15 weeks+ 1 day pregnant
It’s hard to describe the feeling I had at the moment I was told my daughter had died. I’ve watched tv shows and films where a policeman arrives solemnly at the door of a family to deliver the news of a death, and the family have responded with initial shocked silence and disbelief. I’ve always imagined that processing a loss would happen gradually; like your mind would drip feed the knowledge in order to protect itself from the catesrophical impact of the blow. It wasn’t this way for me. My emotions didn’t gradually unfold over time. When the news was delivered my reaction was immediate. It was like a physical pain right to my heart and I howled like a wounded animal, sobbing for my lost little girl.
I also imagined that the news of the death of a loved one would bring with it disbelief, an anger at the messenger. It wasn’t like this for me either. I believed the midwife straight away when she confirmed Nieve’s death and later this made me feel guilty somehow- because I didn’t even fight for it not to be true, I just accepted it. I felt guilty for so readily accepting it without protest.
The loss came as a total shock. I’d had a textbook pregnancy. Nieve was deemed to be developing perfectly at every scan and midwife appointment that I had attended and I never had any health concerns throughout the pregnancy. Yet she had died. I never questioned why initially. I think my initial conclusion was that I must’ve caused it somehow and the fear and guilt that I felt wrapped up in that prevented me from asking incase it was confirmed. We were offered the opportunity for a full post Mortem and the idea absolutely petrified me. I felt absolutely sure that the report would condemn me, would highlight something I had done or not done. In my mind, babies didn’t just die, not after you’d passed the magical safety zone of 12 weeks, therefore I must’ve done something to cause this to happen. I found it strange that nobody questioned me. I felt I must be guilty and yet nobody ever suggested that it was something I did. My baby had died, why weren’t the police here to ask me questions? Why was everyone treating me like a victim instead of the criminal I felt like?
In the following days I spent hours searching for answers, analysing my final actions in the days leading up to her death. We were told that there was a three month wait for our post mortem results and that felt like a torturous amount of time to wait, time to ponder, to obsess, to agonise. I had been stressed in the days leading up to her death, very stressed and I felt sure that that must have caused it. Our landlord had forced us out of our flat and I had been rushing around trying to organise us a new place to live. My midwife said no, babies were born in war times and with mother’s in all kinds of stressful circumstances. Still I was unconsolable and felt irrefutably guilty.
I had done some light packing for the move, had I bent or stretched too strenuously? was that it? No, my midwife said. That wouldn’t be it… I had a bath the day before, was that it? Was it too hot?… Was it something I ate? The chicken Kiev I’d had for dinner the night before? Was it undercooked?… Could it have been the flu jab I’d had done the previous week? What if it had made her ill? My midwife discarded all these concerns. What about the sickness medications I’d had in the first trimester? The occasional doses of paracetamol I had had? What if it was Toxoplasmosis from the cat? Had I not drunk enough water and dehydrated her? Was it my age?…My list of concerns was never ending and my brain was like a giant ball of knots that I was desperately trying to untangle.
I spent hours online reading about causes of stillbirth and trying to find an answer that fit in with our circumstances. I studied different health conditions which had been known to cause stillbirth, pouring over the symptoms to see if they matched mine. I read anything I could get my hands on about other parent’s accounts of their losses, hoping to find something that reasonated with me. I called helplines and spoke to as many medical professionals as I could to quiz them about my ongoing succession of concerns. I was terrified that there was something wrong with me- maybe I had a disease that caused Nieve to die? Maybe I was dying too. I felt so afraid of the unknown.
Without answers, my mind was free to roam in extreme directions and to draw irrational conclusions. I was so afraid that I was going to die too. After you are touched by death it makes you so aware of your own fragile existence. After the unthinkable had happened, nothing felt out of the realms of possibility and my own death felt inevitably imminent.
When the day of the post mortem results finally arrived I was a wreck. I was so frightened of the unknown and terrified of the implications of the results. Would they reveal that something was wrong with me? What if I couldn’t have children? What if I had a condition that would cause a repeat of what happened in another pregnancy? What if the results revealed it was something I had done? How would I live with myself?
I’ll never forget the moment we sat in the consultants office, waiting for him to arrive. We arrived fully equipped with a list of questions, a notepad, pen, tissues, water. Physically I was prepared but mentally I was not. But who is ever prepared to sit and hear the reasons why their baby died? I began to crumble before the consultant even came into the room. I couldn’t breathe. My heart was beating so loud that I was sure it could be heard outside of my chest. When the consultant entered the room I began to cry. Giant sobs where I struggled to catch my breath. He was carrying a large folder with our names on and I felt sick to my stomach. In that folder was the answer to three months worth of agonising questions. It felt like too much to bear. I tried to employ some deep breathing techniques, guided by my bereavement midwife who sat at my side. In the end, they decided it best to just deliver the results and as the consultant began to reveal the results I found myself beginning to calm down. It turned out that the darkness of the unknown was a lot more frightening than the known.
My blood tests had come back normal, no signs of infection, of Diabetes or of Lupus. The placenta and umbilical cord were considered normal as were all of Nieve’s organs. Nieve was found to be on the third centile, indicating that she was small, a fact I was never aware of but also not necessarily a factor in her death. There was no evidence of a prolonged lack of oxygen, indicating that Nieve’s death had been sudden. The conclusion was that Nieve’s cause of death was unknown. This was difficult to accept yet a relief in many ways. So many factors had been eliminated and that was reassuring but it still left me with questions that I’ll probably continue to carry with me my throughout my entire life.
An inconclusive outcome makes the risk in this pregnancy difficult to quantify and that’s hard to digest. In some ways I wonder whether it would be easier if I had a condition to monitor or a syndrome to medicate. At least then I could feel like I was taking measures to protect myself and this baby. The only protection I really have this time is extra monitoring and promises of low odds that it would happen again.
I still carry so many questions about Nieve’s death. As this pregnancy progresses, I draw parallels with my last pregnancy and I become initially comforted and then alarmed when they follow the same pattern. I often wonder if a day will come when I’ll have an answer as to why I lost my baby girl. Maybe as medical research advances we’ll know more about why babies die suddenly in the womb, just as the research around cot death progressed to reveal more insight. I read that stillbirth is ten times more likely than cot death and yet cot death has a much higher profile. Every day in the UK, ten babies are stillborn and these rates have changed very little in the last twenty years indicating that more funding needs to go into research. At a time of so many medical advances it doesn’t appear that we have made any advances in this field. Stillbirth rates are reducing in other countries but here in the U.K. we seem to take the stance that stillbirth is somehow a sad but unavoidable tragedy, best not discussed.
I don’t think I’ll ever stop wondering why, ever stop questioning, ever stop playing events over in my mind in my search for answers. I may never come to fully understand why Nieve died and I hope I can make some kind of peace with that somehow, someday. I sometimes wish there were lessons I could take from my experience but the only ones I’ve learned so far is that nature can be very cruel and you can’t take anything for granted. I can only hope that history won’t repeat itself and that nature will give me a happier outcome this time, but I’m taking nothing for granted.