Three words, Group B Strep, have you heard of them?
Until the morning of the 9th July 2004, I had never heard these words before and would little realise how they would impact my life.
After years of suffering with painful periods, I was diagnosed with PCOS and was told I would find it increasingly difficult to fall pregnant. So it came as a huge surprise to eventually see two lines appear on a pregnancy test. As I was already three months along and the pregnancy moved along swiftly. After a failed sweep when I was ten days overdue, I finally went into labour on the 8th July 2004, and gave birth at 1.31am the following morning. To this day, sixteen years later, I can close my eyes and return to the labour room and watch everything happen like a scene from a movie.
We had decided not to find out the sex of the baby and I had asked for immediate skin to skin contact, so when suddenly this baby was placed on my stomach with its back to me, it was actually a few seconds before my shocked boyfriend kissed me and told me we had a girl.
Keira-Louise had joined our family.
I was exhausted, so as they checked her over, it never occurred to me at that point I hadn’t heard her cry. The checks were completed, and she was bundled in a pink blanket and given to Ian, while they gave me stitches. I can remember looking over at them both, and my heart was so full I felt it would burst right out of my chest. He said she was yawning and going to sleep, and happily boasted that he had the knack with her already. We didn’t know that she was actually taking her last dying breaths in his arms.
It was about half an hour later, while Ian was out in the waiting room telling all our family who had been there all day our joyous news, that I finally got to hold our daughter. Keira-Louise was beautiful, with long eyelashes and snow white rosebud lips and had weighed in at 10lbs 2oz, (yes you did read that right!!), so she already looked three months old. To me she was perfect, and I couldn’t believe I was holding her in my arms. Then, as I looked down at her beautiful face, that was when our world came crashing down.
As I stroked her face, I realised she wasn’t responding to my touch, no little murmur, purse of the lips or movement of limbs. I screamed for the midwife, just as Ian came back into the room, and then suddenly it was like a scene out of Casualty as people came rushing into the room and my baby was whisked away.
By this time, it was the early hours of the morning and my shocked family held me while they told us that she was in the Neonatal Unit in an incubator. After a fitful night, we went down to the unit, holding a pink teddy bear Ian had purchased from the gift shop, still hopeful everything would be alright.
I can still see the consultant’s face as she closed her eyes, preparing herself for the devastating news she had to break. In that moment, the whole hospital seemed to go quiet and I could hear this keening sound, and wondered what it was as I watched her lips move. It was only as Ian held me close I actually realised the noise was coming from me.
At 18.30pm on the 9th July 2004, we watched as they turned off the machines that were keeping our daughter ‘alive’, and we held our baby for the very last time.
In all the baby books and pamphlets I had read whilst pregnant, I had never read anything to prepare parents to leave the maternity ward without a baby. We passed happy, smiling people as they entered the lobby carrying balloons and flowers and I felt like I was floating above myself, watching everything in slow motion from a distance.
A few days later, we returned to the hospital for a meeting and were told that it was very likely Keira-Louise had died from Group B Strep, an infection that is carried in the birth canal by most women, but like cot death, they can’t seem to explain why some babies and mothers react to it and some don’t. I sat there, numb of any feeling, as they literally told me that my own body had killed our baby, and if known a course of antibiotics at birth could have saved her. Something as simple as antibiotics!!
We left the hospital, watching excited parents taking their new babies home for the first time, and my arms were empty. I can remember looking back and a heavily pregnant woman in a dressing gown was smoking at the door; I have never felt anger like it. I wanted to scream and punch her, and tell her our story. That she would walk out of here with a healthy baby and I wouldn’t, despite having never smoked. That is the irony of life.
I had two dreams whilst I was pregnant. In the first I was holding a baby girl on her 1st birthday, surrounded by family, when suddenly the sun went behind a cloud and the child was gone and I was looking down at a grave marker. In the second dream, I turned up heavily pregnant to see the midwife, when she told me I had to stop keep coming as they couldn’t keep telling me I didn’t have a baby. When I looked down at my stomach it was suddenly flat, and I woke up with tears on my face, but my baby kicked and I felt relieved.
To any other mother I would simply say “Trust your gut”.
In grief you know you will feel empty, lost and heartbroken, but what they never tell you about grief, is the pure unadulterated jealousy you will also feel. Suddenly I saw babies or pregnant women everywhere, to the point I felt I would go mad. I was even jealous of my own sister, who had twin boys and a girl, all under three. Why did she get three, and I couldn’t keep one?
The saying “time is a healer” is not true, time doesn’t heal, it just gets easier to breathe every day. The pain is with me every day. At the beginning, every morning when I woke up, for a second my brain didn’t catch up with my heart, then it would all align and it was like reliving it all over again. Grief is like a rock on your chest, each day it gets that little bit lighter, each day is a little easier to breathe. Until, one day, it’s not the first thing you notice when waking up, but the rock remains.
You don’t get over the death of your child, you just get through it. Death robs you, it is as simple as that. We have an empty place at our table, a missing person in all our family photos, we missed all the ”firsts”; smiles, steps, words, Christmas morning, birthday, day at school…
At the death of a child all focus seems to be on the mother, but Ian lost his daughter too. He felt he had to be strong for me so he cried in private. As the years have passed, I have had to watch as his mental health deteriorated. He now finds it hard to love completely, or to enjoy life fully, as he fears it will be taken away.
I have had to learn to live with the fact that my own body killed my baby, but over the years I have been able to help raise the awareness of Group B Strep, and a family friends’ granddaughter is alive today because of Keira. She recognised the symptoms, and told the midwife, and thankfully, they got antibiotics into her quickly and she is now a beautiful teenager.
We were lucky in that we had our rainbow baby eighteen months later. Katie Louise Elizabeth entered our lives, and was as beautiful as her sister. This time we were the happy parents walking out of the hospital with our bundle; but it was bittersweet.
We talk about Keira all the time in our family, each year at Christmas, my mum, sister and I buy a special bauble for the tree, so that she is always a part of the celebration, and each year I smile as I take each one out of the box.
I find white feathers in the weirdest of places, and I know she is always with me in my darkest times. That one day, I will finally get to hold her and see her beautiful eyes looking at me, and the space in my heart that belongs to her alone will feel complete, again.
July is Strep B Awareness month; for more information or support, or to get hold of a Strep B test kit-