On 30th September 2017, I experienced one of the greatest moments of happiness a woman can possibly experience. On 20th January 2018, I lived through one of the most devastating moments a woman can possibly fathom. This is my Stillbirth story.
On 30th September 2017, I found out I was pregnant with my third child after 3 months of trying to conceive. We were, as anyone can imagine, ecstatic. On 20th November 2017 we found out, after having two beautiful boys, that we were expecting a girl – a long awaited princess. Mommy’s little mini-me and a Daddy’s girl. We could not have been happier at this point. We decided to name her Nephele. Our beautiful Nephele.
Little did we know, however, that our little Princess would be coming sooner than we planned.
20th January 2018.
This date will forever be burned into my mind as the worst day of my life. It started out as a completely normal Saturday. I had not, though, felt our girl all day. She was at this point in my pregnancy, at 21 weeks, kicking up a storm. I remember feeling her for the last time the previous night – one kick – as I slept. My husband told me it was because I was moving around too much and probably just hadn’t felt her. My instinct told me otherwise. I decided to go to the clinic.
When I got to the clinic I told the midwives that I had not felt the baby all day – they expressed their shock at how I had waited all day to come. Guilt set in. They did their best to try and reassure me as they set up the apparatus to hear my baby’s heart beat. I lay and waited. And waited. And waited…for them to find one. But they couldn’t. They told me that it was probably because the placenta was in front of the baby and I shouldn’t worry – they were going to call the gynaecologist to come and check. Again, I waited. And waited and waited. The gynaecologist arrived half an hour later – he walked in breezily and cheerfully, jokes and banter ensued, putting me at ease. He proceeded to carry out an ultrasound. I watched as he scanned my stomach. The laughter that had filled the room only moments ago was now replaced with a thick silence. He sighed and looked at me with sympathetic eyes. The only sound that filled the room after this was my screams. I begged him to save my baby. I begged him to help her but he said there was nothing he could do and he walked out of the room. My husband was called to the clinic and what followed was a blur of information. The doctor informed me that I would have to give birth to my baby. I told them I refused to give birth to her naturally and wanted to be put to sleep and for a C-section to be performed. It was all too much – I wanted to not be able to feel anymore.
21st January 2018: my baby girl was born.
Following the C-section, I was visited a lot by the nurses for physical pain relief but nobody mentioned any form of emotional pain relief. I was simply told over and over again, “You are young, you can have another one. Don’t worry.” Nobody mentioned the baby until I did. I asked if I could see her. I was told I could if I wanted to but “the clinic can take care of it for you.” I asked what I had to do now. I was told, again, “the clinic can take care of it.” My husband and I decided that she was our daughter, only we would take care of her. We decided we had to see her. “I cannot say Goodbye to someone I have never met,” I told him. When we told the midwives we wanted to meet our baby girl, we were told gently, “I don’t think you should.” I quickly realised that while the midwives had the best of intentions, they did not understand what I needed. They could not relate to me. I felt very alone. We insisted she be brought to us. I sat waiting for my girl and tried to brace myself for what I would see. I was terrified. At that moment the door opened and the midwife walked in, with a calming, sympathetic smile on her face – and she was holding a box. A box. I asked her if my baby was in there and she said yes. The box was essentially my daughter’s coffin. It was white and had ‘Sweet Dreams’ written on the side. The midwives had wrapped her in a pink blanket with a pink hat and a teddy bear was placed next to her. I appreciated their efforts, but I could not get past the fact that my daughter was brought to me in her coffin. I asked the midwife to give me and my husband some alone time with her. I screamed for my daughter, I screamed for my boys, I screamed for our loss. But no matter how much I screamed, the pain would not leave my body. The pain was physical and I thought that it was going to kill me – there was no way, I told myself, that someone can feel pain like this and not die. I desperately tried to take a mental picture of her, knowing I would never see her again. The midwife came back in and my baby was pried from my arms, literally, and given to my husband to take her to the church. He was told about the paper work that had to be done for the hospital and then sent to bury his daughter. Alone.
After this, we were left to it. We stayed in the clinic for one more day and then were told we could leave. We were completely alone. We were not told of what emotional turmoil or signs of Post Traumatic Stress Symptoms were to come or what was to be expected. We were not given advice on how to tell our children that their sister was not coming anymore. We were not told of anyone who could help us. We were alone.
As I write this it has been nearly four months since my beautiful Nephele was born. What followed her birth was lots of awkward silences and stammers of people not knowing how to react when they encountered us. What followed were feelings that I could never have imagined I would ever feel – and nobody had warned me I would feel them.
My mission in sharing my story is to improve the aftercare offered to parents in a situation similar to ours. I have since read about similar stories in other countries where counselling is offered by the clinic as well as support group sessions. I have read about trained bereavement midwives that offer their support during this difficult time. I have read about Memory boxes created for the parents. Unfortunately, such facts were not the case for us.
I also found out many stories of women who had been through a situation like ours – and I realised that nobody talks about it. It is still a taboo issue. This means that women are not often aware of the fact that this could happen. This effectively means that they are oblivious to possible causes and symptoms of a stillbirth.
We may not be able to completely prevent stillbirths from happening, but by raising awareness, we can make a change. We can remove the taboo and we can help to improve, even slightly, the aftermath of one of the most devastating situations a human being can possibly live though.