*Trigger warning – this months Focus on You post mentions baby loss
Welcome to this months Focus on You! In case you missed the post explaining it, Focus on You is a series where I’m putting the focus on you! Real mums, telling their stories, in their own words.
The aim of this series is to raise awareness and educate people on a range of subjects that aren’t generally discussed. It’s also to give you some insight into other peoples lives and what they might have been through or going through as a little reminder to be kind. Topics will be relating to fertility, parenthood, postnatal health and much more!
Every month, I will bring you a story told by a lovely mum who has been kind enough to share their experience with us. I asked each mum the same questions. All of the answers will be in their own words.
This time, I’ve been talking with the amazing Sarah who has shared her story with us.
Due to the sensitive and delicate nature of this month’s story, this post will be in a slightly different format. Rather than questions and answers, I am sharing Sarah’s story with you exactly how it was shared with me.
Jan 2010 – Having to terminate the pregnancy at 15 weeks
We found out that I was expecting early at 4 weeks and everything was fine during my first 3 months. We went for our 12 week scan ( I was actually nearly 14 wks at the time) and the sonographer was chatty to start with and then went quiet, she then said she needed to just get another nurse. I knew immediately something was wrong. The other nurse came in and moved the auto sound stick around on my belly and then said the baby had a lot of fluid around the heart and brain and they suspected it was Down syndrome.
We were taken into another room and a nurse came through and told us our options were to terminate the pregnancy, carry on the pregnancy and see what happens or I could go to Southampton and have a CVS done, where they take a sample from the placenta which would confirm whether it was Down’s. However, there are risks that by doing this you could miscarry. We opted for the latter.
Three days after having the CVS they phoned to give us the results. It was Down’s but as well as that he had a lot of fluid around the heart so they suspected he would have heart complications as well. Now we had to make a decision. They told us to have a think and go back to the hospital the next day to discuss it.
The Next Day
We turned up the following day with a list of questions such as life expectancy and quality of life. None of the answers were good, we were told he may not survive the birth due to fluid on the heart or if he did could be potentially very poorly, life expectancy with heart complications and downs may not be very long but they couldn’t be sure.
After chatting for what seemed like hours we again were left in a different room to make a decision. They wanted us to make a quick decision as I was now getting on for being nearly 15 weeks. We made the decision to terminate as we couldn’t guarantee that our baby boy would have any quality of life and I couldn’t bear the thought of him suffering.
To this day (10 yrs on) I don’t know if we made the right decision but we did what we thought was best at the time. I was given 1 tablet there and then and then I would come back after 48 hours to take a second tablet and would have to deliver him. That 48 hours was horrendous.
At The Hospital
We arrive at the maternity building and get given a private room. I take the second tablet and then told we have to wait for the contractions to start. We sat in that room for an hour just waiting and then a midwife came in and said have you thought what you want to do when you deliver him, he can be just taken away, a photo can be taken of him or you can see him but remember he is only 15 weeks gestation so won’t be fully formed.
We hadn’t even thought about this (as silly as it sounds). What did we want to do? Then the next question was what do you want us to do with him, do you want us to dispose of him, do you want to arrange a Chaplin to bless him, do you want to arrange your own funeral……all I could think was I really can’t deal with this all at the moment and all I really wanted was to not be here!
A few hours later it was all over and I was handed a memory box. In it was a small pink blanket (they didn’t have any blue ones left apparently) a teddy and a blessing card from the Chaplin. I was handed a sick note for work for 2 weeks and told we could go…we walked out through the maternity building carrying a memory box! We received 1 phone call from a midwife after and that was it!
March 2013 – went into early labour at 24+5
Everything was going well with this pregnancy, had no concerns. I was at work on a Friday morning at about 8:00 when I started to get a little pain in my side. I just thought it was normal pregnancy pains to start with, as the morning went on the pains carried on and got a little worse.
About 11:00 I started googling at what gestation do Braxton hicks start as I thought that’s what it was. After reading I thought maybe I should get it checked out, so I left work in Reading and drove back to Basingstoke. As I was driving back the pain got worse so I called my other half and said I think I’m in labour, I picked him up from work and we went straight to the hospital.
