A-Z

Losing a baby at 20-24 weeks of pregnancy

Experiences when the baby has died before labour starts

All women are offered an ultrasound scan at around 18-21 weeks of their pregnancy to check for major physical abnormalities. It is carried out the same way as the earlier dating scan, but can reveal much more detail. This scan was the point at which some of the women we spoke to discovered there was something seriously wrong. Some parents we spoke to found out at this scan that their baby had died, others that their baby had a serious abnormality. Other parents found out their baby had died when they come back for a follow-up scan to check the baby’s growth, or at a later routine check-up. 

Finding out their baby had died was a complete shock for parents. Many of the mothers we spoke to felt their pregnancies had seemed to be progressing well. Although they had felt very sick and tired in early pregnancy, scans at about 12 weeks of pregnancy suggested everything seemed to be fine. Vikki and Michelle and Ian felt they had got to the stage where it was safe to tell their older children about the pregnancy.
 

Vikki had felt everything was going well and to plan, as with her two previous pregnancies.

Vikki had felt everything was going well and to plan, as with her two previous pregnancies.

Age at interview: 33
Sex: Female
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
So we took a pregnancy test at New Year’s Eve, and at the stroke of midnight we found out that it was pregnant. And it was brilliant. We were over the moon. Everything seemed to be going to plan, as it had with the other two pregnancies. We had a twelve week scan, it all looked perfect. The Down's screening come back clear. So we were quite excited. And the girls - both our daughters - knew about the pregnancy then, and we said to them we've got a baby in the belly, and you need to be careful around Mummy, and. They got excited about it, and wanted to know what I was having, and how long they had to wait until the baby came.
Other parents had felt more anxious during pregnancy. Carly always had “a funny feeling almost, with Josephine… but I was always Googling that I felt like quite paranoid almost which I never was with my son.” Loretta had been anxious early in pregnancy because of previous pregnancy problems but had felt she could relax by 20 weeks of pregnancy. Some parents had felt their baby wasn’t moving as much as they had expected. Vikki Z had been worried her baby wasn’t moving enough at 16 weeks of pregnancy but her midwife told her not to worry.
 

Vikki Z had niggling doubts and felt something wasn’t quite right with her pregnancy. It was harder than her previous ones.

Vikki Z had niggling doubts and felt something wasn’t quite right with her pregnancy. It was harder than her previous ones.

Age at interview: 38
Sex: Female
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
So, we had - we had the scan at twelve weeks as usual, and that was fine. Everything was fine, there was nothing. No problems. And then I went for my midwife appointment at sixteen weeks. And I remember being quite disappointed, because they'd changed the procedure, and they wouldn't listen to the heart, for the heartbeat. Because they say that since my last child, that's not what they do, because more often than not they can't find it, and actually it can cause more worry and concern, and - and really, you know, everything's most likely to be fine. So I remember - but I remember saying to her at the 16 week appointment, "I just don't feel like everything's right, I just feel as though - you know". I could feel the baby moving by then, I could feel the baby moving from quite early, because I'd already had two, and you know the signs. And also probably people say everything's stretched, I don't know whether that's true or not, but I could definitely feel her moving. But not as much as the others. And it seemed to be in a different type of way. And I was just really, really, really, really ill. Just felt really sick. So much so that they did suggest taking the anti-sickness medication, but I didn't really. Yeah. So there was no reason. There was no actual, you know - I'd had all my checks, the scan was fine. 

My blood pressure was fine. Everything was perfectly fine. But there was something that I just didn't feel was right. Something in the back of my mind. The midwife said "Well you're measuring fine, everything's fine. Each baby's different. The placenta could be in a different position - you know - your placenta could be at the front so you're feeling less." And all of these things sort of made me think 'right, yeah - you know - it's fine'. And it was just a niggling doubt at the back of my mind, which I just pushed to the back of my mind because you know, I was also feeling very hormonal, and, as I say, it was - it was the most difficult pregnancy of all my pregnancies. 
Finding out the bad news

Most of the parents whose baby had died before labour started found out their baby had died at the routine scan at around 18 to 21 weeks of pregnancy. Others had come back for a follow-up scan to check the baby’s growth, or a routine check-up. Discovering their baby did not have a heartbeat at the scan was extremely shocking and the news was difficult to absorb. 

