I went outside and took a long walk around Birmingham, and there were some tears. You can't help but ask yourself, 'Why her?'
Luckily, I had a long chat that night with my mate Richard Hughes, who works for the club. He really calmed me down just by letting me talk. I cannot stress enough how much it helps just to talk to somebody. Even telling the story again now helps. The process of grief is a tricky thing. One thing I've learned in the years since Renee's death is that the sadness can hit you at any time. There's no reason for it. It just comes rolling in like a wave.
Everyone who has lost a child tries to cope in their own way. My temporary distraction was football, but it wasn't helping me process what happened. At first, when a wave of sadness would hit me, I would try to forget it. I would try to distract myself from the pain. Now, I actually embrace it. When I get upset, I remind myself that it's a reminder that Renee was here, and that I loved her very much, and that I need to use every day I have left to make her proud.
The hardest thing I've ever done in my life was the day that I gathered the strength to look inside the little box that sits on the mantle in the front room of our house. It's called a memory box. It was provided to us by the hospital after Renee's death. It took me months before I was able to summon the courage to open the box.
Inside, there were photos of Renee. There was her little hand print in clay. There was a snippet of her hair.
I felt so much love for someone I never got to meet. It's impossible to explain.
In June 2016, Rachel found out that she was pregnant with our second child. I'll never forget when we did the test to find out the baby's gender, the results came back through email while I was at training. So I told Rachel, 'You absolutely have to wait for me. Do not open that email until you get down here!'
So she drove down to the Bournemouth ground and we opened it together. She had a little smile on her face, so I'm not sure if she actually waited for me. She likely cheated. But when we opened the email, it said that we were having a baby girl.
That was such a happy moment, knowing Renee was going to have a sister. It was a long nine months, but it was so worth all the anxiety and waiting. Raine Renee Arter came into the world on February 17, 2017.
Rachel had a planned cesarean and I just remember it all happened so fast. It took what felt like 10 minutes. All of a sudden, the doctor was holding my baby girl. He put Raine on Rachel's chest, and if I'm being honest, I went into shock again.
You're looking at this tiny, little baby, and you're filled with so much love in your heart. You're thinking, 'This is the most beautiful little baby I've ever seen'. You're looking at the doctor like, 'Of all the babies you've ever delivered, is that not the most beautiful little baby?'
It was the most special moment of my life.
Immediately followed by the most embarrassing.
My family knew that I was really nervous about changing nappies, and when the nurses got wind of this information, they had some fun with me. They made me change Raine's nappy straight away in front of a packed audience of all our family and close friends.
My technique was horrible. I didn't know what I was doing, and they were trying to instruct me. My hands were shaking, and ...
Well, she had made a poo.
It was a little poo, thank God.
I managed to figure it out and get a fresh one on her without her making too much of a fuss. When we took Raine home a few days later, we placed her in her sister's old nursery. Even now, we still see it as Renee and Raine's room. They are a part of one another's story.
I hope that when Raine is old enough to understand what happened, she will read this story and know how much she is loved, and how much her sister is still loved. For all the attention that one troll's vile tweet to me received in the media, there were thousands of people who reached out to our family with their love and support.
I'll never forget, four days before Raine was due, we played Manchester City and Pep Guardiola walked up to me after the final whistle. I thought he was just going to shake my hand, but he said, "I heard what happened and I am so very sorry. I want to wish you the very best this week."
I was really moved by that. It shows that Pep is not just a great manager, but also a great man.
On what would have been Renee's first birthday, we were playing away at Burnley, and in the eighth minute, the whole ground stood up and applauded in her memory. I still have that match recorded on my TV, and I watch it sometimes to remind myself of Renee's impact on the world, and of the goodness of people. I will keep that recording forever.
The waves of sadness will probably never go away, and I am thankful for that. As long as those waves live on, then so does Renee.