Warning –please note my story may be upsetting to some readers. It contains very raw feelings.There are some gaps in my story –some parts I can’t remember.It is also very long.
‘I’m sorry, there’s no heartbeat.’
This sentence began a life sentence that would change my Husband and my life forever. It was a moment I will never forget... as long as I live.
Unspeakable anguish. Excruciating pain.
Our lives changed in an instant.
Our hopes and dreams shattered and stolen before they were ever fully realised.
Life changed in an instant... 4 years ago on Monday 30th August 2004. I was 26 .5 weeks pregnant. I was alone , my husband was at work, as I went to a regular visit to the obstetrician that morning .He couldn’t find my daughter’s heartbeat with his portable Doppler; though he tried to play it down I instinctively knew she was gone.
I wanted to remain hopeful but I knew that we would never get to know her, that we would never hear her voice, see her eyes or feel her tiny heart beat close to my chest. He rang the ultrasound clinic and booked me for scan. The OB didn’t say much at all. He didn’t have to I guess or didn’t want to.
I went back home /work ,where we lived and worked, to wait the two hours before I could have the scan. I was only able to tell my husband I had to have an ultrasound. I didn’t ask him to come with me. He couldn’t have, he had a customer arriving soon to pickup something. There was no one else to do it.
‘B’, was the guy who did the scan had two months earlier told us she was a girl. He was very caring and sympathetic. I guess he saw this often… no heartbeat . Later B would do the scan that confirmed we had the beginnings of twins.
I went home to break the news to my husband and together we returned to the OB's office.To this day, and for the rest of my life I will remember how robbed I felt after waiting 12 years for this precious baby. I was so devastated walking out of my doctor’s office, my pregnant belly no longer a safe harbour for my baby but now a coffin.
As I type this it still doesn’t seem real, that one day I will awake and that this was all just a really horrible nightmare. Some of my memories of that day are still too raw to write .There are things that are so personal, forever a secret between my husband and me. No parent should bury a child, it is not the natural order of life, and worse that any should ever have to go through the birth of a dead child; that is the ultimate pain.
I met a lady recently 4 months pregnant with her 5th child but even she didn’t realise that a mother has to give birth to their dead baby. I guess I never thought about it myself before it happened to me.
The Dr wasn’t specific about the birth process but said I wouldn’t be in pain that would give me ‘everything’. I don’t recall him explaining to me how this was going to work – he just assumed I knew. It was all so cold, there was a baby in me, and they had to get her out. Caesarean wasn’t an option. I didn’t know what lay ahead of me. He said go home tonight and come to hospital the next morning after we ‘slept’ on it (maybe not the exact words).
It was an awful night … I could scarcely begin to understand why it happened and neither of us got any sleep. I struggled to breath, I wanted to die – where would I find the courage to give birth to my baby.
We arrived and went to maternity unit only to be rudely greeted by the ward clerk – what are you here for? She wasn’t expecting us. I had to tell her in tears …my baby died the Dr told us to come here. We were told we in the wrong place –we should have been in delivery suite. A sympathetic midwife led me by the arm to delivery.
We were left alone for over 30mins.I think my husband left briefly and I was completely alone contemplating what was to follow. A midwife came in and introduced herself, did my temperature/blood pressure etc and left again.
Finally the OB and midwife came armed with a trolley. The gel was inserted by the Ob – he was somewhat sympathetic but at the same time distant and methodical. He asked for an IV cannula just in case. They said I would need several applications of the gel to my cervix. I don’t recall him offering any kind words, just a matter of facts.
They all left the room and once again we were alone in our misery. Minutes turned to hours before we saw anyone again. Though my husband left the room to make us a cup of tea a few times. I couldn’t , I just couldn’t step outside the door. He had to contend with the other heavily pregnant ,labouring mothers talking to him not being able to tell them why he was there. Even recently he told me again how painful that was for him.
About midday another midwife came to check me and to administer the next dose of gel. I was already in a lot of pain.At some stage a male social worker came to talk to us and talk about funeral planning, said he would be back to visit us … after ! Asking us to make decisions no parent should ever have to make, decisions no parent is ever prepared to make.We had no choice.
We had nothing to distract us from the tragedy unfolding then they offered us the TV free. I don’t recall much of the next few hours. Another midwife came and introduced herself . She too offered a few sympathetic words but still left us alone. We both stared blankly at the walls in a daze we didn’t talk much – what could we say.
I was in pain .My husband went to tell the midwife of the pain, and they returned with Pethidine. The pain was emotional too but there was nothing to dull that .Once again we were alone for hours. I was nauseous and vomiting, sleeping on and off while my brave husband held my hand sitting at my bedside in a hard chair. No comfy chairs were offered.