Several parents had taken older children along with them to the scan because they had not expected bad news. Michelle felt the need to ease the sonographer’s panic saying "It's okay. I know the baby's died." Both Sarah and Michelle had a strong feeling that something was wrong just before attending the scan where they found out their baby had died.
 

Vikki described her world falling apart when the sonographer couldn’t find her baby’s heartbeat.

Vikki described her world falling apart when the sonographer couldn’t find her baby’s heartbeat.

Age at interview: 33
Sex: Female
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
And we went in for the scan, got called in. And I laid down, and they put the jelly on my belly, and got the, the scanner out. And then I remember [my husband] seeing the baby on the screen and saying "Oh look, it's all curled up in a ball, it must be really cosy." And then the sonographer couldn't find the heartbeat. And it just - My world just kind of fell apart there and then. And she left the room and said she needed to get a doctor to just confirm it. So the doctor came through. Scanned over, and said, "No, I’m really sorry, there is no heartbeat." And then at that point I knew I'd have to deliver this baby. There was no other way, I would have to deliver the baby.
Many parents described extreme emotions, the “shock was as bad as the grief”. Vikki Z remembered shouting and “just felt that at that point, my world had just fallen apart… I'll never forget that, that was just so awful”. All the future plans parents had made seemed to disappear instantly. Elaine described how “from that moment, our lives changed for absolutely ever, because nothing was ever the same again”.
 

Carly described the shock of finding out her baby had died.

Carly described the shock of finding out her baby had died.

Age at interview: 30
Sex: Female
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
And it was so sudden, you know? It was one day she was fine, and then she's just dead. There's no - It's like your whole bottom of your world has gone. Like you're in shock. You know? The shock of what happened is almost as bad as the grief. Like you just can't seem to comprehend it. You know, your whole world's destroyed in a second. And all them things that you thought you would do, you just - you can't do them anymore.
 

Nesta felt hysterical and couldn’t believe the news.

Nesta felt hysterical and couldn’t believe the news.

Age at interview: 39
Sex: Female
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
They just said "We're sorry." And at this point I just jumped up. And I just was like "No, no. It can't be." And they said, "Yes, we're really sorry but the baby's gone. There's no heartbeat." And, and then I remember actually they said - I was sitting up at this point, a bit hysterical. And they said "Well can you just, just lie very still so we can just have a close look, try and make a judgement of, you know, when this happened and things." I couldn't really do that. I was sort of shaking and that [laughing]. 

They had another quick look. Obviously they didn't tell me it was dead until they actually knew. And then got dressed, and then went and sat in another room waiting for the doctor to come and talk through the options. And by now we were sobbing our hearts out [laugh]. Boxes of tissues, and.

Did they manage to get any sense of when it had happened? Or was that?

They said they thought it was three or four days, something like that. But fairly recent. But not immediate. Which is why they said, you know, have you been able to feel movement and things, but. Looking back, perhaps I should have noticed, but I didn't. I really had no idea. Mmm.

And so what happened then? You were in a room waiting, and - did the doctor come and see you, or a midwife, or?

Yeah, a nurse - think she was a nurse - came first. And she was sort of comforting us. And the doctor came in sort of half an hour later, and just talked through, you know. Oh actually, thinking - there wasn't really any options. The only option was, you can take this tablet now, or you can come back tomorrow. So I just was keen to understand that, you know, they were absolutely certain, really. And he said yes, they were absolutely certain. So then I just took the tablet then, and they said , "We'll book you in for the birth on the day after tomorrow."
 

Sarah’s husband was particularly upset by the way they were told their baby had died but was not sure of the right way to break such difficult news.

Sarah’s husband was particularly upset by the way they were told their baby had died but was not sure of the right way to break such difficult news.

