Olivia's Story

Following her experience with baby Olivia, tragically born sleeping, Jenny advises all expectant mothers not to leave a midwife appointment feeling daft for asking 'silly questions.'

Jenny and Olivia

Tommy's guest blog, 14/03/2017, by Jenny Bowman

Standing in the doorway of our soon-to-be-finished nursery, I had a big smile on my face. Being a mum was really the only thing I had ever wanted out of life. A big house, flashy car or glittering career didn't interest me, I just wanted a family.

I met my husband at work at the age of 19 and after a couple of years an innocent friendship turned into something more and in 2015 we wed on a sunny August afternoon. Shortly after, we went to Mexico for our honeymoon and, despite being told previously we would probably struggle to conceive (given that I have endometriosis), we were lucky enough to fall pregnant - first try!

I felt like finally everything was falling into place. My husband would make an amazing father and we were both so ready to start the next chapter in our lives together.

I had been concerned throughout my pregnancy that I was more pregnant than they were telling me. Due to the endometriosis, I knew EXACTLY what my dates were - 6 days ahead of my given due date by the hospital. This point I had bought up with every midwife I have seen throughout my pregnancy, who told me not to worry and that the dating scan must be correct.

We were having a home birth as I was classed as low risk and I didn't like the thought of delivering in a hospital - friends of mine had worried me with tales of pushy midwives and not being able to have the birth they had imagined, as they seemed to lose control of their birth plan in a hospital environment, which put me right off!

I had a very clear idea of what I wanted for my labour - low intervention and minimal painkillers as I wanted a water birth at home.

I hired a birthing pool from the internet, which had been in our living room, patiently waiting in its box since I was 38 weeks pregnant.

Early on we had a few scares, with a suspected ectopic pregnancy and a high Down's syndrome test result, for which I had refused the diagnostic amniocentesis due to the risk of miscarriage (we paid for a Harmony test where blood taken from me was sent to America and which would give a clearer likelihood for Down's syndrome, Edwards' syndrome and Patau’s syndrome.) We wanted to know now if our child had any additional needs so we had time to study and prepare for its arrival).

During the pregnancy, we had paid for an additional 3 scans, which included a presentation scan at 36 weeks to check the baby was head down and ready to go! During this scan, the sonographer mentioned I didn't have a huge amount of waters but I was in range so wouldn't be referred to the hospital. She advised if I was worried, to mention this to my midwife during my next appointment.

I did speak to my midwife and got the usual condescending giggle from her, with the term 'first mum nerves' batted around and, 'I've told you before, your waters will diminish towards the end' (I was only 37 weeks by this point) which made my worries and fears seem ridiculous.

This offhand condescension made me feel about an inch big and completely helpless.

I was convinced our baby would be early, due to my period dates not tying in with the dating scan. But there I was, 41 weeks, waddling like an elephant and still annoyed that my midwife refused to give me a sweep at 40 weeks as according to her 'baby wasn't ready to come out yet'.

I mentioned to the midwife that my bump had changed shape at 40 weeks - I could literally feel everything now, bottom, leg, elbow, foot -  whereas before I had to really concentrate on working out what body part I was feeling. Again, I was told not to worry, it's 'the waters reducing towards the end'.

I again mentioned my presentation scan and that I was worried about my waters and my midwife advised that as I hadn't been leaking waters, they must still be there and intact.

Again I left my midwife appointment feeling frustrated and increasingly scared, and the appointment did nothing to alleviate my fears.

My baby was still wriggling around and while he/she never had a movement pattern as such, was always constantly moving.

I had tried literally everything to induce labour, including a 2.5hour walk with the dog and my husband a few days before, followed by a hot vindaloo! The longer I was pregnant for, the less likely the home birth I'd planned would be, which upset me as the once-distant thought of pushy midwife and clinical-smelling room seemed closer than ever.

The day after was my 41 week midwife appointment - finally it was sweep time!

As I got out of the shower about 9.15am, the baby moved and stuck it's bottom out and I rubbed my belly praying the sweep would work today and my waters would go by the latest tomorrow - I was so ready to meet this not-so-little-one now!

We arrived 10 minutes early for our 10am appointment but didn't actually get into the room until 10.15am (I don't think a single one of my midwife appointments was ever on time!).

After the routine urine and blood pressure check, it was measure and sweep time! I jumped (well heaved myself) up onto the bed and the midwife got the tape measure out. "You're measuring 39 today", she said.

I replied. "I'm sure I measured 39 last week, and at my 39 week check?" I was again told not to worry as "the waters reduce towards the end, so you can measure less."

She then took out the 'ear trumpet' and announced to the room that she can hear the baby's heartbeat.

She then picked up a Doppler (that looked older than me - even the student commented on never having seen one like that before which I can only assume was due to the age of it!) and proceeded for the next 10 minutes to try to pick up the heartbeat so my husband and I could hear our baby.

