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Collette

Age at interview: 41
Brief Outline: Collette’s first pregnancy was at age 38 following IVF treatment. Her son was born at 20 weeks of pregnancy. Collette saw her son’s heart beating. But he wasn’t breathing when he was born and was not registered as a live birth.
Background: Collette is 41 and is a teacher. She is separated and lives with her 2 year old son.

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Collette became pregnant for the first time after trying to conceive for 8 years and several IVF treatments. In her early pregnancy, everything progressed normally. But at 20 weeks of pregnancy Collette started to experience back pain and some very light bleeding. The bleeding worsened and Collette and her husband went to their local hospital. She was told her labour was starting and that her baby would not survive because he was born too early. After waiting for several days for her labour to progress, Collette saw a doctor who suggested they stitch her cervix to try and prevent an early birth. But within half an hour of talking to the doctor, her waters broke and so the procedure was no longer an option. After waiting several more days for her labour to progress, Collette gave birth to her son at 20 weeks of pregnancy. Although he wasn’t breathing when he was born, Collette saw her son’s heart beating and his chest moving. She named him Alexander. She spent 3 days in hospital with her son and found the midwives to be extremely caring, respectful and supportive. Leaving Alexander at the hospital was extremely hard for her. The hospital staff offered to arrange for him to come home with her for a few days, but Collette decided that she would rather visit him in hospital. 

Collette continued to visit the hospital over the next few months to be near to the place where her son had been born. In contrast to the care she received during and after the birth of her son, Collette felt she was not supported in making decisions about her son’s funeral and understanding the post mortem process. Collette found her grief after her son’s death overwhelming and was supported by her mum. The investigation into her son’s death highlighted some errors in her care as she should have been monitored more throughout her pregnancy. Collette found this very difficult - she was angry about the poor care but wanted to have happy memories of her son. 

Collette was a teacher and found her employers very caring and extremely supportive in helping her to return to work when she was ready. Collette and her husband decided to try for another baby and she became pregnant again after just one course of IVF. Collette had a stitch put in her cervix early on in her pregnancy to try to prevent going into labour early and her second son was born at 37 weeks.
 

Collette was extremely upset by the blunt way her doctor told her the likely outcome of her pregnancy.

Collette was extremely upset by the blunt way her doctor told her the likely outcome of her pregnancy.

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I remember sitting in the waiting room with my husband, looking at all these other poor women that were suffering. Women were crying, in absolute pain. I just sort of had mild back pain, and laughing with my husband, saying "Oh my god, they're probably going to say 'you ridiculous people, go home - you know, there's nothing wrong, just go home'."

And we went into the, the room. And a very, very nice man - a doctor - came in. And he said, "I'm going to have to have a look." You know, just - they put a speculum in and had a look. And it took seconds, just seconds. He had a nurse with him, and he looked and within two seconds, he whipped it out and said, "Yeah, I'm sorry. I can see your cervix has opened. The bag is coming out. I can see your baby's foot. It's still in the bag, but you're in labour. You're having your baby, and he's going to die. " Just like that, he said that to me. 

How do you - how do you tell somebody that? I often think if he'd just said - don't know. Like if he'd just said maybe - maybe if he'd said, you know, "Collette, at this point in your pregnancy -." You know? He could have drawn, maybe drawn a diagram, or - and said, "At this point in your pregnancy, you know, when I look inside I should see your cervix should be nice and closed. This is what it should look like. And what I'm actually seeing is -." You know, I think the way he delivered it was - And I understand - Again, I do understand these people are overworked and stressed, and I'm just another number. And he doesn't know my history. He doesn't know that everything was invested in that little boy living. And this is really harsh, you know - "Yeah. Yeah, I can see the sac, I can see his foot. Yeah, he's going to die. Your baby's going to die. You're in labour." "What?" And like I said, we were laughing a few minutes earlier, and it was just [sigh]. I don't know. I'm not a doctor. But I feel like there's - Don't you deliver news like that carefully? I know there's like a [laugh], a British way of doing things, and I'm - I'm very - I like to call a spade a spade. But I think you have to be very careful about how you tell somebody that. I think you have to - don't know. What happens if my son had lived? How could he have gone back on 'your son's going to die'? 
 

Collette found it particularly hard seeing her baby’s heartbeat on a scan before giving birth.

Collette found it particularly hard seeing her baby’s heartbeat on a scan before giving birth.

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And I did have hope, because he didn't come - I kept thinking they don't know what they're talking about, my son's still alive, and. Yeah. And, I have to say, I've just remembered. The Friday before he came, that morning I had to go downstairs for a scan, to the pre-term birth clinic.

