Care and support helped us try again after baby loss

Jade and Phil were heartbroken when their daughter Casey was stillborn at full term due to placenta problems. Our Rainbow Clinic supported them through pregnancy after loss to welcome their sons Jackson and Bailey.

On 8 June 2016, I went from being the happiest ever to the lowest in my life. Newly married, we’d got pregnant quickly and bought our first home. I was happy in my career and our baby was due any day; every kick or wriggle brought a smile. 

I’m a worrier so occasionally I’d fret that baby wasn’t moving and cry with relief when I felt them again, looking forward to the time I’d cuddle baby in my arms. That day, I woke up feeling “not right”. At 8 months pregnant, I was used to not sleeping well, but this felt different.

Reduced baby movements

I called the hospital and said I hadn’t felt baby move that morning. I’d had reduced movements around 24 weeks and was made to feel a bit silly then, but this time they brought me straight in to get checked. I went to hospital feeling increasingly worried, hastily emailing work to say I had a headache and wouldn’t be in.

The midwife listening for baby’s heartbeat looked nervous, and I knew in my gut that my beautiful dream was over.

Eventually, a doctor scanned my tummy and said: I’m so sorry. I felt like I’d left my body, reciting my husband’s phone number so they could bring him in. A midwife hugged me to her chest as I cried.

While they did another scan to work out why this happened, I stared at the ceiling, not believing it could be true but also feeling it was inevitable. I didn’t want to be there anymore, so went outside and waited what felt like forever for Phil. When I told him the baby had gone, we cried together; I’ve never seen him cry like that before or since.

After a third scan to confirm the baby’s heart hadn’t magically restarted, I gave many vials of blood for various tests in exchange for a mountain of leaflets to read. We met the bereavement midwife and couldn’t believe this happened so often that people had jobs related to it – how little we knew!

Preparing for stillbirth

We went to see my mum, who took the burden of telling the rest of my family. My auntie kindly packed up all the parcels of things I’d been getting in ready for baby, Phil braved telling his family in York, and we both wrote long emails to work arranging time off.

Through these horrendous days, the sun kept shining, which felt completely perverse.

The birthing process began that Wednesday, with a tablet to get things ready, before being sent home to return on Friday for the induction. In between we sat with our baby, no longer moving but still in my tummy, and made a plan: We’d bring baby into the world as intended, using the hypnobirthing techniques we’d learned, and get through this together. 

My family came on Thursday night, broken with grief, and Phil’s joined us on Friday. After waiting all night, there was talk of moving me to theatre “just in case” before my waters finally broke and the contractions began.

In the final stages, a lovely supportive midwife tried to help me keep calm – but I was tired, hungry, in pain… It was all getting too much. Once my epidural kicked in, I slept while Phil showered, and he came back just in time to meet our baby.

The doctor said we had a girl, and that she was beautiful. Although I didn’t care what gender the baby was, I cried, because knowing made the loss feel more real.

Grieving our baby

Through the day, our family came to meet our little girl, Casey Hope. She really was beautiful, despite her water-damaged body. We played music and read stories to her. The midwives who washed and dressed her took prints of her hands and feet, which we treasure. I’ll always regret not holding her; we’d never held a new-born and didn’t know how.

Our sleep was fractured and light, just as it is with a new-born at home. Endless questions tortured me: What signs had I missed, what could have been different? We learned 1 in 250 pregnancies ends like this, and we’d be closely monitored in future because it could happen again. Casey’s autopsy found the placenta failed, but they didn’t know why.

Then we could finally hold her funeral. Phil carried in her tiny coffin to Judy Garland’s “Somewhere over the Rainbow”, and we left to a beautiful version by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. We also played “Be my baby” by the Ronettes, which I’d sung relentlessly to my growing bump. I saw my stoic Grandad cry for the first time and even the celebrant choked up as she read our story of Casey. We scattered red, yellow and pink rose petals from our gardens over her coffin, covered in a blanket with a card tucked inside with a shining sun; this beautiful, colourful, vibrant picture brings me comfort.

I took 8 months off work and threw myself into recovery, attending SANDS support groups and NHS grief counselling sessions, which were as painful as they were valuable. I exercised lots, to keep busy and get fit enough to try again. I had to tell gym instructors I’d had a baby 2 weeks ago, then hold back tears when correcting their congratulations. 

Managing other people’s reactions was one of the hardest things. Some listened to our story and said Casey’s name, others couldn’t face me, and some still find it too painful to talk about. At work, many colleagues I knew well gave me a wide berth, unsure what to say – despite me finding the courage to email everyone, encouraging them to talk to me about my daughter.

Trying again after baby loss

After waiting 6 months, advised by the doctor, we quickly fell pregnant again. We hadn’t had time to process the grief, and whilst we couldn’t ever replace Casey, we felt we had to have another baby as soon as possible. Putting ourselves at risk of that same unbearable loss felt like complete madness, as well as something we had to do.

Being pregnant again was torture, with vivid flashbacks of losing Casey, and I couldn’t let myself believe there’d be a baby to bring home at the end of this journey. I logged every movement the baby made and was too scared to sleep as I couldn’t monitor them.

I struggled to talk about the pregnancy, dodging questions about whether it was my first and telling people who knew about Casey not to congratulate me.

I went to our local hospital often, and sometimes sat in the same chair as when we found out about Casey, too frozen with fear to speak. After finding the strength to speak up, with help from the bereavement midwife, I got a specialist midwife and very supportive consultant obstetrician. I also took aspirin throughout pregnancy to reduce stillbirth risk.

We had extra scans at Tommy’s Rainbow Clinic in Manchester, which helped me through the trauma of pregnancy after loss and reassured us we were doing everything we could for our baby. Prof Heazell and his team were amazing, talking us through each scan in detail. We felt listened to and our fears were taken seriously.

Pregnancy and parenting after loss

At 35 weeks, I felt reduced movements. While the scans looked okay, nobody wanted to take a chance. After an emergency c-section, we were over the moon to have our son Jackson Corey safely in our arms. Through tears of relief, it was love at first sight. 

I hadn’t fully dealt with the deep grief of losing Casey, which now became anxiety. I read about SIDS and believed I’d find the baby dead in his cot if I didn’t watch him sleep. I agonised over his weight every week until a health visitor said kindly but firmly: this baby is fine, you aren’t, you need help. 

I didn’t qualify for NHS bereavement counselling anymore, so went to my GP, and managed to see someone who helped me slowly unpick the grief and anxiety. Not long after Jackson turned 1, we got pregnant again – and again it was torture, with every day and every decision feeling like life or death, but this time I was ready to support myself and ask for help. 

In some dark way, I felt I might as well enjoy pregnancy a little, because if we lost the baby again then it’d be the only time we had together.

Bailey Adam arrived at 37 weeks, after moving more and more in the days before, reassuring me. His second name honours our consultant obstetrician, who was an incredible support.

Remembering our baby

Casey would’ve just turned 5 and she’ll always be part of our family. We celebrate her birthday every year and treat ourselves gently on the anniversary of her death. Few people still want to talk about her with us, especially now we have other children, but we miss her terribly and it helps to say her name. 

When someone asks how many children I have, it’s a choice between sharing my most vulnerable feelings and making them very uncomfortable or denying my daughter’s existence.

I try to talk about her as often as I can and am slowly getting better at finding the right words. Sharing our family’s story helps me to raise awareness and hopefully prevent others suffering.