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Losing a baby at 20-24 weeks of pregnancy

​Experiences of a following pregnancy

Many parents we spoke to had been able to have another baby after their loss. They felt very lucky, but often those pregnancies were difficult. 

Naivety of pregnancy shattered

Pregnancy was never the same again. Many parents felt they had lost the carefree attitude and joy they had felt about pregnancy before it had been shattered. After losing a baby, they now knew everything that might go wrong and found the next pregnancy terrifying. Some parents talked about how differently they approached the pregnancy. Some hid their news, and didn’t feel it was right to announce it through social media or to friends and family. Carly talked about how she avoided buying new things for the baby. She felt that “half of me wanted to say 'ah hurray, I'm pregnant', and be happy and then the other half was going 'well don't get your hopes up again… you know what happens”.
 

Lindsay described how she had a few hours of being excited about her pregnancy before she felt overwhelmed by fear.

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Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
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So I found out that I was pregnant in February. I had about four hours where I was really excited, before the absolute terror hit in. 

And, yeah. Just like the prospect of what could happen again. And it's been a shame in some respects, because that lovely naivety of pregnancy that I had with [my son], and with Henry really until it went wrong, has just been shattered. And so whereas I before I used to think 'well if you get to your twelve week scan, you're fine', like 'let's go shopping and buy stuff', you know? [Laugh]. Whereas now, I'm thirty four weeks now, and I still haven't bought a single thing, or organised a single thing [laugh].
 

Sarah described how she felt more pessimistic about pregnancy.

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Age at interview: 34
Sex: Female
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I did have times where I had to take a few days off work around the twenty three week mark, because I just was so worried. You know, around that time. Obviously it's just - It's like this, this - you know, like I say, this mark I had to pass. And especially just like knowing that once - And knowing I'd gone past the twenty four week mark was almost like a bit of a relief.

Into this kind of viability stage. I found I was a lot more aware of success rates at certain birth times. So knowing that at this point ninety percent of babies live for over a year, at this point - you know. Just going through - So I knew that I was like okay, if I can get onto this week, then this baby's got a ninety percent chance of survival, and if I go to this week, then you know. So I was just a lot more aware that time. Because I think what I didn't take into account last time I was pregnant is that not everyone gets to keep their baby. And that's something - Because I'd had two healthy babies, being pregnant meant having a baby, done. And it was almost - And I'd see people putting things up on Facebook, like "Oh, we had our twelve week scan." And I, yeah. I was just like tentative on their behalf, like don't get too - you know, don't get too excited, it might - But you know, you don't want to take away someone's excitement about their baby, and you're just thinking 'oh no, don't get your hopes up'. Which is like such a negative thing, attitude to have. I knew it sounded bitter. But at the same time, I just couldn't understand why people could be so enthusiastic so early on, when there might be a chance that you might lose your baby, because - you know - didn't they know that you could lose your baby that quick, just like that? You know, so I think I just - I became - It was a bit of a, oh I don't know quite how to describe it. But a bit of a negative attitude towards pregnancies at the whole. And just, just having this real kind of glass half empty kind of attitude towards it, that knowing that just because you're pregnant doesn't mean you're having a baby. And that was it. Yeah. So it wasn't - Just can't feel that same excitement. And I think that has, that has been like that while I've been pregnant this time round, is that - well, you know, 'if' I end up on maternity leave, or if I'm on maternity leave this time next year. And people are saying "Oh yeah, you will be going on maternity. Not if." If. Like it's always been ifs and buts this time. 
 

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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Age at interview: 41
Sex: Female
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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'.
Some parents found support groups with other parents who had experienced loss were helpful. For Courtney, friends at Sands, the stillbirth and neonatal death charity (Resources) were the only ones who understood her changed attitude towards pregnancy. Alison was reassured to be in touch with parents who had gone on to have a healthy baby. But others found meeting people who had also lost their baby made their fear greater. Vikki became aware of even more things that could go wrong during the pregnancy which made her extremely scared.
 

Courtney found other mothers who had experienced loss understood her feelings about pregnancy.

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Age at interview: 30
Sex: Female
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And the Sands group, you're - you're still going to that. Do you feel like you've still got some time there?

I feel like I go now because they're my friends. So, and they understand me so well. So whereas I go and I discuss my month and how bad it's been, or the good side it's been, I also go because I want to hear how they're doing. And if say that month someone comes up to me - like for instance someone come - was in a conversation and they're pregnant, and they were like "Oh, I really want a boy." And then someone else was like, "I really want a girl." And I'm just like, "No, you want it alive." [Laughing]. I'm like "It doesn't matter if it's a girl or a boy, it doesn't matter, as long as it's healthy, and alive, then it's not - then nothing's an issue." [Laugh]. The Sands group would understand that. They'd - I could say that there, and they'd understand why I would come away annoyed. They'd even laugh about it. 

