First published as a post by Claire on our Facebook page and updated 12th October 2016 here on our blog.;-
On Monday 5th August 2013 at 39 weeks exactly, I had a good positive scan at Royal Berks hospital, all measurements perfect, Molly was engaged and ready to come. Wednesday I saw my midwife her name was Norma and she was the best midwife in the county. She was a couple of years off retiring and had dedicated her life to her job. “Listen to that strong heart beat, she is on her way!” she said in her strong Irish accent.
Friday 9th August I sat with my neighbour Leo who was six months pregnant with Larry, we both admired our enormous bumps noticing every movement. That evening Brian and I had an Indian, but I didn’t feel right, the air was humid, the baby felt low and slow, this I now understand to be reduced movement, I thought this was down to the inescapable heat wave and early labour as she was due Monday 12th at 40 weeks exactly. I went home to bed and did not call the labour ward. Something I now regret.
Early Saturday 10th I could not feel her moving at all, I knew deep in my heart that something was wrong, I pushed and pulled my belly, ran up and down the stairs to get any reactions, but nothing. Brian drove us to Royal Berks hospital at the speed of lightening. The trainee midwife very casually asked me to pee in a pot, she didn’t strap the monitors around my enormous belly yet she proceeded to take MY blood pressure, MY temperature and MY pulse, at such a slow pace. BUT WHAT ABOUT MOLLY? A more senior midwife entered, she rubbed freezing gel on my belly, she studied the ultrasound, leaving the room without speaking. A doctor came in, he took one look at the screen that was facing away, he turned to me solemn and said that he was so sorry, but there was no trace of a heartbeat. “Your baby’s heart has stopped your baby has died” I was sure he just told that Molly was dead. She was 39 weeks plus 5 days. Right then we both felt like we had been thrown out of our party Lear jet at 50,000 feet, both clinging to the same paper napkin.
The midwives left the room for what seemed like some other persons eternity, I did not cry as I was shocked to my marrow, but no tears. Brian burst into tears and hugged me so tight I thought Molly would pop out there and then, but I refused to believe this cruel trick of nature was happening to me, to us. The doctor returned and simply told me to take a pill to induce labour and go home. I needed to return as already planned Monday 12th at 8.30 am. I pleaded, why could they not C-section me now, get her out? The Dr said in time this part would all make sense. That same Saturday afternoon when we were sent home from hospital, was to be all part of the natural order and birthing process, time shared with my distraught neighbour Leo who was so brave to come over and assist in this shocking event as she was terrified for her own pregnancy, one of my best friends Marina Banks who has had four children of her own, she and her partner Paul rushed up from Lewes to Oxfordshire to help me with the early stages of labour and to assist my desperately saddened partner Brian, who as her father felt as lost, helpless guilty and beyond words as I did, minus the increasing labour pains. Sunday, we cannot remember what we did, said, ate, or whom we spoke to, a total memory wipe out.
Monday arrived; this should have been the happiest day of both our lives. The weather was pure glorious sunshine with a nice easterly breeze; I wore a pretty floral dress. I should have felt abundant love, the most feminine, attractive and healthiest as I had looked after myself for nine whole months, I had eaten healthily, I took nine months off work just in case I lost her, no drugs or booze or anything toxic passed my lips. I had spent a fortune on reiki, kinesiology, angelic healing sessions, acupuncture, reflexology. I did everything good wholesome and holistic to ensure she was safe. For a 46 year old my bump was perfect with not one single stretch mark, weirdly a small part of me felt all those things as in my heart she was still there inside me. But instead I felt a darkness rising within, a hatred of myself, God and this world, this day was to haunt me forevermore, the desperation, confusion, thunderous loss and all consuming guilt, what exactly had I done wrong ?
At 7 am and with dry mouths we drove to the maternity ward, I lay across the back seats clenching my fists at the labour pains. We were shown to room 11 The Willow Room, a special room for grieving couples to give birth to their sleeping babies with some kind of dignity, away from all the happy healthy alive screaming babies who had happy joyful yet tired parents in the same ward. We had a trainee midwife who explained the process of what was to come. Medical Instructions did not sink in to my dense brain during this kind of situation, by trade I am a fully trained ambulance medic. Why did I have to carry her for two whole days, all that additional pain on top of mounting grief, inner boiling rage, then a natural birth with more horrific pain and no baby to take home after which was an unbearable heart wrenching empty pain. My life is a total bitch.
