Guest Post: Surviving stillbirth.
On the 1st May 2013 our third child was stillborn. We named him Seth Stanley.
To inspire my thoughts I looked at our photo book of Seth to remind me of the day he was born. This was hard, it’s not that I don’t like looking at photos of Seth; I do. We have 3 framed photographs of him in our home, our two eldest children both have photos of their brother in their bedrooms. I found looking at the photo book hard. I can see a beautiful formed child who only ever lived in my womb. I can see the sadness in my eyes, the sadness in my husband's eyes and the sadness in our older children's eyes. The photographs are a reminder of death, grief and sadness.
It was 2012 Nick and I had been married for 10 years and had two children Isaac aged 5 and Orli aged 3. We decided a third child would be a lovely addition to our family and were very fortunate to get pregnant quickly. My pregnancy continued without any complications and I was looking forward to meeting our third child. I had no reason to think anything would go wrong.
On the Tuesday 4 days after Seth’s due date I walked/waddled/stomped into town to meet a friend for coffee trying to induce my labour with all my walking about. We chatted excitedly about all things baby and on my walk home from town I started to feel tired, but I was 9 months pregnant after all. I got home and had a sudden thought of I’ve not felt the baby move much today. So I googled it and did what it suggested, lie on your side and drink cold water. I think I had some movement but felt so tired I decided to have a quick nap before picking the children up from school and pre-school.
After school pick up we were in Tesco in the chocolate aisle I wanted some Cadburys twirls! (it’s funny the things you remember) This is when panic kicked in, ‘I’ve not felt my baby move I need to go home’.
I dragged the kids home, called my husband ‘Nick I’ve not felt the baby move much and I don’t know what to do’ I remember telling him. Nick came home to find me sitting on the sofa concentrating on my baby bump willing it to move, I felt one movement. A sort of thud to the side of my stomach and that was the last time I ever felt Seth move.
The next bit is more of a blur, I remember trying to eat tea but couldn’t. A friend came over to babysit our kids so Nick could take me to the hospital. I remember Nick putting the baby car seat into our car and thinking ‘why’s he doing that we won’t need it’. I’d called the hospital in advance for advice. I was told by a midwife “you can come in to be monitored if you want but we're very busy”. Not what I needed to hear!
On the journey to the hospital I felt sick, I didn’t want people to look at me from their cars. All I could think is ‘when we get to the hospital I know it’s going to be a sad experience’, but nothing can really prepare you for giving birth to your dead child.
Nick remained positive all the way to the hospital and I kept my thoughts to myself, he dropped me off outside to park the car. I saw a midwife who I knew from the gym, “don’t worry”, she said “they’ll sort you out inside; everything will be ok”. This gave me hope. I was put into a room with a bed on my own, the sky looked beautiful and the sun looked glorious. We were high up and I looked out of the hospital window and thought ‘maybe I should jump, dying will be better than what I am about to face’.
Nick joined me in the room and shortly afterwards a midwife as well. The midwife tried to find the babies heartbeat with her doppler device but couldn’t, she told me she was going to get new batteries for it and left the room. She returned with a doctor who had a scanning machine, he scanned me and that’s when the words hit.
"I'm sorry your baby has died it has no heartbeat”.
I can’t remember my response other than I know I was making a lot of noise and I was trying to bury my whole being inside the scarf I was wearing.
The next few hours were a blur, a mixture of grief, intense sadness, anger, fear and morphine. There are some parts I vividly remember. Things felt like they began to move very quickly. I was asked if I wanted my labour induced or to return home and wait for labour to start naturally. I shouted at the midwife telling her if I went home she’d never ever get me back into hospital so she’d better induce me now.
I shouted and demanded a C section, there was no way I was going to give birth to this child naturally. I absolutely hate labour (I mean who loves it!). How dare the hospital make me give birth naturally and not have a baby at the end of it. But they convinced me telling me that I wouldn’t want a C section scar as a permanent reminder. So labour was induced with the same drug they use for abortions ( I googled this a few weeks after Seth was born and wished I hadn’t). We were given our own side room to labour in, a room set aside for bereaved families.
I don't remember much about the labour, Nick called our families to let them know what had happened. I remember trying to get some sleep, my mum messaging me, the darkness and sadness of the room folding in on me.
At about 4 am on the 1st May, I was moved to another room and given an epidural. This is the first time I remember smiling. The anaesthetist was like The Trunchbull from Roald Dahl's Matilda it seemed fitting. The labour progressed well and was actually my best labour, I had 2 amazing midwives. They cried and sobbed with me, then hugged me, they kissed me, they talked to me and reassured me. When it got to the pushing stage I couldn’t do it. ‘How can I push my dead baby out? I just can’t do it. This is called giving birth and I’m not giving birth to life I’m giving birth to death it just doesn’t make sense’.
The midwives encouraged me to continue labouring. I think it was only their care that got me through... They asked me exactly what I wanted them to do once our child was born. I asked that they wrap our baby for me. and let us hold him.
So at 9.30 am on the 1st May 2013 our son Seth Stanley Davis was born. He weighed 7lbs 12oz and was perfectly and wonderfully formed. He had no heartbeat and he wasn’t breathing.
When I saw him my heart filled with love, he looked like our child, our son. Seth had dark brown hair and a nose exactly like his brother and sister. There was nothing wrong with him, except a mark on his face and arm where his head had come to rest on his arm in the last moments of his life.
