Guest blog by Sharon
When I found out I was pregnant at the age of 37, myself and Paul were over the moon. It was our first child and although I was delightfully classed as an ‘older’ Mum, I never really considered that anything would go wrong. I wasn’t even worried about having the nuchal translucency test really. We’d talked about it, of course we had, but we decided that what would be would be. We never had any further conversations about it as the tests came back showing there would be an extremely low chance our baby would have Downs Syndrome.
I had a trouble free pregnancy to start with. I have pretty awful morning sickness, quite untimely most days as I used to just get in to work and before I’d got to my desk, I’d be in the toilets throwing up my breakfast! Once I’d been sick, I was fine though and it only lasted a couple of months. At the 20 week scan, we’d found out we were having a boy. I had been convinced that I was having a girl and I can’t lie, I felt a little disappointed, I’d even given her a name, Molly! The disappointment didn’t last long of course, and I soon got used to the fact I’d be having a boy.
On the 25th January 2005 (I was 7 ½ months pregnant), I had a routine check-up booked in with my wonderful midwife, Gwynne. I’ll never forget Gwynne for many reasons but what I will always remember about her was her beaming smile, and her sunny disposition. She used to say it was because she was born in Barbados and that’s how people were made there. Gwynne made you feel happy and relaxed. We had our usual natter and then she asked me to pop up on the bed so she could have a listen to baby’s heartbeat with her Doppler. I was very excited about it as I always loved hearing the heartbeat, it made it all seem so very real. Gwynne started moving the Doppler about over my bump and when she said “hang on a minute Sharon, I’m just going to get another one”, I didn’t bat an eyelid. She came back with another one and started again. This time, I noticed her smile was no longer there. She seemed worried. She then said “Sharon, I want you to go to the hospital for a scan, I can’t hear baby’s heartbeat”. My first thought was that I had to phone Paul, he was at work, he’d have to be with me, I was starting to feel worried. Gwynne explained to me that sometimes this happened, the equipment could be faulty but that to be on the safe side, a scan at the hospital was what she wanted me to have.
Paul arrived at the surgery and off we went to the hospital. I really don’t remember the journey, I don’t remember what we talked about or what on earth was going through my mind. I do however remember getting to the hospital and having to sit in the waiting room with lots of other pregnant ladies. I started to feel scared at this point, Gwynne wouldn’t have sent me here unless she was really worried would she? I was called in very quickly.
I was soon on the bed and the nurse switched on the screen, got her machine ready and started to move the ultrasound over my tummy. The next time she spoke to me she said “I’m so sorry, there is no heartbeat” and with that she turned off the screen. I will never forget those words but more than anything I will never forget her turning the screen off. I wanted to lay there and look at my son, I didn’t want her to turn it off, it felt so final. Inside I was screaming at her “Don’t you dare turn that screen off, that’s my son”, somehow, those words didn’t come out. Over the subsequent years, that image remains as clear now and something which I feel they shouldn’t be so quick to do. There are times over the years that image has really haunted me in some of my darker moments.
I remember Paul holding me, we both cried. I felt desolate. I don’t think we said anything to each other in those moments. Another nurse came in the room. I don’t really remember what she said but she told us that we were going to be taking to another room where someone would come and speak to us.
By the time we got to the room, Gwynne was waiting outside. She hugged me so tight and I’ll never forget that hug. She held me and said how sorry she was. Gwynne asked me if I’d phoned my Mum. I hadn’t. What on earth was I going to say? Why hadn’t I phoned her already? Phoning Mum was hard, hearing her sobbing down the phone was awful. You always think of your Mum as the rock, the strong one who makes everything OK. She wouldn’t be able to make this OK and now, as a Mum myself, I know just how heart breaking it is when you can’t fix something for your child.
I don’t remember the person who came to speak to us really, was it a nurse or a Doctor? I don’t remember. Most of what they said was a blur. When they told me I’d have to go through labour because of how far in the pregnancy I was, I broke down again. The thought of going through labour to be handed your dead baby was just too much to cope with. I asked what time that would be happening. When I was told, 3 days time, I remember breaking down again, the pain was too much. The thought of carrying around my dead son inside me for 3 days just felt so cruel.
Paul took me to my parents’ house when we eventually left the hospital. I felt empty, scared and felt my broken heart would never be fixed. I kept going over the weeks before, had anything I’d done caused my son to die, had there been any warning signs? I kept remembering one time at work when I’d had a really bad pain, it didn’t last long but it took my breath away. Was that the moment? Over the next few days, Paul, my parents and my closest friends were my support team. Cards started to arrive and my Mum’s front room was like a florists.
Those 3 days seemed like forever. I just couldn’t comprehend that I was going to have to give birth to my son who had died. On the morning of the 28th January we had to be at the hospital early. I had to report to the maternity ward. I had assumed that once I’d checked in, I would be going off to a separate part. I soon found out I wasn’t. We walked down the corridor and I could hear women in the throws of labour. I started to cry. A lovely nurse ushered me in to a room. I don’t remember her name, what I do remember about her though was her broad scouse accent, an accent I’d always loved. I will never ever forget her kindness and often think about her. She explained that I would be given some tablets in order to induce the labour. She explained that I could have whatever I needed in the way of pain relief and that she’d be with me all the way.