The Willow room is an independently run room which had everything we needed, private bathroom, a double bed for delivery and so Brian could stay with me for that night. I had previously downloaded special tinkle tinkle new age playlists to get me through the expectant happy delivery scenario but I had no will to listen to anything at that time, or execute my well rehearsed Berkshire hypno-breathing techniques. Everything had changed, noise did not sit well in my ears, only the sound of my own breathing as I sucked hard on the entonox, then the brief pain free silences between contractions, this was all I could cope with. Going through labour naturally was the most painful experience of my entire life, especially with just entonox, no epidural. Eight hours in, it got very messy as she got stuck, I was fading fast as I was the only one pushing, I needed her life force, I needed her to wriggle through the canal with her 100% determination to come in to the world, it takes two forces of life to make one baby. Suddenly the room was full of doctors and surgeons trying to get her out, the only way to do this was by breaking her shoulders. Brian looking on totally helpless, at that moment he thought he was going to lose me too.
Molly was born dead at 20.52 pm on 12/08/2013 she was wrapped in a donated shawl and given to me immediately; I finally held my longed for daughters bruised and lifeless body in my arms. Silence, as neither of us would hear her crying, or see her tiny chest rise and fall as she took her first breath, we did not get to see her eyes, what colour would they have been? I got a glimpse of jet black, almost demonic looking through lack of oxygen as were her fingernails and lips. The explanation of why it is better to go through three days of the natural birthing process was more to do with the physical side, so I could be mobile right after the birth not be immobile for the next six weeks with stitches. I could drive a car and lift bags straight away, I’d rather have been immobile. From the Saturday after the shocking news to Monday evening at the time of birth, their birthing process helped the emotional and mental part of me as it did give me time with her. Once she was out the pain was very quickly forgotten and I did feel proud I had gotten through it all, which gave me a sort of deeper feeling of satisfaction and completion as much as a broken childless mother could ever feel.
My maternal instincts kicked in the minute she was born. The midwives kept her in the present, she IS my beautiful daughter and after nine long months finally she IS here in my arms be it for a day or two, the midwives never spoke of her as deceased, she is in the here and in the now. Yet somewhere beyond Molly’s battered body I felt her beauty, she had the longest legs just like mine, her toes and fingers were all the same length which was unusual. I bathed her damaged skin, putting her nappy on and a baby grow with ‘BABY’ written in AC/DC rock fonts to keep Molly’s rock star daddy happy. We had to place her in a cooling cot to keep her body cold, this alone goes against nature. Brian reluctantly held her that evening.
I took a shower, I stood there looking down at my empty tummy. Spiritually our umbilical had not severed. She weighed 7 lbs 9 oz, the midwife managed to take a snip of her hair which was the same texture as her daddy’s, she took 6 photos of her which did not look pretty as she had a lot of post mortem staining and bruising which the flash of the camera brought alive, our trainee midwife printed the photos there and then, they took ink prints of both hands and feet on beautiful card, all placed within a keepsake booklet. My floral dress was soaked in fluids. The double bed had been quickly changed from drenched carnage to clean white starched sheets all donated by the Willow, followed by a tray of the best tea and toast I had had in months.
Never forget the dad’s
Many years ago women in this devastating position would have had their babies taken away and never seen of again, never talked about again, thankfully things have changed, every detail was thought about. Brian could stay with me the night. Dads can get the raw end of this cruel deal, they can get forgotten about as the focus is all on the grieving mother, during the birth and well after into our normal lives, although three years on there is nothing ever normal again. Brian is always asked how I am? They never follow their questioning with and how are you Brian? Dad’s feel helpless in what to do for everyone as they too have lost their baby, we were and still are both in immense pain. Brian has spent twenty eight years as a paramedic, he was such a support to me throughout the whole weekend, especially in the Willow room; he helped our trainee midwife as this was her first still birth and was visibly struggling. The reality that day was Brian was Molly’s dad and my grieving husband to be, but he managed to stayed very calm and professional, even though he should not have been a paramedic that day in any capacity, he was Molly’s dad and deeply hurting.
Molly lay next to us all night, she looked so peaceful, it was the only time I felt part of the most beautiful family on earth. I woke in the night a few times and watched her lay peacefully next to us as her body soon became near frozen in the cooling cot. I felt proud yet broken, but still no tears. Thanks to the Willow room we were able to spend fifteen hours and twenty five minutes with her after her birth, to hold her until she got too warm, to talk to her, I kissed her and brushed her raw cheeks with my chunky fingers. Brian felt it hard to hold her at all during this time, she was wrapped within a single shawl snuggling with a homemade knitted teddy. Nappies, baby grows, mosses baskets, clean bed linen, the ink and photo paper, tea, coffee, bereavement books, even the interiors and paint on the walls, everything is donated by the Willow people.