They couldn't get a machine into my room, and they wanted me to go and have an ultrasound downstairs. And the woman there didn't know my situation. And she didn't know my water had broken, and she started scanning, and she was like "There he is, there's his heartbeat. Oh, little boy." And I remember just - My Mum was holding my hand and I was just crying and crying and crying, and she was like "Would you like a picture?" And I was like, "What?" In fact, I said "Yes, I do actually want a picture." I said, "But my son isn't going to live." You know? But I was just - And I know it happens, she's only a person, and there's so many of us and we're all - you know - I want to be understanding, I want to be sympathetic, and. But it's so hard when it's happening to you. Feels like injustice is so bad, and. Don't know.
 

Collette remembered wanting to undress her baby and see his body.

Collette remembered wanting to undress her baby and see his body.

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And he was tiny. Tiny, tiny, tiny. And his head was stuck, he couldn't come out. So he had to even be pulled out. And I remember just [sigh]. I guess for the - Once he was born, they whisked him away. They didn't - they didn't give him to me. I guess I didn't even ask what I, what I'd wanted. But after I'd sort of - I guess maybe come to like an awareness that I'd had him, I was like "Where is he?" Like "I need to see him." And by then they had cleaned him and dressed him. They'd put him in this little - little outfit, with this tiny hat, and they'd wrapped him in a blanket. And brought him to me. And I remember just undressing him. I just wanted to see his body. And the midwife that I had was amazing. She was like "Oh, he's so beautiful. Look at his perfect -" [in tears]. Just kind of using those words. "Look at his perfect hands, and his beautiful face." And he had eyelashes, and. I remember looking at his nails and thinking 'oh my god, he's got my nose', and. And I just wanted to see his body. And I remember seeing movement in his chest. Which I guess was probably still his heart. And you could see through his skin, so you could see a lot of the veins and the arteries. And I remember being quite frightened, because I thought he was alive. You know, he was alive. And in my head he was alive - he wasn't breathing, but he - his organs were still going, and. But she was amazing. She was like - I was absolutely petrified that he was suffering, that he was in pain, and that he knew that he - you know - couldn't breathe, and he. And she, you know. She was - the midwife was incredible. She was - She just kept saying to me, "He, he doesn't know. His - you know, the cord that connects the brain for all the thinking and that isn't fully developed yet. He doesn't know what's happening. It's just processes that are slowing down now because they're not supported by your placenta any more." And, but - you know. I remember just holding him, and. You know, she - There was, there was no pressure. There was no - She just said the nicest things about him, and. And, and left - left me to have him. And I remember holding onto him for ages. I remember at the time, my husband didn't want to hold. I remember him saying he didn't want to hold our son. And I think after I held him and he saw him, he wanted to hold him too.
 

After going home, visiting the hospital many times was helpful to Collette as she felt close to her baby there.

After going home, visiting the hospital many times was helpful to Collette as she felt close to her baby there.

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And I was there for three days, and nobody came in sort of asking any questions. Even though there was a changeover of midwives and doctors.

It was more just about 'what can we do for you', I guess. And I don't - I don't remember ever needing anything, except I just wanted to hold my son. And it was really hard because over those few days that we were there, he deteriorated in condition. Obviously they kept him in somewhere very cold. Because I remember whenever I asked to hold him, I could feel that he was - he was ice cold. But he'd started to kind of dehydrate, I guess. And he'd - instead of being soft, which he was when I first held him, he started to sort of tense up, and shrivel up actually. His little fingers became very dry and brittle. And his little lips started to peel, and. It was - it was really hard to see. It was kind of really painful to watch that kind of change. And I wanted him to bring him home - and that was an option. You know, "You can take him home if you want to, but you must understand he's got to be kept cold." And the idea of putting him a fridge, and - it was just so crazy. And then of course I thought maybe the best place for him to be was at the hospital. And, and she said, "You can come back as often as you want to see him." Which definitely made me feel - I guess made me feel better about my decision, that I could come back, and. And I did. I did go back. But it was - I think only - I went, I went back to the hospital all the time. I went back there for months, almost every day. And just sat in the waiting room [in tears]. Because it was the place that I was connected to where my son was born. And even though I was watching a stream of women come out with their babies, and it was very - There was something very comforting about being in the place that my son was born, about being near those people that had been very kind to me during that process. In fact I felt - I had this almost intense - wanted to connect with those midwives that had been with me during that process. 
 

Collette felt that her employer’s experience of infertility made her extremely sympathetic about the difficulty of coming back to work.

