Stillbirth. I've read about it, but never dreamed it would happen to me.

Stillbirth. I’ve read about it, but never dreamed it would happen to me. I’ve just had my first child, a baby girl. We were so very happy and ready to welcome her. I bought a book on how to care for babies and watched all the youtube videos about babies. Getting pregnant in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic made me extra careful. Apart from nausea and gastric pain, I decided to stop working so I could look after our baby safely at home and fortunately my husband also worked from home during the pandemic.

Entering the eighth month, I bought everything in preparation for the arrival of my baby; mattresses, diapers, clothes, milk bottles, toys, books, and other things including birth souvenirs were all ready. She was due in the same month of my own birthday, November – what a happy coincidence!

My pregnancy wasn’t easy because I had a lot of gastric pain. I also had trouble sleeping and was a little short of breath as she grew, but the doctor said it was all normal baby stuff and he suggested eating lots of protein and vitamins. In my mother’s family, not a single child has had problems during pregnancy. All babies have been born healthy. As such, I didn’t worry too much and thought everything was fine.

Everything changed when I began what felt like contractions, that continued for 2 hours into the night. But the water never broke, and the next day I was fine again. During the episode I felt my stomach turn and I thought my baby was changing positions. After this night the only change I noticed as unusual was that my baby wasn’t moving as much anymore. Usually after eating, she was very active. After 2 days, the movement decreased even more, so I decided to check in with the doctor.

My whole life was ruined when the doctor said my baby’s heartbeat was gone. My husband and I cried. Why did this happen? Doctor predicted the cord twisted – not around the baby’s head but twisting on itself. I didn’t believe what he was saying. Two weeks ago my baby was healthy, so why had this happened so suddenly? My doctor said he had seen four other patients like me, and it was impossible to know beforehand. I really hated my doctor in that moment as he expressed ignorantly, “You’re unfortunate, it’s been 33 weeks”. There was not the slightest bit of empathy since he discovered our baby was not there, until the delivery process was over. I felt so sad and wondered if the doctor had known something was wrong, if it was his fault and this was why he pretended not to care?

Both of our parents were crying. They were really looking forward to being grandparents and had helped me so much in preparing for my baby’s arrival. They were thankful that I was fine and asked me to focus on delivering our daughter. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic I was required to undergo blood tests and lungs scans before having the cesarean.

On the day of the surgery my mind was blank. I couldn’t think of anything. I followed all the preparatory procedures while holding back tears. I wanted to cry, wanted to scream, but it’s all useless. My beautiful baby, Elysia Kaori Tan is gone.

The cesarean went well, and after the birth I had time to hold my baby for a while and pinched her cheeks, still soft and warm. On that very day, my husband and family buried her and I was grateful the church could help to provide a resting place for her. The doctor explained to my husband that the umbilical cord was indeed twisted. I also saw the placenta myself and realised it was true – there were many twists in the umbilical cord, not a dead rope but twisted like a knot, so much so, that the oxygen was cut off and our daughter died.

Until now I have not been able to look at the photos of her burial and visit the cemetery. My condition has improved but not I still don’t feel recovered. My stomach still hurts after the operation and my tears have not stopped. There is no baby crying, no whines at night, no tiredness from breastfeeding. I cried and blamed myself every night since returning home. My husband and mother have struggled to comfort me and restore my health. My friends have sent various fruits, vitamins, and food and my mother’s friends have made donations and sent me care packages, and my parents-in-law will often come to visit.

I have realised a lot of people care about me. I have to get up every morning and accept this harsh reality. It isn’t easy, it’s hard. All it feels like is I was just one month before the finish line and suddenly I failed. My heart is broken and gone with my baby, and I know my husband feels the same, but he stands strong for my sake. I saw him crying for the first time when he found out our baby had died. It breaks me to see him so sad.

Even though I’ve tried to accept what has happened, there are still questions that remain. What led to my baby’s umbilical cord becoming twisted? I asked another doctor again and he gave the same answer, he didn’t know either. It can happen suddenly. But I won’t give up – many stillbirths go unresolved, and in my case I know there is an answer but we just haven’t found it yet. I will keep asking other doctors until I’m satisfied. I don’t want this to happen again in my next pregnancy. I won’t be able to face it.

For now, I have a strong faith with my mother’s words, “God must have other plans for you. Baby Ely’s leaving is the best for her and for all of us.”

Rest in peace my beautiful baby girl, Elysia Kaori Tan. Mom and Dad love you so much.

Sandra Tan is mother to baby Elysia, born sleeping.