At The Hospital
We arrived at the maternity unit and got told off for not calling first. I was booked in and a midwife said yes you’re in labour, you’re 3 centimetres. Ok, now I started panicking and getting upset after all I was only 24 weeks. They gave me tablets to try and stop the labour and an injection to help babies lungs develop.
A couple of hours later I was told this baby is coming and we were moved to a delivery suite. Lots of doctors and nurses came in and talked to us about what could happen to baby as it was still so early. We were told that Basingstoke nico wasn’t equipped for a baby this early and if it survived the birth we would be transferred to Southampton. Why is this happening to us was all I could think.
At 7pm Alfie was born weighing 690 grams. He was rushed off after a quick look to be taken to Southampton and I was told I would follow later. Once I was discharged at about midnight we had to drive ourselves to Southampton. As you can imagine we were exhausted, both physically and mentally and didn’t have a clue what to expect when we got there.
Once we arrived we were told Alfie had survived the journey but was very poorly and we could see him shortly. At 2:30am we walked in and saw our tiny baby covered in tubes and wires. The staff talked us through how he was doing and told us that they were doing everything they could for him.
The next 24 hours were a whirlpool we had meetings with so many nurses, doctors and consultants. Family members turned up to meet him and we prayed he would be ok.
Alfie was 2 days old when the doctors told us that he had an infection in his kidneys. They had tried everything they could but he was getting worse. We had a decision to make; he could stay connected to all of these wires and tubes and at some point when his little body couldn’t take anymore he would just leave us. Or they could give him more medication so he wasn’t in pain and we could take him out of his incubator and spend some time in their family room with him, holding him for the first time until he passed away.
It was a no brainer I wasn’t going to let him pass away laying in an incubator on his own. Yes, he may have survived another day but he was in pain and I wanted him to pass away while being with us.
The staff were amazing. One nurse stayed in the room with us and left Alfie attached to just his breathing tube to start with so that we could talk to him and hold him and when we were ready she took his breathing tube away. Our little fighter breathed on his own for half an hour and then fell asleep in his daddies arms.
Once we had spent time saying goodbye to our little fighter we left the hospital again with just a memory box. This time it had all his wires in, a footprint that they had taken, clay casts of his hands and feet and a Mother’s Day card from him to me as that was the day he passed away.
In The Days After
The first few days after coming home were horrible. My milk started to come through so I was in agony and they didn’t want to give me anything to help dry it up. We had a midwife come out to the house once after 3 days to check on us but that was it, no aftercare again. We were just left to get on with things when that was the last thing I wanted to do.
I remember one night sitting in the bath crying and just thinking to myself how easy it would be to just lay down in this water and not come back up. But then the realisation hit me that it would be my other half that would find me and he had been through enough. So I got out of the bath and just tried to get through one day at a time.
Nov 2013 – went into early labour at 19 weeks.
I think by far this was my worst experience of the maternity unit at Basingstoke. Due to me going into labour early with Alfie they were monitoring me more often. I had been to the hospital the previous day to be scanned and my cervix seemed to be holding (or so we thought). But the following evening I was in bed when I had a shooting pain and got up to go to the bathroom when my waters broke.
At The Hospital
We called the hospital and they told us to come in. By the time we got in there, it was just before midnight. I told them my waters had broke and they hooked me up to monitors and said they would be back.
They came in once and said someone will come and see us as soon as they could. At 4am the doctor came in, listened to the baby and said I’m sorry they have gone!!! No s&@t my waters broke 4 hours ago and I’ve been left to just sit here.
The doctor then said well at least now you’ve had 2 miscarriages / premature labours they will do something more to help you next time. Like that was what I needed to hear at that moment! I was then told I had to deliver him naturally so was taken to a room and we just had to wait, knowing my baby had died inside me. To say I was angry was an understatement.
The Next Day
At 10 am in the morning still no labour had started so I asked if they could give me something to help start it or whether there was anything else they could do…no we had to wait a little longer. It was suggested I walk about or try breathing and pushing myself. 1:30 in the afternoon I finally delivered Louie but couldn’t deliver the afterbirth so had to go to theatre and have it removed.
In all three situations, it felt like once we had walked out of the hospital that was their job done. No one followed up to check we were ok. We met with a consultant a couple of months later just so they could talk to us about why I went into premature labour again and what they could do in the future but I strongly believe there should be some set counselling or something that you have to attend.
