This first part is a guest post written by Raymond’s mother, a young widow, for the South Wales Birth Group, (formerly Cardiff and Caerphilly Positive Birth Group). It tells her story of her pregnancy and through the moments around and following Raymond’s death and birth, in her own words.
“I had been interested in birth for a very long time and I’m pleased I had so many positive images from publications like the The Mother magazine, so that I spent my pregnancy looking forward to my birth rather that dreading it. I did a lot to prepare physically and mentally. Physically I did lots of squats and tried to walk, go to aqua aerobics, yoga and do other exercise. I also did a lot of alternative therapies like acupuncture and bowen.
Mentally I listened to self hypnosis, NCT* classes, did birth art and attended meetings with positive birth mothers. I also did a lot to celebrate my pregnancy including having a mother blessing, baby shower, photo shoot and belly cast. These are all such treasured memories. I was looking forward to a home water birth.
At 38 weeks I got a horrible bug. First my throat hurt, then I started coughing, then my ear hurt and I went deaf in one ear. I felt miserable and was unable to get out of bed. I tried drinking lots of fluid and taking rest and eventually was prescribed antibiotics. In the middle of all this I had my regular midwife appointment, my midwife announced she though my baby might be breech.
At first the NHS wanted me to wait a week for a scan, which at term, planning a home birth seemed too long to me and my midwife. I ummed and arred about getting a expensive private scan but in the end was booked in for a scan and ECV*. The scan confirmed flexed breech but with an unusual presentation feet tucked up to the right and head curled round so both fitted under the placenta. ECV proved unsuccessful and the consultant was very negative about vaginal breech and recommend a c section.
I was booked in for another ECV next week with a consultant with a better success rate and sent home with a load of info on breech presentation.
I came to pregnancy with a very natural mindset and one of the reasons I looked into hiring a private midwife, was in part because I saw breech as a variation on the normal and didn’t want stress about this. Now it was happening it seemed far more complicated. I can’t explain how difficult was to try and read and retain information on the different studies while feeling so ill. I became obsessed with getting him to turn and I tried almost every method available: acupuncture, chiropractor, hypnosis, homeopathy, music, yoga, frozen veg and yes asking him to turn!
I was too ill to manage most of the breech turning positions with my head full of phlegm. I asked everywhere for support and prayer but began to scream when spinning babies was mentioned! Gradually I got a little better and spent some time upside down on ironing boards. Trying to complete all the recommend breech turning techniques took up my whole day and worrying was taking up my whole life.
On my due date I decided to do a fear release ceremony. I wore a beautiful floral dress and my mother blessing beads. I took the worry jar from my mother blessing in which I had been collecting the worries I had written down and took it down to the river Ely. I wrote down and added to it my two biggest fears: that my baby might die, that I may make a decision which lead to my baby being harmed. It was very powerful to write them down, the thing no pregnant woman dares speak “my baby might die”, “I might hurt my baby”.
Slowly I took out and read each fear, then screwed them up and threw them into the river. One stubborn fear (not being able to let go of my desire for a home birth if it stopped being what was right) stayed caught in reeds at the side of the river and I began to fear it would still be hanging around when I left. But just as I was leaving a boat came past and it’s wake washed it away.
Even though it wasn’t far from the road it was a beautiful spot, birds sang, the sun shone and a butterfly came and landed on me three times. I felt so happy and content as I left the river, feeling free of my worries and musing on the idea that some people hold of butterflies being a visit from someone who had passed away. Perhaps my late husband was visiting me to help me let go of my fears. Feeling better and enjoying the sun I joined my parents on the beach at Barry Island to enjoy the sun.
Messing about with various breech turning exercises it was late once I got to bed. Sleep didn’t come easily to me but I felt very peaceful. I had a moment of very strongly feeling like my husband was with me and holding me in his arms. I wore my mother blessing beads and felt my women were with me and supporting me.
At 2am before I had got to sleep my waters broke. I was just lying still and suddenly fluid was spurting from me! It was very obvious to me this was waters and not my bladder (I still really needed the loo for one thing). My midwife had explained that unlike TV it was actually very unlikely my water would break first dramatically. Typical body I thought, can’t do anything in the normal way. Luckily I had a waterproof mat on the bed, conti-sheets of course being the one item I hadn’t yet managed to buy. The waters were clear so I called my midwife who arranged to come out. I changed the bed and tried to sleep but felt too anxious to do so, so I called my parents who came down to be with me.
By 5am I had been checked and OKed by my midwife and tried but failed to sleep. I had pain, like a constant aching period pain and got myself a hot water bottle. But I had nothing that came and went like a contraction. By 9am on another loo trip I was shocked to see my pad had the black appearance of the babies first nappy picture in the NCT booklet, meconium. After discussion with my midwife my parents and I arranged to go to the hospital for a trace to confirm if the baby was in distress. We texted my birth partner who was on holiday in the Brecon’s and she arranged to meet us at the hospital.