The midwife then said the Doppler might not be working so nipped out to her car to get another one (which looked equally as old and had wires hanging out of the back of it!).

It's 10.45am by this point and all of a sudden the midwife started frowning and I asked if there was anything wrong. Without looking up from my stomach she said '"I can't find your baby's heartbeat".

At that point it felt like time stopped. I leapt from the bed and said, 'I'm going to hospital!' I grabbed my notes and my husband and literally  ran to the car.

At 11am I got out of the car near maternity while my husband went to park and I was rushed in for an emergency scan.

I kept thinking I bet the baby's heart rate has dropped and the midwife couldn't detect it (on what must have been the world's oldest Doppler) so as soon as I have the scan they'll send me upstairs for an emergency C-Section, which is why I declined waiting for my husband to get there before having the scan.

I just needed to know that everything was OK.

Maternity dress up, belly out, bed, gel, scanning thingy, tv screen flickers into life...... but the image I'm looking up at doesn't look as it normally does.

No fingers wiggling or legs kicking, no tiny mouth drinking and no heart beating. There's no heartbeat.

The scan lady confirmed it, and followed up asking if I wanted a second opinion to which I screamed at her, "Well I'm not going to take your word for it am I?!".

The baby had literally moved less than 2 hours earlier, how can this person now be telling me my baby doesn't have a heartbeat?

She left the room and bought in another doctor who zoomed in on my baby's heart to show that no part of the heart was moving. The Doctor then noticed I had hardly any waters surrounding my baby. 

Time stopped again. Had my waters broken and I hadn't realised? But hadn't I also insisted I was worried about my waters and kept being told everything was fine? If my baby was in trouble, how did I not know? What about 'Mother's Intuition?'

This can't be happening! I had been careful! Given up smoking, pate and red bull! Taken all of my supplements!

Then it hit me - my husband didn't know. The man who had told bedtime stories to my bump, rubbed cream onto my belly and feet and who had slept on the sofa every night for 6 months to make sure I had a good night's sleep. How could I tell him?

I left the scan room in a daze, people trying to usher me into a quiet room, but I just needed my husband. We met in the waiting room where dozens of ladies were waiting for their scans and I finally let them take us to a quiet room.

He looked at me and all I could manage to say was 'the baby has no heartbeat'. By the look on his face, I knew his heart was breaking.

I have never felt so helpless in my life. My job was to bring his son or daughter into the world, for them to meet their Daddy - and I hadn't been able to do it. I felt like such a failure, not only as a Wife but also as a Mother. Mother. Can I even refer to myself as that?

The next 4 hours were a blur, letting family and friends know, trying to stop the incessant phone messages from friends asking if I had gone into labour yet, as they were oblivious as to where we were and what had happened.

Whilst I was still pregnant, we had to make the decision of whether we wanted a post-mortem performed on our child.

I needed to know the reason why, well most importantly I needed to know if it was me, was it my fault? What had I missed? Were there signs? Could I have prevented this?

I had an amniocentesis and was taken up to the delivery suite and given a pessary. We were allowed home for 2 hours so we could pick a babygrow to dress our child in as well as blankets, toys and anything else we needed for the labour and afterwards.

Family members came to see us and I tried to put on a brave face, worried if I broke down I wouldn't be strong enough to deliver my baby naturally, my baby deserved that at least.

At midnight the following day, my midwife checked me and I was ready to push. I was now terrified at the prospect.

I kept thinking they must be wrong and maybe when I gave birth, skin to skin might help? I mean, you read these stories about the power of skin to skin - I couldn't give up hope. The reality was too awful to consider.

After only 3 pushes, my baby was born, including the placenta. There was no cry and I felt completely numb. Michael whispered, 'It's a girl,' while cutting the cord - we had our daughter and named her Olivia Paige.

Olivia Paige

Olivia was 6lb 3oz, lovely and pink with a button nose and a rose bud mouth - she was completely gorgeous and I loved her more than I could ever describe. She just looked asleep, so peaceful and perfect.

Michael held her for the first hour as I had torn quite badly and the midwife needed to stitch me up. Once I was able to get up, I bathed her, dressed her (including nappy) and laid her in the 'cold cot' we had been provided with. My parents, Michael's mum and sister came to see her, as well as my brother and his fiancée.

We weren't rushed by the hospital to say goodbye and was told we could take Olivia home if we would have liked to, but as her skin colour had started to change after a while, we wanted to keep our memories of her as they were.

We took hundreds of pictures. Even though our hearts were in pieces we wanted to remember every second with her because this is all we would have.

The thought of entering the Delivery Suite pregnant and leaving without our child was unbearable, there was no way I could leave the hospital and just leave my baby in a room by herself. We arranged with the hospital (after an argument with the people in charge of the porters) that we would take our baby to the morgue, instead of the porters taking her.

I had carried her for 41 weeks and 3 days, I gave birth to her and I was going to take her to where she needed to go.

There was a cot in the Quiet Room at the Morgue with blankets and sheets and we got to put her down before we left her for the last time.

