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Camille

Age at interview: 26
Brief Outline: Camille was 23 when she became pregnant for the first time. Camille had frequent pains in her uterus from 18 weeks of pregnancy. Her waters broke and she went into labour at 21 weeks. Her daughter was born alive but died 53 minutes after birth.
Background: Camille is 26 and is married with a child aged 17 months and was pregnant at the time of the interview. She trained as a midwife before she left work to care for her daughter.

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Camille had started feeling heart palpitations from fourteen weeks of pregnancy. At eighteen weeks she started feeling pains. She was training as a midwife and knew that these pains were coming from her uterus. A doctor prescribed her antibiotics for a suspected urine infection. Camille’s pains continued and she was told by another doctor that they were Braxton Hicks contractions. At 19 weeks of pregnancy she started bleeding and was admitted for a few days to the early pregnancy unit. Things settled and she was sent home. However a week later her 20 week scan showed a large blood clot by her baby and a shortened cervix. Camille was admitted for over a week but was then discharged home. The next day Camille was still feeling contractions frequently and her waters broke. After arriving at hospital she went into labour. Camille gave birth to her daughter who was born alive but only lived for an hour. She was concerned about seeing her baby but held her for a few minutes after she had died. 

As her baby was born alive Camille had to legally register her baby’s birth and death and have a funeral. Initially Camille had thought she wouldn’t want to attend her baby’s funeral but she changed her mind and was glad she went. After her daughter’s birth Camille found it hard as she had to return to the hospital due to some retained placenta. Camille had mixed experiences of counselling but found her bereavement support worker really helpful. Camille found it extremely difficult returning to her midwifery training as she was caring for women giving birth. Camille found the 6 months of maternity leave she was entitled to because her baby was born alive, really helped her recovery. When Camille became pregnant for a second time she had conflicting advice from different doctors about how to prevent her pregnancy ending early. This was very stressful. Her second pregnancy progressed well and her daughter was born at 38 weeks. Camille ended up giving birth in the same room as her first birth which was a bittersweet experience.
 

Camille described how her emotions ranged from fighting against her contractions to the “magical moment” when she gave birth to her daughter.

Camille described how her emotions ranged from fighting against her contractions to the “magical moment” when she gave birth to her daughter.

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After a while I could feel that something was going on. So I had a feel down below. And I could feel her head. And that was very, very close. So I told a midwife. She laid me down. And I went on my side. My husband was there. We had decided that because he didn't want to see the baby and I did, that he was going to leave when I was close to giving birth. So, I at that point told him, "I think you need to go now." And then I started involuntarily pushing. So I shouted at him, "You need to, now!" And he sort of stood up, looked at the midwife, the midwife stepped aside as if to say, 'go'. And he sort of looked at me, and looked at the midwife, looked back at me, sat down and said, "No." Took my hand, and. It was very strange. Because it was sort of a magical moment on probably the worst day of our lives. But it was a magical moment that happened between us, when we just looked into each other's eyes and [my husband] - holding each other's hand, and I just pushed her out. A couple of pushes and she was out. I remember fighting with myself, actually, at the time. Because obviously I didn't want her to be born. And I sort of had to obviously talk to myself, in my head, saying 'she's going to be born, whether you want it or not, so you might as well make this quick, for both of us'. 
 

Camille didn’t have time to have morphine before her baby was born but afterwards felt glad as she didn’t want to miss the experience of her baby’s birth.

Camille didn’t have time to have morphine before her baby was born but afterwards felt glad as she didn’t want to miss the experience of her baby’s birth.

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I was given gas & air, which I hated. The anaesthetist came in and offered me a PCA of morphine. Which I accepted. So he sold it to me as saying that it was going to numb the pain, but it was also going to make me feel like I wasn't quite there. And that would possibly help with the birth. And actually, reflecting back on that, I didn't have time to have the PCA, because she was born not very long after that. But reflecting back on that, I'm actually really, really glad that I didn't have it. Because as horrible as time that it was, and as hard as it was, it was the first, the birth of my first child. And I would never have wanted to miss that. I think that would have been really upsetting.
 

Camille found holding her baby “heart-breaking”.

Camille found holding her baby “heart-breaking”.

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And when she was born, the midwife said that she was moving. I said that I did not have the strength to watch her die. So I said I would see her when she was gone. So the midwife wrapped her up, and put her in a cot in the room. At that point, I think I started becoming very unwell. They tried to get my placenta out, but they couldn't touch me because I was in so much pain. And my temperature went up as well, so I think they started antibiotics and gave me morphine. I managed to push my placenta out. And then I was sort of out of it for a couple of hours, which actually was really nice, because although I was - I wasn't unconscious, I was still conscious, but.

