The following article, Giving Birth After Stillbirth, may be triggering for some readers.
Be sure to use your discretion before deciding to read this article, which was written by one of BellyBelly’s fans.
Forward note from BellyBelly about stillbirth:
Reading stories of stillbirth or infant death can set off uncomfortable emotions.
Many parents-to-be fear stillbirth or infant loss may happen to them.
While stillbirth does unfortunately happen, it may be somewhat comforting to know that Australia has one of the lowest infant death rates in the world.
In fact, Australia was ranked second lowest after Japan for infant deaths, for the period of 2000-2005.
The latest report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) shows that in the period of 2013–2014, there were around 620,000 babies born in Australia.
Of those births, there were 4,400 stillbirths (0.7%).
To put the numbers into perspective, more than 99% of babies were not stillborn.
Some causes of stillbirth are unknown.
However, two important factors to help prevent stillbirth is to quit smoking as soon as possible, and make sure you have access to regular prenatal care.
Women in remote areas are more at risk.
Giving Birth After Stillbirth
‘I’m sorry, there’s no heartbeat.’
They were the words that change my and my husband’s life forever.
Well at least I think they were the words — I don’t really remember the exact words.
What does it really matter?
Whatever the words were, I was immediately writhing with an unimaginable pain.
‘No, this has to be a sick joke’
‘I want to go home now’
‘Why are they saying such horrible things?’
Then all I remember is just screaming.
A primeval scream, the type of scream you imagine a lioness making when she realises one of her cubs has just been snatched by a hyena.
I just screamed.
It was about 3.30pm on Thursday, 5 October 2006 at 36 weeks and 1 day pregnant, when I learnt my first child, my son, had passed away.
We named him Harrison, Harry for short.
He was a twin, I had lost his sibling at 7 weeks.
He is a gorgeous boy, handsome just like his father.
To this day, and for the rest of my life, I will remember how sweet he smelt, like a never ending horizon of roses, a river of the sweetest honey, his smell, I can smell it now.
As I write this it still doesn’t seem real, like one day I will awake and learn that this was all just a really terrifying nightmare.
No parent should out live a child, it is not the natural order of things, but even worse, no parent should ever have to give birth to an angel, that is the ultimate pain.
Some of my memories of that day are still too raw to commit to paper, one day I will do my son justice and share his story.
But there are certain things that are so intensely personal, forever a secret between Harry and I.
How Would I Give Birth?
I recall the midwife’s having to explain to me over and over how this was going to work.
It seemed so methodical, there is a baby in there, we need to get him out.
Despite their patient repetitions of how to give birth, my mind could not begin to comprehend what lay ahead of me.
A wonderful midwife, Teresa, helped me begin to digest my options.
Caesarean section or vaginal birth?
‘Why were they even asking me?’
I couldn’t find the courage to take another breath.
How on earth was I going to find the courage to give birth.
“Cut him out”, I wailed.
The more it hurt the better. Perhaps the physical pain would help dull the tearing of my heart.
Teresa sat me down and said something so profound to me, something I will never forget.
She said, “Do your son the honour of a vaginal birth. Let him come into this world as nature intended, and let him begin his life as an angel… with that gift from his mother”.
She needed say no more, clarity overcame me; I was going to do this for Harry.
Starting The Labour
The gels were administered by my less then compassionate obstetrician at 6.00pm.
I feel somewhat sorry for him, he’s in the business of babies, yet he could not even offer me a kind word.
At first, I felt a lot of anger about him for a long while, but I now feel pity for him. I hope he finds the words for the next mother.
They told me that I would need at least 2 more doses as Harry was high, posterior and my cervix was closed.
At that moment I protested, and I don’t know why.
I told them it would be the only dose I would need, as Harry would be born before sunrise, because I wanted my son to feel the warmth of the morning sun.
My obstetrician pompously replied with, “No my dear, it will take at least 24 hours”.