My parents and I were thrilled to hear a good strong heart beat, the midwife was pleased with the movements. Still no contractions. A consultant came to talk to me and express her concerns. My waters were broken, so I should have a caesarean at 2am the next morning, my baby was breech so I should have a hospital birth, I had meconium so I should be continuously monitored on the consultant led unit.
By this point I hadn’t slept for 25 hours (and had only had about 6 hours the night before). Oh how I regretted not following my yoga teachers advice to get enough sleep. I had been so convinced I had another week or several weeks despite my due date. I felt ill, bunged up and I could only hear in one ear. It was so hard to even hear, let alone understand make decisions on what they were saying, it was so hard to get the doctors to separate out the risks.
For me, I was concerned about the meconium and what it might mean, my waters breaking worried me less, the 24 hours limit seemed ridiculous when I was feeling well and irrelevant given that 2am was ages away. The doctor kept repeating that the trace only showed that all was well then, it could not tell us that all would be well in the future. I was left alone to try and make a decision. I tried to rest but the ward was too bright and too noisy. I mediated and asked my baby what to do.
I kept coming back to the fact that I was exhausted and I wanted to go home and rest.
If I went home I might go into labour naturally, I could then come back to the hospital. I couldn’t see natural labour starting in the consultant led unit while I was exhausted and nervous. I spoke alone with the consultant again. I tried to establish what the continuous monitoring in the consultant led unit might look like; I was told several times that I would be having a trace three times a day. I lived close to the hospital and I couldn’t see the difference between having lunch at home and coming back to be monitored and having lunch in the consultant led unit and being monitored later.
The consultant warned me there was a risk of still birth if I went home. I assumed this to be a low risk, I really couldn’t see the difference between not being monitored on the CLU and not being monitored at home. So it was agreed that I would go home for a few hours and come back later.
If I’m honest, I sometimes hate the natural birth movement.
Why couldn’t I have been a good patient and done as I was told? Did my desire for a natural birth cause me to make bad decisions? I wish I could go back and change my decision. In all honesty it’s hard to say if it would have made a difference. The elective section I was offered when he turned breech would only have been offered on that day.
Who knows if it would have been in time? Or if he would have suffered with complications of a caesarean? Would he have even been on the monitor when his heart stopped beating? And could a section have happened in time to save him? And of course I was well inside their 24 hour water limit. But I do hate that I even have these questions.
So my birth partner and my mum went and found my dad in Heathfields restaurant. We ordered takeaway and headed home. We enjoyed a lovely lunch in the sun. Last baby free lunch I thought. I lay in the sun under my fig tree to rest and meditate, something I had always looked forward to doing when pregnant but poor weather had prevented me from doing.
I felt so pleased with myself having negotiated such a clever compromise. I was already writing my birth story in my head, how clever I was negotiating the line between natural and medical care. I can’t say I think I was so clever looking back. But it was a lovely time I treasure under my fig tree just me and Raymond, feeling him move while I rested.
Feeling rested I felt more able to accept a hospital birth. It had felt too much like I was being railroaded earlier. But now I had time to say goodbye to the idea of the pool and candles and home. As my midwife had said perhaps with all these risk factors occurring my baby was trying to tell me something about where he wanted to be born. The most important thing was having a healthy baby and I was bound to have that however he was born. So we packed up all our things for birth, baby and making the hospital homely. We arranged to meet the midwife there.
At this time I changed my pad and noticed more meconium and realised that the baby hadn’t kicked for a couple of minutes.
I became to feel anxious again and we skipped the planned trip to my husband’s bench and set off straight to the hospital. We were given a room and I began to feel more and more anxious about the wait for someone to come and do the trace. Eventually they came and put on the monitors while I waited for the reassuring swish of the monitor. It never came. The midwife couldn’t find heartbeat.
Now I was really worried.
Now I began to pray.
A doctor was called to do a scan. Still I prayed. Still nothing. A better machine was found. Please let my baby be OK. Please have a miracle. Still nothing. I was offered a second opinion and with nothing too lose I took it. “Please, please I deserve a miracle”. But my baby was dead. I just remember screaming over and over “its not true”.
I could hear my parents explaining patiently to the doctors “you don’t understand her husband is dead, her baby can’t be dead too”. The next bit is a bit blurry but I guess at some point I must have stopped screaming. I was given the choice between going home and being induced.
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I did seriously consider going home and I think this could be a good option. But going home without my living baby just seemed too awful. I must say I was quite naive about what induction would involve and thought it would mean getting out of the hospital soon. But instead I had a long awful night ahead of me. I’m so grateful to Daisy (my birth partner) and my midwife for staying with me that long night.
Daisy and I made some birth art – evil swirls of red and black. I tried to sleep and Daisy got into the bed with me and held me and it made all the difference to have that comfort. Although my birth happened in circumstances no-one would ever want I’m very proud of it.
