12 February 2014
My husband Brad and I always knew we wanted to have children and it was when I was 29 that we started trying.
It didn’t happen like we had hoped, naively believing that we’d click our fingers and presto our first child would be on the way, but when I was 31, after fertility treatment, for unexplained infertility and rounds of IVF, I remember the phone call that changed our lives. I was sitting in our lounge room when I got the call with the results of our pregnancy test. It was a Saturday and Brad was home, he paced the room while I spoke to the fertility nurse. With tears in my eyes I hung up the phone, Brad was unsure of the results, but I burst with excitement that we were going to be parents. We were overjoyed. Our precious baby was loved and treasured from this moment.
I embraced pregnancy with an enormous delight and you could not wipe the smiles from our faces. Nothing could get me down. I was thankful for every pain and ache as my body stretched and my beautiful baby grew inside me. Brad kissed my belly every morning before work and we read stories to our growing bump whom we had already named Alfie. Unlike our journey to conceive our little one, the pregnancy was text book, trouble free and I felt great.
Wanting the best for my baby I ate right, walked regularly, attended prenatal yoga, read books and blogs, downloaded apps, even went to breast feeding classes, the whole gambit. Brad and I attended prenatal birthing classes and studied a hypnobirthing course to ensure we were providing the best birthing environment for our baby. We toyed with the idea of a homebirth, hoping for the most holistic approach to birth. We asked every question we could imagine and after much deliberation and hospital hopping, we did decide to stay in the private system. We liked our obstetrician and felt very confident in him, he supported our choices and was right for us and our baby. We celebrated our baby with a shower, beaming with joy with friends and she was flooded with gifts. There was a definite and coincidental caterpillar theme that flowed through the day. I looked at my sisters and said “well this has got to mean something?”
At 36 weeks gestation I started having braxonhicks contractions and was excited that my body was preparing itself for birth. Then 3 weeks prior to my due date, at 37 weeks, I had a small bleed and went to hospital where my belly was hooked up to the monitoring CTG machine and everything was fine. Our baby, as always, had a strong heartbeat. I loved looking at the printout of her heartbeat and now my braxonhicks were coming at regular 10 minute intervals and it seemed like pre-labour was starting. We were told that the baby could arrive at any moment. We went home excitedly and continued to let my body prepare for the birth of our first child. We already had Alfie’s nursery ready, our cupboards filled with baby goods, nappies, containers, bottles, toys and we even installed the car seat ready for our bundle of joy to arrive. We were prepared for everything, well we thought so. For the rest of the week my practice contractions continued and progressed at week 38 to 5 minute intervals for the remainder of my pregnancy. Sometimes the contractions lasted 45 seconds to a minute at other times for under 30 seconds, sometimes they were extremely painful and stopped me in my tracks and other times I could walk through it. The pain was inconsistent but the contractions where spot-on every 5 minutes and had been for weeks. I didn’t know if this was normal, but was reassured that my body was doing fine, the babies heartbeat was fine and in all my internet searching I couldn’t find anything that would suggest otherwise. I never did search adverse outcomes of pregnancy though, it didn’t even cross my mind, I trusted my body. It was getting exciting and we really believed that Alfie would be born early. My due date was approaching and I thought my labour was progressing. This little one inside me was a mover and a shaker, she did not stop rolling from 25 weeks on. The Saturday before my due date, I had a really strange sickly feeling and vomited in the morning, my contractions were still present and the baby was still moving, although not quite as much. The feeling subsided and I went off to my friend’s wedding. All day I thought, I’m going into hospital today, this baby is going to be born, but the day came and went. The following Monday night our little angel was kicking crazily and I looked at Brad and said, “this baby wants out, I’ll be surprised if we last through the night”. This was the 11th of February and I was at term in my 40th week of pregnancy. At 2:30am I woke up, went to the bathroom and got an unusually firm kick from the little life inside me. I rubbed my belly and went back to sleep. I woke up with a start at 4am as did Brad. This time Alfie didn’t move. I got up and moved around and was surprised that the she didn’t wake. Brad asked if I was alright, I said “I think so” and went back to bed feeling strange but believing that the baby was sleeping.