We were all alone. I don’t know why no one checked in on us , maybe they thought we needed our privacy, perhaps we were in the too hard basket, perhaps the parents of the dead baby was too easy just to leave be. Nothing could go wrong after all. My husband had to return to home to check on work and our older son at some stage. I was never so alone in my life staring out the window watching the last day of winter clouds pass by.
Meals were given but I was unable to eat. I was vomiting. More gel was inserted and they said it was still a long way off. Mid evening my pain was intensifying and I was scared, I would not let my husband out of my sight, he was my strength, an amazing man who had to watch all this pain. One midwife was very kind when we said sorry for calling her and thanked her for re warming the heat pack. She said some of the ‘others’ were so rude they never said thank you.
At some stage a midwife (I can’t remember which one) paused long enough to prepare us for what our baby might look like. As Charlotte had passed away at least a week or more before. Her skin and body would have deteriorated .We didn’t know what to expect.
It seemed like no midwife spent more than a few minutes with us –only to take my blood pressure, write on the charts and sometimes ask how we were going. I had to beg for pain relief as the pain intensified around 10pm, I sent my husband out when they refused to answer the call buzzer. They said it was too soon for more, it was change of shift too.
All I could feel was continual and unbearable pain in my back and pelvis. My broken heart throbbed. When the clock struck the hour they said I could have more they were too busy. I was so upset –does any mother deserve this let alone a mother giving birth to her dead baby. The night shift midwife was barely with us, not even to check me and I didn’t get pain relief promised to me. I knew she wanted to forget us so she could go back to helping the women with live babies.
I really thought I might die and at that stage I didn’t really care I was past pretending I would be okay. I was up and down to toilet, I had a warm (water wasn’t hot at all) bath at some stage but nothing relieved the pain.
I waited and waited, my husband didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t enter the other rooms where the midwives were but I was begging him to do something. Finally they came – annoyed we had interrupted them, as if we didn’t matter at all. More gel was administered.
I knew it was getting close. The midwife wouldn’t listen she said it would be while. My baby was breech too. Hours passed as I slept on /off my husband dozing, upright uncomfortably on a hard chair against my bed. He hadn’t slept for 2 days.
Even as I knew I had to push I was alone, I was crying for my husband to get the midwife, obviously a mother with a live baby took first precedence. How my poor husband coped this day and his strength astonished me.
He found another midwife who had come from maternity ward across the hall. J was her name and she appeared like an angel. She took charge. She told us she had a feeling someone needed her. She I only wish that she had been with me during the labour. The other midwife finally returned but J had already gloved up...just in time.
In one push, Charlotte was born on 1st September 2004, about 4.20am before sunrise. I had a baby but I didn’t have my baby. I had to say hello and goodbye in one breath. It was not what we had planned. They placed our tiny daughter, warm but still, in my hands wrapped in a small green sterile towel. I sobbed. No life to be felt from within but she was completely formed and perfect. Tiny rosebud lips, ten long fingers and soft dark hair. I can scarcely remember now, the time we had was so brief.
Once again we were left alone as they took Charlotte from the room to weigh her? Or whatever... do footprints and dress her. They took photos of her in a white dress, with tiny pink ribbons and bonnet, she was so fragile they couldn’t bath her or put booties on her they said. I honestly cannot recall if they showed her to us dressed up that day or not …I have one blurry photo to remember her with.
My husband had to go home (at that time we lived 500m down the road) shortly after to take our son to school camp that day, his mother was there looking after our son. I was so alone. I was told to have shower – no help was offered. I almost collapsed, alone, as I bleed and cried more tears down the shower than the water from the tap.
No one brought Charlotte back to me .I waited. I couldn’t leave the room. Our time with her was so brief. No-one told us we should have more time or could have .Then at about 7am they came to say I could go to maternity ward now. I thought how incredible they do that to you. No-one explained this would happen either.
It was a room at the far end of the ward and they had placed sign on the door. ‘Please see midwife before entering’ and there was also a purple butterfly that I apparently didn’t notice. It was a sign to indicate loss to staff members.
Then they offered to bring Charlotte to the room but as our son was coming to see me before he left for school camp I said not now. It was the last time they offered.
The OB came and said he had examined the baby …or words to that effect and the ‘baby’ was ‘normal’ and he didn’t know ‘why’. He seemed a little more sympathetic but still just stated factual information and said I could go home soon. As soon as I was ready. He talked me out of an autopsy as it wouldn’t change anything and it rarely gave answers. I wanted answers but in the grief of the moment I agreed. While doctors never figured out why she died it will always be the greatest unanswered question in my life …WHY?
