The day our baby died.
Nervous and anxious, I sat in the waiting room gripping my husband’s hand. This last week I hadn’t been feeling well. I had developed lower back and pelvic pain and just couldn’t get comfortable. I’d been having braxton hicks, which had progressively become stronger and I just didn’t feel right.
At my last appointment only two days earlier, my Obstetrician had diagnosed me with having an ‘irritable uterus’ which explained my discomfort and mimicked labor symptoms. Yet sitting here I didn’t feel confident, and just shy of six months pregnant, was not feeling reassured.
I have one of the best private obstetricians, so I took comfort knowing I was in the best hands. He called me in and gave me a complete examination. There were no signs of labor. My cervix was completely closed, heart rate normal, nothing to cause concern at all.
That night I gave birth to our son ….
My contractions began at midday but I had no idea they were the real deal! I couldn’t be in labour. It wasn’t the right time, and my diagnosis of irritable uterus explained these ‘mock’ contractions. However, hours later, once they really intensified and I was on the floor in agony, my husband called the hospital.
We were told to come straight in. As soon as I got in the car the reality sank in. We were having our baby. This was my second labour, so I was no longer naive to what we were facing.
I remember looking at the clock on the dash between contractions and it was as if time had stood still. The numbers blurred and I remember waves of heat flooding through my body. We were about 10 minutes from the hospital when an all too familiar urge to push came over me. I desperately wanted to hold on, to make it to hospital, to not do this by ourselves.
And then, completely beyond my control, our son was born in the car. My husband pulled over and followed instruction from the 000 operator. My waters never broke as our baby was still inside the amniotic sac (1:80,000 births). My husband had to break through the membrane to get our baby out, to give him a chance at life. It was the most tragic and heartbreaking moment I have ever experienced, watching my husband desperately try to revive our son whom only minutes earlier I could feel kicking inside.
Once the ambulance arrived, the paramedics worked on him for a while, but he was just too little to survive. He was placed on my chest for that very first cuddle. With my heart in agony and despair, tears streamed down my face as I took in all that I could of our gorgeous baby boy. Desperately hoping for him to take a breath. Hoping for a miracle, desperate to wake from this nightmare. But I did not.
Our lives instantly changed forever.
Laying in the hospital bed, my husband and I were in complete shock, silence and denial. It would take weeks before this new ‘normal’ would sink in. We had cried all through the night and my face ached, my eyes were stinging, and my cheeks tight from the dried tears. The sun had come up, and the world had continued to go on!
We would now have to contact our family and friends to announce the birth and death of our baby boy Maurice. For the rest of that day I remained cool, calm and collected. Putting on a brave front, trying to survive, pretending to be okay. The visitors came and went in shifts, but I don’t remember anything anyone said or did. Nothing could sink in. I was far from okay.
Coming home, this was going to be the second hardest thing to do. We would have to face reality and explain to our 3-year-old daughter that her baby brother had died, and there was no longer a baby in mummy’s tummy. This has since taught me the resilience that children have. Life is black or white, and you’re either right or wrong.
Our daughter was amazing at her understanding and acceptance of the news we had told her. Her compassion was incredible. She knew we were devastated and would bathe us with love and cuddles. I have learnt so much about my daughter and have a much deeper respect for her at such a young age. She is an independent, caring and loving child with thoughts and feelings of her own and all too often I believe as parents it is easy to brush off or dismiss them because they are only ‘little’.
Our daughter is very intuitive and is so in tune with the people and life around her. To this day she often mentions her brother and tells us he is playing with the fairies in our garden. We love that she doesn’t need to hide her thoughts and can be so open. It won’t be until she is a grown woman herself that she will truly understand the enormity of what our family experienced.
One week later
A funeral, there would have to be a funeral so this is where I started. That first week consisted of planning, researching, songs, poems and writing a letter to my little boy. It was a surreal blur. I was living in a bubble. It hadn’t sunk in; the grief was too raw to accept. I distracted myself with planning Maurice’s memorial. I threw myself into it 24/7 because if I stopped for too long, I knew I would fall apart. Human instinct of survival kicked in and so that’s how I got through that first week.
My husband was amazing, literally out of this world amazing! He was my biggest support, my rock. He was so unbelievably strong for our little family. He held it together and he got us through the nightmare we were living.
I was trying to be strong too. Only a few people really unveiled my true self. I put on a thick skin and tried to go on with life, but it caught up with me, and I wasn’t coping. I would let my guard down in the security of having a shower. No one would see me cry, I could get it all out, protect my daughter from this mess of a mother and try to move forward. I found it somewhat therapeutic knowing the water would wash away my tears, and give me just enough strength to put on my ‘coping’ mask.