Brad went off to work and kissed our little baby goodbye through my belly, like always. I went about my day as normal, it was strange though, normally the baby would be rolling around in there. I drank an orange juice (this always got her moving) she didn’t budge. By 10am I was getting a bit anxious that she hadn’t woken but kept telling myself not to be ridiculous, after all what could possibly go wrong, everything is going right. I laid down and pressed my belly concentrating, could I feel movements? Nothing. I decided to stretch canvases, I am an artist and every time that staple gun went she would jump around inside me. Not this time though, this time there was not a movement, not a peep…nothing. It was 12pm now and I rang Brad, swallowing slowing, believing that it was my pregnancy hormones getting to me that made me want to cry, and said “hun, I haven’t felt the baby move since last night, should I call the doctor?” His answer was of course, yes, and he asked that I call back and let him know what was happening. I rang our obstetricians rooms and let the midwife know the story, that I had tried to wake the baby, etc, but I haven’t felt the baby move in almost 10 hours. Her response, “go to the hospital they will be expecting you, I’ll let them know you’re on your way”. I rang Brad and explaining that I needed to head in to the hospital. He came home and at 12:30 we were on our way.
We walked straight to the maternity ward and announced our arrival. I felt silly and like I was being a nuisance. They guided us, with a smile, to the last and most private room. They pulled out the doppler and listened for a heartbeat. I said frantically “why can’t I hear a heartbeat?” and “why didn’t she kick the machine away? The baby always kicks the doppler, because it’s so cold.” Last time there was one midwife with us, this time there was three and they said “oh, sometimes it’s hard to hear, let’s just have another try”. But all I could hear was my heartbeat! I thought why aren’t they putting me on the CTG machine, why aren’t I hooked up like last time? Something’s not right. One of the midwives quickly exited the room and returned with an ultrasound machine. The moment I saw the screen I was panic stricken, I couldn’t see her little heart beating away, and she was still, she was never still. I said “there’s no heartbeat, why can’t I see her heartbeat”? The nurses looked white in the face. I looked longingly at Brad, he looked shell shocked and couldn’t look me in the eye. There is still not an adequate way to describe how I felt…sickened, disbelief, distraught, impossible, I wanted to scream, cry, lash out, be hugged, be left alone…it was incomprehensible. That is when one of the midwives, Jenny, said honestly “we are going to get you to have a better ultrasound, but you’re right, I’m sorry, I think your baby is gone.” I wanted to shake her and say NO your wrong, but I knew she was telling me the truth. I stood up shaking, pacing the room, feeling completely out of control. They put me in a wheelchair, I got in and out of the chair a half a dozen times, I wanted to walk, wanted to run, I didn’t know what to do. Brad was standing beside me holding my hand, I couldn’t let him go, as we were walked down the corridor towards radiology. I asked Brad for my phone to ring my parents. I knew they were down at Hindmarsh Island for the day. My mum answered and I couldn’t speak, I just blubbered “there’s no heartbeat” then couldn’t say another word and thrust the phone at Brad. He was good, he was calm, but you could hear the anxiety in his voice and lump in this throat as he asked them to come to the hospital.
They put us in a little office to wait for the radiologist in private. I was numb, we didn’t speak, we just waited for what felt like forever, it was the longest 5 minutes of our lives. We were ushered in and the doctor that had conducted our 20 week scan was the one who was there to do our ultrasound. Again I looked at the screen, this time it was clearer, our baby was still, the screen was quiet and there was a big part missing, her heartbeat. The doctor looked at me and said “I’m sorry there is no heartbeat, poor little chop” I looked at her and said “chop, that’s what my sister has been calling our baby” I started crying and grabbed for Brad, he looked sad and angry. We just held each other sobbing. The doctor left and a young girl came in to continue the scan. She put the ultrasound to my belly and allowed us to look at Alfie. She talked us through each scan, as she checked for any signs as to why? There was nothing. She said everything looks great and she looks like a healthy baby. She kept walking us through talking about how good our baby looked, I said “stop! This is cruel.” I had startled her and I felt sorry for her but I just couldn’t cope with hearing just how great everything looked, when all I could see was the lack of heartbeat. Thankfully our obstetrician, Chris, arrived in his scrubs, having rushed straight from surgery and joined us. He looked at us gobsmacked and said “there is nothing right about this” and he was there for us. We were given some last ultrasound pictures and wheeled back to the room where we were first given the news.