And to have people around you that understand little things like that, and comments like that, is priceless. It literally gets you through. Like, we - We now to a point have become friends that - like you, you would text them like they were your best mates, the people that you've lost. It's, it's like you experience something together and you understand.
The parents we spoke to felt extreme anxiety during their pregnancy. Carly found her pregnancy “off the scale scary. Every day I thought 'she's going to die too'”. Elaine felt “it was like literally like living in a bubble, because I was afraid to do anything.” Some parents felt safer once they had got past 20 to 24 weeks of pregnancy as this was when they had lost their baby previously. Others felt more anxious from that stage onwards. Some parents described never feeling safe throughout the whole pregnancy.
 

Loretta described how her anxiety changed through her pregnancy.

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Age at interview: 54
Sex: Female
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It was fine at the start. But as soon as I hit twenty weeks, I just seemed to go into a bit of a meltdown. Because I knew I'd got to twenty weeks before. So after that, it was quite [sigh] - quite hard going at times. Because I was always worrying, you know, if I tripped over, had I done something? But I still - I still then went out and bought bits. But only because I thought 'well I might as well just enjoy the pregnancy, because it might not last long', so. That, and that saying, I went through it thinking that it might not last.

So I sort of tried to make the most of being pregnant.

And did you manage to enjoy it?

On days that you could forget, yeah. Yeah. Yeah, there were occasionally when, you know, you did quite enjoy being pregnant and walking round. And then sometimes you'd sit there of a night, and you'd worry about it. 

Mmm. And how many weeks did you get to with -

With [son’s name]? I went to thirty seven weeks. No, thirty six weeks and five days I went with him. And had to have a planned Caesarean. 
 

Vikki described how she couldn’t believe she was going to have a baby until she walked out of the hospital with them in her arms.

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Age at interview: 33
Sex: Female
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I'm in denial. I've just put on a bit of weight. I look down and I don't see a bump, I just see fat again [laugh]. Yeah. I can't get excited about it. I won't believe I'm going to have a baby at the end of it until I walk out of that hospital with the car seat and they're here. I - every scan is torture. Every midwife appointment - I see my midwife every week because of it. I'm terrified. Every week I sit there and I panic. I persuade myself I've got all kind of conditions now [laugh]. I haven't. But yeah, it's going really well - the pregnancy is going well. The baby's breech, and it's big, but it's going well. And the baby's growing. And the consultant that I'm seeing is wonderful. And it's at the same hospital. Because better the devil you know. 
Parents particularly appreciated midwives and doctors who understood their anxiety, especially around whether their baby was moving or not. Many talked about trying to manage their anxiety by seeing their midwife or attending hospital much more frequently than they had previously. Mothers often received extra scans to monitor their pregnancy but while they could allay their fears they were also stressful. For Vikki they were torture – as it had been during a routine scan in her first pregnancy that revealed her baby had died. Many mothers had their pregnancy induced or a caesarean section a few weeks earlier than normal to relieve stress and reduce the chance of stillbirth.
 

When Alison was concerned about her baby’s movement she appreciated the support of her midwives.

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Age at interview: 30
Sex: Female
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But knowing that they wouldn't laugh at me, and say "You're being stupid, go away." That they were completely understanding every time I spoke to them on the phone. And every time I went in 

That they would actually - yeah, that they didn't dismiss my worries at any point. And I don't, and I don't think that they knew about my previous experience. I can't remember at what stage they did and didn't know. So, that was quite useful. And within that, one of the midwives I remember we'd had like the - where they strap your belly up for the - I don't know what it is. For the, for recognising the heart rate. And I remember she took a few minutes out, to like sit us down and fully explain everything about the readings, and why that meant that everything was okay. And that was amazing. Because like she - otherwise you're just kind of saying "Oh, it's fine." But she actually explained, sat down and explained that this is where I'm getting this information from, and this is why I can tell you that you're alright. So that was incredibly helpful, just for like three minutes of her time. It saved a lot of anxiety after that, so. 
 

Helen Z found scans helped allay her fears but also found them extremely distressing.

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Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
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So. Every time I went for a scan, I was in tears. Because I couldn't - Took me a long time to get onto the bed. Especially on the first few scans, when I wasn't - still couldn't feel any kicks. I was crying before I got on the bed, because I couldn't go through it again. 

So, what weeks did you have a scan?

So, privately I had a scan at I think - Well, I had a scan at seven weeks. And then they'd said to me something about the baby not being the right size, even at seven weeks. So I went back at nine weeks. So that scared me, even though it was so early. 

