I think it’s only appropriate to put a trigger warning at the beginning of this post, because it includes full detail of terminating a very much wanted pregnancy for medical reasons during the third trimester and giving birth to a stillborn baby. I’ve spent quite a while wondering whether I should go into so much detail and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rewritten parts, deleted bits and almost given up altogether! And whilst this might be difficult for people to read, it’s been especially difficult to write because you relive every moment with every word that you type.
However, when I was going through this, I wanted the detail. I wanted to know exactly what was about to happen, no matter how upsetting it was to hear. And since experiencing the loss of my daughter, I’m now a member of groups that women join because they may be going through something similar. They openly ask for the detail to prepare themselves, but understandably not everyone is comfortable sharing their own experience. But I am.
So I appreciate not everyone may want to read this chapter, so it is entirely up to you if you’d like to continue.
Sleep on the Sunday night was pretty much non-existant. The thought kept going round and round in my head that come Monday, we’d be putting our very much wanted baby to sleep and even though I’d almost come to terms with it being ‘over’ – the reality hit that there would be no going back and that would be it. The dream of our baby coming home and us living happily ever after would be gone. I still couldn’t really believe it.
The drive into Manchester was silent and I could feel my heartbeat thumping through my chest. As soon as we arrived, we were taken back to the room in fetal medicine where we were originally given the devastating news. I was so nervous and felt so unbelievably sick with fear. A midwife came in to see us and went through some paperwork – they were asking for my signature to complete the procedure that was about to end my baby’s life. The midwife asked me if I wanted some diazepam to help settle me and calm me down a little bit, and whilst I’m not big on medication, I accepted on the basis that I wanted to do anything possible that would help me relax through what horrendous situation I was about to experience next.
We’d agreed beforehand that James would stay in the waiting room. They told us that the procedure wouldn’t take too long and I absolutely did not want him to see anything that would remain stuck with him for the rest of his life. There are some things you cannot unsee or ever forget. It was bad enough that I’d have to go through this so I really didn’t want him to experience it too. I knew I just had to get in there, do whatever was needed and leave as soon as we possibly could. I also knew that if James could have traded places with me that day, he would have.
I lay on the same bed they had scanned me on days earlier. I told the consultant that I’d brought some headphones and that I was going to listen to some music. I didn’t want to hear what they were saying. I told her I was going to close my eyes tight and ask that she nudge me when it was all over. The diazepam was slowly working because my brain felt a little numb. They dimmed the lights in the attempt to make the environment as comfortable as possible and they started scanning my belly so they could position me exactly how they needed me.
With my eyes firmly shut, I felt quite a sharp sting as the first needle went in. This was the anaesthetic to prevent me feeling the next needle which they’d said wouldn’t hurt as much, and it didn’t. I lay there, knowing something was going on in my belly but it was more uncomfortable than painful.
They began injecting me with foeticide. Foeticide – this is the absolutely horrendous name for the medication they use to put babies to sleep during late pregnancy. Even now, the name makes me feel so uncomfortable because it’s like saying your baby was a pest. Why couldn’t someone have called it ‘dream serum’ – it could literally have been called absolutely anything else!
The procedure lasted about ten minutes, and it may have been the diazepam, but I had some kind of surreal out of body experience – nothing like I’d ever had before. I still remember it clearly now. I drifted somewhere far away and disappeared into a really vivid dream. I’d partially fallen into a woozy sleep and found myself walking through this white door to find my Dad sitting upright in a hospital bed. We were in A&E after he was taken in by the ambulance. The surroundings were exactly like they were 3 years ago. I was back in the same moment when I thought I was having the ‘final conversation’ with my Dad because we thought he was going to die soon. But, rather than saying what we actually did, he just held my hand and this time said ‘it’s going to be okay’. That’s all he said and he just kept repeating it.
Moments later the consultant gently nudged me to wake me up and tell me it was over. I remember opening my eyes and feeling completely lost. Lost because being with my Dad felt so unbelievably real, but also lost because I knew that was it, that amazing dream of sitting in our living room – me, James, Stan and our baby – was gone.
I asked the consultant whether everything went okay and asked whether our baby experienced any pain and she said no. Our baby would not have known any different and would have drifted peacefully to sleep.
They brought James into the room who sat next to me and another consultant joined us. Apparently after this procedure, you need to be rescanned and both consultants need to confirm a heartbeat is no longer present. They moved all screens away from us so we couldn’t see anything and then they updated my notes…
‘Fetal heartbeats before procedure – 1. Fetal heartbeats after procedure – 0.’
The midwife gave me a tablet and some water and I took it straight away without a second thought. This tablet was to stop all my pregnancy hormones and when I think back, I can’t believe that I didn’t even hesitate, but I had absolutely no emotion left at this point.
I attempted to stand up but my tummy was slightly bruised and crampy. Everything just felt really tender, like I’d taken a punch to the belly. There was nothing more Manchester could do for me now because I’d decided to give birth at my local hospital. They’d offered me to stay there but I wanted to be closer to home.