It strikes me often, even now as I write this, what a waste it is. He lived inside me for 9 months and we never saw him alive. I felt him, but never saw him alive. I am grateful that I felt him alive and that I was able to carry and protect him. He went straight from the safety of my womb to the safety of heaven.
When our 6-year-old son Isaac found out his brother had been stillborn he asked if he could come into the hospital to meet Seth, and I’m so so thankful he did. There were so many people coming into the hospital to see Seth that us was not on our radar at all.
When you have to say goodbye
Physically saying goodbye to Seth in the hospital was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Having to actually leave him there, walk through the door with him behind me and return home with empty arms was excruciating. We were really fortunate to have our good friend Ness who leads the church we go to, come into hospital and dedicate Seth for us. Through this, I was able to say goodbye to Seth in a more meaningful way. But leaving his little fragile body in the hospital, swaddled in a blanket in a crib was something a mother never expects they are going to have to do. Nick said goodbye first and then left me and Seth alone in our room so I could say goodbye just the two of us. I held him, told him all the things I wanted him to hear. I told him that he was very much loved. I told him about his brother Isaac and his sister Orli. I told him about his home, his bedroom. I talked about all of our friends and family who had been eagerly waiting to meet him. I told him he was my third child and would always be my third child and that I loved him so very much. I held him, laid him in his crib, kissed him goodbye and left the room, leaving a part of me with him in that room.
Life is fragile, things can happen and change when you least expect them. No one is exempt from sad and unkind things happening, and as much as we would like to control things. A year after we lost Seth a friend said to me, ‘maybe you lost Seth because you could cope with it, if it happened to me I wouldn’t have been able to cope with it at all’. My reply to my friend was ‘if someone asked me before we lost Seth if I would be able to cope with losing a child I would have said absolutely no way, definitely not. Who can cope with that?’. But I did and I’m here today with a story, of one of the biggest learning curves of my life so far. I don’t think I’m now exempt from pain, grief and sadness. I don't think that’s how life works. I’m very realistic that death or illness could happen to me or our family at any point just the same way it could happen to anyone. It’s good to face things head on and prepare well for life and the end of life. It’s good to talk about life, talk about death.
I have no regrets about Seth’s short life. He lived in me for 9 months, I loved him, I fed him, he came on runs with me, I kept him warm and he experienced no pain or sadness. If I had the choice between never getting pregnant with Seth and experiencing his short life and stillbirth I’d choose to have him for those short 9 months every time.
Losing a child changes you forever
Losing Seth has changed me, and for me, on the whole it’s been a good change. I much prefer the Louise I am now since having Seth to the Louise I was before. I’m more open, I’m more compassionate, I’m more grateful for life and all that it brings. I’m more confident in who I am as a person and who I’ve been created to be.
I am still frightened of death and all the pain it brings, grieving is hard work and it's exhausting. I worry a lot about my children and can become quite irrational if I think something is going to go wrong for them or there is a possibility that they might get hurt or lost. The biggest change is I don’t let fear hold me back. The old Louise would have said no to things because I was too frightened of failure. Too frightened of looking silly and people thinking why is she doing that, she can’t possibly do that. My son died, I’ve faced my worst fear and I survived.
Our Ultra Challenge for Sands
Through losing Seth I made a new friend Kim, whose daughter Millie was stillborn in 2008. Last year Kim suggested we do an Ultra Challenge where we walk 100km in under 24 hours to raise money for charity. So in September along with 4 of our friends our team The Rainbow Mummies will be walking 100km along the Thames Path. I will be raising money for Sands the stillbirth and neonatal death charity. Sands support anyone affected by the death of a baby, working to improve the care bereaved parents receive, and promoting research to reduce the loss of babies’ lives.
The old Louise would probably have said no to a challenge like this. But when we’re on a training walk and finding it hard going, Kim and I will often turn to each other and say, we’ve given birth to our child knowing they weren’t alive, nothing can be as hard as that. We can do this and we will!! Our determination is massive.
It’s important for me to raise funds for charities like Sands who support families through times of baby loss I was very fortunate to have a very strong support network around me, but some families just don't have this.
I want to raise awareness about stillbirth through doing the Ultra Challenge. I want people to know its ok to talk about stillbirth.
What to do when someone you know experiences baby loss.
One of the things I have been asked often is what do I say when someone has lost their baby. My advice about how to help bereaved parents is to talk to them. Tell them you are sorry their child has died. If you don’t know what to say tell them ‘I don’t know what to say’. Whatever you do don’t ignore them or ignore their child who has died. It is so hurtful.
A bereaved parent won’t expect you to know what to say to them, but they will want you to talk to them, to acknowledge them, give them a hug, a smile when you see them. Losing a child makes you feel empty, hollow and alone. Being ignored just increases this loneliness and sadness.
On the school run, a couple of weeks after Seth was born a mum who I didn’t know very well at all said to me, thinking about you Louise and your family and sending you lots of love. It was so simple but it was what I needed to feel loved, valued and accepted.
For me, it has been really important to count Seth as one of my children. I tell people ‘I’m a mum of 4 children and one of them lives in heaven’. Whether you have been affected by baby loss yourself or know someone who has I hope you find comfort and new life through the process of grief and recovery.
Louise completed her ultra challenge in September are raise £4,800 for Sands.