(If you are squeamish about pregnancy and birth you may want to stop reading!)
...never thought she'd never use the cot we bought her, never sit in the baby bouncer I searched the entire UK for or not wear her leopard print pram shoes.
In the beginning
As a Christian, it's a weird thing telling people you're pregnant because its like announcing to the world: "We've been having sex!". Which of course you kind of expect from a married couple but no one ever talks about it except perhaps in a slightly inappropriate nod, nod, wink, wink type of way at the wedding reception.
When I first told people I was pregnant lots of people asked me if our baby was planned. Well yes and no. I can't tell you either way, I just know that we really, really wanted her.
I've never been that good at talking my feelings through coherently so I thought while I'm still raw with the memory of how we lost our daughter I thought I'd write it all down. And publicise it on a blog you might think? Yes, dear reader because that is, in my opinion, the beauty of life experiences in the 21st Century. You can share your testimonies with people all over the world. And it also means I don't have to repeat myself to all my lovely friends and family and break down in tears each and every time.
Just another day in hospital
Some women, a small percentage of women, bleed during pregnancy. I was one of those women. I'd bled every month since week 6 of my pregnancy but almost three weeks ago - at 21 weeks, I started bleeding again. And didnt stop for two weeks. Like I said I'd bled before and had had emergency scans and everything was always fine so I wasn't particularly worried even though this was prolonged bleeding. It was just inconvenient. Actually if it wasn't for my very close friend at work I probably would never have gone to hospital the first time but she insisted and kept up her insistence until I went, threatening not to buy our daughter any shoes for the first year of her life if I didn't go.
So I checked into our local hospital, apologising to my understanding boss for having to miss work for yet another
hospital visit. At the hospital they didn't seem overly concerned. Was I in any pain they asked? Yes I said, lots and had had lots of bad cramping at night that came and went with alarming frequency and had taken several paracetemol and an early night to cure. That's muscular skeletal pain they said. Ok I concurred. They're the experts after all. They did an internal check, everything looks fine they said. Hooked me up to a doppler and checked out our princess' heartbeat. All fine and she even kept still for the occasion instead of wriggling around and jumping up and down on mummy's bladder.
So home we went. Well actually to work although my mother-in-law's warning was ringing in my ears as I went: You're bleeding you need to rest! In my case though, if I don't go to work, my work doesn't get done. And as anyone who works in publishing knows, a production schedule that relies on several people getting things done at specific times is one that can't easily be moved.
A week after that appointment, the bleeding hadn't stopped. It was heavier and the frequent pain that would often grip me in the middle of a compelling story line while reading on the long tube journey home from work would remind me that I was pregnant and that something may not be quite right. Now my husband may tell you that I am often unwell. But I know that my problem, and one that I think I may have inherited, is superwoman syndrome. I know I'm strong. Very strong I think, and sometimes I ignore the niggling signs that may alert most people to the fact that something is wrong. Whereas I will just ignore it. And the problem silently and stealthily escalates until there is nothing I can do but confront it, and usually collapse in the process.
Four days ago I reached that point. After a very important meeting at work, I realised I couldn't ignore the pain or the bleeding and thankfully another concerned colleague insisted again that I go to hospital. I rang my local (to home) hospital, explained my symptoms and since I work a good hour and a half away from where I live, she advised me to go directly to the nearest hospital to my work with a maternity ward. She sounded pretty firm about this so I didn't hang about and took a black cab thinking I'd be back before the end of my lunch break. Little did I know.
After waiting in the reception area of the busy ward for about an hour I was tempted to go back to work. After all it was only bleeding right? And its not like I hadn't had it before. However, since I had already given them my details for them to temporarily register me, I had to wait it out. Most of the women there were much further along than me and waddled past with their huge bellies. I glanced down at my much smaller one and placed my arm protectively over our daughter wondering whether I would get as big as that. I'd already put on a stone and was the heaviest I'd ever been, which, considering I was under eight stone on my wedding day, wasn't that
heavy but it seemed it to me.
Eventually I was seen by a busy, middle-aged Irish midwife who fussed over me and made me show her how much I was bleeding. I will never forget the look on her face when she saw and she speedily arranged for me to have a scan and then sought the advice of a young doctor who came in and took my blood to check my iron levels and my blood group. I was then gently told that I may have to stay in hospital that night. I didn't say anything I just smiled tightly. No way was I staying in a hospital miles from home and anyway I had work to do. I'd only just messaged my husband to tell him where I was and at this stage, we were both so used to me being checked in and out of hospital after a positive scan that he just said okay, keep me informed and assumed he'd see me at home later.