Back to normal?

During the next few weeks, it was as if our world had stopped. I was so angry that everyone else was just getting on with their lives while ours was falling apart.

Within a few days of giving birth, I was back on the Delivery Suite with a raging kidney infection that took 5 days to get under control. Michael refused to leave me and luckily our local hospital had a room specially designed for bereaved mothers slightly away from the main delivery suite ward so Michael was able to stay.

My parents, sister and mother-in-law visited often, but I was glad the painkillers made me feel really drowsy, like I wasn't completely there. I think being completely with it and being back in the Delivery Suite would have destroyed me.

It's now been 6 months since we lost our daughter. I had 2 months off of work in total, then used my 'keeping in touch days' by working 2 days a week to make sure I wasn't going back too soon.

Unfortunately my Employer's HR department failed to notify me before returning to work that because my child had died, I was no longer entitled to any childcare vouchers I would have been entitled to after returning to full-time work after less than 4 months.

The company maternity policy was changed when a nursery was opened on site to take into account childcare benefit for early return to work. Even though I was not entitled to the benefit, I wasn't reverted back to the old scheme (which had a higher rate of pay before statutory maternity pay kicked in) which made me feel pressured to return to work as I couldn't live on statutory maternity pay, as well as being on maternity leave without a child to care for. 

Stillbirth was not covered in my antenatal class, even though this is more common than SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). My midwife had never talked to me about the possibility of a stillbirth. I hadn't even considered it a possibility.

Post-Mortem

Our daughter's post-mortem revealed that the placenta had stopped working. This was why there were hardly any waters surrounding her. This is also one of the first signs that the placenta is not working as it should.

So despite all of my measurements being 'in range' and Olivia's movements  strong and constant, there was absolutely no warning that something was wrong.

My husband and I attended a meeting at another hospital to talk about how this could have happened. I was angry and desperate for someone to admit something obvious was missed.

My midwife had failed to write my concerns in my notes, and at no point did any of the appointment notes mention my worries over my waters.

The NHS bosses at the meeting advised of a new GROW system - a new set of measurements that would enable midwives to spot any growth concerns. They were then very quick to advise that even if my measurements went through the GROW chart, I would still have appeared as low risk.

The hospital agreed this was a tragedy, and that this would probably happen again to somebody else!

I made a point of stating the obvious - if my baby was slowly dying and my measurements were in range, surely the range is far too big? The response from the hospital was simple and to the point - they wouldn't change the range to capture a small amount of pregnancies that were high risk when a lot of healthy pregnancies would also be classed as high risk unnecessarily.

I offered the idea of optional scans - if mother's just had 'that feeling' or needed a bit of reassurance, could they pay for a scan to be reviewed by an NHS sonographer, with the results to be included in their maternity notes?

The response was no because the NHS doesn't have the resources to offer additional scans, even if expectant mothers paid for this themselves. I advised they could always outsource to other private practices that offer pregnancy scans and again they responded and said it just wouldn't work.

I walked away from the meeting feeling like they could not have cared less that my baby had died.

I feel that my daughter died for nothing, and because only a small amount of pregnancies end in a stillbirth, the number isn't high enough to do anything about it.

This is why Tommy's research is so important. There are 2.9 stillbirths for every 1000 births, with the majority of cases of stillbirth associated with placental failure.

Since 2009, Tommy's have been funding a Maternal and Foetal Research Centre and Clinics in Manchester University Hospital with a focus on stillbirth.

Now

It's now 6 months on, Christmas Day in fact and today really isn't how I'd imagined it. Unfortunately we have just lost our second baby, a miscarriage at 6 weeks so we are feeling quite low, especially today.

My advice to all expectant mums is this - read up on your maternity policy. What does it say about miscarriage and stillbirth? If the worse was to happen, do you know exactly what you are entitled to? If not, arrange a meeting with HR to discuss this so there is no confusion.

Do not leave a midwife appointment feeling daft for asking 'silly questions'. Just because your worries or concerns have been completely dismissed does not mean they are not valid, even if this is your first pregnancy and you have nothing to compare it to.

Just because you are past the 12 week and 20 week milestones doesn't always mean it'll all be plain sailing.

You need to read up on awful things such as late miscarriage and stillbirth. Know the signs to look out for and if you are worried and you don't feel your midwife is taking you seriously - ask for another!

You are the person in control, not them. This is your body, your baby and your thoughts, and feelings and worries need to be taken into account at all times.

If we are ever lucky enough to fall pregnant and get to the final stages again, I'm going to make sure that every healthcare professional that comes into contact with me with know ALL of my concerns and I will not stop shouting until they do.

I would much rather the hospital staff breathe a huge sigh of relief as I leave the hospital with my healthy, happy baby than be the 'easy patient' that takes everything at face value and never complains.

Michael and I will never forget our little girl, she will always be a part of our lives and we can only hope that one day we won't always have empty arms.

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