Finding support and mental well-being after baby loss

In this blog, Rebekah opens up about how pregnancy complications and baby loss affected her mental health, having been diagnosed with PTSD after an early miscarriage and the stillbirth of her son Freddie.

After a horrendous pregnancy with my daughter in 2013, always in and out of hospital, I knew that having another baby was not going to be the magical miracle you grow up hearing about! I was in no rush to go through that again but did eventually fall pregnant again in 2017. 

Going through miscarriage

When I went for my first scan at 12 weeks pregnant, they told me that my baby had no heartbeat and diagnosed a missed miscarriage. I didn’t like the idea of taking medication so chose to wait for it to happen by itself, but didn’t really understand what that would mean: the contractions, the pain, the blood, it was all very shocking.

I’d heard of people having miscarriages but never thought it would happen to me – and had no idea that it could be like this, without your body even realising. 

My miscarriage really put me off the idea of having any more children, so we hadn’t been trying to conceive when a year later I found out I was expecting my son, due in summer 2019. I was obviously worried about pregnancy complications and loss because of everything that had happened before; doctors classed my pregnancy as high risk and said they would keep a close eye on me.

Pregnancy after loss

I was out shopping on my own one day when I started bleeding quite heavily, and instantly panicked that I was losing him. I rushed to hospital and spent a night on the ward just waiting and hoping; I kept asking the midwife to come and listen for my baby’s heartbeat, which was nice and strong. Eventually a scan showed everything was fine, so I went off home and tried to stay positive.

When I had another scan the next week, they could still see bleeding in my placenta, and a little white dot that shouldn’t be there. I was invited back a week later and placed on special alert: any more problems and baby would have to be delivered extremely preterm at 26 weeks.

At the next scan, those warning signs and worries were still there, but as the weeks went by things started getting better.

I was almost letting myself relax when one day a scan showed I had an increased amount of fluid in my womb. They said not to worry, but after another month it had got worse and I was told the umbilical cord may come out first when I gave birth. Fast forward a fortnight, my blood pressure was up and I was worried about blood in my urine as these can be warning signs for pre-eclampsia.

Complications in childbirth

My due date came, with aches and pains, but nothing happened. I was desperate for a natural birth after being induced with my daughter; I didn’t want that again. My contractions were on and off, nothing regular, but slowly getting stronger. After taking my little girl to school I just knew today was the day, and by lunchtime I couldn’t take the pain anymore.

When I got to hospital I was constantly contracting, begging for gas and air, already 8cm. They put bands around my tummy to check baby’s heartbeat but couldn’t find it, so they then popped my waters to put the electro on his head. Still nothing. They thought maybe it was broken and tried another one. Still nothing.

Emergency bells started going off everywhere and staff rushed in - I’ve never seen so many people in such a little room before. They started wheeling me into theatre, but I was adamant, shouting that I was ready to push. When my son Freddie finally arrived, though, it was all quiet. 

A baby born sleeping

The consultant just looked at me and said: ‘I’m so sorry, he didn’t make it’. He'd been gone for at least 24 hours before I gave birth, because the cord was knotted around his neck, and the post-mortem later showed a placenta problem called Delayed Chorionic Villus Maturation.

My first thoughts were all questions: What happened? Why him? Why me? Why us?

Will I have to go through this again if I have another baby? When I shared my fears about pregnancy after loss, all the professionals tried to reassure me that I would be closely watched – but they did that last time, and the worst has still happened, so how can I believe it will be okay?

How do I tell my child that the sibling they were excited to meet has died? We have everything set up at home, the baby's cot is in his big sister's room, we got it all ready – where do you even begin explaining a loss you can hardly comprehend yourself to someone so young?

I came home from the hospital and my 5-year-old daughter said: ‘my brother is out of your tummy’ which broke my heart all over again. Later we sat down together and explained that Freddie wasn’t well enough to come home, so he’d gone up to the sky with all the other poorly people; it was a worry as she is such a sensitive child, but we tried to have that tough conversation in a way that felt right.

Saying goodbye and coping with grief

We spent lots of time with Freddie in the hospital bereavement suite and had photos taken together which we love to look at. We also brought him home for a night, which I wasn’t sure about at first but I’m so glad we did it. Sometimes it helps me just to remember that he has at least been in the house where our family lives, and on the day of his funeral it meant that we could be collected from somewhere that was home to all of us.

The hospital asked if we wanted counselling, but that paperwork must’ve gone missing as we never heard anything more. When I told my GP how I was struggling, they put it down to the weather! After asking 3 times and getting nowhere, I changed surgery and was given some medication to help with my mental health and well-being. I’ve since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and eventually got counselling to help me work through it.

Having to fight for support made me realise there isn’t much out there, even though this affects more families every day and stays with us for the rest of our lives – and it’s just not fair, no one should have to go through this alone. I have chosen to share my experience to hopefully help others because reading the stories from Tommy’s baby loss community has been a great comfort to me.