It was around week three when I became aware of my fear to leave the house, to go to the supermarket, to go for coffee. The anxiety levels peaked at the thought of being outside of my comfort zone.
The breaking point was the one that really cut me up, and was the trigger to getting help. It was my daughter’s first day of pre-school. I pulled up out the front and couldn’t get out of the car. Fighting back tears, I turned the ignition back on and began to reverse out of the park. My daughter asked where we were going and when I said home, she burst into tears. I couldn’t do that to her. The entire Christmas holidays, she had been looking forward to this day!
So somehow, I found strength. I have no idea where it came from, but it did, and I took her to that first session. Sadly, it would be the only time I took her. I just couldn’t cope in any environment. I couldn’t bring myself to attend our mothers group catch ups or take my daughter to dance class.
The guilt I suffered thinking I had let my daughter down was immensely painful and I hated having to rely on friends to do these mundane tasks for me. Why couldn’t I just snap out of it, and get on with life? Why was I still trying to catch my breath in this bubble I was living in?
Admitting you need help is one of the hardest things to do! I believed I was a strong person and should be fine to cope on my own, or so I thought!
I had known of two other families that had tragically given birth to their babies born sleeping. These mothers are beautiful women, whom love unconditionally, and did everything deemed ‘correct’ in their pregnancies, and yet still unjustly never got to see their baby girls take a breath. I guess you try to justify ‘why’, but you cannot. It is cruel and random and there is no rhyme nor reason to why or whom it happens to. Stillbirth is unbiased, unforgiving and now I find myself a statistic.
I knew that in order to move forward and be the mother and wife my family deserved, that I would have to seek help.
The best thing I did was see a psychologist. We worked through everything I was feeling and doing, my grief, the physical pain, the emotional pain, even topics that I didn’t realise were related became an important part of our sessions for me to accept this reality. Quite possibly the most important lesson learned was that I cared too much about how others responded to our tragedy. This was their issue and not mine. If they were uncomfortable talking about our baby or experience, then that was their problem and I shouldn’t be made to feel as though I have to conform to their opinions.
We never expected anyone to fully understand what we had just gone through, but a little empathy rather than formed views or opinions on how we should cope or what we should/shouldn’t do, feel or say, were certainly not helpful, supportive nor welcome, and we learned to brush them off.
What we found most touching is that experiencing such a traumatic event certainly builds relationships. We were and still are incredibly fortunate to have such a wonderfully strong support network and were surrounded by love. We gained closer friendships, formed new friendships, but also sadly drifted from others when true colours were shown, which I guess is the reality of life.
I suffered post-traumatic stress. Delivering and losing our baby in such a traumatic way was incredibly hard to deal with. I still often think about it, and I can only describe it as a scene from a movie.
For as long as six months after, I would have panic attacks when confronted with anything associated with an ambulance. If driving, I would be forced to pull over as my grief consumed me. I would get flashbacks and immediately be taken back to that night.
Had I not received the proper help and guidance, I wonder if this would still affect me? I’m not completely desensitised to ambulances. That all too familiar night is remembered, but it doesn’t stop me in my tracks. I can take a deep breath and continue on my way.
Recurring frequent nightmares were taking their toll. One night I would be reliving the birth and the next night I would wake up to cries of a newborn. I would feel the ‘let down’ in my breasts and for a split second I would believe that the reality was all a horrid nightmare, and that our baby was just in the other room. It was a cruel, cruel mind game that my sub conscience would trick me with.
I was incredibly depressed. Every time I looked in the mirror, I saw disappointment, a body that failed me, that gave up on its pregnancy at 6 months. Why couldn’t it have just waited an extra few weeks? Was that really too much to ask?
Instead my reflection mocked me. What was once a beautiful round tight baby bump was a dishevelled sagging flap of skin that looked so foreign being attached to my body. It was spongy and disgusted me to look at. How different I had felt following the birth of our daughter. Looking in the mirror then, I was proud of how ‘flat’ my belly was, even though it was exactly the same as it is now. I knew it would soon disappear and return to its pre pregnant state, but right now I wanted to cover up and hide.
Then there were my breasts. Only weeks earlier they had been full, perky, preparing to soon be a milk production service. Now they ached, sporadic bursts of pain would shoot through them, stopping me in my tracks. I had been given a tablet to stop the milk, yet the colostrum still came and my hormones were fighting a losing battle. Now my boobs just hung there, lifeless, two sizes smaller and with no purpose. Sagging and empty, depressing.
The sight of blood haunted me and still does. My mind immediately flashes back. I remember looking at the car seat as the ambulance officer pulled me out of the car. It was a bloodied watery mess, and for the next three weeks I continued to bleed. I was having to wear maternity pads and remember feeling so heartbroken as to how unfair and cruel this world is.
Again, I have my psychologist to thank as she explained theories as to why this was all happening and strategised ways to overcome what was bringing me down.