Age at interview: 34
Sex: Female
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
So we went in for the scan. And I always feel terrible, because there was a trainee doctor doing it. And I think she was desperately trying to find a heartbeat. And then the ultrasound technician actually came, and she went "Oh, I'll take over." And then she, she said the words - which my husband he will never ever forget, is that she said "There has been fetal death." And that's how she described it. But then I said to him, I said "Well how? You know, there's no other way she was going to say it, how could - how else could you break that news to somebody?" And that was at - and that was just - Yeah, that was at twenty - just over twenty - about twenty two and a half weeks. And so yeah, they said yeah, there's no chance, he was definitely - definitely dead. And that the fluid had started to drain away. Things like that. So they knew it was definitely a no-go.
Some parents felt on first hearing the news that the diagnosis must be wrong as they could feel their baby moving and worried that the scanning equipment wasn’t working properly. But they soon had their worst fears confirmed.
 

Kerry was convinced that she could still feel her baby kicking.

Kerry was convinced that she could still feel her baby kicking.

Age at interview: 47
Sex: Female
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
And it was about - I think we were twenty two weeks into - twenty three weeks into the pregnancy. And we were actually going to find out - we were going away that weekend with some friends, but that Friday we had a scan booked and we were going to find out the sex of the baby. We wanted to know, because our parents were going on about it. So obviously we were in that stage where everything was considered safe, you know? That you think you're past that hurdle of the twelve weeks. And the sonographer turned everything on, and within thirty seconds she switched everything off. And she just turned around and she said "I'm so sorry." And she said, "The baby's dead." And, I just lay there. I was like - She said, "Looks like the baby's been dead for about two weeks." And I was convinced that I could still feel kicking. But anyway, she called a doctor. And they took us into a room. And they were very good, at the [hospital]. And she said to me, "What we want to do is admit you, induce you." And I was like "Well no, you can't - we're going away." And she said, "Well look, have you got any pains? Have you had any pains? Any symptoms?" I said, "No, I feel absolutely fine." And she said, "Well, look - go away." She said, "This is the name of the hospital in [county]." And she gave me a name. "If there's an emergency, contact them. But we want you to come back on Sunday night." So I said "Okay." 

And anyway, we went back on that Sunday night. And I asked them to double-check. You know, could they take - just to check - I said because it was so quick, could they please just double-check? "I don't want to be induced and then find out the baby's alive, and - you know." So they called a doctor. And I've got to say, they were really, really good. They went through everything. They opened up the whole room. And got a sonographer in, that Sunday evening. And she explained everything. And she just said how you can tell when a baby's died earlier, because of the size - they start to shrink in size. And she said "There's no heartbeat, not moving." But she said "You might have just felt that, maybe with a bit of like amniotic fluid - the like rocking sensation of it."
Deciding when to give birth

Having found out their baby had died, the next decision parents had to make was when to give birth to their baby. Discovering they were going to have to go through labour was often very shocking news, especially if this was their first pregnancy. Some parents were given the option of being induced or allowing labour to start naturally but they chose to have an induction. It was a big decision and some parents felt they were too upset to decide and they felt rushed.
 

Helen Z was given various options for when she could give birth but felt that she was in shock and didn’t know what to do for the best.

Helen Z was given various options for when she could give birth but felt that she was in shock and didn’t know what to do for the best.

Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
From that point in the scan room, just got taken to [sigh] - to delivery. They take you round to the maternity unit, where it's delivery unit. And you're in a delivery room. And all these people were telling you that you have to - going to have to go into labour and give birth to a baby. Something that you don't think that you're going to have to do.

You think they'll just, I don't know - Caesarean, or I don't know what I was thinking in my head at the time. I don't know what I was thinking. But they were like, they were like "You don't have to do anything now, you can go away and think about it." But all these things - they give you too much information, and. 

You can go away and think about it, but you're in so much shock, taking on all this information. It was [sigh] - yeah, it was just crazy. And they said that I had to take this tablet, to start shutting everything down. And again, I didn't have to take that table now, I could go away and think about it. But you just don't know what to do for the best.

You don't have time to think about it really, you just have to - So I took the tablet. Which made me sort of gag on that - I gagged on it. Because I just couldn't think about what I was doing. And we all went home. We had our little boy with us, so. He was 4 at the time. And we all went home. And they said "Come back in two days." So we came home. And it was the longest day ever, the next day. And it was just really hard, trying to entertain a 4 year old.