Then I had my twelve week scan. And then I think we had a private scan at fifteen weeks. And then we had - And then the NHS gave us scans at twenty, twenty four, twenty eight, thirty two, thirty six. So I had scans the whole way through.

And was there a time when you started to relax a little bit more in the pregnancy, or?

No.

No?

Because I've made friends with women that have lost their babies at full term. 

Everyone was like "Once you've got past twenty three weeks, you'll relax." But you meet so many people that have lost babies maybe later down the road.
Partners’ feelings

Fathers also found subsequent pregnancies extremely stressful. Matthew said he worried “because… I couldn't see a positive outcome for it. I just felt it was going to end in the same way. It was going to end badly.”
 

David described his need to know the baby was moving and kicking before he went to work each day.

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David: Thank god we got [my son]. But you know, when Elaine was pregnant with [my son], I don't think we had a restful night. Because it was always 'is he kicking?' I wouldn't go to work, unless Elaine gave me the green light that yes, she felt [my son] kick. Often, she'd [laugh] - she wanted me to get out, and he hadn't kicked, I mean she would actually - because of what - She would actually go to you know, get it checked, there and then?

She'd have to get scanned at the hospital. Is that right?

Elaine: Mmm.

David: Without telling me. So, it was a case of six, sorry - nine months of actual –

Elaine: Eight and a half months [laughing].

David: Eight and a half. Yeah. Eight and a half months of stress, and with a fantastic result at the end of it, but. Yeah.
Going back to the same hospital

Parents had mixed feelings about going back to the hospital where they had given birth the first time. For some parents this offered continuity of care with the same midwife or doctor who knew about their previous experience. Parents appreciated when staff knew about their loss so that they didn’t have to keep retelling their story. Physically returning to the same hospital was often difficult as it was associated with so many distressing memories. Some mothers talked about having flashbacks or feeling physically sick or fainting.
 

Returning to hospital made Sarah feel physically sick. She appreciated having a sticker on her notes to tell staff she’d lost a baby.

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Age at interview: 34
Sex: Female
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Even though the staff have been wonderful, have always been wonderful. But the actual place itself. So when we had to go back - I went for an early scan, first of all. Because once again I'd had it previously. I'd had some early bleeding. And went back for an early scan. And walking back through the doors, I was sick in the car park. It was that - Well I wasn't feeling great anyway, but [laugh]. The fact that actually having to go back to the hospital. And the last time I'd walked out of those doors was when we'd left our son behind. And I was sick outside the hospital, because I felt that bad. And we went - we went in. And, but they - On my notes, all my notes, they'd put all - There's a Sands sticker they can put on the front of your notes. And it's lime green. It's like highlighter green. And so anyone who picks up your notes knows that you have lost a baby.
And that's been useful, actually. And just - So I don't have to feel like I have to - And it's got his date of birth on it. So I don't feel like I have to explain myself constantly. People see that and they know to be careful. So not to be - Because you know, you get some people who just go "Oh, is it your first baby?" You know? "No. No." And then "Oh, right." And then you explain - you know, you have to explain. And that is frustrating when that happens.

But yeah, but most people, you know, they know that sticker's on the front, and they know to just look for it, and that it's - it's there. But yeah, going back to the hospital was, was hard. But I've been back so many times now that it's now more - I more associate it with this baby, like a separate experience. So. 
Feelings after the birth

Giving birth allowed some parents to lay down happier memories associated with birth. Elaine described how the birth of her son “leaves a nice feeling around” birth and labour rather than a “traumatic” one. However some were disappointed when friends or family thought their new baby would ease their grief. Lindsay was upset when “lots of people, friends and family, are a bit like - excellent, so you've got your happy ending now, and everything's perfect” because “that grief doesn't disappear because I am now pregnant again.”
 

Kirsty described how friends and family thought having another baby would take away her pain.

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And I think that you can't expect to have another baby and it'll just take away all the hurt. Because it doesn't. And I think people found that quite difficult. Again, I don't know why I'm so fixated on what people say. But when we were pregnant again, everyone else was like really relieved. You know? And it's like 'oh, that's such good news,' you know? As if it makes everything alright now. And it really, really doesn't make everything alright. And it - As a, as a mum, there's no end to the guilt feelings that you have. But that just adds to the guilt. You know? Even getting pregnant again makes you feel guilty.
For some parents anxiety did not stop after giving birth and they felt a heightened level of stress for the first months after their new baby was born. Kirsty was “anxious that I was doing the right thing all of the time… I just felt that I wasn’t going to have him for very long”. Alison felt her anxiety after birth impacted on the first few months of her new daughter’s life.
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