My scan proved, as I expected, positive and everything seemed fine and in order but I was almost in tears when a stern-looking doctor told me I had to stay in overnight. He brought a midwife with him and I looked from him to her as he asked me if I wanted to risk my or my baby's health or even life by discharging myself and taking a long public transport based journey home? He also said that he would need someone to get my hospital notes from home and ticked me off for not carrying them around with me. Well that was the first I'd heard about that. (So take note any pregnant readers!) So now I was caught in a dilemma. I had my front door keys and so did my husband. I was miles from home and friends but down the road from my in-laws. My husband was at work til late managing a large-scale event and based closer to home but also miles from the hospital. As I racked my brains trying to think of someone who could get the keys from either of us, go home and come back to the hospital in the quickest time, my husband called and he said he'd try and get someone to cover for him at work. In the end he took the tube home, got my notes, picked up a list of stuff I'd sent him to bring me and drove down to the hospital with it. That first night was a bit weird. I'd never spent the night in hospital before and I'd neglected to ask him to bring a towel. I think I thought I was in a hotel. Just a note for anyone equally uninformed - take your own towel, and dressing gown and slippers or flip flops, if you're planning a hospital stay for any length of time.
He was so exhausted that he didn't stay long so after an hour or so he left to go and stay at his mum's which was just down the road from the hospital. I was on a ward with about four other women, two of whom were heavily pregnant with twins and one with gestational diabetes but all seemingly generally fine and looking forward to giving birth in the next week or so. I was the only one who was a long way off being full-term and to be honest I felt a bit silly being there.
That first day was Tuesday. During that night and the following day I was still bleeding and having cramping pains which got worse at night. The midwives kept a close eye on all of us, regularly taking blood pressure, checking our temperature and pulse and checking our babies heartbeats. Mine were all fine. Surprisingly for someone who has long been anaemic they also found that my iron levels also fine. They also checked how much blood I was losing every few hours. And it was a lot
. Every time I went to the bathroom to pee I would cup the swell of my belly and could have sworn that it was getting smaller and harder. But I'm creative by nature and quite prone to occasional flights of fancy so I just ignored it. It wasn't bad that first night and day in hospital. They gave me codeine and paracetamol at night to stop the pain, it was clean and modern, the food wasn't that
bad and I had a buzzer which meant the lovely midwives were (happily as it happens) at my beck and call.
On my first full day there my husband took a day off work and came to see me with my mother-in-law who brought me magazines and told me to take it easy. After a few hours no one had come and told me anything so my husband left as he had to move the car and said as it seemed I'd be there another night (which he was happy about seeing as he'd been telling me to take it easy for ages) he'd take the car back home to avoid hefty parking fees and come back on the train if he needed to. By this time I was quite comfortable enjoying the rest my body had probably needed for weeks and the lack of screens (paying to watch TV in hospital was not on my agenda and I'd deliberately not asked my husband to bring my iPad) that I was content to stay. So much so that when a doctor finally came round to talk to me and said that because it would be another few days (three to be exact) until I was 24 weeks which is the earliest they consider thinking about a baby realistically surviving premature birth; if the bleeding stopped or lessened, they'd discharge me, I was aghast. Firstly, I said, no one had told me that the bleeding meant that I might have to have our princess early. I wasn't ready for that, and also what if I started bleeding on the way home. Then, the unsmiling doctor said, I would have to go to my local hospital. But I'm already at a hospital, I said, and surely if its only a few days til my 24 week mark shouldn't I stay where I was? I was suddenly, for the first time, worried about my health. Forget the baby I thought, her heartbeat is always fine and the training for the bladder trampolining olympics didn't seem to have abated but I certainly didn't want to bleed to death on the Jubilee line. I pointed out that I was still heavily bleeding and that I didn't want to be discharged like that. He asked me if I didnt want to go home.
Doctors are weird creatures. I think he probably wanted me to be close to home if I had our princess early and probably not clogging up the time of his staff at a hospital at which I was not even registered. Eventually he said no one was discharging me right away and that the nurses and midwives would have to keep a close eye on me for the rest of the day and see how the bleeding went. I forgot to ask him about the pain but he did have a feel of my tummy and said it felt 'normal' whatever that means.