Brad rang his Mum and Dad, in Geelong, and asked them to come. I don’t envy that phone call. They dropped everything and started the drive over. His siblings followed a day later. My Mum and Dad burst into the room. We hugged them not knowing what to say. It was all such a mess, still so unbelievable. I wanted to think that they had it wrong and that maybe her heart would start again. Part of me clutched to this as I faced the thought of birthing my baby. Brad and I not knowing what to do got into birthing mode, I was thinking of all my hypnobirthing techniques as he was beginning to arrange the birthing suite with a bath. We were going crazy. As if this was at all like what we had imagined, but we had no idea what to do, we needed some guidance. How were we going to navigate this nightmare? We were so glad to have Chris to guide us through what was now to be our birthing journey. Knowing that I had to give birth, my loved ones wanted the quickest most pain free option and asked about a caesarean section. I felt confident that I could birth Alfie naturally and thankfully so did my obstetrician Chris and we spoke about the process I was going to go through but that Alfie would be stillborn. The midwives were comforting, people came and went all the while sensitive to the fact that we were trying to contemplate the precious gift of life coupled with death. It was so incredibly difficult to comprehend. My father said that my sisters were all waiting to know what, if anything, they could do. I looked at Brad he just nodded and managed a smiled. I looked at my Dad and said “I want them to be here” they were all waiting at the hospital and the 4 of them were in there within moments. As tears rolled down their faces, my sisters massaged my legs, rubbed my shoulders and were there for us. All the while I couldn’t let go of Brads hand. We were all in disbelief and dumbfounded. I looked at Brad and said “I know what the caterpillar means now…she was the caterpillar and now is a butterfly…she never got a chance to be anything else” it was so unfair, our precious baby was not going to live in this world. My family gave Brad and I some space, wanting to let us rest.
We spoke with our obstetrician and he talked us through the options. My contractions remained the same and so I was induced to help the labour progress. As all of this was happening we were faced with questions and statements that you wouldn’t imagine hearing at the birth of your child…will you be having a funeral? Here is some information…we suggest an autopsy, would you like this to be arranged?…would you like to talk to a minister?…it was all too much! We had thought that IVF treatment would be the hardest of our journey into parenthood, boy were we wrong. The birthing plan was the least of our worries as we tried to discuss our options with muddled heads and the heaviest of hearts. The night rolled on and midwives came in and out, our doctor was their encouraging us to try and sleep. I was given a sleeping tablet, I’m not even sure if it worked. Brads parents arrived, red eyed and in shock. We sobbed, we spoke, we were silent. The lights were turned down, Brad lay beside me all night, I still could not let go of him. Mum stayed with us, we needed her there.
On the morning of the 12th of February 2014, I had hoped I would wake from the worst of nightmares, but it hadn’t been a dream. I was in the hospital and about to give birth to my precious angel. It was to be the day that has changed our lives forever. The nurses brought food in the morning, I didn’t want to eat. Brad and I talked, she deserves a funeral but we didn’t even know how we could face that. I wondered if I did something wrong, what if I’d accidently eaten raw egg and she had listeria. What? Why? How? We just kept asking ourselves the unanswerable questions. Of course we would agree to an autopsy, what if there was something they could tell us, what if there was some sort of information that our daughter could provide another family with, so they didn’t have to do what we are about to. I asked to be checked, to see how the labour was progressing. I was close. Thankfully our parents were there to be with us and my sisters remained close by. We had so much support and yet I still felt like I might drown, could I actually birth my baby? Would I physically be able to do this, let alone mentally? I clung to a hope that maybe by some miracle we were all wrong and I’d hear her cry. It was lunchtime, 12 hours after that dreaded phone call, I looked at Brad and said “I think I need to push”. He called in Sam, the midwife and I said to her “I’m going to start pushing”. She looked and said ok, the doctor will be here at any moment try to wait. I said no, I’m going to breath this baby down. I was two pushes in and she was crowning, our obstetrician Chris arrived and within 5 pushes she was born. It was the scariest moment of my life, a birthing suite should never be silent. I longed to hear her cry, but all I could do was look at my little angel so lifeless and limp and cry out “no”. I clutched Brad in complete distress, I was exhausted, it was true Alfie had died. I wanted the life support machine be rushed in, CPR to start, but there was nothing. They wrapped her precious 6lb 13oz, 53cm long body in a blanket and I held her in my arms. I was shaking, I longed to hold her but I was so scared I thought I would break her, I was in shock and my body was convulsing so incredibly. I passed Alfie to Brad, he held her, took photos of her, looked longingly at her and cried. I was out of it and in complete disbelief at what I had just witnessed. It was simultaneously the birth of my daughter and her death all at once – I struggled to comprehend. They gave us a little time and then we asked everyone to come in. Our parents and my sisters were there all meeting Alfie. She was swaddled and looked perfect, everyone commented how much she looked like a doll. She had chubby cheeks, a head full of curly dark hair, big eyes, a button nose and perfect rose coloured lips. Mum and Dad looked at each other gobsmacked at how much she looked like me when I was born. We told everyone we had called her Alfie, with her lying in her crib it somehow felt a little bit normal, like she was just sleeping and we’d get to take her home. Behind the scenes my Mum, Dad and sisters banded together to let people know what was happening. Thankfully. I know it was not in our power to be able to deliver such devastating news on what was meant to be such a happy occasion to anyone. I shuddered at the thought of even having to see another soul. Our room started to be engulfed with beautiful flowers and gifts, and wouldn’t you know it the caterpillar theme turned to butterfly with butterfly paper, cards and gifts flooding in.
