I’ve decided that I would like to share Ewan’s story. Most of our friends know that he was stillborn at 32 weeks. Not everyone knows exactly how it happened and how in just one day our lives changed forever. Although stillbirth isn’t a quite a taboo subject, it’s not something that is written about a lot in great detail. Information is there if you look for it, for example through the SANDS website (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society) as I have written about previously. I don’t know if it is standard human nature to feel uncomfortable talking about death, and in particular the death of a baby. Is it the British in us? Anyway one of the reasons I set up my blog was to write about Ewan. The story is long so I will do it in stages. This is the story of our pregnancy.
I found out I was pregnant at the beginning of July 2010. Adam and I were delighted. It was our first pregnancy and we’d only been trying for a couple of months. We considered ourselves lucky that it hadn’t taken us very long. I had an enviable pregnancy. I was one of those really annoying people who could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times they suffered from morning sickness. We told a handful of close family and friends our news, and instead kept quiet until after our first scan at 13 weeks. At this point once we had seen baby floating and kicking around on the screen, we thought we were out of the woods and safee. October saw our 20 week scan and another opportunity for a photograph. Bubba he was then known (we chose not to find out the sex), gave us the thumbs up on the ultrasound. Christmas came and went. We were secretly happy to have an excuse not to go out on New Year’s Eve and instead stopped in with a takeaway and boxset of 24.
From the moment he planted his first kick, Ewan was very active baby. I would love sitting in meetings at work and feeling him turning somersaults. He was most active at night when I was reading and relaxing in bed.
Fast forward to Friday 14th January 2011. I remember certain events of that day so incredibly vividly and others are a bit of a blur. I remember waking up that morning, laying in bed hearing the birds sing thinking it was the first time I had heard them for a while. On the way to work I stopped off for some petrol. I remember being at the pump when the thought occurred to me that it was 8 weeks exactly until my due date. I distinctly recall thinking ‘My baby could be in here in 8 weeks. Actually in 10 weeks it will definitely be here.’ Obviously this gave me an extra spring in my step, or a spring in my waddle.
It was a busy day at work. I work in a Further Education College and at the time there was a campaign being set up to challenge the removal of the Education Maintenance Allowance, which the then new coalition government had announced. I was trying to organise the student body to sign an online petition and arrange for PC’s to be set up around college. Around lunchtime I managed to snatch some quiet time in my office. As I sat at my desk, after a couple of minutes my thoughts turned to my bump. It all felt quite still. I couldn’t recall the last time I had felt it move. My brain went into a mini overdrive. I tried to think back to the night before. Was Bubba performing its usual circus routine? I just couldn’t remember.
What I haven’t mentioned is that morning I also had a pain, which was unusual. I hadn’t felt anything like it before. I had read that baby’s sometimes started to engage from 32 weeks and wondered if that was the reason why. Not knowing when baby last moved, coupled with the pain prompted me to pick up the phone and ring the hospital. It took me a while to find the right department, but eventually I spoke to someone on the antenatal ward. I’m not sure why but when I started to explain why I was ringing, I only mentioned the pain. The midwife asked me to describe it and suggested I had a bath. I then told her that I couldn’t remember when I had last felt baby move; straight away she told me to come down for a scan, just to get checked out and make sure everything was ok.
I locked up my office and set off, calling into see my boss on the way out to tell her where I was going. I remember trying to make light of it and just said that I was a little bit worried so wanted to double check there wasn’t anything serious. In the car, I rang Adam. His phone went to voicemail so I left what I hoped was a slightly cheery, reassuring message saying I was sure everything was ok (I probably didn’t do a very good job!) and told him where I was going. I quickly nipped home to get my notes and then headed to the Lancashire Women and Newborn Centre at Burnley General Hospital. I live about 4 miles from college and 1 mile from the hospital so thankfully it wasn’t too long a journey. I don’t remember much about driving there, other than still trying to reassure myself, and also willing Bubba to move.