We now had to wait 48 hours for me to be induced, not through any choice, but this was how long it took for the tablet I’d taken to take effect. Originally, I had asked to go straight from hospital to hospital because I was too scared to go home. I was so worried that my waters would now break and there’d be no one around to help. The biggest fear for me was giving birth to a stillborn baby at home and not knowing what to do. However after further discussion with the consultant, she said it is pretty rare for your waters to break naturally, especially to a point where I wouldn’t make it to hospital, so I changed my mind and decided to go home and wait it out. Once I got into my own bed, I realised there was no place I’d rather be.
Over the course of a few hours, my tummy flattened. Every part of me felt deflated. I couldn’t quite grasp the concept that I had a baby inside of me that I knew was no longer alive – it was a feeling no person should ever experience. But if I’m to be perfectly honest with you (as I promised I always would be) there was the smallest part of me which was utterly relieved that the first bit of this was now over. I’d spent well over a week completely petrified that I’d go into an early labour, give birth and our poor baby would be exposed to a circus of lights and sounds and panic before passing away. I kept telling myself that instead, our baby had fallen asleep in the place it had always felt safe and secure.
I cannot remember what happened during those 48 hours whilst I was at home, but I can tell you I wasn’t in any pain and I didn’t experience any bleeding and my waters did not break. I always say this is the part I relate to with my Dad. I told you in a previous chapter that he would sit and absolutely dread going in for his chemo sessions and almost refuse to go. Well I think I experienced that utter dread. I sat there and absolutely did not want to go into hospital and give birth. I’ve never not wanted to do something so much in my entire life. But I had no choice.
On the Wednesday morning, I rang the local hospital to tell them who I was and that I’d arrive by 11am. They were already expecting me which was reassuring as the last thing I wanted to do was arrive and explain what I was there for. I was so scared knowing that at some point over the next few hours I was going to experience labour for the first time. It really did not matter how you felt at this point though, there was no options available, you either got on with it or you got on with it.
If my pregnancy had gone as planned and I was full term going into labour, it would only be James by my side. But, because this situation was so unbelievably different, I’d asked my Mum to stay with us and help me through the birth. Part of me wanted James to have some support but at the same time, sometimes you just need someone else with you who has been through labour before to explain what on earth was happening. Sometimes, you just need your Mum.
As we arrived we were taken to a private room which was away from the usual delivery suites. This room served a special purpose, because it was there for women who either knew they’d be giving birth to a sleeping baby, or used as a bereavement suite in the extremely sad circumstance your baby is unexpectedly stillborn. This room allowed you the privacy to spend as much time as you needed with your little one, away from the noise of others. The fact this room exists is so utterly heartbreaking – but the fact we had access to it made this whole process that tiny bit easier.
The room was quite big with its own private bathroom, a shower, a small kitchen and a sofa area with a television. There was another door that was locked, which I assumed was storage. There was a wardrobe full of hand knitted baby clothes, some so unbelievably small. They were all hung up by weeks, with the smallest being around 16 weeks. These little outfits had been made with so much love.
When it comes to be induced under this circumstance, no one can tell you how long the process is going to take. I’d spoken to a few women online and like any labour, no one can really predict the timescale. You could be in labour for four hours, twenty hours or some women even said they were there for a few days. This room catered for that because you could be there as long as you needed. Although you were in the maternity unit, you couldn’t hear a thing.
The plan was that you’d stay in this room whilst going through the motions of labour, but then you’d need to be wheeled to one of the delivery suites to give birth – this was just incase anything went wrong and they needed the equipment that was over there.
The bereavement midwife was the first person to come in and see us. It was more of a support chat than anything but by this point I just wanted to get the process started as soon as possible, because all I wanted to do was get home, to my own bed and back to the snuggles of Stan.
I explained our wishes to the midwife. We told her that we did not want to find out the gender, we didn’t want to name our baby and I asked that as soon as it was born, could it please be taken away. I had absolutely no idea how I’d cope with labour and the last thing I wanted was to be so overwhelmed with hormones and emotion that I ask for the baby to be given to me thinking everything was okay when it wasn’t. I said no matter what I say, please take our baby away.
The only thing I asked for, was that someone take photographs and store them in our file. You can ask the hospital to do this for you. If you decide not to see your baby, but at a later date ever feel regret, you can request the photographs be sent to you.
However at this point, the plan we had made so clearly in our minds, wasn’t going to work. Because I was over 24 weeks, our baby is classed as a person. It would have a stillborn certificate. This means that in future generations, if anyone wanted to look up our family tree, this baby would show as our first born. At first I felt uncomfortable with this, because it’s not what I’d made clear in my head, but now, I realise that we would want nothing else.
Because we’d get a stillborn certificate, it would detail the gender of the baby. The midwife told us there is a possibility they can request it isn’t on there, but there would be some legal hoops to jump through and it gets complicated. Our original request seemed almost ridiculous now. The more I thought about it, the more I realised I didn’t want the documentation just to say ‘Baby Kerr’ because what happened if we ever had another. So right there and then, we agreed we’d find out the gender and because of that, we immediately picked out two of our names… one for a little girl and one for a little boy.
