My baby died a few weeks before she was supposed to be born. I’m still supposed to be pregnant with her right now. She is still supposed to be wiggling around, happy and safe inside of me. Her due date is in 12 days time. And instead she is gone, and I am a mother without a baby.
There is a song by John Butler Trio that is about a father’s love for his new daughter. The lyrics are:
“There you are, right in front of me
A brand new day, a sunrise over sea
No longer, is my cup half empty
Cause there you are
You and your mum in front of me
And now I look up above me and
I thank that great old God in the sky For telling me my cup ain’t half empty
It took my little girl to show me why
For so long, I’ve sang this sad old song
And it feels like my time is up
For she came, and landed in my arms
And she filled my half empty cup
Yeah she filled my half empty cup”
The lyrics are beautiful. The lyrics talk about his daughter filling his half empty cup. Relieving life’s sadness. Giving him a purpose. About being his sunrise over sea. My half empty cup was never filled, and my sunrise over sea never came, at least not yet. But my daughter showed me a love I never knew I could have.
I’m not going to pretend I have always been the type of woman who longed for a husband and children. I was never sure if I wanted a family of my own. I am not exactly conventional; I have never believed in the tradition of or the idealism placed on marriage. I was never good around children or babies, I found them scary and unpredictable and I had never really spent that much time around them since the time I was one myself. None of my close friends or family really had children until shortly before I did, or around the time I did. And so it wasn’t really something I thought about happening in my life until a much later time.
In my early to mid 20s I prioritised travel and career. They were my more immediate plans. I wanted to travel and see the world which I did. I came back and studied and graduated and began to build my career. I never focussed on or entertained the idea of a family within the near future, at least.
I met Adam in 2011. Previously my romantic history had been chequered and problematic and I hadn’t had very much luck in that area. But there was something about Adam. He was quiet and kind and we fell in love. He is the first true love of my life.
In 2014 I fell pregnant. It wasn’t expected but something within me had shifted. I wanted my baby so much. We started to do up our house, prepare to become parents. I had a consuming job at the time working HR for Corrections, and commuted to the city daily, battling severe morning sickness, vomiting in between meetings and trying to hide it from people at work. Thinking how quickly it had all changed, but I was ready. It somehow put Adam and I on the same path for two people who previously had been living somewhat selfishly. We suddenly had the same goal, the same direction. This little person was everything. Everything had aligned, everything suddenly made sense.
I didn’t want to find out the sex of my baby until the day he or she was born. I wanted to be surprised on that special day when I met my child.
My 13 week scan was normal. The ultrasound specialist said it should be safe to tell people now. So we did. Two days later at a routine appointment I was told I was at high risk for something called Trisomy 18, which is a terrible disease and not compatible with life. I could lose my baby. Bloods had to be taken and sent overseas for genetic testing. After an agonising two week wait we were told the tests had failed and further blood was drawn and sent away again. About 10 days later we finally got the all clear.
I was overjoyed. I thought finally I could relax into my pregnancy and enjoy every minute of it, although there was always a niggling doubt at the back of my mind. But all the tests were normal, and no further issues were detected, and so I trusted that things would be okay.
In celebration of the news of a healthy baby we planned an amazing baby shower, which is a day I will always treasure. Adam and I went on our “babymoon” the week of my birthday in February 2015, our last holiday before becoming parents. I saw my baby somersaulting in my tummy for the first time on my birthday. I saw the full outline of her little body (of course at the time I didn’t know “she” was a she). It was a beautiful gift.
We worked on the most perfect, beautiful nursery for her. I spent hours in there organising everything just so for the baby’s arrival. It was grey, white and lemon. My mum painted the walls; we put up beautiful decals of trees and animals. It was lovely. A perfect space for our perfect baby.
There was stress and setbacks throughout my pregnancy, first the health issues described above and later unpredicted work stresses arose. It was a hard road but it ultimately didn’t matter – health wise the pregnancy seemed to be progressing smoothly which was really all that mattered, a healthy baby at the end of all of this. I attended appointments and checkups as and when required. At 36 weeks the baby’s movements had slowed slightly but everything indicated this was both normal and expected – my pregnancy apps I read almost daily told me to expect this as the baby had less room to move and was moving into position, that you should be feeling squirming movements rather than the “jabs” of kicks. Which I was. Everything else I had read told me the same, friends and family who had babies told me they experienced the same during that period of their pregnancies too. I noticed this decrease in movements but I wasn’t too worried as I still felt the movement. Unfortunately later I found out that it is common that other women mistake this “movement” as normal as well – other women who experience stillbirth. If I had experienced a stoppage of movement I would have gone straight to the doctor. But the movement was still there, albeit reduced, and I thought it was normal. I thought it would be okay.