To be honest, I could see his mouth moving, but I did not let those words enter my consciousness.
The Next Dose of Gels at 11pm
By 11.00pm, a midwife came to check me and dutifully administer the next dose of gels.
Having been in a lot of pain, I took the time to write a letter to Harry in a feeble attempt to distract myself from the tragedy of my situation.
I sobbed in the arms of my wonderful husband; we both stared blankly at the wall in a total daze.
When I told the midwife of the pains I had been feeling, she condescendingly told me it was ‘pit pain’ (still to this day I have no idea what pit pain was and I really don’t care).
She dampened my hopes further by telling me it was unlikely that I had dilated at all.
Even being a first-time mother, I knew my body, and low and behold I was already 4cm.
My husband and I had fumbled our way from 0 to 4 cms in 5 hours without a visit from a midwife once.
We were all alone.
I don’t know why no one visited us, perhaps they thought I wanted my privacy.
Perhaps we were in the too hard basket.
Perhaps the women with the dead baby was too easy just to leave be.
Time To Go To The Birth Suite
When I was then told it was time to go to the birthing suite, the pain was intensifying. I was scared.
I would not let my husband out of my sight – he was my strength, an amazing man, a protector, my baby’s father.
As the pain intensified, and I was lying partially reclined on the bed, all I could feel was continual and unbearable pain in my back.
My son was in a posterior position… why didn’t anyone tell me to stand up or to get walking?
Does a mother of a stillborn baby not deserve that?!
In retrospect I am furious, but retrospect won’t change a thing.
The midwife was barely with us. The only thing she did was to continually charge into the birthing suit, take my blood pressure, write in a big book and then to offer me pain relief.
I think it was more for her benefit, like somehow an epidural would help me forget what was actually happening, and she could go back to helping the women with live babies.
I began to lose control – I thought I might die.
Not like I really cared at that stage – perhaps it would be better, what sort of life is left to live without my Harry?
Yet again an epidural was offered by the midwife, who told me, “It’s only going to get worse.”
That’s something I will never forgive her for saying.
As the pain in my back peaked, my resolve weakened and I said yes to the epidural.
So an epidural was administered, I don’t remember the time.
I just remember the tired look of the anaesthetist.
I think he had even forgotten to wipe the sleep from his eyes, or run his fingers through his thinning hair to disguise his recent slumber.
You know how if anyone calls and you are asleep you always pretend you were awake, he was past pretending.
I waited and waited, and the epidural wasn’t working.
I could still feel the surges, so they upped the dose. There was no relief – I could even move my legs.
A call to my Obstetrician and another dose, a bit of a tug and a wiggle on the thing protruding from my back, and I suddenly felt a waterfall down my back.
Before the relief even sunk in, it was time to push.
What on earth did I subject my body to that if it didn’t make a stitch of difference?
Even as I was about to push, I was alone.
I was screeching for the midwife, a lady down the hall with a live baby obviously took precedence.
My poor husband took over; to this day his strength not only as a man but as a partner astonishes me.
The midwife returned, and I was told “Don’t push; we have to wait for your obstetrician”.
Had it not been for the haze of pain, I would have got up and clobbered her. But I didn’t have it in me, and so I waited.
Another 15 mins of agony and of fighting my most primitive urge to push and my obstetrician nonchalantly arrived.
I pushed and pushed for what seemed like an eternity, about an hour from recollection.
I had lost just enough control of my body not to be able to do what it was designed for. But I still had enough to feel the pain.
I finally gave birth to my son at 4:52am on Friday 6 October 2006.
I kept my promise; Harry got to see the sun rise.
The clock didn’t stop ticking. That’s the best way I can describe it. My urge to have a baby didn’t dull – I had a baby, my son Harry.
But I didn’t have my baby… I was a childless mother.
After reading this so far, it may seem like I hold resentment to the midwife.
Can I say that the midwives in the postnatal ward were truly amazing.