The senior midwife suggested we had her blessed and named by the hospital Chaplin, I suddenly felt enraged and offended, my previous belief in God and my faith in spirit had been shattered, I told her I did not believe anymore in any God. Brian was out of the room at this time. When he returned I told him what happened and he got very upset, he wanted this more than anything. So we had her blessed by the hospital Chaplin Steve Sankey. Within five minutes of meeting Steve it was one of the most powerful experiences to date. Steve has a rare gift as I felt a light around me even with my eyes shut, a warmth inside of me, angels fluttering all around us as he hugged all three of us as he said his prayer and gave Molly his blessing, the tears finally started to drip down my face. However, I still hated this God!
We were allowed to come back to the Willow room ten days later to visit her body the day she returned from post mortem. Molly had Downs T21 which we knew and welcomed at twenty three weeks, all her scans showed nothing wrong, they even questioned if she did have Downs at all as it was diagnosed via a harmony blood test which was being trailed back then in 2013 to replace the more invasive amniocenteses. The rest of the report came back inconclusive, she had aspirated on meconium, she was distressed, her heart was still healthy intact and robust, no other causes given other than she had decided at the eleventh hour not to be born in this body this time around, which is my diagnosis. Since 2013 it has come to light that women over 42 can experience the death of the placenta at 37 weeks, this could have been the cause as her placenta was not intact after birth. In fact a chunk of it fell out a week later. She had aspirated because she couldn’t get any oxygen. Nothing was investigated. But, I have since understood that because of Molly’s death the clinic in Harley St London where we had the harmony test are now working closely with all maternity units by asking consultants to monitor the placenta from 37 weeks, I have been told that many babies have been saved and born OK due to this observation. Molly has saved a few lives. All I had done to protect her in the womb, something so simple had been missed, it was then down to her will or Gods will that over ruled us both. This may sound too weird, but her body being returned some twelve days after birth, black and blue and frozen solid, kept me going, to me she was still somewhere here on earth.
I found an outfit for her cremation it was a pretty chiffon dress with buttons up the back for easy access, a daisy neckline to hide her post mortem scaring, a cap with little stars on it to cover her slightly crushed scull, a cardigan and long socks and some funky converse socks that looked like trainers for newborn’s, my job that day was to cover up her defects with dignity, but I could not cover up the fact she was not breathing or moving at all.
Brian met me a little later that twelfth day, I needed mum time alone with her, this is when I finally had the biggest break down, she was too frozen to dress, the nurse helped me warm her up a bit then bend her. I was in bits. Once dressed Molly looked like the most cosmic angelic little girl, because she was our cosmic angelic little girl. I managed to get some pictures, I am so glad I did as memory does fade in time.
The faintest ink is better than the best memory
Those were the moments we shall both cherish. Brian finally joined me, I took a powerful photograph of Brian holding Molly for the first and final time, he was in his NHS uniform, when we said goodbye he went on to do a ten hour late shift on the ambulance in the same area as the hospital, he is forever my hero, but this is the only way he knew how to cope, by helping others.
It was finally time to let her go, to leave her in her mosses basket to go to the funeral home for her final journey here on earth. Another new kind of pain hit me hard in my belly, the wrenching pain that I will never hold her or see our baby ever again. The specialist bereavement nurse gently nudged me away from her, like elephants do in the wild when a mother losses her baby in order to carry on with their journey. Brian was the other side and nudged me gently too, he was pulling me away yet my body began to hang lower and lower nearer the floor, deeper in grief. My tears burst its banks, I let out this almighty yelp. This was my final goodbye. My heart shattered into a million different pieces of Molly. Alongside all this, the midwives and our two distraught consultants came and gave their condolences and support, your heart and brain do not seem to function at all during this time of deep bereavement, no one knows what to say, nor does it for months after, we were both on hour to hour, day to day and now year to year auto pilot.
The funeral was held on a scorching sunny day 29th August. Steven the serene Chaplin greeted us at the gates of the small west chapel in Caversham. He looked beyond Brian and I and suddenly decided we needed to all move to the bigger chapel next door, as I turned around there was 100+ friends standing there shoulder to shoulder supporting us both. Work friends from three ambulance services attended. Brian carried her tiny white coffin with two owl stickers on the top in to the chapel, he said it was the least he could do as I had carried her for 39 weeks +5 days. It was the worst day, yet the most beautiful day, I don’t remember much of it.
