I’d read that sugary drinks sometimes give babies a bit of a buzz, so I starting gulping down full fat coca-cola whilst we sat in the waiting room of fetal medicine – I wanted to do everything and anything possible that would make this baby move during the scan so we could all go home and move on from this whole fiasco.
Whilst waiting there, I didn’t really know what to think. Everyone says ‘try and be positive’ but I can’t tell you a time where I went into hospital and was given good news, so I couldn’t trick myself into thinking it’d all be okay. Things just didn’t feel quite right.
We were called into one of the scan rooms and were greeted by a consultant, a midwife and a trainee from genetics. I didn’t really question why someone from genetics was there too, I just assumed as it was a teaching hospital that they were there to learn. The consultant asked me if I wanted to pull the television screen around to see our baby as she scanned me but I politely declined. We still didn’t want to know the gender so didn’t want to risk seeing something we shouldn’t, and I couldn’t bare watching that baby not knowing what it was they were looking for.
She scanned me for just over half an hour and did not say a word the entire time. The room felt extremely tense. I just kept looking at James sat beside me and I attempted to make conversation to distract us from the quietness. When she finally finished, she wheeled the scanning equipment away, looked at us and said ‘unfortunately I do have a concern because your baby hasn’t moved very much’. We were then asked to move to a more private room and wait for her whilst she finished typing up all her notes.
The room was plain with floral pictures hanging on the wall. There was a table, some chairs and a box a tissues. This was when I realised people did not come into this room to be given good news. James remained optimistic and said I shouldn’t worry because we don’t know what she’s going to say. Maybe they’d be able to fix whatever was wrong?
But as soon as they walked through that door and sat down, I immediately knew…
I can’t remember word for word what the consultant said to us because my brain froze. She told us she had a serious concern and that our baby wasn’t moving because all four limbs were stuck. She kept placing her arms over the back of her head in the attempt to show us what she meant. Right there and then, I could have faded away. Her face became a blur and I just looked through her. I just sat staring at the walls, watching the bricks from that room tumble down and crash onto the floor.
‘So what happens now?’
The consultant explained that most couples in our situation would choose to end the pregnancy. That was the only answer she gave and she said it so calmly. I asked her what she meant by this (because apparently that wasn’t clear enough for me) and she said something about putting our baby to sleep.
At that very moment, on those very words, everything shattered.
We both burst into tears and I was struggling to breathe. They left the room to give us some time to process what we’d just been told and I did not know what to do. I couldn’t look at James. I ran away. When I think back now, I feel awful because I quite literally ran away leaving James sat there to process this information alone. I ran through the building, past all the other pregnant women sat in the ultrasound department and out of the front door. I collapsed to the floor, not giving a shit what anyone around me thought. The only thing I could do was ring my Mum to tell her that it was all over – we weren’t going to have a baby at the end of November. I couldn’t even believe I was saying these words.
When I finally made it back into that room, me and James hugged. We couldn’t say anything to each other because there were just no words. I knew at this point I needed to attempt to be the Katt that could shut down her emotions and deal with what was coming next. I felt unbelievably numb but I knew if I didn’t pull myself together, I would break.
Apparently at some point during the pregnancy, our baby had stopped moving. I would never have known this because I had never felt anything anyway due to my anterior placenta. Whilst everything was measuring perfectly, its arms and legs were stuck in position which had impacted the development of its chest cavity. The consultant told us she believed there was a small possibility that our baby could be born breathing, but how long that could last was unknown. This was when I first heard the phrase ‘incompatible with life’. The consultant continued to say that there was a chance that should we continue with the pregnancy, its heart could stop and I would then go into an early labour and deliver a stillborn baby.
At this point she reiterated that most couples in our situation would make the difficult decision and choose to terminate the pregnancy. That word shivered through my body… choice?
Obviously no medical professional can ever tell you exactly what you should do, but you could tell from the way she was talking and her confidence, that for her there was no other option.
‘But what happens if I continue with this pregnancy?’
The consultant explained that because our baby was stuck in a breech position, as it wouldn’t be able to move, whenever I went into labour it would not engage and I’d probably be unable to deliver it naturally – this meant I could have an emergency c-section. Because they’d have no idea when this could happen, depending on how far along I was and how thick the uterus lining could be, she told me I could lose quite a lot of blood and that unfortunately in a few cases, she has had to perform an emergency hysterectomy.
Listening to her, that word ‘choice’ seemed to fade away. What choice did we possibly have?
I asked her whether they’d just put me to sleep and take the baby out, but because of how far along I was, she told me I’d need to be induced and give birth. After hearing that, a huge wave of fear flooded over me. I’d never been in labour before, I’d never given birth before, and now this was going to be my first experience of it? I felt sick.
They explained that they could book the termination to take place in a couple of days but we politely declined. We both felt so uneasy about this and I was so angry and upset. How had the fate of our baby been decided from one 30-minute scan after we’d spent 27 weeks with this little thing growing inside my belly?! How sure were they that they’d made the right diagnosis? We asked if we could leave it another week to see if anything changes, just to be sure and they agreed because it really didn’t matter – the procedure of ending a pregnancy is exactly the same at 27 weeks then it would be at 28, so we had time.
