I went to Boarding School and shared 5 years with a bunch of truly magnificent girls. One of my best friends at school, Alex, left shortly after I moved to Australia to live with her family in Germany. Sadly in 2008 I got an email that I will never forget opening. She is so incredibly brave to share this with us and for that I thank her a million times.
“Stillbirth- My story”
By Alexandra Gibbs
I was 21 years old and 25 weeks pregnant. It was the morning of the 24th September 2007 and I noticed that my usually active baby wasn’t moving around as much as usual. It was my first pregnancy and stillbirth is something that never even crossed my mind. I trotted off to the doctors’ practice that morning as I had a routine check-up anyway and mentioned to the nurse taking my blood pressure that my baby had been unusually quiet that day. She looked a little concerned and sent me through to see the doctor rather than starting with the CTG.
As I explained to my Doctor what I had told the nurse she said she was concerned and wanted to do a scan. She squeezed the gel on my bump and as she ran the transmitter over my belly I knew something was wrong. She looked at me and told me my baby had died.
I was immediately transferred to the local hospital so they could induce my unborn son. I had never been in labour before and I was absolutely terrified. I had no idea what to expect. The hospital staff treated the whole process very sensitively and when they offered me the chance to have an epidural I accepted straight away. I was numb with grief and the pain I felt in my heart is like nothing I have ever felt before.
I had a 16 hour labour with my mum and my partner Barry by my side. I gave birth to our sleeping baby on September the 25th 2007. When we finally got to meet our little boy I sobbed until I had no more tears left. His tiny body was so perfect in every way. He had my nose and my Barry’s chin. A perfect baby just born too soon.
The cause of our baby’s death was blood clots in his placenta, reducing his oxygen supply. We were told ‘it was just one of those things’.
As he was born past 24 weeks gestation and was legally viable we had to register his birth and death with the local authorities and bury him as per German law. We named him Alfie. The hardest thing I have ever had to do is walk away from that hospital with empty arms.
My partner and I went to visit Alfie at the funeral parlour and we got to spend some precious time talking to him, telling him how much we loved him. We gave him a tiny teddy to rest with him. One week after his birth we were burying him in his tiny wooden coffin. All we had were memories of our gorgeous boy in the form of photographs and prints of his hands and feet.
I lived in a state of complete oblivion and utter shock for many weeks. I blamed myself for Alfie’s death. I blamed myself for being so naïve and not rushing to the hospital on the morning I noticed his lack of movement. I stopped eating and dropped several clothes sizes. Some days I didn’t even get out of bed and others I would just lay on the sofa sobbing for hours at a time. I just didn’t want to continue my life anymore. The flowers and cards from family and friends flooded in but no words can comfort any mother who has had to bury her child. I was so angry with myself and with the world. I took a lot of these negative feelings out on those closest to me. I felt like nobody in the world could help me.
I was of course offered counselling and given information about various support groups around the area of Germany we live in but declined as I didn’t feel able to even begin to talk to strangers about how I was feeling and what I was going through. I eventually got in touch with the UK charity SANDS (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society) and began talking to other ladies who had been through similar experiences as me. The work charities such as SANDS do to raise awareness and increase the research into stillbirth and neonatal death is invaluable. However even though it was good to talk to people who knew what you had gone through and were continuing to go through each day I knew my soul would never heal so I stopped visiting the forum. I felt I needed time to think about things and put them in perspective myself.
In September 2008, a year after we had said goodbye to our beloved Alfie, Barry and I found out we were once again expecting a baby. Although no pregnancy or baby could ever let us forget our precious boy it was a light at the end of the long dark tunnel I had been walking in for so long.
I immediately made an appointment with my doctor and we discussed the antenatal care I would receive during the pregnancy. I was to receive fortnightly scans and extra antenatal tests and was reassured that everything would be done to prevent such tragedy striking twice. I was referred to a specialist in the hospital in the next city. There I was to be given 4 weekly Doppler Scans to check blood flow through the placenta and umbilical cord.
Shortly after Barry deployed to Afghanistan on 7 month tour.
When I was approximately 22 weeks pregnant I was told that everything was fine and was expecting another boy. When Barry phoned I excitedly told him the news. After treading on egg shells during the entire pregnancy this was news Barry and I needed to hear. I went home feeling relieved and confident about the future, oblivious about what was about to come.