By my second night in hospital I'd gotten used to the regular check-ups during the night and spending half the time woken up by the cramps but that night I felt different. My blood loss seemed to stop and start and seemed more watery. When I finally settled down to sleep I felt like I'd only just closed my eyes when I felt a searing pain through my abdomen. Careful not to wake the other patients I kept my cries muted and pressed the buzzer for a midwife expecting more codeine. She took one look at my face and asked to see how much blood I'd lost. Then she rushed off and came back with more codeine, a nurse and a junior. They didn't say much to me just did an internal scan and checked my blood pressure, temperature and pulse. All fine. I could have told you that, I wanted to say. Just let me get these painkillers down me so I can go to sleep. They left slowly but said if I was in any more pain I could have morphine! I almost laughed and turned over to go back to sleep. Except less than 15 minutes later I wasn't laughing. Another bout of cramps had me doubled over in pain. A midwife bought morphine and this time I was only slightly hesitant when I asked if it would not hurt the baby. She said no but it was already halfway down my throat by then so desperate was I for the pain to just STOP. This time, when she said, your cervix is closed but we think your waters might be breaking but we want to try and delay labour so let us know if you need anything stronger, I took her seriously.
Less than 10 minutes later I thought I was going to die. No seriously. I've never known a pain like it and that's when it hit me. These pains I'd been having for two weeks that had been called muscular skeletal pains and even braxton hicks at one point, were called contractions
. As in, when you're going into labour.
This time they brought something small and green and poisonous looking. I didn't even ask, frankly didn't even care
what it was, I just wanted to stop the pain. And this is someone who gets waxed on a regular basis. I have a very high pain threshold. They didn't leave that time. Just watched me. And then someone, I can't remember who, said to me: Ok we need to get you to the labour ward to give you one on one care. I nodded mutely not putting two and two together while they hurried me, bent over as I staggered down the hallway to a cold room with a single bed in it hooked up to all kinds of things and then I think I realised I was actually going into labour. It was so surreal and happened so fast even trying to remembering it is like trying to untangle a dream.
I remember them asking me if there was anyone they wanted me to call and I said no, my husband was exhausted from travelling up and down the 20-odd miles between hospital and home. They looked at me and asked if I was sure. So I tried to call him. It was by this time about 2 am on Thursday morning. No answer. I remembered that not long after we were married I finally convinced him that the alarm on his Blackberry would go off even if his phone was turned off at night so that I wasn't constantly working up by his workaholic colleague's emails in the middle of the night. Since then he often kept if off at night or on vibrate. And when my husband sleeps. He sleeps. So it rang. And rang. And rang. Then I remembered that my in-laws live down the road. The midwives told me to call them. I protested saying, "but its 2 am!" Again I got the look
. The look that convinced me that this was serious. At that point another contraction took my breath away and hurried voices told me to use gas and air. "This is my first baby!" I cried, "I don't know what to do!" Hundreds of episodes of Teen Mom
had not prepared me for this moment 16-and-a-half weeks early.
Just inhale every time you feel a contraction coming on, they said. It was the first time someone had used the word in reference to me and even before the nurse examined me and told me that I was almost fully dilated, I realised that our baby was coming. Mid-inhale, my sleepy mother-in-law answered the phone and I managed to slur that I was in early labour and couldn't get hold of my husband. She was immediately alert and said she'd come straight away.
There were about 10 people in the room when our baby was born which signified the seriousness of the situation. My baby was born within five minutes of pushing. It felt like fire and they told me she was breech, stuck, so I pushed harder despite the pain knowing that I wanted our little princess to be ok. I don't remember screaming it was so fast, but I must have cried out because the midwife told me to keep my energy for pushing! As soon as she came out, a small, silent bundle of bloody limbs and head, the cord was cut, she was put into a blue plastic bag and carried off to a corner of the room. I wanted to cry out - "Please don't throw my baby away!" Then I realised they were only keeping her warm and then a team surrounded her and started trying to save her. I knew, somehow that she wouldn't cry. The scan done on an old-fashioned machine directly before I gave birth was the first one that hadn't shown her heartbeat. They couldnt find it.
That was at 3:13am. Still in shock at what was happening and half lying on the bed, I was given an injection in my thigh and told that I still had to push out the placenta. At this point I was so robotic, going through the motions of inhaling the gas and air and doing what I was told, that I was simply on auto-pilot and not able to fully comprehend that I had just given birth to my baby. With unshaved legs, chipped toe nails, messy hair and unwashed face. Not exactly how I'd planned it.
At some point my they told me my mother-in-law had arrived and she hurried in and held my hand. I realised then that I'd given birth on my own. No family or friends around. But from that point on, she was like a mother to me and didn't leave my side. My husband's step-father had already driven off into the night to physically go and get my husband since persistant phone calls hadn't woken him up out of what was obviously a very deep sleep.