When we got to the delivery room the first thing my midwife and Daisy did was to remove the hospital curtains. I hate those curtains with a passion. They have pictures of all the hospitals in Cardiff of which my husband had been treated in all of them. I spent so many hours staring at those curtains not knowing if he was going to live or die. Getting rid of those curtains not only rid the room of that horrible memory but also allowed me to take back a tiny bit of control in the most out of control situation.
The staff might raise their eyebrows but I knew that my midwife and Daisy had my back. They would do what I needed and not care what anyone thought. We continued to do things to reclaim the space mentally and physically. We put a picture from my wedding day and a statue from my altar on a shelf were I could see them from the bed. I negotiated to have both lines in one arm as I didn’t to be completely immobilised with lines out of both arms.
According to my midwife at one point I told two doctors they weren’t to discuss politics during my birth. I’m very proud of that. I wore my floral dress up until the pushing stage and I wore my mother blessing beads throughout. It helped to think of the support of all my women. All these things did make a difference.
Once the induction kicked in it got very painful. By now I hadn’t slept in over 50 hours. I was way too exhausted to do any active birth postures even though the PAC* would have allowed some. I had used self hypnosis to great effect during my ECV. But I just couldn’t face the thought of using it or any mental strategies. They were for joyful times connecting with my baby. I just couldn’t do it and in some ways I wanted to feel miserable.
The PAC just didn’t cut it and I ended up asking for a epidural. I believe that both the induction and epidural were the right decision for me but given the pain of induction and the difficulty pushing through an epidural I would urge any women to think carefully about getting either. The epidural worked and I enjoyed a few blessed hours of sleep and relief from pain.
After I woke up it was time to push.
My birth quickly became all the things I would have told you I would never have at my birth: lying on my back, stirrups, directed pushing, purple pushing, episiotomy, forceps. But even though I would have never wanted those things it was actually OK. I felt like each of them were medically necessary and that I could choose not have them if I wanted. I knew Daisy and my midwife would support me if I said no but I also knew that with this medicalised birth they were needed.
It was very difficult to push with no feeling in my muscles.
I had to use my visualisation skills to just try and think at the muscles. Daisy and my midwife stayed with me and the midwives and doctor were really encouraging, coaching me to push. It was amazing to see his little toes come out in the mirror but after that I closed my eyes as it was too hard to see them handling him, knowing that they didn’t need to be gentle as he could feel no pain. It also helped me to block out all the different people around coming and going. Towards the end the epidural began to wear off and this was really good as I could feel myself push him out.
I’m very proud of being able to push him out.
It was weird holding him, I hadn’t expected him to be so slimy. But it was lovely to feel the weight of him to see his beautiful hair. I also got to find out his sex myself, I couldn’t believe I had a son! They tried to do my stitches straight away but I was exhausted and sent them away. I took some time to hold my son and recover, to show him to his grandparents. Eventually I had my stitches and then Daisy and I cleaned Raymond and dressed him. It meant a lot to have her help with that. As soon as I saw him I knew Raymond was a good name for him.
My wish to keep the placenta was honoured.
Two rather surprised but willing midwives made some beautiful placenta prints for me. My mum suggested carrying Raymond to the Teardrop room in my sling. I’m very proud of that, it was lovely to feel his weight and be able to do this thing for him myself.
We spend two days in the Teardrop room with my parents.
The staff were absolutely amazing, they were very empathetic and never made me feel like anything was too much trouble. I spent time holding, talking to and dancing with Raymond. We also did a lot of things to make memories, photos, footprints etc. Daisy was very brave and helped with making of the footprints even when I couldn’t touch his feet. We had visitors and a professional photographer, five of my female friends came to meet him. We decorated his little cold cot with floral lights. The funeral director came to collect him from me and I got to say goodbye to my little boy.
Then I had to go home and try to figure out how to live without him”.
My story of supporting Violet can be found on my blog – “My Baby Was Not Born Sleeping, Supporting Stillbirth A Doulas Story.”
If you want to talk about your experiences or you need support for a stillbirth or miscarriage please contact me.
For further support for miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death, The Miscarriage Association, SANDS and Towards Tomorrow Together all provide support. From speaking to women and families locally, I have also had recommended the counselling services at The Beresford Centre in Newport and The Junction in Cardiff, both of whom I am told women feel have saved their lives following the death of their baby. Remember My Baby can help find an experienced photographer and Cherished Gowns provide beautiful clothing made from Wedding Dresses.
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Samantha Gadsden walks with women on their life’s journeys. She is an experienced Doula, based close to Cardiff in South Wales, mother to 4 children and wife to Eddie, more information can be found on her facebook page, Samantha Gadsden Doula and her website, Caerphilly Doula. SOS Doula, Telephone and online support is always available.
If you are interested in writing a guest blog or sharing a life or birth story please feel free to contact her HERE.
“Your Journey, Your Body, Your Baby, Your Birth“