Skip to content

In 2013 in the UK, one in every 137 babies was either stillborn or died in the first 4 weeks of life

Here in N. Ireland, over 3 babies a week are stillborn or die in the first 4 weeks of life.

The 21st of May, 2004, is a day I will never forget, etched on my memory forever. It was the day I gave birth to Fred, my third child. I was 31 weeks and 6 days pregnant when I had the scan that confirmed my worst suspicions. For a couple of weeks prior to this scan I had been preoccupied with lack of movement, and as a result I had gone up to the hospital twice for reassurance. The first time I was scanned by a doctor, the second time, a week later, I was scanned by a midwife. On both occasions I had been assured that everything was fine and, as I had had two normal pregnancies, there was little to worry about. On the latter occasion I had even mentioned that I didn't know whether the movement I was feeling was that of a dead baby. Instinctively I felt something was wrong but I did not want to make a fuss.

It was only when I started to bleed that my anxieties were realised. On the advice of my GP I went straight to the hospital, and met Stephen, my husband, there. Instinctively, I knew my baby was dead, and when the midwife was unable to find the heartbeat, my worst fears were confirmed. In that split second my world changed forever. I felt I was suffocating; everything became a blur. The world existed but I did not seem part of it. I was induced that day. Fortunately my labour was short and uncomplicated. Having been terrified at the prospect of seeing Fred, once he was delivered I just wanted to hold him. He was perfect. He was, and is, my son. I gave birth to him.

Following a post-mortem, placental dysfunction was confirmed as the cause of Fred's death. No direct reason was given why this had had happened. Lack of movement and low birth weight are both indicators of placental dysfunction. If only Fred had been measured prior to birth. If only, too many 'if onlys'.

Once you have had a miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death the joy in subsequent pregnancies is diminished. The innocence has gone. Having experienced two miscarriages prior to losing Fred I was terrified about embarking on another pregnancy, but felt that another child might help ease some of the pain. Another baby would never replace him, but I had to have some hope of something positive. I felt I had failed as a mother. I had been unable to do the one thing a mother should do, protect her child. Although I had two living children, Harry and Alice, who were three and two at the time, this sense of failing did not diminish. I felt incredibly lucky to have them but there was still this immense longing, this desire to have another child. The thought of another pregnancy scared me. What if it happened again or I couldn't conceive?. I also felt a huge responsibility towards Harry and Alice. I wanted to give them a brother or sister, and leave them with a positive association of pregnancy. They had experienced death at such a tender age and I did not want them to witness it again.

Once you have experienced a loss you never take life for granted again. To embark on another pregnancy takes a lot of courage and strength and it is only when you come through them can the emotional impact truly present itself. During both of my subsequent pregnancies I tried not to let others see my fear, especially my other children. Some people think that once you are pregnant the past is forgotten, and expect you to move on, and it is this behaviour that can sometimes be the most hurtful. Often it is close family members that are most culpable of this, as was the case for me, which made Beatrice's pregnancy so difficult.

I was on holiday when I discovered I was pregnant again. I remember going down to the beach where Stephen was playing with Harry and Alice, clutching my pregnancy stick. The initial excitement turned to fear and panic. Those waves of fear and panic diluted any happiness that I felt throughout both pregnancies. During those first few weeks I kept checking those two lines were still there. My GP gave me tremendous support, after the loss of Fred and throughout my subsequent pregnancies. This support and the support of the medical staff at the hospital made both pregnancies more bearable. Although the scans provided reassurance they were also a painful reminder of the last scan I had had with Fred. The fear never went but having the medical support made it a lot easier. Throughout both pregnancies I was monitored closely, and because placental dysfunction had been diagnosed as the cause of Fred's death it was recommended that I should take 75mg of aspirin from about 7 weeks of pregnancy. By taking this aspirin I felt I was doing something positive.

It was when I was about ten weeks pregnant that I had my first appointment with a Clinical Psychologist at the hosptital. I had so many emotions stored up, so many anxieties and fears. Having someone to work all this through with made a huge difference. Whenever possible, Stephen came along, giving him an opportunity to talk about Fred and express his emotions. This emotional support was invaluable. The psychologist listened, gave wonderful advice and liased with medical staff. On both occasions she spoke to the midwives in the delivery suite prior to me going in, explaining my situation, worries and my birth plan. Returning to the delivery suite on both occasions was very painful. It brought back so many memories, and brought me back to Fred's birthplace.

With Beatrice it was arranged that I would be induced a week early on the 17th May. Fred had been born on the 21st of May, nearly a year earlier. I wanted to ensure that both children had their own days, and I wanted to be at Fred's grave on his birthday. I came out of the hospital on the 21st with Beatrice. We picked up Harry and Alice from their grandparents and went straight to Fred's grave.

Throughout both pregnancies with Beatrice and Isabella I became very anxious about movement, as this had been one of the main indicators that something was wrong with Fred. Although movement provided reassurance it also produced intense fear when there wasn't any. During my induction with Beatrice I became fixated with the heart monitor, scared her heartbeat would stop at any minute. It took a day and a half for her to arrive. The midwives, Stephen and my sister-in-law, Julia, were wonderful. They listened, gave me so much support and let me dictate what happened. Right up until delivery I would not allow myself to believe that I could have another healthy baby. I refused to buy nappies or sort out any baby stuff in case I was tempting fate. As before, we had chosen not to find out the sex of either babies. In Beatrice's pregnancy I seesawed between wanting to know and not knowing. I was worried about having another boy, scared that it might look like Fred. Deep down I knew Fred coud never be replaced, and that this baby would never be Fred. It would be its own person whom I would love in its own right, but I was still scared of how I might feel. Now it seems irrational but at the time the emotions were very real. I need not have worried the relief of seeing both babies was enormous. The love was just there.

It was now two months after Isabella's birth. I find it hard to believe that both she and Beatrice are here. Both are a wonderful reminder of the miracle of life and the joy it can bring. I do still have a lot of emotions to work through, as it is only now that I feel I can truly grieve. Up until this point I had tried to contain all my emotions so that I could get through both pregnancies. Fred will always be a part of our lives. Somebody once said you never forget you just get better at coping with the grief.

The advice I give for future pregnancies is to go with your maternal instinct, do not be afraid to ask for the best healthcare, don't expect too much of yourself, and make sure you have someone you can talk to about your emotions and fears. Good luck.