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Pregnancy

Stillbirth and neonatal death

A few women had lost their baby either during pregnancy or shortly after birth. Stillbirths and neonatal deaths are fortunately rare but very distressing.

One baby died in the womb at 24 weeks after being diagnosed with a serious genetic condition. Doctors had told the mother the baby was unlikely to survive the whole pregnancy (see Interview 31).

Another baby died unexpectedly at 36 weeks. His mother had diabetes, so she was being monitored carefully in the last weeks of pregnancy. Everything had seemed fine until one weekend the baby seemed to stop moving and she went for a scan, never expecting to hear he had died. The baby was born by caesarean, and the couple spent time with him and had a christening.

 

She was worried the baby had stopped moving. She went for a scan, but the baby had died.

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Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
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I had a scan on a Wednesday. On the Friday he quietened down a bit and we were actually away at our caravan for the weekend. It was a Bank Holiday weekend. So I was a bit concerned, so we came home on the Friday, and then he started moving about again that night, so I wasn't overly concerned. The following Friday I didn't feel him move all day. So Saturday morning I got up and went to my doctor's. I mean, I wasn't in any way worried. I, it didn't even enter my mind that that could happen. Went to the doctor but the doctor's had closed. It was the beginning of September and there was a Saturday, always used to have a Saturday morning clinic, but from the first of September they'd stopped doing the morning clinic, so I came home and my husband had gone off to work. I mean, I said, 'Look, you just go to work and I'll just go and get it checked out.' So I came home, dropped my son off at my Mum's house and went up to, I phoned the midwife and she said, 'Look you'd better come up just so we can have a listen.' I went up there still not worrying really. I just thought he was getting big. There was not very much fluid and I probably wouldn't be able to feel him moving that much. And they also say that close to the end they do stop moving, not completely but a little bit. They slow down, anyway. I went up to the clinic at the hospital and the midwife had a listen in with the, the ear listener and with just the monitor, a Doppler monitor. And she said she couldn't hear anything. And that she needed to get a consultant to do a scan. And as soon as she said that I knew.

She could not help wondering whether anything could have been done differently. She had asked to have the baby early to make sure he was safe, but her doctors felt it was safer to wait a few more weeks. She did not want to blame anyone for what had happened, but sometimes felt guilty herself.

 

She had wanted to have the baby early, but her doctors felt it was safer to wait a few more weeks.

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Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
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It seemed very calm and under control, although I was desperate for him to be delivered early, and every time I went there I just kept saying, 'Look he's too big, he he's growing much too quickly.' And the fact that, not because I was worried about his size but I was just so uncomfortable. I mean, when he was born he was fifty centimetres long and eight pounds at thirty-six weeks, which is very, very big. I'm not very tall myself so it was, it got very uncomfortable and I'd asked them if they would deliver me. They said that they would deliver me at thirty-eight weeks. I'd asked them if it was possible to deliver me earlier, and every time I went there - obviously at the end it was every week - I would say, 'Please, I'm really uncomfortable, you've got to, just give me a date to deliver him.' And they said, 'Oh no, we've got to wait to thirty-eight weeks. He'd be classed as premature if he's before then.' So, I mean, I was the one that was panicking. They were very calm because everything else looked, everything else about me was normal, apart from the fact that I had a very big baby, which isn't really, he wasn't really that big in some terms, but for a diabetic mother he was quite big. 

That must be quite hard to live with now?

Mmm. But we know that we wouldn't do that again. I mean, they, they've said if we do decide to have another baby that obviously we would have the pre-pregnancy counselling. They would probably take me into hospital at thirty, thirty-one weeks and monitor me every day. And also they would deliver at thirty-five to thirty-six weeks, which is a bit annoying because in all the time that I'd said to them I wanted him delivered early, they said they couldn't do it. And a lot of it is just politics. It's sort of like a set standard. Diabetic mothers get delivered at thirty-eight weeks. Normal mothers get delivered at forty to forty-two weeks and that's what we are sticking to, but obviously in my case now they've said that they would deliver him, it at, well, at thirty-five or thirty-six weeks.

 

She did not want to blame anyone for the stillbirth, but sometimes felt guilty herself.