In the 18 months since Maurice died, a few phobias and nightmares have reared their ugly heads, triggered unsuspectingly by different events in our life. I have accepted that this will most likely be the case for the rest of my life. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it is a very important part of our life story and I don’t want to forget or pretend it didn’t happen.
Yes, it gets easier and the days aren’t as tough. But my baby is never coming back and that pain and grief will never soften. I remember that dreadful heartbreaking day all too perfectly. Every detail, every smell, every sound. It will never leave me. Such terror will always hold its place in my heart.
And I don’t want to forget, as that day was the day our beautiful baby boy was born. The day we held him in our arms for the first and only time. When I breathed him in and loved him unconditionally. Taking in all his perfectness. His face, his cheek bones, his jawline, lips, ears, arms, fingers, legs and toes. He was beautiful and that can never be taken away from me.
Every now and then I find a piece of my shattered heart in the most peculiar place and hope to one day piece it back together a little bit at a time. I long for the day that I think of my darling baby, Maurice and find myself with a smile that replaces what was once a tear.
Pregnancy after loss
It was going to be negative. I couldn’t have fallen pregnant six weeks after our son’s death. I thought back to the only night it could have been possible, we had been to a friend’s wedding and for the first time since our son’s death we had allowed ourselves an enjoyable night out. My mind wandered back….surely my body wouldn’t have been ready.
Did I want to be pregnant? Yes … No …. I didn’t know. I was scared, terrified. We couldn’t go through this pain again. It would be too hard. Yes, we wanted more children but not if it meant losing another.
Maybe our daughter was enough. Yes, she is perfect. We didn’t need more children, but she deserved siblings. It would be cruel to take that away from her. We couldn’t be that selfish. We both wanted children, not a child. If I were pregnant then it was meant to be…My thoughts agitating me, I looked at my phone. 5 minutes had passed. I picked up the stick…two lines. Two very strong bright pink lines. My goodness!! We are pregnant again!
I knew we would have a long road ahead of us. After Maurice had died and autopsy results came back, my obstetrician concluded that I had an incompetent cervix. I was now categorised ‘high risk’. I would need to have a cervical stitch and would have to be incredibly careful, light duties and bed rest.
12 weeks was not our safety net, we had to make it to 14. I was petrified and convinced I would miscarry. This was pregnancy number six. We had our beautiful 2-year-old daughter, our son who died too prematurely, and three miscarriages. The odds were not in our favour.
I yearned to be excited. I wanted nothing more than to be a naive mother who falls pregnant, and not once considers the possibility her baby might die. I wanted to announce to the world we were pregnant again. But the thought terrified me. What if I jinx us by telling people? I had always believed in karma and that being a good person would reflect positively on your life. Stillbirth was one of those things that happen to other people. I now realise how absurd that was.
Those first 12 weeks were the longest of my life. Every twinge, ache, pop, bloated feeling, I was convinced was the sign of miscarriage. Every time I went to the toilet I would examine for blood. This had to be too good to be true. Surely, I couldn’t have a smooth sailing pregnancy straight away. I always miscarried, that’s just how it was. I was so sick. It felt great to feel so horrible. I had proper symptoms, I was gagging, tired, faint, my breasts sore and achy. It was best ‘worst’ I had ever felt!
12 weeks came and clicked over and I was still pregnant. I had considered that the baby had stopped growing and that the scan would show the baby had died. I’m not a morbid person but having lost babies, I had to be prepared for worst case scenario. We had our scan and everything was as it should be.
It was an incredibly tough pregnancy, mentally, physically and emotionally. I required psychological sessions and spent many weeks on bed rest. They were the longest eight months of my life. To be honest, I’m not sure I could go through it all again but I am so unbelievably grateful that we fell pregnant so soon. Had it have been an active decision to ‘try’ then I’m not sure I would have ever been ready. I cannot help but to think that somehow this was the path we were meant to follow.
At 37 weeks we welcomed another beautiful baby boy. Another son whom would not be here if his brother had survived. All we can do is believe that this new little man has great purpose and is meant to be born into our little family. Proving this theory to us as he was delivered via emergency c-section, not wanting to wait another minute! My first words to my husband in that moment were ‘He is breathing …!’.
18 months on and our third baby has certainly helped our family’s healing process but the heartache still seems so raw, and not a day has passed where Maurice has not been in our thoughts! Losing him has taught us so much, and shaped us into who we are today. We now love and live our lives differently to honour the fact that he cannot. We hold our children closer and breathe them in, never taking them for granted, and are dedicated to being the best parents we can by always putting family first, and being selfless to their needs. I’m sure Maurice is watching over and protecting his big sister and little brother always!
Written by Mother to Maurice Stanley Cummings.