I’m so sorry. Those words alongside a sympathetic expression is something we got used to as of Friday 12th April 2019 – my parents wedding anniversary to be exact. What else was there to say? I know sure as hell I couldn’t find any words. The first one came from the doctor who performed an ultrasound on me that afternoon. His words also accompanied a hand on my arm and eyes that began to fill, the second from Jason as he entered that room for the first time where I lay, carrying the baby we so desperately wanted. The third I’m so sorry came from me as I muffled it into his shoulder whilst we both just held each other and cried. The fourth from my parents, fifth sisters, sixth midwives, seven friends and your getting the picture…
Just over two months have passed since that day and as much as it is becoming easier to talk about, the gut-wrenching, breath stopping trauma will never leave me, but I am learning to live with it. Within those two months, I have laughed and smiled and it’s been genuine, but the one thing that remains consistent is my love and thoughts for her every single day. & missing her. God I miss her. To the outside world, I will move on. I will go back to work and I’ll probably proceed to tell my terrible dad-jokes and everyone will breathe a sigh of relief that I can still have a laugh and won’t have lost that ‘spark’, but to me I will forever be a different person to the one I was before Friday 12th April. That person will always be just that little bit shattered and little bit broken and the truth is, I won’t know when its characteristics will show. I will grieve for my little girl every day that I am breathing, but (and there is a but here) I will listen to the lessons she is teaching me every day that I go on without her. The only thing that is left to do now is to make something of her memory. She was real, she existed, she still exists and no amount of time can change that fact, so as her parents, she needs to know how much her mummy and daddy love her as well as each other, how fun we can be and how good we are at planning events (damn, she would of had the best birthday parties). She wouldn’t have been the type of girl to let many negatives get to her core – I know it in my heart of hearts and somehow her presence and short little life has given us the strength to carry on without her (whilst she’s watching from above no doubt).
The amount of support we have been shown in this time is nothing short of a miracle itself and many words of love have really touched me in ways I will always be so grateful for. However one man in particular, Mark (the hospital’s Chaplin and also a colleagues dad) told me of a few words that he spoke during Maddison’s service which went as follows;
“The communal language we all assume we share is love. Whilst that is true, the significant communication comes through pain. We as individuals sense other peoples pain, feel it, share it and want to alleviate it.”
With that in mind, I want to document this pain. I want to be able to feel it in years to come, it was the pain that bought us to our daughter and as much as we won’t rule our lives by it, I never want it to leave. It connects me to her just as much as love does. So without further ado, here’s the story of her birth: grab a cuppa it’s a long one. I give you permission to laugh at certain points too. Or perhaps you’d like to stop here, for some it may be uncomfortable to read but before you make that decision, please consider the people who like me, have, are or will go through this and spare them a thought for one moment of your uncomfortableness is a lifetime of our pain. You may see these photos and wish that you hadn’t, but we see photos of healthy children daily.
I woke up on Friday 12th April 2019 at the same time as usual for a normal 10 hour shift at the hospital, anticipating a nice weekend ahead of us. Although this morning had just one thing different about it – no baby movements. I had made a conscious effort to maintain a healthy and relaxed environment for myself the minute I first got that positive test and as for love, I found that immediately in abundance. I even took up yoga classes to help focus on breathing techniques and increasing the connection between me and this little baby that was growing inside of me. So the fear that set in on this morning was automatic and I just knew something was wrong. I felt my heart beat quickening as I went about usual tasks – brushing my teeth, getting dressed etc. so I took 10 minutes to practice some yoga. I thought I was getting a bit over my own head here and worrying for no apparent reason so I needed to find a way to slow down the panic that was building. It helped, but something still felt gave me caution to worry.
Jason had a running joke with the midwives at how ‘perfect’ I was. Our 8 week appointment was more of a box ticking in the ‘No’ column exercise and we shared plenty of laughs at the question which basically asked if we were inbreds. (Well, we are from Norfolk at the end of the day). But realistically, everything was textbook. We made it through an anxious 12 week scan, feeling immediately comforted by our wriggly baby flipping, swallowing and moving around on the screen in front of us that kept our undivided attention at every second, moving into 20 weeks where views of all the baby’s organs in such detail confirmed how happy and healthy (and tired it seems after a huge yawn!) it appeared (we didn’t find out the sex, although I’m almost 99% sure the sonographer let out a ‘she’ in there somewhere). Despite the fact I had to empty my bladder on both occasions to get baby into the right position, we were delighted to hear the words ‘I have absolutely no concerns here, baby is doing well. congratulations‘.