Knowing what you're going to have to do. It was just awful day. And we got to the second night, and I couldn't sleep. And I was laying in bed, and I just said to my husband, "Look, we just have to go to the hospital now. I can't wait any longer. I can't be in this bed. I can't lay here." So it was about three in the morning. And we drove to the hospital. Or my Mum drove us to the hospital.
Once a decision to induce labour was made, mothers were given tablets to prepare their body for birth. Most parents returned home for a couple of days while the tablets started to work although some stayed in hospital. Parents found the waiting time extremely difficult. Sarah described the waiting as “the worst, the worst, worst part. It was like bleeding to death. It was slow, slow and painful.” Some parents spent this time with friends and family while others wanted to be alone.
 

Iain felt very strongly that Michelle shouldn’t go home to wait for the tablets to work as their other children were at home.

Iain felt very strongly that Michelle shouldn’t go home to wait for the tablets to work as their other children were at home.

SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
Michelle: You know, we really didn't know the questions to ask. We really didn't know our options. We just did what we were told to do. So then we went into hospital that second day, they said they'd induce me, but then they said "Oh, what we're going to do is we're going to give you some tablets and we'll send you home." And then Iain is very quiet, as a person, but you were so assertive in that moment.

Iain: [laughing]

Michelle: Just going, "You're not doing that. You're not sending my wife home." Because my kids were at home, with my Mum. Safe, having a good day. 

Iain: Mmm.

Michelle: Thinking when I come back I'd no longer got that baby.

To have to go home and say to them "Well actually I'm here, and I've still got the baby."

Iain: Yeah. We had everything in place, didn't we? 

Michelle: We had. We set it all up really well.

Iain: Mmm. Yeah, they just wanted to tell us about the hospital's protocol. You know? And I just telling them "I'm really, really not interested in your protocol. I'm interested in my family, my wife." It was very good, to be honest, once we - once we told them we weren't going to just do as he said [laugh], he was very good actually. 

Michelle: Yeah.

Iain: And he did relent, and said, "Okay, let's do it now, and let's get on with it." So.

Michelle: But then we were on the gynae ward, because we weren't there - you know - it wasn't a viable baby, because it wasn't twenty four weeks.
 

Sarah felt the worst part of that time was knowing her baby was dead and waiting to return to give birth.

Sarah felt the worst part of that time was knowing her baby was dead and waiting to return to give birth.

Age at interview: 34
Sex: Female
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
And it was decided that I would be better off obviously having a vaginal delivery, being induced. Because I've had children before, they said you're pretty much - it'd be almost like a kick-starter for my body. I could either wait to go into labour naturally, which I - you know, I would eventually. Or they could induce me. We decided, because it was going to be easier to organise looking after - care for the other children as well - to go in and be induced on a particular day. And so we went back into hospital the next day. Where I was given oral tablet. And just go in, they went through, and then the bereavement midwife met me there, us there, and talked to us about what was going to happen again. Like really felt very well supported, all the way through. They really were really, really good. Then we were told to come back on the Sunday. So we went - The scan was on the Thursday. The - I took the oral tablet on the Friday. We were told to come back in Sunday. Now no one ever really tells you that that is the worst bit. That bit in between, where you know that your baby is dead, and you are waiting to go and be induced. And I was at home with my kids. And it's just like there was this whole - this was the elephant in the room, literally. It's like - but everyone knew I was there, with a dead baby in me [laugh]. Which was, you know, it was just the worst. And it felt like the hours dragged and dragged. I just wanted to kind of get it done quickly. But [town] hospital have a special suite for people who know they're delivering stillborn or dead babies. So we were told we were going to be able to use that suite. We were asked to phone - We were meant to be going about ten o'clock in the morning, but we were asked to phone ahead, just to makes sure that nobody else was in the room. Because the idea is that you can stay in there for as long as possible. So they needed to make sure the previous person had, you know, finished using the room. So it was - It was a horrible thing actually to think also, we were turning up as soon as someone else had left, someone else had just done the same thing as us.
Returning to hospital to give birth was a “horrible journey”. Mothers talked about how difficult and emotional it was to go through labour and birth knowing that their baby had died
donate
Previous Page
Next Page