At what time the labour started I don’t know. Paul never left my side that day, he held my hand, talked to me, and even though he too was broken hearted, he was my rock. By the time the labour had started I felt a calmness, I didn’t feel scared for the first time since we were told our son had died. As with many moments during this tragic time, labour was a blur. Paul often says that he will never forget how brave, calm and peaceful I was during labour.
Our son was born at 1635 hrs. The midwife had explained that they would take him for a few minutes and then he’d be bought back in for us. She had explained that we didn’t have to see him, touch him but that we would be left with him as long as we needed to. I had been thinking of this moment since that fateful day and just didn’t know how on earth I’d cope. When the midwife bought him back in to us, she asked us if we wanted to see him. We did. She came over and placed the small basket on the bed beside me, and there he was, our son, so tiny, but perfectly formed and beautiful. We named him Harvey.
A year later.
I had James, the following year. Because of Harvey I was monitored very closely. On one of my final hospital appointments I had my blood pressure checked and the nurse said she’d need to do it again as it was high. She ended up doing it 3 times and finally I was sent in to see my consultant. She told me I had pre-eclampsia and that I’d have to be admitted to hospital. I remember telling her I had a hair appointment that afternoon so couldn’t! She sternly said I’d not be having my hair done! I knew at that point it was fairly serious. She did however, allow me to go home and pack my case. I remember getting home and standing in the kitchen with Paul and asking him if I was going to die. I had no idea what was happening, I didn’t really know what on earth pre-eclampsia was but once again, I was terrified.
James arrived 7 weeks early by emergency caesarean. I was very poorly and was taken in to a recovery room and they took James to the SCBU of Gloucester Royal. I hadn’t even held him, just looked at him. Paul was allowed to go with him and when he came back to me an hour or so later, he had a photo of James for me. I clutched that photo to my chest all night. I felt heartbroken that I wasn’t with him. The following day I was allowed to go and see James. I remember seeing him in his incubator and thinking how big he looked (he was 3lb 7oz) compared with most of the other babies in there. The nurse told me that he was absolutely fine and he was just in there to feed and grow. A few days after James was born, I developed a really bad cold, and they wouldn’t let me go and see him. Looking back, this was a really dark time for me, not being able to see my baby, seemed doubly cruel after everything that had happened. One day, Paul came back from visiting James with a card for me. It was a card the nurses had made me, it had a photo of James, his hand and foot prints in and a little message. Like that photo Paul had bought me back the night James was born, this meant so much to me.
James was in SCBU for 3 weeks. They were long weeks. I visited him every day and sat beside him just watching him sleep. I was exhausted but he was my precious son and that’s where I had to be.
It’s been 12 years now. Not a single day goes by when I don’t think of Harvey.
I’ve been having counselling. I’ve never dealt with the grief properly. You see, I never had a funeral for Harvey. That breaks my heart. I don’t even know why really and that is what makes it even harder. Why on earth did I not? No one ever really spoke to me about it. I wish, with all my heart that someone could have told me that if I didn’t do it, I would regret it forever. All I have is a card with Harvey’s hand and footprints on. I have nowhere to go during those times when I want to feel close to him.
I think lots of people who’ve not gone through this think that when you go on to have another child that you shouldn’t feel sad anymore. I love James more than anything, he is so precious to me but I still, feel so very sad that Harvey died. Over the years, I’ve never really spoken to anyone about how I feel, and I’ve never told anyone how heartbroken I am at not having had a funeral for Harvey…….that was until a few months ago. I started seeing my counsellor (also called Paul) in April. When I eventually said the words out loud, to him, it felt like a huge weight had lifted from me.
It’s been a tough few months really, but finally I am beginning to come to terms with and understand lots of things about myself. The panic attacks I have, the overwhelming fear I have of being in a car (in particular with James), the thought of losing James, the thought of anything happening to Paul and I and James not having us. Yes, these are feelings all parents have, I know that, but for me they are all consuming and at times they smother me. I am starting to be accepting of these things and I am now realising that it’s ok to have these worries. As Paul the Counsellor says “It’s OK, it’s understandable” I have always gone through life thinking that you must not wallow for too long, that you have to kick yourself up the arse and get on with things. I’ve also always thought that after a long period of time, people will expect you to have moved on. They don’t. They just don’t want to be the one who brings it up. Your friends and family aren’t mind readers, sometimes you have to be the one to bring it up and that’s not easy! There isn’t a time limit on grief.
The biggest thing Paul the Counsellor has made me see is that it is never too late. We might not have had a funeral but there is nothing to stop us from doing something now, where we can ‘properly’ say goodbye to Harvey. We are still talking over what we’ll do exactly, but just knowing that we will do something, is a real comfort to me.
Writing this down has been hard, but cathartic. I read the stories on Tommy’s all the time and each one of them pulls at my heart strings. People I don’t know but have such a strong connection with. To each and every one of you who have been through the same, I send my love and very best wishes for you.
Harvey, so briefly known, but loved forever.
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