I went to my routine appointment at 36 weeks. The doctor I had to see that day was abrupt and rude. This started to change when she couldn’t find a heartbeat. I knew something was wrong. It was almost like I had expected it the entire pregnancy, since the high risk results – waiting for something or someone to take my baby away. They moved me to a room to get an ultrasound and still couldn’t find a heartbeat. No one was explaining things but I knew something was wrong. I asked them to tell me so I could call someone. They told me there was no heartbeat and “it wasn’t okay”.
Mum wasn’t far away – she was at my house getting things ready for the baby. She came shortly after. Adam had to come from work and arrived about an hour later.
They took me to the hospital where another scan confirmed my baby was indeed gone. At this stage I still didn’t know if my baby was a boy or a girl. I had lost my beautiful child regardless.
The same day I found out my baby had died was the same day I found out that she was a little girl. Throughout my pregnancy I had always sensed a little girl. I had had dreams of a little girl. I had had her name in my mind throughout my entire pregnancy. Avery Kate Mailer. She was always Avery.
The next few hours are a blur. I was told I couldn’t have a c-section and would have to give birth vaginally. I was worried about the impact this would have on me mentally – I have a history of depression and anxiety which I have been treated for, and have learned to manage under normal circumstances. This was far from a normal circumstance. I wasn’t sure I could handle it. I was scared to see my baby. I thought I had ruined her. I thought it was all my fault.
It made it harder that one of my friends from school was on the same ward having just given birth to her healthy baby boy. I stayed in my room terrified of seeing anyone I knew and having to explain what had happened. (this friend has been a wonderful support to me, who put no pressure on me and allowed me to heal in my own time, who wasn’t offended when I wasn’t ready to reach out to her and her son, and who honours my baby girl every year on her son’s birthday).
They were asking me things like did I want to see my baby, did I want to hold my baby. Did I want to dress my baby. Did I want to bathe my baby. Did I want photos of my baby. I just wanted my baby to be alive and I wanted to go home with my living, breathing baby and Adam. I wanted our family at home together like we were supposed to be.
I couldn’t have the c-section so I was advised I would be given drugs to induce the labour, and would be given as many drugs as I would need to make the labour bearable both mentally and physically. They inserted a gel into my cervix to induce the labour. It would need to be repeated every six hours until it started working. The first two attempts did not work and with each insertion it was becoming more and more painful. I was given a sedative to sleep and woke up at 4am with intense contractions. I thought this was just the start of the labour and it was so painful I kept querying where the drugs I had been promised were. The correct paperwork hadn’t been signed off to administer them. I had been given pethidine earlier to help with the contractions which had worn off. It must have helped some but it wasn’t what had been discussed to help me through. The labour had progressed too quickly.
I felt pressure on my bladder like nothing I had ever felt before. It felt so heavy. The pressure felt close to bursting and I was sure my bladder was going to rupture. I remember screaming at them to help me and that something was wrong. I was screaming that they had said I would have drugs to get me through this mentally and physically and that I didn’t. I was writhing on the bed and didn’t realise it was time to push. There was a beautiful midwife Laura by my side helping me. She was telling me to push. I pushed and pushed and once I did it wasn’t as bad as I thought pain wise. The baby obviously didn’t cry. She was put on my chest. She had a perfect, sweet face. But she was gone. She was small but quite long. I was long when I was a baby too. She wasn’t chubby. Her features were perfect and she had her Dad’s beautiful hair. I loved her little fingers. She was lovely. She just wasn’t alive and it hurt so much.
I was scared of moving her too much and breaking her. I kissed and stroked her beautiful face. She was a little bit bruised. I cried a lot. I wished my tears would wake her.
As time went on throughout the day she started to bleed a little bit, just like anyone who has passed away. It was hard to see my baby start to bleed. There was some blood around her eyes, nose and mouth. That wasn’t how I wanted to remember her, I wanted to remember her as the baby girl she should have been, before nature so cruelly took her away, which is how I try to remember her now. Adam was a good dad to her and wiped her face gently. I cried and kissed her still.