I couldn't see our daughter from the bed as they tried to resucitate her but one of the midwives whispered in my ear, "They've got her heart going again, keep praying" and I started crying when one of the doctors gravely told me that babies her age had a very slim chance of surviving but that she seemed to be responding to whatever they were doing to keep her alive and so they were taking her to the neo natal intensive care unit. I remember thanking him over and over but I also remember his reply, "If we can't save her, remember it's God's will". And as harsh as that sounded, and as much as I never believed that would happen, that comforted me. All I kept thinking was that we'd have to be back and forth to a hospital far from home over the next few months until our princess was well enough to leave hospital and how frustrating it would be for work that my maternity leave would have to start four months early.
Not long after that, my husband called, apologising profusely for not keeping his phone on, and said he was on his way. The team left the room with my baby and it was just my mother-in-law and I left with two of the midwives. They offered us tea and toast and we accepted. It was if we were just out having tea and not that I had just given birth and was still lying on a hospital bed with blood everywhere. I thought I was doing ok until I took a sip of the tea they brought me and I almost threw up. Then I realised my hands were shaking, violently. My mother-in-law cried out for the midwives who assured us it was fine, that my body was probably reacting to the spontaneous labour and the speed and intensity at which it had taken place. They tried to take my blood pressure but by that time my whole body was shaking violently and I couldn't stop it.
Within a few minutes I realised I was crying, screaming, with grief and emotional pain. Then one of the intensive care unit team came back in and urgently explained that our baby's lungs weren't responding to the treatment and that she was too little to make it. I stopped screaming and looked at him and nodded. I became numb. They asked if I wanted to go and see her and I asked if I could wait for my husband to come. They said she wasn't going to last long. So they helped me down off the bed into a wheelchair and I was hurried down the hall to the intensive care unit. Suddenly I told them to stop. "I'm going to be sick", I said. That caused panic as everyone started rushing around looking for something for me to vomit into. I heard someone ask if I was allergic to anything but the midwife said it was a common reaction to the injection they'd given me in my thigh to help to push out the placenta. Anyway it was too late. I grabbed the blankets I was covered in and retched. Again and again the watery sick tinged with some tea went all over the blankets, the floor and splashed back into my face.
I heard someone say that my husband had arrived and a few seconds later I felt his comforting hand as he stroked my head and kissed my cheek telling me he loved me and that I was going to be ok.
When I'd finished emptying the contents of my practically empty stomach, a worried looking doctor guided my husband and I into the room where our precious Annie lay. Her eyes fused shut, hooked onto a monitor which bleeped loudly informing us that no breathing was being detected.
She was so small. So red and yet so perfectly formed. And beautiful. Our little princess. We both held and kissed her and each other as we wept over our little girl's silent and still, tiny body.
We were asked if we wanted to see a chaplain and I nodded. She came soon after and blessed our baby and blessed us as a couple. I don't remember what she said, but I do remember silently mouthing the Lord's prayer as she laid her hand over our little Annie's head.
Two hours she lived. I'd carried her for almost six months with her actively kicking, jumping up and down and generally being a very welcome nuisance in my womb. And then in one very confusing and jumbled morning before the sun was even up, she'd come and gone.
All through this pregnancy I'd prayed for Annie. That she'd know her Father in heaven and that she would never suffer any pain even if I was experiencing any. My husband and I had often spoken about how our children wouldn't really belong
to us, that they were only on loan for us to take care of for a little while. If only I'd know how true these words would be for Annie. Maybe I would have changed the way I prayed... :)
Life after Annie
I want to say thank you for all the love and support we've had from all our friends and family. For the scriptures and words of encouragement you've sent us. We feel so loved and even though we do feel bereft, we know that Annie is in a better place now and will not have to face the harsh reality of this world that we live in.
One of my friends said something that has stuck with me and I hold this dear to my heart: "She wasn't yours to keep, just to be in your lives for a short while. To show you how much you could love another human being. Your baby will come to you and stay with you."
RIP Annie who was born and died on 13 September 2012
UPDATE: since writing this I've had so many messages from other people who have experienced baby loss either during pregnancy or shortly after birth and have been made aware of the resounding feelings of loneliness we all seem to share. I'm collating stories of baby loss with a view to publishing at some point. Stories can be anonymous and discussed in person or via phone/Skype/email.
Please feel free to contact me with your story or drop a message for me to get in contact with you.