Another midwife arrived with the first round of medication. They place a tablet up inside you (which is a little uncomfortable) to kick start contractions. The plan is that they insert a tablet every four hours and see how you get on. For the first few hours, I felt absolutely nothing, not even a twinge, but as time went on and I had more tablets, the pains became stronger.
The pains of labour, I believe, were exactly like the pain any other woman would experience. It starts off like a dull period pain before it gets worse, more frequent and then really starts to fucking hurt. I like to think I have a pretty high pain threshold but shit me, this was something else.
Due to the situation, I was allowed whatever medication I wanted. I originally said I didn’t want anything because I wanted a drug-free labour but as time went on I caved for some painkillers before puffing on gas and air like my life depended on it. They were allowed to give you whatever you wanted, because nothing could be transmitted to baby. I realised there was no need to pretend to be strong here, so in the end I was having diamorphine injected into my backside whenever I was allowed it. I was as high as a kite!
The labour seemed to last forever, but most of it became a blur because I was off my face on medication. I genuinely hope anyone reading this is only reading it because they know me or are just curious. If you are unfortunately reading this because you might have to go through something similar, all I will say is… take the drugs. Don’t put on a brave face. You are a hero enough that you have to experience this in the first place, so I’d say do it as pain-free as possible.
Now although I was in constant pain, very little was happening and we all watched the clock as it hit midnight.
I managed to sleep for very brief periods of time, usually after I’d just had a new dose of meds. There was a point when I thought I’d be in labour forever because we were clocking around 15 hours. I called the midwife back in to check me over but I was 1cm dilated and I needed to be 10cm. I was already exhausted.
But not long later, in the very early hours of the morning, I stood up and felt this little pop. I immediately called the midwife back in who was extremely sympathetic of my exhaustion but said I still probably had a way to go yet… but I was convinced something was happening. She said she’d take a look and much to her surprise, baby was on its way. There was no time to wheel me to the delivery suite, I had to push there and then in that room.
I pushed for all of 20 minutes. If you’ve ever given birth, you’ll know the placenta shortly follows which you usually have to push out too, but someone took pity on me that day and it thankfully just came out intact with baby. They followed my wishes and immediately took our baby away. The pain stopped. 17 hours of labour, but now it was all over.
No part of me comprehended that I’d just given birth to a baby, but heard no cries. That my body had just endured labour but no baby was snuggling on my chest. I just lay there for a moment, so completely overwhelmed that I pretty much just threw up all over myself. Hardly surprising after the cocktail of medication I’d been taking, the sheer anxiety and probably part relief it was all now over.
The midwife came back in to see us and asked us if we were ready…
‘You had a little girl.’
I took one look at James and I just said…
Everyone became emotional hearing this and it completely hit home that we’d just had our baby. Mum eventually left the two of us alone to spend some time together and just recover. I’m so grateful she was there as I don’t know how I’d have coped without her. My Mum was by one side, James by the other. We both fell asleep for a little while because we were exhausted. No one was rushing us to leave and we had to stay for around 6 hours anyway to make sure I didn’t experience any post-labour complications.
I asked the midwife what Ivy looked like and she said she looked like a perfect little baby girl. She said we could see her if we wanted to but I was hesitant. I didn’t know what to expect. It almost feels guilty writing this but when you’re told your baby isn’t well, you wonder whether they’ll look okay. Would she look normal? How would I feel seeing her? It’s such an awful thing to think but that’s the reality of it.
It didn’t take too long until we both changed our minds. I mean, I totally understand why we had the plan at first, it was a coping mechanism to get us through this whole thing but we’d done it now. She was here. How could we leave without seeing her? So we asked the midwife if we could. The midwife pointed to the door that I thought was just storage and told us that she was just in there. We walked in and there she was, in a little dress and tiny pink knitted hat, lying in a little cot with a teddy bear by her side. She looked so unbelievably peaceful.
And do you know what? You could see what you’d previously seen on the ultrasound scans, but otherwise she was so utterly perfect and had the same squished nose I was born with 28 years before. The rush of emotion was overwhelming. A rush that I can only imagine is what it feels like to look at your baby and instantly feel like a Mum.
Time stood still whilst we were in that little room together. And I wish we could have stayed by her side forever.
We were told the registrar was actually on site so we could see them now rather than arrange to sort it at a later date. We made our way downstairs. I’d given birth to our daughter less than 3 hours ago and now we were registering the fact she had died. We were given a stillbirth certificate, information on funeral arrangements and a card from the hospital telling us how sorry they were for our loss.
There was nothing more left to do today. They took our little Ivy away and that day was the first and last time we would ever see her.
You always see on social media, the happy couples who take photographs walking out of hospital, usually the Dad carrying their new bundle in a car seat, ready to go home to start the next chapter of their lives. We walked out of the hospital that day with a box. A box containing a little teddy bear (the same bear she was lying next to), some bereavement information and a card with our daughters handprints and footprints inside.
I felt utterly broken that the next chapter of our life was going to be so different to what I’d ever imagine it would be.
We have a daughter. Her name is Ivy. She was born on 5th September 2019. On my 28th birthday.