This is the reasons we both wish to raise every penny for The Willows Support group so we can help other couples who are going through these same horrendous experiences. The hospital deals with on average 130 of these incidents last year. 17 mothers and fathers use this room a month, this is just one hospital in the whole country, imagine how many couples go through this a year in the world?
2016: At Royal Berks hospital there are now 3 rooms that can be used for bereaved parents. The Willow Room (which we had Molly in) – Friends of Willows redecorated the whole room from top to bottom. Kitting it out with double bed, sheets, books, Moses baskets, the important cooling cots that keep are babies cool so we can hold them longer. Knitted teddies, baby grows, shawls, photo paper, ink for hand and feet prints, beautiful paper to imprint, the paint on the walls, the curtains, memory boxes, the list goes on, they are thinking of new ideas every day. Every time someone uses this room which is very much daily these items need replacing. When you have just been told your baby’s heart has stopped, you as a couple stop thinking about details. So, it’s vital to help them in their time of great need.
The Maple Durham room – This can be found upstairs at Royal Berks maternity unit and can be used by parents for up to three days following the birth of their baby if they choose not to go home. Recently The Willows bought a mobile air con unit for the room. This is a purple room with the comfy feel of a luxury hotel room. Brian and I thought we had it good after Molly died in 2013, neither of us wanted to say goodbye after 15 hours, so this is just a super wonderful, thoughtful Idea.
Room 15 -This is a dual purpose room. This room will also be used for mums who are in difficulty, life or death situations, not just for a confirmed still births. It has been painted by the hospital as air con was put into the ceiling. The Willows have just purchased 2 large chest of drawers and 2 bedside cabinets. The curtains have now been ordered and they are looking into getting a special recliner chair for the dads to stay in, as because it is going to also be used for emergency situations the bed must stay a single hospital mobile bed.
We now funding a baby memorial garden at Caversham crematorium. This is a peaceful place to go and grieve.
We have experienced a lot of ignorance and negativity. Some people just do not know what to say to us, especially other parents; the concept is too horrid and close to home, which we fully understand. Some people and I must say family members have never phoned us or blanked us completely which we do not understand. Some have behaved appallingly towards us. What I have learnt from this is that humans are weird creatures. If they were not in the room at the birth and therefore never saw Molly in the flesh, the brain cannot relate that something was there in the first place. But we have her unique hand print, isn’t this enough proof she was here?
Some lovely people have given their hearts to us and have done whatever they could to get us through, from regular phone calls and visits and not hiding behind a text. It is a lonely old time when you have lost a baby like this, for both of us, we feel the ghost of our child with us all the time, but could not grasp her as there is no physical reality, both of us feel lost like we are suspended on some parallel time zone, all the what if’s, they should be doing this, that, especially at Christmas last Christmas 2015 was the worst, she should have been two and a half and all excited about Santa, in my mind I am growing up with her, she is not the lifeless little baby I held at birth she is now a beautiful active toddler. Her birthdays hurt more with every year.
Some days I feel like the ugliest, poorest, hungriest, childless mother unable to ever have the privilege of standing at the school gates, totally lost direction less and incomplete. My auto pilot keeps me moving forward. Our dynamics have changed, as we are both back to too much time on our hands, so we work longer hours to fill every silent second, we have an orderly clean and tidy house and guilty sleep filled nights. Our friendships should not have to change, but they did and some have changed dramatically. Please remember that us childless Still parents have a massive void to fill, our dreams and plans have changed direction with no road map to guide us, when friends and family abandon us, which they have big time, it just makes that void bigger and our angry hearts denser.
Time is travelling onward too fast, Life style changes have been made, sticking to new diets, conscious efforts have been made to learn from this and better ourselves. I have been receiving five elements acupuncture which is actually healing my pain. Mearfest has been created, blending new wave of heavy metal music with still birth, weirdly it works! The money raised is doing so much to help other Still parents, this is healing our pain. Hearing Molly has saved other babies lives by mistakes learnt. Kind volunteer’s leading their time to Mearfest and The Willows support group, this is healing our pain, we have learnt to laugh at all the bad and ridiculous and believe that life goes on, this will all go on till our journey is complete. Brian and I are now strong enough to help others with their grief and healing through talking about the loss of their babies by continuing Mearfest.
Simple small random acts of kindness go a long long way; we remember more all the small things. Just be mindful an above all kind in thoughts and heart.
By Claire Mear