I wanted pictures to remember her. I didn’t want to bathe her, she was too fragile. It was too hard. I had been looking forward to bathing her softly at home before her bed time. I couldn’t bring myself to do it that way. She was fragile. She was gone. The midwives bathed her with Adam and Mum.
None of the clothes we had fit because she was so small. She was dressed in the smallest thing we had – a yellow Winnie the Pooh singlet and was wrapped in a pink blanket. She had a little bear with her. She will be cremated in that outfit with that bear. I have since written a letter to her which she will also be cremated with, along with one of my childhood toys. We will take flowers to her as well.
We had a blessing ceremony for her at the hospital. I kissed her goodbye and whispered I loved her so much and that one day we will be together again and that I will never forget her.
I am a mother without a baby. I lost the most precious thing I never knew I could have, the most precious gift I never knew I wanted so very much but now the longing for her consumes me. My arms physically ache for my baby girl. But I am still Avery’s mum and she is and always will be my daughter. A life together as a family was taken away from us. We were so close to having everything.
We will hold a ceremony to honour her little life that had such a big impact on us and everyone we knew, who loved her and couldn’t wait to meet her. I can’t even go in her nursery, which we tried so hard to make perfect for her and is full of gifts from people who just loved her and awaited her arrival. The house we worked so hard on to make ready for a baby feels somehow empty.
All I have now is hope. Hope that it will get easier. Hope that Adam and I will become even closer. Hope for a future and a family that Avery will always be part of. Hope that I’ll someday see Avery again. Hope that she is my little angel who is never far from her mummy. Hope that she knows I loved her and wanted her so much and tried my best for her. Hope that I will forgive myself and stop doubting that there was something that I or that the doctor’s could have done differently.
Avery was born with her umbilical cord wrapped tightly around her neck and torso. Her placenta was not a good size nor did it look healthy. That she was much smaller than a baby should have been at 36 weeks gestation indicated that she was a growth restricted baby. None of this was picked up by the doctors.
I do have some questions about Avery and if it was at all linked to the initial high risk test results I received back in the first trimester, as some discussions I had with medical staff at the hospital indicated it may well have been. I won’t pretend to be a doctor and go into the details but it was something to do with low PAPP-A which gave me a high risk of Trisomy 18 but can also be indicative of third trimester issues such as preeclampsia or poor growth (IUGR) in foetuses. When I came back with the all clear for Trisomy 18, why was the growth of the baby not still monitored closely? I do have questions about why this wasn’t further looked in to, as I feel some parts of my prenatal care were possibly neglected due to changing doctors within the clinic throughout the course of my pregnancy. I do have questions about how and why my baby was so small and this was not detected. So many questions that it is overwhelming.
I await the full results from King Edward Hospital which is somewhat terrifying and which will take over a month. I pray I will have some more answers and that this meeting will give me hope for the future and hope for a future baby. Never to replace Avery but to give her siblings. To continue to share her story. I’d do anything to have her back.
I am not pretending to be a doctor nor do I pretend to have a medical degree. But through the research and reading I have done trying to understand why this happened to me and my baby, to my family, I have found little answers and gaps in the system that are unsatisfactory. Something that stands out in my mind is that I was paranoid about SIDS and safe sleeping and continuously reading about safe care for my baby once she arrived. All the reading and research I have done has shown me that stillbirths occur in approximately 1 in 160 births. Some research indicated that that is ten times higher than the rate of SIDS fatalities. Yet I had no idea that this could potentially occur in my baby, that in fact there is a fairly high risk that it could, what if anything I could do to prevent it. I just wasn’t aware that the rate of stillbirth was still so high and that up to 50% of the time, potentially even higher, parents aren’t even given a definitive answer as to how and why it occurred.
I understand pregnancy is a risk. Life is a risk. But there still seems to be a stigma attached to stillbirth and not enough is being done and it isn’t being talked about. Most people don’t even know the difference between a miscarriage and a stillbirth.
A loss of a baby, a miscarriage, a stillbirth, a loss at any stage of pregnancy is still a loss. It is devastating. It is the death of a family member, of hopes and dreams and a future. And more needs to be done. People need more answers as to why, when they have lost so much.
Written by Zoe, Avery’s Mum.