Something about me disappeared that day – I left it behind as we walked out and drove away. I can never speak for James in this blog because his thoughts are his own, but he kept saying that whatever happened he just wanted me to be okay. He wanted his wife safe at home but I wanted nothing more than to give him the child he’d wanted for so long.
When we arrived home I walked straight upstairs and started cramming every baby item we had into black bin liners, stuffing everything into this grey and white toy box I’d purchased for the nursery. I sobbed uncontrollably as I folded up tiny little outfits and hid our scan photographs under a pile of baby blankets. We threw everything into the loft and shut the door to the front bedroom. I couldn’t bare to look at any of it.
We sat together and reread the notes over and over again, trying to make some sense of it all. If you’d told me that I might encounter some problems along the way, but that baby would be absolutely fine, I wouldn’t even need to think twice about carrying on… but we’d been given no scenario that ended with our baby coming home. We could risk everything and end up with what? How does anyone know what the right choice is?
Option one – we continue with the pregnancy but risk going into an early labour and deliver a stillborn baby.
Option two – we continue with the pregnancy, make it all the way but have a baby that dies shortly after birth.
And then with either one of these options, I could end up in surgery, lose the baby, lose our ability to have another baby naturally and then there’s that tiny risk I may not even come home.
The final option? Option three – we end the pregnancy.
I’m not sure whether it was the shock, the pregnancy hormones or even the fear of what was going to happen next, but I experienced what only could have been described as a full on panic attack that evening. I felt like a ticking time bomb and I kept telling James that I thought I was going to die. I’m pretty sure he nearly called me an ambulance that night not really knowing what to do, but instead he called his Auntie Jane, who sat on the phone past midnight to talk me down and remind me that women unfortunately experience this every day and whatever happens, we’d get through it.
That 7 day wait was just awful. The weather was nice so I sat in the garden whilst James dug out some trees. I refused to leave the house because I had a very noticeable bump and I did not want anyone to see me or speak to me without knowing what was going on. I felt almost ashamed and every morning I woke up, I had to remind myself what was happening because I’d think it was all just some horrific nightmare.
After the initial shock calmed down, I decided to ring the midwife we’d met at our appointment. I asked her to talk me through exactly what would happen next, should we make the terrible decision to end our pregnancy. I didn’t want to sit back in hospital and be so overwhelmed with emotion that I didn’t ask the right questions or that I’d merely shut off again and forget. I asked her to tell me on the phone exactly what it meant to end a pregnancy so late on. I told her to spare no detail or sugarcoat anything, and whilst it was one of the most upsetting things to hear, I needed to prepare myself.
Despite not actually knowing what would happen in a weeks time, me and James discussed what this meant for us as a family. When I look back now, I can’t actually believe the conversation that took place between us because it’s so different to what actually happened. We decided in that moment, that we would write off this entire pregnancy and try and forget about it all. We said we’d just try again for another baby when we could. It’s clear to me now whilst writing this, that it was merely a coping mechanism for us both and it was just a way for us to get through what was coming next. We agreed that we would not see the baby, we wouldn’t find out the gender and it would never have a name. This baby would forever just be the ‘little bean’ that Stanley had refused to leave alone.
As we walked back through those hospital doors a week later, we stopped at the coffee shop and I purchased a double espresso. This was the one last chance I had to make sure this baby definitely did not move.
As soon as she started scanning me, she confirmed our baby was still in exactly the same position it was a week earlier. Deep down we both knew this would be the case, but it still felt right to have waited to check. As we already knew what was wrong, the consultant agreed to wheel the screen round and show me and James exactly what she could see. The scanning equipment was so advanced that you could see every fine detail of our baby, and after seeing what was wrong, we understood.
At this point there was no longer a choice to make – this pregnancy was going to end.
We headed up to the 6th floor to meet a genetic councillor. At this stage no one could tell us why this had happened and both me and James are generally fit and healthy with no family history so I just assumed they saw any patients going through what we were. They asked whether we’d consent to a full post-mortem after delivery and we agreed. Of course we wanted to know why this happened and whether it could ever happen again.
It was a Friday afternoon and after such a long day, we were defeated. I felt battered. That feeling when you’ve been riding rollercoasters all day, spinning around and you just feel sick and tired. When we arrived home we rang the consultant to confirm our decision to proceed with the termination of our much wanted baby and she booked us in for the Monday morning.
I didn’t move far from the couch all weekend. The only trip we made was to the supermarket to purchase supplies. Do you know when you’re pregnant and you start getting your bags ready knowing it could happen at any point? You go and buy snacks for during labour, comfortable pjs, maternity pads and whatever else to prepare for your miniature arrival? Yes, we had to do exactly the same shop knowing full well that we’d never bring our baby home.
I spent that entire weekend with my hands on my bump, apologising for not being able to protect it. The first step of becoming a Mum was to be able to look after your baby and I wasn’t even able to do that. The one and only thing that continued to get me through was that no matter what happened next, our baby was safe inside the only home it had ever known and somehow, that gave me peace.