I always knew I wanted to have children. Coming from a large family and being surrounded by babies as I grew up, I couldn’t imagine not having children of my own. I met Dean at 23, and as our relationship progressed we discussed having a family and agreed that was something we wanted. We married and luckily fell pregnant two months after our honeymoon. The speed with which it happened was surprising, but we were excited to welcome a little piece of us both.
We waited until our 12 week scan to tell anyone our news. We spent the day visiting our families and telling them we were expecting our first baby in August 2015. My pregnancy was consultant led because I have IBD which classified the pregnancy as high risk, however all scans and tests were normal. I loved being pregnant (nausea and sciatica aside) and as I grew larger with each passing month, we discussed baby names, drew up a list of things we would need, ordered the pram and car seat, and, for some reason, decided to replace our home’s entire heating system! We decided not to find out the sex and called our bump “baby tree”, a play on our surname, whilst we waited to see who we had created.
All was well until 33 weeks, when I woke on the Monday and discovered I was losing amniotic fluid. I went to the pregnancy assessment unit, who confirmed my waters had ruptured and sent me to hospital. I was monitored for 48 hours and given steroids to strengthen baby’s lungs in case labour started, but as nothing happened I was sent home. I spent the next few days resting, without any signs of labour. Late Friday afternoon I felt a dropping sensation and some niggly pains. Dean was busy getting ready for a cycling challenge he was starting the next day – the C2C2C, cycling from the east coast of England to the west in one day, and then back again the next. Within an hour of telling him about the niggles, I was in agony and Dean was rushing around throwing things in a bag. I clearly remember thinking that if this was the beginning of labour I would never cope towards the end, unaware I was already 10cm dilated and ready to push. We sped to the hospital and were immediately taken to a delivery suite. Within 40 minutes, our baby was placed on my chest and Dean told me we had a little boy. A tiny, perfect little boy, at 3lbs 13.5oz, looking very confused as to what had just happened. He was checked over by a paediatrician due to his prematurity and although declared well, was taken to SCBU as a precaution. We named him Seth.
I stayed in hospital with him, and he thrived, gaining weight and moving from SCBU to the nursery and then with me on the neonatal ward. He was doing so well that we just had to get the hang of latching before we could go home.
In the early hours on the Friday morning, when Seth was one week old I woke to the midwife who had brought my milk for his NGT feed pulling the emergency button as she rushed his cot out of the ward. I was confused, with no idea of what was happening as I was ushered off the ward into an empty room by another midwife. She took my phone and rang Dean, as I sat in shock waiting to find out what was going on, all the midwife could tell me was that he was poorly and the doctors were working on him. A doctor came in and told me Seth wasn’t responding and they wanted to stop resuscitation efforts. I begged them to keep trying through tears, but they explained that there wasn’t anything they could do. I asked them to keep trying until Dean arrived, so that he could be there at the end. Dean arrived minutes later and I had to tell him Seth was dying. We still didn’t know why or what had happened. We were taken to the resus room and sat down, the doctors then stopped their efforts and called his time of death as he was placed into our arms. The rest of the day passed in a blur of holding him, kissing him and sobbing. Not wanting to let go of him at all. Calling our family and explaining that our healthy baby had died and we had no idea why. Being visited by the police and various hospital employees as it was an unexpected death, as well as our families arriving to support us. The midwife who had taken Seth to resus came to see us. Despite this being hours after the end of her shift, she sat and cried with us. I think of her and how Seth’s death affected her often. We held him as much as we could, until it was time for him to be taken to the mortuary for post mortem, and we left hospital with a memory box instead of our son.
The following weeks felt like a surreal nightmare filled with necessary but unwanted tasks. Registering the birth of your baby who isn’t tucked up in a pram next to you. Planning a funeral for your son who didn’t get a chance to experience all the things he should have. Deciding on songs and a celebrant, trying to do the one thing for our child that we could, whilst not wanting to do it at all, all the time feeling like I was drowning. We somehow made it through those few weeks and the day of his funeral. We dedicated the smallest tree in the memorial garden to him, a baby tree for our baby tree.
It took until December to get the results of Seth’s post mortem back, and it found he was perfect, healthy and with no undiagnosed issues. His cause of death was officially given as unexplained SUPC (sudden unexpected postnatal collapse). There was no reason for it, no answers to be given. A relief that we hadn’t missed anything, that he hadn’t been unwell. Despair that there was no resolution.
We decided to try for a sibling for Seth after we had the results back and we knew there wasn’t a genetic issue. We discussed when would be the right time and realised there wasn’t one, but we didn’t want to wait too long. We were lucky to become pregnant again in the March and were placed on the Lullaby Trust CONI programme. We had our second child, Erin, in October 2016, 7 weeks early and spent 4 weeks in SCBU with her before bringing her home.
Parenting after child loss is an anxious and strange experience. I followed every piece of medical advice to the letter. She was weighed every week, to reassure me that she was OK. I would wake during the night, checking her apnoea monitor to ensure she was breathing. I would have panicked nightmares that woke my husband. I couldn’t understand how I was meant to relax as she slept, when sleeping was how my baby boy died. When the apnoea alarm would occasionally sound (normally due to a kink in the wire) we would fly out of bed, immediately awake to ensure she was OK. Over time, we eventually learned to relax a little and enjoy being parents. We had another baby girl in May 2018, Zoey. Again we were on the CONI scheme and found the support amazing. Together, we got through it, the anxiety eased and we were able to find joy in raising our girls. We found our light at the end of the tunnel.
Our girls know about their big brother and speak about him. They visit his tree with us and know how special he was. We, our families and friends have raised funds in Seths memory for the Lullaby Trust and a charity called 4Louis, who provide hospitals memory boxes and cold cots to allow families to spend time with their babies. We used a cold cot the day Seth died and our memory box is our most treasured possession. To date with various half marathons, skydives and Dean completing the coast-to-coast-to-coast he was meant to do when Seth was born, we’ve collectively raised almost £10,000.
I will always be a mother of three. Seth will always be the one who made us parents and I will forever feel that a part of us is missing. Family photos will never be complete and milestones are always difficult. I will always wonder who he would have been, and who we would have been as parents had he lived. What I do know, is that having him has made me treasure what we do have and to appreciate the people who have been there for us in the hardest of times and are still there for us now. I believe I am a better person for being Seth’s mama, and for that I am grateful.