I finally found my way to the antenatal ward. Now I do vividly remember the walk upstairs. At this point I started to think the worse. On the ward I gave them a quick explanation and the loveliest midwife (I was to meet a lot of these) took me into a private room. I lay on the bed and she used a Doppler to try and find a heartbeat. Whilst it made a lot of noise (something to do with the ultrasound waves), the regular sound of a heartbeat couldn’t be found. She gave me a reassuring smile and said it was probably a problem with the instrument. She left to get a portable scanner, and seconds later reappeared with a doctor. Unbeknown to me they were waiting outside the room – I am guessing someone buzzed them when I arrived. On went the gel again and the doctor started to scan. I could see the monitor at this point but wasn’t really sure what to look for. Then, there was the most telling sign. Marie (the midwife) who was stood at the end of the bed put her hand on my feet. That was the point when I knew. I knew that she knew. No one had said anything, but they all knew. I burst into tears.
They wanted me to go for a proper scan, with the ultrasound technician, as they said sometimes the portable scanners didn’t pick up faint heartbeats. But they still knew. It just needed to be confirmed.
I think I refused a wheelchair and walked back down the stairs holding onto Marie. I sat and waited for the ultrasound. The technician came out of her room and Marie went up to her. I could see the technician wasn’t happy. I think she had a backlog of patients already. Marie whispered to her, and instantly the technician’s face changed. I was beckoned to go in and Marie came with me. The technician told me that she wouldn’t talk to me until she had finished scanning which could take a couple of minutes. She said that it was important for her to concentrate. I could have looked at the monitor but instead I covered my eyes with my arm. I didn’t want to see and instead just hoped against hope that the news would be good.
Then came the words no parent-to-be ever wants to hear. ‘I’m sorry, but there is no heartbeat’.
I remember just giving a loud groan and started to cry again. I can hear the sound now. It came from the bottom of my belly. Marie held me. I don’t know for how long. Somehow I got back onto the ward and into a room. The word stillbirth was being used. Still Birth.
This part is a bit of a blur. What I do remember is asking how this could happen. I think I even uttered the words ‘but this only happened in Victorian times!’ But that is what I was thinking. Only Victorian babies were stillborn, weren’t they?
Then my phone started to ring. It was Adam. I think I answered it (if not it was Marie). I just told him to get to hospital. I don’t even think I told him where to go. I definitely didn’t tell him what had happened because he was either driving or about to drive. It seemed like an age before he came. But then I can’t remember what happened between him ringing and arriving. So it probably wasn’t that long. I just blurted out ‘I’m sorry, I’ve lost the baby’. I can see his face now and can feel how his arms gathered me up and give me the biggest and warmest hug I probably have ever had.
After some time, during which Adam rang my parents for me because I just couldn’t face breaking the news to them, we were moved from the antenatal ward to the Birth Suite. Now this was hard. Really hard. We had to walk through a door where there were beautiful canvasses of newborn babies on the walls of the corridor. Fresh tears. We were taken to the Serenity Suite. This is a room especially designed for parents like us, who wouldn’t give birth to a living baby. Who knew these rooms existed in hospitals? It had a kitchen area, shower room, double bed and television amongst other things. It was a place we would be able to move to after the birth, recuperate a little and spend some time with our baby.
A doctor and another midwife, Elaine, came to speak to us and talked us through what would happen next. Although they were lovely, nothing could prepare us for the next bombshell. We would have to give birth naturally by being induced. I had just expected a caesarean section. We would have to go through labour. Now it makes perfect sense as to why, but back then we were just dumbstruck.
I was given something which would start the induction process (no idea what, a pill I think?). We were told we could stop in the Serenity Suite for the weekend, but instead we chose to go home. We wanted to be surrounded by familiar things, surroundings, our cats and be in our home. We had to return back to the Birth Suite in 48 hours for the next stage of the induction process, provided nothing happened before then. Elaine reassured us that she would be on duty and so would look after us when we came back.
We left the hospital about 5 or 6pm I think. Being January it was already dark. Which suited our mood. Adam drove us back home to what would be a very long weekend. To tell family and friends. To continue with our lives together. Down a very different path to the one we were happily walking along that morning.