As I headed into work, I’d taken a picture of the midwifery contact details just incase. Incase what? Incase my worst nightmares and something I could only imagine as a fleeting incorrect thought became reality? Yeah, I guess so. Although I was sure the ice cold water from the waiting room at work would do the trick to get baby moving. Lunch time came around and despite my best efforts, still no movement. All I could hear in my head were the words ‘it’s better to be safe than sorry’. So technically, this is the first time I heard the word ‘sorry’. I felt that ignoring this gut instinct was selfish and putting my baby at risk so I phoned the antenatal clinic to ask for some advice. Working at the hospital meant that if they needed me to, I could just walk a flight of stairs and be at the delivery suite for monitoring. Initially, they took into account I was 24 weeks and didn’t seem too worried about reduced movements, however I did. Last thing at night and first thing in the morning I felt little wriggles, perhaps not so much during the bulk of the day but i’d been comforted by the knowledge that walking and being active soothes your baby to sleep, leaving it much more common to feel them come alive at night – this definitely rang true with me. The midwife double checked with another if I’d need to be seen whilst I was still on the phone and eventually suggested I visit triage to be monitored.
Life changed from this very moment.
Jason knew I had concerns and I’d messaged him to say I was going for monitoring but that I’d let him know as soon as I was back at work. I’m not sure if it was adrenaline at this stage, but I fully expected everything to be ok after I’d make the decision to get checked and that I’d be back in my control room chatting away to my patients about gas and faeces in just a few hours. I was put into a delivery suite room by the receptionist whilst a midwife was called to assess me. Upon my entrance, I held the door open for a lady slumped in a wheelchair, holding her very fresh baby as the beaming-faced new dad pushed her through, thanking me with over excitement, obviously assuming this was the area I worked in (because I was wearing scrubs as no matter how hard I tried, no form of tunic was going to fit this growing bump of mine). I smiled sweetly and tried to imagine that being us in 3 months time.
In a hot and sticky room I laid on the bed and a fairly abrupt midwife pulled out a doppler, with not much introduction I must add. Throughout this whole experience I was either dealt with the upmost respect and care OR the assumption that I’m ok for them to just act semi-professional whilst dealing with me because I know how it is. Anyway, for around 5 minutes she searched for baby’s heartbeat. Initially providing me with reassurance that the umbilical cord was pulsating, confirming that the baby’s heart was beating, except all we could hear was the echo of my own as the more time passed the more prominent mine became. She took my pulse at the same time before almost throwing my hand down onto my chest once she did in fact realise that the sounds we were hearing matched the blood pumping through MY veins. She told me that she wouldn’t put me through this stress any longer and that a doctor would be called to bring in an ultrasound. I felt numb.
I laid alone, staring at a clock in front of me waiting for the doctor to come in and confirm that my baby had in fact died. I was convincing myself everything was ok but that deep down I knew I was about to face my new reality. There was no heartbeat on the doppler, how is anything going to be different with an ultrasound. A young looking chap walked in and introduced himself (in a much better manner than the previous midwife – probably because he knew he would be the bearer of bad news). I was confident in my response and doing my absolute best to show positivity on my face. It took all of a few seconds carrying out the scan before he turned to me, putting the probe down and out came those words. I’m so sorry.
To my surprise, I responded. I told the doctor it was ok and nodded. He just stared, his eyes began to redden and I suddenly felt the elephant in the room. Shit, my baby’s… gone. I began to shake and the tears just fell. I was on my own in a room with two strangers, the only human inside that room that knew me was dead. I was so confused. I managed to say the words ‘Can I just call my husband?’ and from that moment I was left alone. I am not sure which was harder, being told our baby had died or the fact that I now had to break Jason’s heart.
I didn’t have to say two words before he knew. It was officially the worst phone call we have ever had where no words were spoken but so much was said. I had to tell my parents too… they needed to pick Jason up to bring him to me. They were out shopping on their anniversary – my mum dropped everything in her arms and ran outside the shop. They had just been told they’ve lost a granddaughter and a few moments before had a phone call from my sister to tell them she had been in a car crash. I feel such guilt this day is tainted for them forever more. Happy wedding anniversary.
