August in The Gower, South Wales is generally a time of great natural beauty and especially on the fields of Rhosili, overlooking one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Every year, the National Trust plant fields of gorgeous sunflowers which bloom for visitors to enjoy the spectacular view under the summer sunshine.
I visited this field at the end of August with my wife and it was an eye-opening visit. It was one of those poignant moments when you really learn something that sticks with you. I doubt that in the future I will be able to recall their Latin name - Helianthus annuus - or the precise measurement of the tallest sunflower ever recorded (30 feet and 1 inch, apparently). But one interesting fact stuck with me.
Young sunflowers have an in-built mechanism for tracking the sun as it moves across the sky. This is so they can get the most sunshine that allows them to convert to energy and grow fully. The process is called Heliotropism and even helps the pollination process. This has made the sunflower a true symbol of optimism and positivity.
One week before my wife and I stood in that field and held each other surrounded by these beautiful flowers, we suffered a miscarriage.
This is a surprisingly common tragedy to happen to couples trying to become parents, about 1 in 4 pregnancies result in what is classed as 'spontaneous abortion' (a cold term in my view). For us, it was a poignant tragedy after four years of trying to conceive with numerous set-backs and trials along the way; in fact, we were only two weeks from making our second attempt to conceive via in vitro fertilisation (IVF) when we discovered we had fallen pregnant naturally.
You can imagine the joy and happiness in our lives at that time. The weeks between that positive pregnancy test and hearing a sonographer explain that we had lost the baby were magical. My wife had never been pregnant before and I have struggled with male fertility issues so it was unexpected joy and happiness. We tried to keep our circle of people who were 'in the loop' very close but it was hard to stop the happiness bursting out of us every day. We could not help ourselves from making plans and dreaming of the life awaiting us.
The baby was barely seven weeks old when it's little heart stopped beating. It would have been just a little bit bigger than the chocolate sprinkles you get on an ice cream, so we dubbed the baby 'Sprinkle' until we would discover the gender. Sprinkle was never given a chance for the life we were planning for it but in such a short time with us, that presence touched our hearts. I do not want to forget that time Sprinkle was a part of our family even if it ended in such sadness.
So a week later, we stood on the edge of the sunflower fields and held each other while the waves washed upon the coast below us, my wife and I churning through the same sea of sad emotions; despair, denial, depression. I personally blamed myself even though I have no idea how it could have been my fault. The main emotion we shared was a sense of injustice; we had done nothing wrong, we believed in our ability to be great parents, we had lived briefly in the sunshine of hope and suddenly there was nothing but clouds.
But the sunflowers taught me a lesson; we all need the sunshine to grow and even when the clouds float overhead, we need to find strength to turn to the sun and find optimism and positivity. Our loss hurt and the weeks that followed for both of us were tough (my wife especially suffered through the physical and mental recovery process) but at the end of the rainbow there is always light.
So we are following the path that life is setting for us. We will learn from our experience, we will share it if it helps others with their journey, we will never forget our baby and hopefully one day, we will tell our children about the time Sprinkle nearly graced our lives. And we started that journey fighting tears and holding hands in a field of sunflowers that followed the path of the sun.
All we needed was a rainbow arching above us as we cried...