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Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
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I thought about this a lot and [sigh] I don't, I don't know. I mean, at first I felt, I don't think I felt anger about it, because I'm trying, I'm trying not to blame anyone for what happened. I don't think it was any one person's fault. And as they say it's an unexplained death. It is just one of those things [sigh]. But I do know that, I know how I felt at the time, and I did desperately want them to deliver, deliver it. And I know that if, if they had have thought for one minute that anything like this could happen that they would have done that in a shot. And I can't, I can't sit here and, and blame anyone but myself. And that's silly, because I know, I know that it's not anything to do with me, but if you ask any mother that's been in this position I think they will have all have felt guilt, terrible, terrible guilt that it was something that they did. So I don't feel anger. I don't feel any anger about it, because it would just eat me up, I think. And I know that they were, they did everything they could, and if they had thought for one minute that there had been a problem they would have delivered him straight away.

When a baby dies, telling other children can be very hard. Their older son had himself been very ill at birth and was afraid of hospitals and illness, and was also anxious about his brother dying.

 
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Telling her older son that the baby had died was terrible. They had no advice about how best to...

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Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
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What about your older son? Because I know you had concerns about him having been so kind of tied up with hospital in his early life and the sort of the fear of it all for him. How did you deal with it with him?

It was terrible. It was absolutely awful. The really strange thing is - and I mean I don't think many people will believe that this could happen - but on the Thursday before it happened I picked him up from his auntie's house and he got into the car and he was very upset. And it's the first time he's ever mentioned death, but he said to me that he didn't want his baby brother to die. And I, I sort of said, 'Don't be silly.' I said, 'He's not going to die. He's not even been born yet.' And he said, 'But', he, he just started talking about death and what, what happens when people die, and what about if everybody died in the world and there'd be no one left. And he was really, really upset. I mean, sobbing upset. And we went round and picked his dad up from my mother-in-law's because he was doing some decorating there. And he got in the car and I said, 'Look [son] is really upset and I am just trying to explain to him that people do die but they go to heaven, and that people are being born every day" and he just kept saying to me, 'But I don't want my baby brother to die.' And I said, well, I said to him, 'He's not died, he hasn't even been born yet.' And he seemed to be okay. And then obviously two days later I had to tell him that he had died. And it was just absolutely awful, most awful thing I've ever had to do. And the surprising thing is that my son was actually, he had died at that time. We've since found out from the post mortem report that he had been dead for four days, so at that time he was already dead. But we, I mean we just, we said to him [sigh], we didn't know what to say him. We didn't want to tell him that he was, that his brother had been sick and had gone to heaven, because obviously with him being so unwell previously we didn't want him to associate being sick with dying and going to heaven, so we, we just said to him that he'd, he'd gone to sleep, into a deep sleep and hadn't woken up and God had taken him up to heaven. 

He was devastated, absolutely devastated but [sigh] like all five year olds, he, he took in the information that he needed. Had a cry, cuddled my belly and then just said, 'Right.' And off he went. He said, 'I want to go round to Nana's now' and I think that was obviously his way of dealing with it. And he went back and stayed with the family for a few days. 

Did anybody give you any help, any, you know, counselling about how to explain..?

Not at that time. I mean, after a couple of days we did see a counsellor in, a counsellor midwife who was attached to the hospital, but she was mainly a bereavement counsellor. That she was mainly to sort of help you make decisions about the funeral and the post mortem and all that sort of thing. And one thing she did say to me after was, was that maybe I shouldn't have said to my son that he'd gone to sleep and gone to heaven, because then he may think that going to sleep, he might become frightened to go to sleep in case he went to heaven. But I mean we, we hadn't been able to speak to anyone. We didn't know what the best thing to do, and at the time we just thought that we didn't want to say that he'd been sick, because obviously our, our son had been sick as well and we didn't want him to associate that with, with dying.
 

Another mother had gone through pregnancy knowing her baby was likely to die, because he had a diaphragmatic hernia. Several family members came to be with her when the baby was induced. It had helped to talk to other women from a support group for the condition. It was clear when Oscar was born that he would not live long, and his heart stopped when he was 10 hours old. Both physical and emotional recovery were difficult, and she needed antidepressants to help her get through. She and her partner separated again after the birth.

 

Several family members came to be with her when the baby was induced. Talking to other women from...

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Age at interview: 39
Sex: Female
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And then they set a date for induction, and I hadn't wanted to be induced, but actually I was quite relieved to know when everything was going to happen, and I guess they wanted to know all the relevant people were going to be around. And I was quite frightened, but actually it was all managed really beautifully. I was looked after really well. Because they all knew what was probably going to happen, so they looked after me, and they let as many people as I want sit with me while I was in my first stage of labour. 

So who came with you?

My partner came with me, because we'd sort of got back together a month before the baby was born, and I knew what would probably happen, anyway. My Mum came with me, my sister flew over from America. Because she, she'd done her own research and she knew Oscar would probably die, and she didn't want to miss meeting him. 