Nov 2017 – born at exactly 28 weeks
This pregnancy came out of the blue. After losing 2 babies in 2013 and not conceiving again for another 3 years we had come to terms with the fact that it wasn’t meant to be. Then in April 2017 I found out I was expecting again. To be honest, I wasn’t excited or nervous, I was terrified. Could we go through it all again?
We went to see the consultant and she told us this time as well as monitoring me more often I could have a stitch fitted that would hopefully keep my cervix from opening. There were 2 types of stitch they could do, I, of course, wanted the one that had the better success rate. But of course, they had different ideas. We had to settle for the easier, less invasive one.
So at 14 weeks I went in and had an operation to put a stitch in the cervix wall to help keep baby in. We had regular checkups and scans and they thought it was working….that was until we decided to have a firework party on 4th November. I had been busy throughout the day tidying the house and getting ready and then when the fireworks had all finished and the party was in full swing the contractions started. I was 27 weeks and 5 days.
At The Hospital
We went up the hospital and was told that they wanted to transfer me to Portsmouth as again they had a better nico unit than Basingstoke.
So, early hours on the Sunday morning I was blue lighted to Portsmouth. They had given me tablets to try and stop the labour and gave me an injection to try and boost babies lung development. The tablets seemed to work and the contractions calmed down once I got to Portsmouth but never completely stopped.
I was monitored throughout the day on Sunday and Monday and thought they had stopped it but because I had the stitch in they couldn’t let me leave the hospital.
Guy had stayed with me since we had arrived at Portsmouth on the Sunday morning so Monday evening when all was calm I thought it would be a good idea for him to go home and get some rest.
Well, Finley had other ideas… once Guy had gone at about 9:30 pm the contractions started getting worse again. I kept telling the midwives they were getting worse but they said it was fine. At 1am they were really intense and I said I thought I should call Guy back. They did an internal and agreed yes, he needed to come back.
Guy had just walked through the delivery room door when Finley came out at 2:27am weighing 2lb 6oz. Portsmouth hospital then became mine and Finley’s home for 8 weeks. They were brilliant. They made sure I had a room in their parent’s area so that I could stay at the hospital with him and Guy was able to stay every weekend.
Life In Neonatal
Now people say that life in neonatal is a rollercoaster – well, you have no idea until you experience it yourself. One minute everything seems ok and Finley was doing well the next he was going downhill and we had to start at the beginning again.
Those staff not only care for and look after these little tiny babies but they are a massive support to the parents. It can be so isolating sitting in those rooms staring at the same 4 walls day in day out – especially when your other half has to go back to work – so their support is priceless.
During Finley’s 8 weeks at Portsmouth, he had to deal with some awful things – he was diagnosed with Ecoli and Meningitis and had to be re-incubated a couple of times. We also found out that he was born without a thyroid.
Finley stayed at the Portsmouth neonatal for 8 weeks and then was transferred to the Basingstoke neonatal as he still required oxygen. After 4 weeks and spending his first Christmas in hospital (which was as lovely as it could be – all the babies received a sack of presents and a stocking) we were allowed to take him home. He was now 12 weeks and 1 day. We had to take him home on oxygen but that didn’t matter.
I have to say since Finley was discharged the care and support he has received has been brilliant. We regularly had visits from the nurse and midwife while he was still a baby and he still sees consultants and paediatrician regularly now.
I think that you will all join me in being shocked at the lack of care that Sarah received after each of her births. I understand that the hospital is busy with other patients, however, I was appalled they were both left for 4 hours after Sarah’s waters broke with Louie.
Don’t get me wrong, this is definitely not an attack on the NHS (especially given the current situation that we are all in). But, to go through something so traumatic and not receive any aftercare at all is deeply saddening and worrying. I honestly believe that any parent that has been through what Sarah and Guy have been through should have some kind of priority follow up care with a doctor and/or therapist.
Not receiving the right care and support in these kinds of situations can lead to severe depression and may result in the mum or dad going to a dark place – as Sarah revealed how easy it would have been for her to give up in her story today.
If you did want to talk to someone or get some advice I have left some helpful links below: