‘Shall we try for a baby?’ Probably one of the most important decisions that a couple make. Less than a year after we were married, we were fortunate to fall pregnant very quickly. It was August 2008, we were young. Up until then, we felt like we had it all, family, great friends, a beautiful home and more than we could ever imagine.
The first two trimesters of my pregnancy were trouble free. We chose to only share our news with our parents before our 12-week scan. I was desperate to find out the sex of the baby, secretly hoping for a girl. We were relieved that when we had our 20-week scan, all was well and delighted to find out we were expecting a baby girl. Everything became very exciting and real at this point.
That Christmas, I became really unwell, a bad flu was diagnosed, weirdly, my skin became really itchy, burning. I spent most of the festive period in bed resting. It was miserable but the right thing for baby and I. Between January and Cleo’s death in March 2009 our worst nightmare came true. I had felt the early movements of baby – that I described as bubbles in the tummy.
We started to worry that our baby didn’t seem to be that active in the womb, so much so that we consulted my medical team. They confirmed that because I was still early in my pregnancy that it was normal to feel sporadic quickening’s and that it wasn’t until further along that they would become more regular and stronger. I was a first-time mum, what did I know? We went with the medical advice. Looking back, at this point I was becoming quite down, depressed, only with hindsight do I now know that our baby was dying. We were so worried that I went to hospital so that the midwives could check on baby. Sadly, I didn’t feel listened to, I was checked over but not scanned. I was told that my blood pressure was high, but this could be down to my ‘salt intake’ or my ‘size’ (I neither ate too much salt nor was particularly overweight). I presented myself three more times to the same unit, each time I was checked over but never scanned. The last time that I presented to the unit my husband was with me. That awful day has never left my mind. I remember speaking to my parents just before (they were waiting at the airport) I told mum I hadn’t felt the baby move all night. I could hear the concern in her voice; they didn’t board that flight. This time at the hospital, we were ushered into a side room with an ultrasound machine. Even when I lay on the bed I didn’t panic, after all, I was too early to feel regular movement wasn’t I and stillbirth just didn’t happen to people like me did it?
The midwife started to scan me and after what I now know as her finding no heartbeat told us that her machine was broken. She ran out the room back in with another midwife, new machine and scanned again. Then the tragic news was delivered to us that there was no heartbeat, our baby had died. My husband’s reaction will haunt me until the day that I die, he went grey and slid down the wall, I had, and have never seem him like this. What followed next is still a blur, I remember taking some tablets which I now know to be Misoprostol, a medication that softens the cervix in preparation for birth. I have a horrific memory of taking those tablets – I felt as though I was killing my baby. Until this point, it hadn’t dawned on me that I would have to deliver our dead baby. Once the realisation hit me, I remember trying to push for a caesarean section, horrified at what followed for me. The doctors were pretty adamant that I needed to deliver Cleo vaginally – again I realise this was because of ‘future’ pregnancies. This angered me, how could I possibly think about another pregnancy?
I was then sent home for the night, carrying our dead baby, all that my husband and I could manage was an early morning walk in the park. I wasn’t scared of labour pain; I was scared of the pain afterwards – the pain of no baby to bring home. Of course, we couldn’t sleep as we waited for the call from the hospital to confirm that we could go in and have our baby. Again, this day became a blur. What I do remember was the look, the smell of the hospital room the medical equipment. Would I need that? Was I going to be okay? Might I die too? Horrific. I was put on a drip and given some pain relief via a syringe driver. This drug was strong, diamorphine. I was assured that this would take my pain away, physical pain yes, maybe. Again, I felt that I wasn’t given a choice with my pain relief. I went through the stages of labour, and I was high on what is basically medical heroin. I delivered Cleo alone, with no midwife or doctor to be seen. My husband had to run for help, something that I am sure haunts him too. Staff were kind, but looking back I get the impression that they weren’t trained in looking after women whose baby had just died. No woman should deliver alone, ever.
What follows a stillbirth, is traumatic. I had no idea my milk would come in; standing in the shower I looked down and saw it running down the plug. Again, tablets can be prescribed to stop this ; I didn’t receive them from the hospital. The after pains. We held our baby and have some very precious photographs of that time. What upsets me is that I look high in them from the Diamorphine, our only visual memory of our daughter, my husband’s pain is evident. We had to decide whether to have a post-mortem or not (we did decide to). Then later how do we say goodbye to our baby for the final time? If you decide on an investigation into your baby’s death you need to return to the hospital for results. Sadly, many times, no reason is found. Baby Cleo died from encephalitis of the brain from Parvovirus. Parvovirus is also known as slap cheek or fifths disease. I caught the disease, and it crossed my placenta and ultimately killed our baby. My illness at Christmas was the Parvovirus. It took a long time for me to stop blaming myself, I no longer feel guilty, I don’t blame the hospital anymore.
Relationships since Cleo’s death have changed for ever, some people can’t cope with our loss or know how to respond, that’s not my problem! I want pregnant woman to be heard, especially women of colour, our babies are twice as likely to die from stillbirth or shortly after birth. SANDS are a fantastic charity who support anyone in the death of a baby, they helped us so much especially in the early days. When Cleo died in 2009, 17 babies a day died in the UK before or shortly after birth. By 2018 this number had fallen to 14. Change is happening, but still far too many lives are lost unnecessarily. Therapy after loss seems to be a lottery. My initial therapy was awful, it put me off seeking help for years and I struggled on. I have PTSD, health anxiety and the fear of loss, I manage and live with these conditions, supported by a fantastic therapist now. One day I will complete my own psychotherapy training (I am 2 years in), Covid has definitely slowed me down and I have struggled with the infection side and my health anxiety.
What about now? This is a complicated part because I believe that Cleo’s story and my story are two separate things. We were fortunate to fall pregnant only six weeks after Cleo’s birth. My second daughter’s pregnancy was awful, not medically but mentally. Every minute of every day I thought she would die. Well-meaning friends and family told me it would ‘be okay’ this time. Unfortunately, when your baby has died it will never be ‘okay’. I decided it was best to hide away and just ‘survive’ those long nine months.
Thankfully our second daughter arrived healthily and safely into the world on 3rd February 2010, closely followed by a healthy boy on 21st January 2011. Visiting our daughter in the graveyard is something that I never envisaged. Now 12 years on it has become our norm. My two living children know about their sister. We celebrate Cleo’s birthday every year. Every day, I feel so lucky that we have two healthy children but for as long as I live, I will always be mummy to three.
Instagram – @annataylormoir