Collette felt that her employer’s experience of infertility made her extremely sympathetic about the difficulty of coming back to work.

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My boss is amazing. I've obviously worked for her for the entire time that I was trying to have a baby. So she - And she herself struggled to have children, and had given up, and then fell pregnant. So she was like - almost like the perfect person to work for [laughing], because she knew. 

She'd been through everything too. And she had given me all the time I had needed, and days off like - I couldn't have asked for a better, better place for this all to have happened. But she - I sent her a text message telling her what had happened. And she just said, "Do what you need to. You don't have to call, you don't have to worry about school. Do what you need to." And I never heard from her for months. She just left me alone. She didn't badger me about 'when are you coming back?' And it was me that eventually called her and said, "I think I'd like to come in, just for a morning. And maybe see -." Because obviously I think a lot of parents - especially the parents of the kids that I was teaching - were very concerned, and wanted to send cards, and get in touch. And I think she'd sort of said, "Well, I think maybe leave her alone for now. And then you can maybe in a couple of months when she's feeling better." And I wanted to kind of see them, and just - and they were amazing. I met up with the staff, which - I don't know how I feel about that, actually. I had a - I kind of met after school, with all the staff. And they - they wanted to know. I think they wanted to have the meeting to find out how they could best support me. But it was very hard. It was so hard to sit there, and - I spoke about my son, I took pictures to show them. And I just cried for the two hours I was there. But I guess it was - It was really important for me - for me, to let them see the real, the reality of it.
 

Collette felt women were more likely to talk about their loss than their partners.

Collette felt women were more likely to talk about their loss than their partners.

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But yeah, we had counselling together. And, I don't know. I don't - I think he came, to be part of it. But I think it was me that was just doing all the talking. Again, so different. Yeah, so different. You only have to go to Sands meetings full of women who want to sit there and talk about it, and on the odd occasion you get a dad, or a partner, who comes, who talks about being furious and mad, and. And then that's it. So they're lucky, in a way. They kind of – 

Channel it. Mmm.

They rage, and they do what they need to do, and then 'boom', they're off. And I think possibly it's down to your genetics, it's down to how we are made. You know, us women are so nurturing and - you know - we're the ones that carry the baby, we birth the baby. You know, and you produce milk, you - It's in your genetics. And it's probably very different for them.
 

Collette expected her husband would be the one person that could share her pain and found it extremely difficult that they grieved so differently.

Collette expected her husband would be the one person that could share her pain and found it extremely difficult that they grieved so differently.

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My husband and I grieved so differently. So differently. And people warned me. Lots of people warned me [laugh]. Sands was one of the people that warned me, my boss warned me.

Friends warned me. They were like, "Men and women grieve very differently." And it drove a very big wedge between me and my husband, because he was the one person that I thought understood, and could kind of share my pain by being like me in the grief process. 

And we were alien to one another in the way that we dealt with it. And that was hard, too. You know, we were strangers, and we slept in separate rooms, and we just could not - I couldn't get out of bed. He couldn't wait to get out of bed. You know? I couldn't eat. He drank and drank and drank. It was, it was fascinating. Fascinating how different we were in the grief process.

And I think I was very unaccepting of his way of grief, because it was so alien to me. And I guess once my Mum had stayed for a few months and left, I was alone. I had no family here.

And he was the person that I would have expected to pick up the pieces when he was dealing with it as well. You know, that was probably - well, not probably, is incredibly selfish of me to have expected that of him. And at the time, I could not understand what was wrong with him. Very alien - very alienating. Very painful. And I don't know how you get round that. Don't know how you get around that you are different people. And even though this one thing joins you, it very much divides you too.
 

Collette felt she didn’t want to tell anyone she was pregnant again because she was so petrified her baby was going to die.

Collette felt she didn’t want to tell anyone she was pregnant again because she was so petrified her baby was going to die.

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It was quite sad really, because I didn't enjoy my pregnancy until right at the very end. I didn't acknowledge that I was pregnant for months [close to tears]. I hid my - I hid my bump. I remember going to Sands meetings seven months pregnant, and nobody knew. I sat in my coat. And I didn't tell - you know - I just couldn't. I mean, I was absolutely in love with the little person growing inside me, but I was so petrified he was going to die. So petrified. But I just - I couldn't, I couldn't embrace it. I was - They signed me off. They put me on - Not bed-rest, but they signed me off from work so I could just relax. I was told not to do too much exercise, in fact I was told not to do any exercise. And I'm glad - Part of me is glad that that happened, because I couldn't focus at work. All I could think about was 'my baby's going to die, my baby's going to die'.
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