Over the course of the day, like it or not, we had to make logistical decisions. They took Alfie away and a friend of ours, Tim, who is a minister came in and spoke with us. He said how unjust it all was and that there wasn’t good in this situation, we were thankful that he didn’t try to make it better with words, but rather acknowledged the devastation of losing our child. We didn’t know what we wanted but knew we couldn’t decide on a funeral company let alone organise anything and we asked for his guidance. He knew of a lady, Carmel, who had gone through what were in the throes of and she worked for Peter Elberg Funeral Home. It was a relief just hearing that she even understood remotely what we were facing and knew the direction to take, we didn’t know her but asked Tim, with my Dad to arrange for Carmel to take care of a service for Alfie. We knew we wouldn’t want to face it but felt that our little angel deserved a proper service that everyone could show their respects at, just as if she had lived until she was 90, not 9 months. Later that night we asked for some time with Alfie. We held her in the soft light of the room, she was still ‘sleeping’ oh how I longed for her to wake up, I wanted to see the colour of her eyes. We held her, loved her and I never wanted to let her go. Thankfully the hospital had arranged for someone to come in and take photos and a Heart Feltphotographer came in and captured our family together, almost unbeknown to us. We are so thankful for this as the photos we have are so treasured. I kissed Alfie and said goodnight. We didn’t expect it but Carmel came in to the hospital to meet Alfie and care for her. The nurses told us that she was outside and we asked to meet her. Not only were we instantly comforted by her, but Carmel had a butterfly watch and jewellery, I felt it was a sign. I told Carmel that I was reluctant to leave the hospital because I didn’t want to leave Alfie. I didn’t like not knowing where she would go. Carmel arranged to have Alfie taken to the funeral home and she cared for Alfie like she was a sleeping angel. Reporting back to us regularly telling us that she still looked perfect. We stayed in the hospitals care for two more nights and Brad’s siblings arrived. No one knew what to say and it was awkward. I talked about Alfie and Brad showed them photos. Thankfully we had all been given support books and pamphlets from Pregnancy Loss Australia, SANDS and the Stillbirth Foundation and passed them on, they guided our entire family through what we might be feeling. It helped and opened the lines of communication over the days that followed.
I hated leaving Alfie. Our world had been totally upturned. We were utterly devastated I couldn’t return home, so we stayed with my parents for a few days. I didn’t want to see anyone and many sleepless nights were to follow.
During the days in hospital our obstetrician Chris had taken a seat the end of the bed and referring to past experiences of stillbirth said something that I now realise was so spot on “some people will say the right thing, some people will say the wrong thing, but no one really knows what to say”. We have been inundated with support and messages of love for Alfie from people we least expected and have not heard a peep from others. If Alfie were here perhaps people would be in contact more often. I know people don’t know what to say, neither do we, but saying something is better than nothing. I have realised over the course of learning to live without our little angel that;
There are people you need to hear from,
There are people you are surprised and happy to hear from,
There are people who you don’t hear from and that leaves a sadness,
But there is never a person you don’t want to hear from
We did eventually get the autopsy results after 6 weeks but there was not a thing wrong with our little angel. She was perfect. Alfie’s was a completely unexplained sudden death, a bit like SIDS but in utero.
My thoughts are filled with Alfie constantly, as are my dreams. I cannot bring her back and I clutch hold of every possible memory and moment I had with her, every kick, every tumbling dance, every hiccup, reading stories and quiet times doting on her inside my belly. Carrying Alfie for 9 months was honestly the happiest time of my life. I relive meeting her in the flesh over and over with love, sadness, utter disbelief and despair, willing it to be different – but these are my memories and I cling to them with love and honour for my daughter.
I read a quote, from an unknown, during this blurred journey I’m travelling, which has helped me often;
“On particularly rough days when I’m sure I can’t possibly endure. I like to remind myself that my track record for getting through bad days so far is 100% and that’s pretty good.”
I keep reminding myself of that despite the most difficult tragedy I personally have endured, life is still good. Alfie didn’t get a chance to feel the breath of the wind or the sun on her face and, for her I will live my life. I can’t remove or run from my grief and nor would I want to. A piece of me has stayed with her and an emptiness has been left…but I am here, I am living and I am ok.
Our hearts broken, we continue to take life day by day with some moments easier than others. We realise now that it doesn’t get better, but rather you get better at it. We love & miss our precious Alfie so incredibly & still want to hold our little girl in our arms every day. It is for her and every baby born still that we start Still Aware to honour them, bring awareness to the fact of stillbirth and hope to make a change in the statistics.