While stillbirth does happen, it’s important to remember that Australia has one of the lowest infant death rates anywhere. Still birth occurs in about less than 1 in 100 births and the OB said, in 50 % they never find a known cause
The male social worker (from the day before returned) , then the pastoral care worker came to see us and give us brochures about, grief, loss of child, funeral planning and funeral home phone numbers barely hours after giving birth who on earth expects you to concentrate on this information. It isn’t the way it is supposed to be.
It was 4 years ago today that we made the only decisions we would ever make concerning what her future would be, did we want to cremate or bury our daughter. Who would we entrust her body to ? a white coffin? What flowers?
As I write this now on (after) the 4th anniversary of my daughter’s birth and death I wanted to also say it takes a long time to heal. Other children do not replace the missing one or ones.
Though Charlotte is not physically present she is still here and a part of our family and will always be. Our lives will never be the same again because of her and her brief life. Charlotte’s tiny feet left enormous footprints and time will never erase them.
I didn’t write this for sympathy but in the hope people can understand what it was or can be like to give birth to a child who is stillborn but born still.
22 months to the day on 1st July 2006 our twin sons were born at 35 weeks and 4 days by caesarean section, so I never had to go through a vaginal birth again or be alone during labour. Something I dreaded. They were both breech so they had to be C/S. Alive, breathing and perfect... I cried in relief as their cries echoed through the operating theatre. Just like I dare imagined and so very much more amazing than we ever let ourselves believe.
I thanked Charlotte for making them possible and hopefully for making me a better mother and my husband a better father.
The eight months prior to their birth , and the year and a bit before it, were part of an agonizing and hopeful journey that we had to take and I am not sorry we did.I am grateful that IVF technology gifted us our sons.
At the time of their birth I never knew I would end back at the other hospital where Charlotte was born and have to face the demons of my past. Though we also got to show J (the midwife) our new sons.
This time we got the prize at the end and we didn't have to give them back. Though once again we initially left hospital with empty arms as they had to stay in the special care nursery barely metres from the delivery where room I gave birth to their sister - it was a much different situation .
Monday , her anniversary/birthday day, didn’t go as either of us planned. My husband has been very busy keeping our business running during a quiet period. He had been away from work most the previous week – on a business trip two days and had also taken our older son to the snow for the weekend. We are in the last days of winter here in Australia.We didn’t have time to plan anything specific and I didn’t ask anything of him. He planned to have the day off work but due to unexpected staffing changes he couldn’t. He was very upset.
Unbeknownst to me he managed to come home early while I was out on errands and visiting a friend a few hours away. I didn’t want to be home alone.He bought some new ceramic pots for our front verandah and Azaleas, some new angel ornaments and he lit up Charlotte’s garden softly with bamboo lights.
He set up the small table, a heater and organised dinner so we could eat near Charlotte’s garden.It was a very special surprise. Very unexpected.
This is not at all
How we thought it was supposed to be
We had so many plans for you
We had so many dreams
And now you've gone away
And left us with the memories of your smile
And nothing we can say
And nothing we can do
Can take away the pain
The pain of losing you
(Steve Curtis Chapman-With Hope)
Charlotte, today, I want to tell you we love you, we wanted you desperately and we will never forget you. I keep thinking of all that you and we were denied when you died too soon. I try to imagine what our lives might be like if you were here, but it is too hard. Waiting for you was the love of a whole family who were preparing to welcome you into their hearts and lives. You /we will never know all of the firsts a new child is entitled to, first steps, first words, first birthday , first day of preschool …4th birthday... as much as I wish I knew what you would look like today …we will never know except in our dreams. Sweet dreams baby girl.
We found out the next day –Charlotte was the first baby that had died or been stillborn in a while at the hospital , later the same day another boy was born at full term but passed away shortly after birth …I think he had a undiagnosed tumour. The midwife who visited us at home told us and that all the staff were very upset over losing two babies. They only have about 4 babies die a year.
Reading stories of infant death and/or stillbirth may set off many emotions in women and men too, one of them being the fear that it could happen to them or someone they love. Or if you are reading this and want to know more –please contact the following organisations
Stillbirth Support (AUS)
Bonnie babes Foundation (AUS)
Stillbirth foundation (AUS)
SIDS and Kids National Australian body that funds research, promotes reduce the risk campaigns and provides bereavement support to families.
National Stillbirth Society – Nonprofit parent-based group focused on raising awareness and preventing stillbirths through advocacy, education and activism.
International Stillbirth Alliance – Nonprofit coalition of stillbirth groups focused on research and awareness
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