I won’t go into the detail of what happened in that room once they arrived. It was heartbreak and you can use your own imagination to put the pieces of the puzzle together. One thing I will say is that there were lots of decisions we had to make, ones you wouldn’t ever dream of having to even consider, at 27. I felt like I grew up dramatically in that one evening, I had no choice. Ironically, some of these decisions arose after asking one of the few questions we had at this stage; was this considered a late miscarriage or a stillbirth?
Turns out 24 weeks gestation is the cut off between whether your baby is ever registered and officially named. As a mother and father, it also depicts whether or not you are entitled to any maternity/paternity leave. Well, I was 24 weeks and 5 days pregnant. I guess you could say I was lucky……?
That night I had to take a tablet that prepared my body for labour (this is different from the pessary given to induce birth. Physically, at just under 25 weeks, my body is not prepared for birth and therefore medication was needed to begin the process of loosening all the ligaments that usually soften in the last weeks of pregnancy. This usually takes around 48 hours to work). There’s the part you’re farthest from prepared for. I have to give birth to this baby.
I chose to stay on the ward for the next two days after being told I’d be induced on Sunday 14th. I couldn’t face going back to our home in order to ‘prepare’ for this. I needed to go home to help myself heal, not before. Luckily this was understood and a private room was made available for us to spend in how we wished for the next day or so. Those days were a concoction of bursting into tears, fearful hours of what was to come, walks in the rain and lots of cuddles. I don’t think I will ever be able to truly explain the feeling of walking around, drinking copious amounts of tea and being offered cold slabs of toast whilst the whole time carrying a baby that was already gone. Its unthinkable and sometimes I don’t even feel as though it was my body that went through this. I have two very vivid memories from those 48 hours of ‘knowing’; one was taking myself to the toilet just before midnight, placing a hand on my belly and staring at myself in the mirror, truly not recognising the person staring back. I watched myself cry for about 15 minutes before shaking myself out of it. The second was waking up the next morning to hear a knock on the door followed by a subtle but squeaky voice asking ‘if mum would like a cup of tea?’.
On Saturday night, we asked to speak with the senior midwife on shift. She had made herself known to us the night before and I remember such a calmness about her that allowed us to open up a little more and ask some questions that were spiralling inside our heads. She sat beside us, leant over the bed and talked us through all the kind of difficult stuff. She talked us through what would happen the following day and I remember needing to know the answers to 2 questions: Is this labour going to be the same as an ordinary one, despite the fact my baby has died? And do most couples hold their baby once they’ve delivered them? I knew deep down that if I were to go through this in the same way as if our baby was alive, I wanted to do so in the way I was trying to hard to prepare my body for. However, I still needed confirmation of this, I didn’t know what the ‘norm’ was in this situation and I needed clarification that my decisions were valid. She told us that a vaginal delivery is the safest method for me in this situation and that a higher dose tablet would be given to induce labour quicker than a normal labour due to the fact there would be no adverse affects on the baby. This was positive in the sense that things should get going, but a negative in the fact that with this comes a more intense labour. My body is doing all of the work, and speeded up. In other words, it was predicted that this labour was going to be fast and painful.
I was given options. I could choose to have an epidural straight away and not feel a thing, they’d even agree to take her away after the delivery if thats what Jason and I wished. For some women, this helps to eliminate the mental pain that giving birth to a dead baby can bring. For me, this wasn’t the case. After our chat with the midwife, I decided that the only thing left that I could possibly do for my baby was to birth her in the only way I knew how and spend the only time we were going to get to make memories, with her in our arms. I wanted to feel the pain it bought because I wanted to feel the connection to her that my body was giving me. I wanted to show my little girl that I could be brave and that no amount of pain was going to come in-between that bond. I wanted to show her how brave and supportive her daddy is and how much he looks after us. I also wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. For the sake of Love. It really is crazy what we will do for love.
Sunday 14th April, 3pm.