And I wasn't asleep. I was just not quite there. And I think that really helped me process what happened. Which was helpful. Then when I started feeling better, I think the survival instinct kicked in, and I thought 'I need to eat something before I see her, because I don't know how I'm going to feel after, and I need to look after myself'. So we had something to eat first. The midwife had asked me already a couple of times whether I wanted to see her, but I kept on saying, "Not yet." And then once I felt better, once we had eaten something, then I asked the midwife to - if I could see her. 

They were going to do everything in front of us. Which I wanted at the time. So they were going to weigh her, do the hands and foot prints, and all of that. But I asked to hold her in my arms first. And it's probably going to sound awful, but when they put her in my arms, the first thing that came into my head was 'this is not my baby' [in tears]. And that wasn't because I didn't love her, because of course I did. But she looked very distressed, her mouth was wide open, as if she'd been gasping for air. She was quite bruised from the birth. And just that look on her face was really heartbreaking. And I think my brain just wanted to protect me, and make me remember her from the scans, and the time that she was alive and happy and comfortable, rather than that particular image at that particular moment. 

Was actually a bit too much. So I only held her for a couple of minutes. I remember my husband staying with me for the whole thing after that, he couldn't leave me. He was actually really surprised when they put her in my arms, and he said, "She's a real baby. She's even got hair." And it really dawned on me that. As silly as it sounds, we weren't prepared for that. As much as I knew from my training, the stage of pregnancy I was at, that it wasn’t going to be a bit of blood and tissue, and a little sac with foetus. I don't think either of us were expecting to have a baby. Because we had been told the word 'miscarriage' so many times. Yeah. It wasn't - it really didn't register in our mind that we were having a baby. And that really - that moment really made me realise that when my husband said that, because I thought 'yes, we're having a baby, and they should have prepared us for that, they really should have'. And instead of using that horrible word 'miscarriage', they should have said you're about to have a baby. And that probably would have helped a little bit. Her - Then I gave her back to the midwives, and I asked them to do everything outside of the room, because I couldn't bear it. That's the only time that I saw her. I can't really remember much after that.
 

Camille didn’t want photographs but was pleased her midwife suggested taking some to keep in her medical notes for when she wanted to look at them.

Camille didn’t want photographs but was pleased her midwife suggested taking some to keep in her medical notes for when she wanted to look at them.

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We were offered to have photos taken, and we were given a memory box with the hands and foot prints.

At the time, I actually refused the photos. But then the midwife went away, and she came back saying "I've just spoken to somebody who said you really should have the photos, because they will stay in your notes, you never actually have to see them."

"But if at some point you want them, they're there. And if you don't have them, obviously you're not going to have that opportunity later on if you change your mind." And I'm so glad that she said that.

So glad. Because at the time, I just literally refused everything. And only I think maybe one or two weeks later I wanted to see the photos. So, again, the midwife went and got them for me. And she sat with me, and she looked at them, and she described them for me, to prepare me to see them. So that was really helpful, too. Yeah, she was very - very good support. 
 

Camille’s consultant wanted to give her the results of the post-mortem in person because the report is written in very technical language.

Camille’s consultant wanted to give her the results of the post-mortem in person because the report is written in very technical language.

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And how did you get the results of the post-mortem? Did they send those to you? Or did they -

No. They were - They did tell us that that would - that we would get an appointment to see the consultant with all the results, within six weeks.

I chased this up - I can't remember when. Because I knew that the results had come back. I can't remember how. I'd found out somehow that they got the results back, and that they were sat on a desk. And at that point, I just needed answers so badly, that I phoned the secretary and I said, "Can you please send them to me?" Because I don't know if they'd given me an appointment - I don't think they even had given me an appointment - or if they had, it was weeks away. And I thought, "I can't wait that long, can you just send me the results, please?" And she said, "Okay." And then later on that day I got a call from my consultant saying, "I really, really don't want you to read these results on your own. Because even with medical background, there's a very, very good chance either you're not going to understand them, or you're going to misinterpret them." And he didn't want me to do that. And obviously it's very hard to read as well, because it's very medical. So, you're reading something about your baby, such as if you're reading the form of a piece of meat, and it's just details of different - you know - they don't even say baby on there, it's 'foetus of that gestation'. And things like that. Which is not the easiest thing for a parent to read. So I do understand their point. But thanks to me saying that, they actually gave me an appointment a lot sooner, as well, to see him. 
 

Camille was a student midwife and had to argue for her entitlement to maternity leave.

Camille was a student midwife and had to argue for her entitlement to maternity leave.

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And what about - You touched on being a student midwife. So, were you a student at the time? There wasn't any work that you needed to not - that you were having to take time out from, or?

Yes. I was a student at the time. Obviously I was - When I was admitted, I was pretty much signed off, [laugh] - they knew that I was there, so they knew I wasn't going to come to work. 

[Laughing] Mmm.

And then after she was born, I did actually go back to placement. That was about seven weeks later. Which, I started in the community, thinking that that was going to be easier than going back to the hospital.