In January Barry came home on his R and R and a few days later we were shopping in town when I said to him that I had a feeling that something wasn’t right. I phoned my mum who told us to drive straight to the doctors which we of course did immediately. The Dr saw us straight away and gave me a scan. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when she showed us our baby’s heart beat flicking on the monitor. She told me not to worry, that everything looked completely normal and if I had any uncertainty whatsoever then to come back without delay. We drove home feeling happy once again and Barry returned to Afghanistan to complete the rest of his tour.
Just a few days after this I phoned my mum and asked her to drive me to the hospital as I had an over whelming feeling that something wasn’t right with my baby. When we got there the specialist gave me a scan confident that everything was fine but history had repeated itself. My baby had died.
I was sent home and told to return the next day for the labour to be induced. My baby was born sleeping on the 21st January 2009. He had the same nose as his brother. His dad missed the birth and arrived back in Germany on compassionate leave the day after. We named him Joseph Cameron after a dear friend of ours who had passed away just one month previous.
Once again I found myself in a complete state of numbness and shock as I went through the whole process I had been through just 21 months earlier. We spent time with dear Joseph in the hospital and were advised to allow an autopsy to which we gave our permission. It came back clear of any genetic or physical abnormalities. He died due to blood clots in the placenta, just as Alfie had. We were told that I needed to be tested for blood clotting disorders.
A few weeks after the birth I had to have what seemed like pints of blood drawn from my arm to be sent away for testing for various blood clotting disorders. They all came back negative so the doctors decided to test for Anti Phospholipid Syndrome (also known as Hughes syndrome) and the results came back borderline positive so more blood had to be drawn for a second test to confirm it. These results came back negative. I was distraught. There was nothing more they could test for that would account for the loss of my babies so we had no answers as to why they died.
We decided that we wanted to take Joseph home with us rather than have him lay at the funeral parlour as Alfie had so we picked him up from the hospital and took him to the undertakers to get his coffin. Joseph was buried in the same grave as his brother Alfie so they could be together.
One thing my father said to me after Alfie was born that has proven so true was that the hardest thing I would have to face would be other people. Returning to work was particularly difficult for me. Some people couldn’t even look me in the eye let alone talk to me. I felt so alone. Like an outcast. I didn’t want them to treat me any differently, just talk to me and involve me in conversations like before. In the end I asked for a transfer which I was granted.
Late miscarriage and stillbirth is such a taboo topic within society. People don’t know how to approach the tragic subject and find it especially difficult to talk to people who have suffered such a heart-rending loss. I don’t think of myself as a ‘victim’. I just feel so desperately sorry for all the babies who don’t get a chance. People can only begin to imagine the depth of grief that expectant mothers feel upon knowing about the death of their babies in their own wombs.
My partner and I married on May 28th 2010 and that summer found out that we were expecting once more! The doctors decided that even though the tests for Hughes Syndrome hadn’t come back 100% positive our best chance of having a successful pregnancy would be to treat me as though it had come back positive so I was immediately given heparin injections that I had to self-inject (with the help from my mum) once a day to keep my blood thin and allowing it to pass through the placenta and umbilical cord without clotting. I was given weekly scans and fortnightly Doppler examinations throughout my pregnancy and when I was 16 weeks pregnant we found out we were expecting out THIRD boy. It was such a joyous moment yet such a sad one at the same time. It brought back such vivid memories yet the hope that we would finally be able to hold a screaming baby in our arms.
The pregnancy had its ups and downs. I diagnosed myself several times online until I was told off by the specialist. Google can be very dangerous at times.
At 38 weeks I was given the option of induction purely as a precaution and my husband and I decided that that would be a better option rather than just waiting for spontaneous labour. I told myself if anything went wrong in those last few weeks after I had been given the option to have my baby then I would never forgive myself.
On the 18th March 2011 we drove to the hospital to be induced and after a 25 hour labour I finally gave birth to our beautiful baby boy Oscar Samuel. It was the most wonderful feeling in the world knowing he was here with us and safe. He gives us so much joy and strength each day and although no baby can ever replace or allow us to forget Alfie and Joseph, having Oscar here is definitely an amazing blessing.
As I watch him grow and develop I can’t help but wonder how his brothers would look like now. Whether they would have the same smile as him, the same fair hair and big blue eyes?
We visit Alfie and Joseph whenever we can and as soon as Oscar is old enough to understand we will tell him about his brothers and what beautiful boys they are. We love them so much and won’t ever forget them and how special they are. One thing that I have learned about the grieving process is things don’t get any easier as the days go by but my life is richer for knowing them and being blessed with being their Mummy. That is something that can never be taken away from me.