The midwives held me and sobbed with me, they cradled my son like the beautiful baby he was.
Teresa had thanked me for the honour of meeting our son, such a simple sentence but so very powerful. I only wish that she had been with me during the birth.
Upon learning I was pregnant again I was so utterly confused.
A mixed of elation and grief, such a difficult thing to understand.
‘Don’t get excited, it might happen again.’
I was angry, mad… why why why… yet so happy to be carrying Harry’s little brother or sister.
I shall take a moment to say, my new obstetrician truly was my saviour.
It’s probably not surprising that we changed our obstetrician, but a move to Sydney made the decision all the more easy.
Our new obstetrician was amazing, and agreed to see me weekly, which is even more frequently than normal.
He saw me at 9.30pm on a Sunday evening in a billowing storm for a scan, because I had a slight bleed.
He let me cry when I needed.
And rather then nervously staring in the other direction, my amazing obstetrician guided me, didn’t dismiss my concerns, and he even hugged me when it was obvious that I could bear no more.
Vaginal Birth or C-Section After Stillbirth?
He asked me how I wanted to give birth.
“A caesarean at 36 weeks,” was my immediate retort.
“Why?” he asked.
I never expected him to ask me that. Did I need a reason? Why not?
Over the weeks I began to build my courage and resolve.
If I had the strength to give birth to a dead baby, giving birth to a live baby seemed somewhat pleasurable.
I don’t know when the change occurred, when I went from not even wishing to discuss a vaginal birth, to needing one.
It may seem like a weird phrase, to say I needed to give birth vaginally.
But I didn’t want my only vision of giving birth, to be so still.
I wanted to push out a screaming baby, still dripping and warm when placed upon my chest.
A Doula’s Love and Support
At about 30 weeks of pregnancy, I had my first meeting with my doula.
We met the doula at the Coffee Club in the city after work; it almost felt like a date.
Would we mesh, did it feel right?
Within moments of meeting her, I felt her calmness.
It was contagious, she was softly spoken, so gentle yet strong. She was perfect.
Over the weeks my doula became my confidant.
She gave me so much positive information; she helped me take the steps to begin to trust my body.
We discussed the birth, and overwhelmingly my greatest fear.
It was not the pain, it was being left alone.
I did not, not for one moment, want to be left alone, ever again.
She promised me I would not be alone. I believed her.
My husband was there for every moment, but he too needed someone there.
How much pain must one man bear before it’s okay to admit that we needed someone to help us through?
She continually gave me positive affirmations.
‘It’s not pain, it’s your body doing exactly as it should’.
‘Welcome the surges. Don’t fight your body, go with it’.
‘Open up and feel your baby being born’.
An Induction Of Labour
The day arrived; 10 September 2007 was the day.
My husband and I had decided upon an induction.
I needed to have an element of control, an end date, as in my baby would be here by this day.
Earlier in my pregnancy, we had discovered that we were having another boy.
The emotions that raised is a whole other story, but we were ready to swathe this boy with so much love. I just had to give birth first.
This time would be different. I was armed with so much knowledge that I was not going to deviate from my plan.
My midwives came in and introduced themselves. I was almost sizing them up, there was no way they were going to get me this time.
But I needn’t have worried.
I had two midwives, one heavily pregnant herself, and a student.
How Did I Want To Give Birth?
I recited, as if rehearsed, that I wanted to:
- Do this without pain relief, in a calm loving environment
- Be encouraged and told that I could do this
- Be informed of what was happening.
I did not want to have procedures done to me, but to be asked first. And I wanted to feel my baby being born.
If I wasn’t dilating 1 centimetre per hour I didn’t care. A c-section was only for absolute emergency.
I’d waited so long for our baby, I wasn’t about to be rushed to fit into a hospital timetable.
The look of glee on their faces was palpable, they were ecstatic.
Apparently most women want an epidural the moment they come in the door.
