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.
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 was her name) 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 is in the business of babies yet he could not even offer me a kind word, 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.
I was told that I would need at least 2 more doses as Harry was high, posterior and my cervix was closed. I don’t know why, but at that moment I protested, I said that that would be the only dose I would need, Harry would be born before sunrise because I wanted my son to feel the warmth of the morning sun. I was pompously told by my obstetrician, 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.
By 11.00pm a midwife came to check me and to dutifully administer the next dose of gels. I had been in a lot of pain; I had taken 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. I told the midwife of the pains I had been feeling, and 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 mum, 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.
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 posterior, why didn’t anyone tell me to stand up, 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, to 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, I didn’t really care 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, ‘it is only going to get worse’….that is something I will never forgive her for saying. As the pain in my back peaked, my resolve weakened and I said yes, 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, it wasn’t working, I could still feel the surges, 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 to be 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. It may seem like I hold resentment to the midwife, can I say that the midwifes in the post – natal ward were truly amazing, they 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.
I digress, the midwife returned, 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 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 is 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, a childless mother.
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 is not surprising that we changed obstetrician, but a move to Sydney made the decision all the more easy. He was amazing, agreed to see me weekly, even more frequently. 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, rather then nervously staring in the other direction, he guided me, didn’t dismiss my concerns, he even hugged me when it was obvious that I could bear no more.
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, I had my first meeting with my doula, I was very frantic, a lot of other things were also going on in my life, my Husband and I were trying to find a house to rent in Sydney with two dogs which became paramount to breaking the enigma codes. We meet at the coffee club in the city after work; it almost felt like a date. Would we mesh, did it feel right? Within moment 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, not again. She promised me I would not be alone, I believed her.
My husband was there every moment, but he too needed someone there, how much pain must one man bear before it is ok to admit that we needed someone to help us through. She continually gave me positive affirmations, it is not pain, it is 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 midwifes 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. They asked me how I wanted to give birth. I recited as if rehearsed, I wanted to do this without pain relief, in a calm loving environment, I wanted to be encouraged, told I could do this, to be informed of what was happening, not to have procedures done to me but to be asked first, to feel my baby being born. If I wasn’t dilating 1cm per hour I didn’t care, a caesarean section were only for absolute emergency, I had waited so long for this baby, that 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.
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 wonderous 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.
At about 12.00 noon the syntocinon drip was mentioned, I asked for privacy, my husband and I needed to discuss this. A plan of attack was devised, the dose would be started out 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.
My labour was fast and furious, 2 hours and 30 mins from the first niggle to born. It was different this time, I could feel the surges, this baby wasn’t posterior, the breaks during contractions allowed me to refocus, it is amazing how revived a woman can feel after a chorus 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 the whole time; I felt I could have almost gone to sleep. I went into a trance. The thought of pain relief didn’t even enter my mind, it wasn’t offered, why would it be, what was happening was my body at it most perfect. It’s like when you don’t want a slice of Chocolate cake but your offered one and you start salivating, a bit like Pavlov’s dog, the bell wasn’t rung, pain relief wasn’t offered, my body was doing a job, no time to deviate off the path I had so carefully set out.
I began to feel the 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 was scared, but I knew they were there. I wasn’t waiting this time, my urge to push was so intense, my midwife put on a gown, we are 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, mid contraction so I was surprised to see him, ‘when did you get here?’ I moaned. I was ready to push.
I asked for gas, why I don’t know, 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.
Within a few pushes his head was out. ‘Reach down and feel your babies head’ I reached down and began to sob, I could feel his head, it was warm, chances were he was still alive. Of course he was alive, I had been hooked up to the CTG the entire time 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, and I did.
Thinking of it now I don’t know how on earth I managed it, but my doula got a photo so it is 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), an alive baby, I could barely comprehend it. 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 was not letting him be weighed, measured, poked and 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.
A Note From BellyBelly
Reading stories of stillbirth or infant death sets off many emotions in women and men alike, one of them being fear that it may happen to them. While stillbirth does happen, it’s important to remember that Australia has one of the lowest infant death rates in the world.
In South Australia in 2005, there were 129 stillbirths, which equates to 7.1 stillbirths per 1000 births. This means there is a 0.71% stillbirth rate. To put it into perspective, 99.29% will not have be stillborn babies.
For the period of 2000-2005, Australia was placed second lowest after Japan for infant deaths. You can find out more on the Australian Bureau of Statistics website here.