I was transferred to a large room in the delivery suite. Ironically, it displayed a photograph of wells-next-the-sea on its wall, just behind an empty baby cot. How did we end up in a room that contained a picture of the place Jason and I spend a lot of our time. Coincidence? The baby cot was wheeled out and we were left alone in what felt like a huge empty space. At 3pm, I was given the first tablet to start off the induction. I was offered gas and air to help with discomfort during the insertion but declined because I knew this was nothing compared to what was coming. A bit like when your inside, you need to take off your coat because you know it will lessen the effect of it if you keep it on and then go outside into freezing temperatures. Yeah, like that. This moment was very poignant for me. I laid on the bed, legs a kimbo n’all with Jason leaning over my head and holding my hand. As the midwife carried out the insertion Jason’s tears were falling onto my face. I was obviously in a very practical state at this time – I saw it as a job I needed to get done, whereas this very mechanical aspect of the whole process was really affecting him and I so badly just wanted to take his pain away, the problem was I was feeling it just as much and practically, even more so.
Nothing happened for a good few hours after this. I tried to get some sleep and we got lots of visitors during this time. Around 7.30, we’d taken a long walk with my parents around the hospital and I started to feel what I would consider to be mild period pains. I wasn’t even sure this was confirmed contractions, but considering they came every 3 or 4 minutes I felt this was the start. I was also a little shocked that they were coming so frequently. All I could make comparison to was other peoples birth stories and how they’re contractions began slowly and then built up. Around 8pm we headed back to the delivery suite and I tried out a few techniques to help with the pain: birthing ball, back rubs, anything but laying on the bed. That was truly the worst position! Contractions came on more intense but remained about 2 minutes apart. 9pm rolled around and it was examination time to see if another tablet was needed. Getting through this one was the tough part – having a contraction and feeling fingers stuck up your privates is pretty intense. My cervix had thinned and I was almost at 1cm dilated. I can remember thinking that surely I don’t have to reach 10cm because her head wouldn’t be as big as a full-term baby, but I never asked this until I was mid-flow head down, half humming half crying to which our Midwife, Artemis nodded and said unfortunately you do. Ok, great. So not only do I not get a breathing baby at the end of this but I have to go through this torture until I am 10cm (you can see how my attitude had changed at this point). As I was saying… contractions came on very intense around the 11pm mark. I had been given two paracetamol and remember trying my hardest to talk myself into all sorts of breathing techniques. I allowed myself to feel the pain and at this point I truly believe concentrating on my breathing meant that I could feel more control of the contractions, even if it wasn’t suppressing the pain.
Jason had encouraged me to keep moving around the room and after a few ‘mo farrah’ laps from the wall to the curtain that concealed the door, with him literally holding me up I had the urge to get into warm water. A bath was unavailable so I made-do with a shower. A shower that lasted 2 long hours of standing in the same position, swaying whilst Jason held the head over my tummy the whole time (he definitely suffered with arm ache for a good week post-birth) whilst feeding me chicken stuffing sandwiches (oh, what a sight). During this time we had Mumford and Sons playing and all 3 albums must have passed before I plucked up the courage to get out of that shower. A few more Mo Farrah laps and a change of nightie, I gave up and asked him to pass me the gas and air. Well the next few hours were an experience.
In between mild hallucinations and quite frankly sucking on that tube like I was suffering an asthma attack, I struggled to carry on. I felt myself crying and giving my complete body weight to Jason and the midwife as they clutched onto each side of me. I was getting tired but I’d missed the beneficial section of labour where epidurals are recommended, I’d progressed and I could tell from the midwives reactions that it wasn’t going to be long but I had hit a mental block, I had kept positivity going as long as I could and now I knew there was nothing anyone could say that would make this situation any better for me so I howled the words “nothing good is going to come out of this”. I felt guilt after saying that. I was still going to see our baby girl and I hoped that my words didn’t upset Jason any more than he already was. Our midwife didn’t know what to say because I too, could feel her pain as she replied with nothing more than ‘ohhh’ in a voice defeated by her own emotion. But, we came to a compromise – I agreed to try some morphine. I was promised that this was good stuff and they weren’t wrong. At this point it was 3.20am and I had been in labour for a total of 7.5 hours. The morphine was administered to me on a pump that I could control myself to release another dose every 5 minutes – I think I only ever pushed this twice for Jason kept his beady eye on the time and was sure to push it for me every time we reached 4.59 minutes. Unfortunately, the morphine doesn’t actually take away the pain of a contraction – it provides you with a rest in-between them. No word of a lie, I honestly felt like I had slept for about half an hour in between each contraction but when I asked Jason to tell me how long it had been, it was usually around the 50 second mark. At this point I heard Artemis say ‘See, I told you it was good stuff’.