Perhaps they have an obstetrician like I had with Harry. Perhaps they just needed to be told that they could do it.
Already 4 Centimetres Dilated
My obstetrician did an internal examination. I was already 4cms before the induction even began.
The power of the mind and positive thought is a wondrous thing.
He ruptured my membranes at 8.00am. It didn’t work.
We tried everything. Walking, the fit ball… my personal best for climbing the stairs in the hospital foyer was 32 seconds.
The Syntocinon drip was mentioned at about 12:00pm.
I asked for privacy, as my husband and I needed to discuss this.
We devised a plan of attack – the dose would be started very low, and only gradually increased with my permission each time.
The drip went in, boy it hurt and before long the telltale period type pain began.
This Time It Was Different
It was different this time. I could feel the surges.
This baby’s position wasn’t posterior, so the breaks during contractions allowed me to refocus.
It’s amazing how revived a woman can feel after a chorus from your support team full of, ‘I love you’, ‘you are amazing’, ‘breath your baby out’.
My husband, my doula and my midwives were there, I was not alone.
I was almost silent for the whole labour and felt like I could have almost gone to sleep. I went into a trance.
Pain relief didn’t even enter my mind – it wasn’t even offered. Why would it be?
Being offered an epidural is like when you don’t want a slice of chocolate cake, but you’re offered one and start salivating.
What was happening was my body at it’s most perfect.
A Fast And Furious Labour
I began to feel a change.
He was moving down… ‘pressure, pressure, pressure’ was all I could manage to mumble.
I got scared again, my doula was holding one hand, my husband the other.
I wasn’t waiting this time.
My urge to push was so intense.
So much so, the midwife put on a gown and said, “We’re having this baby, with or without your obstetrician!”
I didn’t have to wait this time, I wouldn’t have anyway.
My doula let go of my hand for a moment, to get the camera I think.
I needed her there, don’t leave me alone, even a metre was too far. Before I knew it her hand grasped my again.
My obstetrician arrived in the middle of a contraction, so I was surprised to see him.
“When did you get here?,” I moaned.
I was ready to push.
Suddenly, I asked for gas, but I don’t know why.
As soon as I asked I had forgotten – I had a job to do. I called upon every bit of strength I had.
I could feel my babies head, his shoulders moulding inside of me.
There was no burning as some people describe, just pressure, an intense pressure.
2 Hours and 30 Minutes Of Labour And….
Within a few pushes his head was out.
“Reach down and feel your babies head!” I heard.
As I reached down I began to sob.
I could feel his head – it was warm, so chances were he was still alive.
Of course my baby was alive.
Continuous electronic monitoring had been attached to my belly for the whole labour.
But at that moment in time, it was like I was giving birth to Harry all over again.
I don’t know how it happened, but my obstetrician asked me to reach down, to grab my baby and to pull him out. So I did.
Thinking of it now, I don’t know how on earth I managed it. But my doula got a photo, so it’s not a fable.
I felt a gush; I pulled him to my chest.
Despite his magical screaming, all I could say over and over is, “Is he alive? Is he alive? Is he alive?”
He was alive!
He was alive!
I had done it, no tearing, no stitches, no pain relief (not even gas), and a live baby.
After The Birth
After the birth, I could barely comprehend it.
But I should have known everything would be ok with Harry as my guardian angel.
I cradled him in my arms, with my husband by my side, for two hours.
I didn’t want my baby to be weighed, measured, poked or prodded.
Now was not the time for statistics.
We let him feed when he was ready. I gazed at him for what seemed an eternity. He looks so much like his big brother.
My husband stroked my hair, told me he thought I was amazing. We named him Oliver, it means symbol of peace.
That sweet smell once again overcame me. Like a never ending horizon of roses, a river of the sweetest honey, his smell, I can smell it now.
— Story told in honour of Harry and Oliver, who will forever be my baby boys.