We don’t talk about baby loss. We don’t feel comfortable with the thought of a baby dying, and understandably so. It is uncomfortable, devastating, and distressing. But it is not shameful, it is more common than people realize, and there is much support.
Nobody can prepare for their worst nightmare becoming a reality. When I first heard about family and friends who had gone through the unimaginable pain of losing a baby, I remember feeling horrified that anyone should have to experience such a traumatic event. I went cold at the thought of having to deliver a baby that was no longer living. I felt in my heart and soul that I would not survive the pain should this ever happen to me.
Then, it happened.
I had my second-to-last scan on a Friday, and everything was as it should be. My perfect little nugget of joy was happily, wriggling around at 12.5 weeks. I could feel her tiny little flutters in my tummy, but more than that, I could feel her. Her soul, pure and beautiful. I can still feel it now.
By 17.5 weeks, something felt different. This was my first pregnancy to progress to this stage, and I did not know what was considered usual or not, but I knew something felt physically different, as though there was suddenly extra weight in my stomach.
I asked around, and many people said that everything was probably fine, and worrying was perfectly normal.
I carried on as usual. I went to work, went shopping, carried out my routine. It was a particularly cold, dark November day when I returned to an empty home. I switched on the hallway light and made my way to the bathroom — the familiar feeling of really needing to pee when you get home and into the warm.
As I sat on the toilet, water fell, but I was not peeing. There was no color, no odor — just water. At the time, it did not occur to me that my waters had just broken.
I called the number for the emergency midwife at my local hospital, and they very calmly told me not to panic and come in as soon as I could. I was not panicked at this stage, as there was no pain and no blood.
I traveled to the hospital on the bus, using a feminine towel to catch the fluid and hoping nobody noticed. The journey time felt a lot longer than it was, and all I can remember now is the darkness and the orange glow of street lights around me.
When I reached the maternity floor, a midwife took me into an assessment room and did her utmost to reassure me. She told me to try not to presume anything and that they will investigate straight away. The midwife took swabs of the liquid, and I was left alone. I was trying to keep as calm and relaxed as possible.
Confirmation soon came that the liquid was, in fact, amniotic fluid, and after what seemed like an eternity, it was time to see the consultant obstetrician.
The consultant arrived and performed a scan that confirmed the worst. There was no heartbeat. It felt like a light had gone out, and a part of me died there and then.
The next words will stay with me forever. “Now, I need you to be brave,” said my kindly OBGYN, as he explained that I would have to deliver my baby naturally. My initial reaction was terror, but there was no time for much more as I had a job to do.
I was taken to a private delivery suite, far away from others that might be in use. The midwife inserted a large tablet into my vagina to induce my labor and told me to get some rest while the tablet took effect. It took around 3 hours for labor to begin, 4 hours for my daughter to be born, and a further 2 hours for the doctors to successfully remove the placenta.
After it was all over and I had rested a little, another doctor came to see me, with what seemed like 100 pages of forms and information. They explained that I needed to decide whether I wanted my baby to undergo an autopsy or not.
This is a significant decision for anyone to make at such a fragile time. I felt everything and nothing, had every question, yet no words, but the one overshadowing question was why. I wanted to know why my baby had died.
I chose to go ahead with the autopsy, which revealed nothing other than my little girl was perfect in every way. The consultant was kind, but, thinking back on the experience, he was quite dismissive. The words “sometimes these things happen” are sadly passable when people are grieving or in shock. Later down the line that just wasn’t good enough.
It wasn’t until about a year later that I pushed for answers, and, in 2017, my primary care doctor referred me to a new consultant out-of-town. I finally felt someone was taking me seriously. I felt listened to, and above all else, I felt like things were moving forward.
After endless blood tests and internal exams, it turned out that a few different things were going on with my body.
Firstly, I was diagnosed with a short cervix. This means that I would have been unlikely to have a successful pregnancy without intervention. The new consultant explained that intervention involves a procedure to insert a stitch into the cervix to keep it closed. It also includes bed rest from around 14 weeks until it is time to deliver. The hospital should have picked this up during my very first scans. Sadly, they didn’t.
Antiphospholipid syndrome (APS)
Secondly, I was diagnosed with antiphospholipid syndrome (APS).
This blood clotting disorder is a combination of a gene mutation and exposure to the environment, such as a virus.
In pregnancies, this causes many complications, and doctors will automatically class the pregnancy as high risk.
Planning my future to include children will be difficult as it entails many risks and adjustments. The emotional toll is also going to be significant. But I will not be pushing myself.
For the hundreds of thousands of families that go through pregnancy and baby loss, when you feel ready, make sure to ask the questions you need answers to.
Do not be afraid to ask for help, as the physical and mental trauma of child loss can be debilitating. Be gentle with yourself. There is support available, and there is always hope.
My experience is mirrored by so many. I take meaning from my experience by having the privileged opportunity to share my story with all those who may feel isolated and alone.
Although there will forever be a deep sadness in my heart, many beautiful things have come from this loss. Truly amazing people have come into my life, new relationships have formed, and I am now more often in a place of acceptance than devastation.
I am left with the memory of my daughter’s movements, her pure and perfect soul, her picture, and a strong new hatred of carrots — thanks to the everlasting effects of pregnancy hormones!