Except that I didn't think that at that time - I would have been twenty eight weeks pregnant, which is when you have one of your midwife's appointment. And I realised that when people came in with due dates very, very close to mine. And I particularly remember one of, one of the ladies just coming in, and starting saying how she was excited because she was having a little girl. And the midwife didn't even - it didn't even cross her mind to say, "Do you want me to do that one?" She just let me get on with it. And I literally just had to smile and pretend that I was excited for her, and palpate, and listen to her baby's heartbeat, and do all her checks, and. I managed to do a couple of days. Going to the bathroom to cry. And after that, I was on my way home, I was driving the car, and I literally wanted to drive into a wall. And at that point I knew that it was not the time for me to go back to work. So I actually went straight to my GP, and said that I was scared. And he said that the fact that I was reacting like that, and coming to see him, he wasn't worried. Because he could see that I was aware of everything, and nothing was going to happen. But he said obviously, "Don't go back to work." So, after that I asked the university whether I could be entitled to maternity leave, because although my pregnancy ended before twenty four weeks - because she was born alive, she's actually classed as a neonatal death. Which, in terms of things like child benefits, that makes a huge difference. I wouldn't have got anything - Like I could get something, basically. Like somebody who'd had a stillbirth. Whereas if she'd been born dead, that wouldn't - I would have two weeks off work. I suppose it's sick leave, I think you get. And when I contacted the university, they said that because it was under twenty four weeks, it was two weeks. And then I argued with them, saying "Actually, it's a neonatal death, it's not a miscarriage." And they said, "We don't know." [Laugh]. I don't think they've ever come across anything like that before. So they had to decide - they had to ask the board of university, I don't know what. Anyway, in the end, they granted it. And they said I could have maternity leave. So I took six months off. Which was good. Because that's definitely what I needed. And then after that, I decided that there was absolutely no way I could go back to the place where my daughter died, and deliver somebody else's baby. So I asked the university to be transferred to another hospital. Which at the time, they said they couldn't. And I said, "Well, that's really sad then, because that means my training is ending here." And actually, they did manage to move me. So I managed to finish my training in a different hospital. Which was probably - apart from giving birth to her - was probably one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. And the most heartbreaking thing. Because it used to be such a joy, to hand over a newborn baby to their happy parents. And it wasn't, it was just so completely heartbreaking and in my face, that’s not what I got, and a lot of flashbacks, as well. 

But I did it. I did it, thinking of her the whole time. And I think that really helped, making me think that I was doing this for her. That really got me through it.
 

Camille felt she was learning to deal with her emotions but the pain “never leaves you”.

Camille felt she was learning to deal with her emotions but the pain “never leaves you”.

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I think one of the things that one of the midwives told me, that did stick with me a little bit, is - I think at the time I didn't quite realise how life-changing it was going to be. Again, I think the word 'miscarriage' stuck in my head. It was just one of those things that you just get over. And I just remember I was saying something like that to the midwife, that - you know - everything will be alright once we get over it. And I remember her saying, "You don't get over losing a baby, you learn to live with it." And that's very true. It's - The pain doesn't go away. It never does. Does it get easier? Honestly, I don't know. I'm approaching Keira's third birthday, and I'm a mess. Just like I was the other years. I think what happens, you just - just learn to live with it. That's what it is. With time, you just learn to deal with your emotions, learn to recognise them. But it never leaves you.
 

Camille described very different experiences with two counsellors.

Camille described very different experiences with two counsellors.

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This may be a really difficult question, but I wonder if you can describe what it was about the Cruse counsellor who was so good, that they were doing that worked so much better for you? 

[Sigh] Because the person cared. And she was really listening to me, without having to paraphrase anything. I knew that she was completely listening to me. And responding to me. Not just paraphrasing what I was saying, she was actually responding to me and saying that - you know - my feelings were normal, and that was the stages of grief, and that's what people go through, and. Just being human. If that makes sense [laugh].

And I think sadly they sort of lose that when they do counselling, because they're trained a certain way, with the active listening skills. Which are good to some extent. I think you can't just do that for an hour, and just be looking at somebody and just paraphrasing everything that they say. Because that's showing that you're listening, but that's not enough. And the other person showed me compassion. And reassured me that the way - It was as if she was - She specialised in bereavement, which also helped. But I think also the fact that she was a volunteer. She really cared. She did it because she really cared. And that probably was a big thing as well. She was just generally a very, very nice person. And I just felt like I got close to her. Without really knowing that much about her, I felt like I actually got to know her as well, because of how she was with me. If that makes sense. I don't know, it sounds a bit strange. But, yeah. She was just more human. That's what I can say. Whereas the other woman was, yeah. It felt more like a robot - like a professional. But like a professional robot. And that's just paraphrasing everything that I say. And that wasn't very helpful.
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