“Breathe easy”. This was Jason’s choice of words for the duration of my labour, its something we giggle about now but at the time it was his way of channelling my thoughts away from letting the pain get the better of me. I honestly cannot thank him enough for his persistence and patience during what could have only been so traumatic for him to watch, with no hope of a baby’s cry.
30 minutes later I felt the urge to pee, I have never felt pressure so intense and I was convinced it was a wee I needed to do. Little did I know, this was the time our little girl Maddison Grace Hunt was born; Monday 15th April 2019 at 3.50am. It was a combination of all things hectic – running to find bed pans thinking I was going to pee everywhere, Jason grabbing the drips attached to me as I bolted for the toilet and a lot of immediate fear as I was so unsure of what my body was doing at that particular moment. I pretty much delivered Maddison myself and she came straight into my arms. I stared at her beautiful tiny body, which was still bigger than we were expecting and studied her amazing features. I felt the midwife start to wipe her down and I looked up in amazement at her before asking “Is that my baby?” – queue the complete state of shock I was in. She blissfully nodded at me and I looked up at Jason who was peering over me like a protective ora – his face was filled with tears and turning a shade of red as he looked over his wife and new baby. We will always laugh about the next part.. we were told to find out what this little baby was and I don’t know if the kick of morphine pumping through my veins was the factor that resulted in my arms flying towards our baby’s privates as quick as a lightening bolt to prove my instinct was right once again, but I looked up at Jason and cried that it’s a girl. Jason was so proud, its amazing what unconditional love feels like. He got to cut her cord before taking her in his arms as Artemis helped me get sorted before tucking me back into the bed. I can remember feeling such physical pain at this point – complete relief from the contractions but such a dull ache that I never expected. I didn’t care, I was too focused on looking at my beautiful family, despite my heart breaking into tiny pieces all at the same time.
The next 19 hours were among the best of our lives. It is true that we cant honestly remember that day without a flood of emotion returning and overwhelming sorrow at the hole in our hearts we are left with, that unfortunately can never be filled. However, we are so grateful to have made the decision to spend time with our daughter. The memories are so precious and for that reason I want to keep the finer details of that day private between just Maddison’s little family.
There are so many moments that I wish to treasure about this whole experience and as harrowing as it sounds, I do not reflect upon it as solely negative. In fact, I very rarely see it in any form of negative light at all. Jason and I grieve for Maddison every day, in many different formats, but slowly that grief is manifesting itself as forms of self discovery and love for our little girl, as well as love for one another. She will always be our first born and beautiful daughter. She was perfectly formed, but her spirit is what remains alongside us everyday and I truly believe this is because of those precious 19 hours we spent with her body. Say what you will but there was a reason that we were meant to meet her, she wasn’t one to be forgotten.
I hope that there are a few take-home messages to you all in hearing and learning of our story. There are many reasons I could have kept this very private and I know that some even believe it should be, however at a time like this it is so important to do what YOU believe is right. If I never shared our experience or told our story, I only open Maddison’s little life up to speculation and subject of peoples opinions without them truly understanding what may or may not have been involved. I want to be approachable in the foreseeable future as somebody that you can come to if your having a shit time, because your pretty much guaranteed a judgement free conversation, but how could I do that if I hadn’t let you in on my own weakness. It is not always the successful achievements that make us who we are in this world, in fact it is usually the struggles, so if you are proud of yourself, then you shouldn’t be afraid to speak of those times. Success is merely a celebration of the shit you’ve overcome and who knows, that shit could become someone else’s survival guide. However, I’m no guru. I’m just a ‘low risk pregnancy’ that turned out to be anything but and now the fear of my little girls voice being lost is bigger than any fear of my own.
I wont become a pity party, but my life will involve parties, plenty of them. All because of her. We love you Maddie and we hope to always make you proud.
If I haven’t taken enough of your time already, I’d love for you to visit our fundraising page here to help raise funds towards a specific baby bereavement room at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital which is truly so important for families who will go through this terrifying trauma or check out the work we are doing towards breaking the taboo on baby loss through Maddison’s Movement here.
Thank you to every single one of you reading this for your time, we truly have been so amazed by the outstanding support we have received from family, friends, colleagues, managers, professionals, those who have experienced the same or similar and even complete strangers (until now). So please feel our gratitude towards you all. xxx