As part of Sands 40th anniversary this year, we will share 40 stories by 40 parents, family members and friends affected by the death of a baby. Starting in June to coincide with Sands Awareness Month and our #FindingTheWords campaign, we aim to show the sheer number of people who are affected by the tragedy of a baby’s death, help other bereaved parents to understand they are not alone and raise awareness of the issues surrounding stillbirth and neonatal death. Visit our 40 stories for #Sands40 to view other blogs in the series.
On 22 April 1985, I gave birth to my first child at 28 weeks - a stillborn son we named Paul.
Stillbirth is not something people seem able to, or want to hear about and at the time I was paralysed with the pain of loss and unable to communicate the devastation the loss of my first baby had on my life. As time passes by it seems silly to even speak about it - but I don’t want to forget my first born son.
In April 1985 I was lying in a hospital bed attached to machines, being forced to give birth to a dead baby.
I was a fit and healthy 25 year old, married 4 years, and couldn’t wait to become a mum. I had a perfectly normal pregnancy I think, although my husband never joined me at antenatal appointments and never showed any pleasure in the pregnancy.
I remember one day at 27 weeks pregnant, a feeling of uneasiness that I hadn’t felt the baby move for a while. I went to the doctor the next day and he examined me and told me to go to hospital straight away and the antenatal team were expecting me.
I got a taxi from the doctor to hospital. I was alone and it didn’t occur to me to ask anyone to accompany me as I always attended appointments by myself.
So, after a scan and examination, a junior doctor told me with no warning at all that “your baby is dead - and unfortunately you’re going to have to give birth - but not to worry because you can have as much pain relief as you want as there’s no risk to the baby.”
I think I went into shock as I don’t remember the next couple of hours. I remember my parents turning up at my bedside and me asking them what had I done so wrong in my life to have this happen? The hospital staff told me I’d be kept in overnight on the antenatal ward and would deliver my baby the next day.
I remember being really scared of what would happen next. My labour didn’t start as expected so I was attached to a machine to try to bring about the birth of my baby. My husband sat next to the bed and I remember the midwife chatting ‘normally’ throughout the day.
By afternoon the pain had begun and pain relief was administered - I also heard the shouts and screams of other women giving birth along the corridor and the fear in me increased.
By early evening I was told I could push and the rest is a blur until I felt the sensation of the baby being expelled from my body. I didn’t hear any beautiful crying sounds - just my husband who suddenly had wracking sobs and I was trying to comfort him. Again - weirdly - I was calm with no tears, while the midwife and my husband were crying.
I was asked if I wanted to hold the baby before he was ‘taken away’ and I couldn’t even bear to look at him, let alone hold him! I asked what was wrong with him and the midwife said he was a beautiful baby boy - no obvious problems.
Fortunately the hospital had taken a couple of Polaroids of Paul before he was sent to Papworth for tests. They also gave me a Sands leaflet but I couldn’t speak about it at all - let alone to strangers!
I had to pack up all my baby stuff at home - and finally the tears came. My much loved little boy that never saw the beautiful clothes myself and his grannies had made. Never had I felt such deep pain.
Thirty-three years after my first born child I am eternally grateful for my son and daughter, now aged 25 and 28 respectively, but with hindsight can see how my mental health has suffered over the years through not addressing issues that arose from the stillbirth.