So I was given an epidural right from the start.

Was that their suggestion?

Mine.

Yours, you wanted it?

Well, I'm glad I had it though, because it makes everything much calmer and I didn't feel anything at all. I mean, I can't even remember much of everything, I think I had so much of it, by the time Oscar was born. It all happened exactly as I imagined it, the way he was delivered, and then I wouldn't be able to hold him, and he would go to a resuscitation table, and they, the people in the room - but this is things that women had told me that I'd spoken to who'd gone through it as well. They'd told me what would happen. Nobody told me at the hospital - I don't know - because I didn't ask, they didn't want to venture the information.

 

Baby Oscar died 10 hours after birth and the family spent time with him to say goodbye. Her...

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Age at interview: 39
Sex: Female
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His heart stop-, I remember her telling us when his heart stopped beating, and he was still in his little crib then. And I just wanted to pick him up. I said, “Get all this stuff out of him, I just want to hold him.”

But even then I wasn't quite, I didn't quite feel like - you know when you haven't had a baby and you hold someone else's baby and you think, "Oh, aren't they lovely?” And, but then you have to give them back. It felt like I didn't have ownership of him, he wasn't mine.

I suppose I hadn't let myself, I'd trained myself that that was going to happen, that I was going to have to give him away. I'd thought about it so much, it all happened as I expected. And then they put us in a little room while they made this other room upstairs ready. 

And they must have a special nurse who takes care of all this kind of thing, because we had this lovely Irish nurse that looked after us all, you know. We were all given copious cups of tea and, he, I was allowed to hold Oscar and take him in this room, and everyone had a hug with him, everyone nursed him, my brother had brought his harmonica with him and played some tunes, and we had some children's books and we read him a story. And my partner was in such a state he just ran out of the hospital and disappeared for a while, and we found him in the pub, in a state, with all the polaroids scattered round him.

And we were waiting for him to come back so we could give Oscar a bath, and change his clothes and stuff. And initially they given us some clothes to put on him and they weren't, they weren't very nice, hospital clothes, and I'd got some of my own to put him in. So I don't know how long it was before we went upstairs to another room.

So we had our own room with a bed and bathroom and TV and everything. And we had, I spent the night with Oscar and the next day, and I kept saying, they kept saying to me, “Yes, you can keep him as long as you want.” Where really they wanted to take him by the mid-afternoon. And I kept saying, “Do I have to give him up yet?” And they said, “No.” But it was, it was nice, because I've got something to, to remember. If they'd have not let me see him and taken him away I'd have nothing to remember. Because I remember that twenty-four hours very fondly.

 

Physical and emotional recovery were difficult, and she needed antidepressants to help her get...

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Age at interview: 39
Sex: Female
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And then I remember, I said to the diagnosis counsellor, “I really feel like I'm falling apart.” I wasn't eating, I wasn't sleeping, I just felt absolutely crazy, and she referred me to the psychiatrist, who does have a special interest in baby loss. And she said, “We don't normally prescribe antidepressants to people when they're grieving.” But she said, “Given your past history with depression, I think it'd be a good idea for you to have some, so you don't go into a depression.” So she gave me some new antidepressants on the market, and they worked for about eight weeks and then they didn't work any more because they're not strong enough. So I've doubled the dose two weeks ago and they worked within about three days. So I am feeling really good at the moment.

I also draw on anything I can think of, so I have a homeopath, and I went into hospital with all my homeopathic remedies for grief, in preparation for it all. And also that's helped with the physical recovery as well, because what I found really disturbing was the pain and muscular discomfort you get after you've had a baby, you know, when everything is just really setting itself back to normal. It just reminded me of the baby. So I remember I walked into the doctor's surgery one day and I said, “I need to see a doctor.” And I started crying and she said, “Okay, we'll get you seeing someone now.” And I saw someone I'd never seen before, and he was lovely. He gave me some strong painkillers, just to help me forget for a while, and they referred me to some, for some physiotherapy as well to get me strong. They referred me, gave me whatever I wanted, really.

But, and I, I'm really into alternative therapies as well, so whatever I think will help me I'll do it. And I, I'm really into getting fit, and I think that's one of things that's helped me get better, is forcing myself to get fit again. Just to get out of the house and go to the gym and get some endorphins going. And I, I did a sponsored run on Sunday so I'm, my fitness levels are back again, but I think [pause] if I would advise other people if they could do that, to do something like that, because it really helps just to focus on something like that.

See also Interview 38 on the Healthtalk - Antenatal screening site.

For further links see our pregnancy resources.

Last reviewed May 2017.
Last updated August 2010.

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