Becoming pregnant after a stillbirth is a daunting prospect characterised by terror of repeating the experience. Around half of all stillbirths are unexplained, which can leave parents feeling powerless to prevent it happening again.
Where there is an explanation, it is often related to failure of the placenta and a following pregnancy is at greater risk of recurrence. In addition to these worries, care during a pregnancy after a stillbirth can be very mixed, with a parent having to explain over and over again, to different health professionals, what they have gone through.
Two clinics funded by Tommy’s in St Mary’s Hospital, Manchester, aim to address these issues. The Placenta Clinic cares for women who are at high risk of placental failure, and the Rainbow Clinic cares for women who are pregnant after a previous stillbirth.
I carried on thinking, 'I'm going to meet my baby soon'
Jennifer Iddon’s baby Alexander James was stillborn at 36 weeks. She had started feeling what she thought were Braxton Hicks but by the end of the day she was in so much pain that she thought she might be in labour. ‘I went into hospital and they asked if I had felt the baby move, but I’d just been concentrating on my contractions and how far apart they were. So I just carried on thinking, “I’m going to meet my baby soon”.
‘When they asked me a third time about the baby’s movements I started to get twitchy. They took me aside and did a Doppler test and couldn’t find the baby’s heartbeat. The midwife said that it might be a problem with the machine, went away, and returned again with another monitor and a second midwife. Then I started to think something was wrong. The second machine still couldn’t find a heartbeat, and when the doctor said “I’m very sorry…” I just knew.’
Jennifer found out later that baby Alexander had Down’s syndrome and that there may have been problems with the placenta. She was offered a test to check whether she or her husband had an increased chance of having babies with Down’s syndrome and when this proved not to be the case they decided to try for another baby.
The clinic provides a structured care plan
Jennifer had already seen some of the obstetricians at the Tommy’s Placenta Clinic after Alexander’s post-mortem – and when she became pregnant again her doctor referred her to the Tommy’s Rainbow Clinic. The clinic provides a structured ongoing care plan for women, and the staff, who are the same for each woman throughout the pregnancy, are always available to talk through worries and fears. ‘I was very stressed during this pregnancy and I could just chat about what had happened with Alexander with the midwife there, Suzanne, and keep talking through my worries. It was a life-saver.‘
Twelve weeks in I was told that I had Group B Strep by my midwife, handed a leaflet and told not to worry. I was left with a load of questions. Was this how Alexander had died? I went straight to the Rainbow Clinic and Dr Alex Heazell talked through all the questions with me.‘
'My concerns were taken seriously'
I was given scans and had my measurements taken fortnightly. It really meant a lot not to have to repeat my story and concerns every time I went for an appointment. In the clinic, rather than being told "Don’t worry," my concerns were taken seriously.'
Happily, Jennifer went on to have a healthy baby girl, Isabella Lucia: ‘Because of my history, I was booked in for an induction the day before my due date. When she was born she screamed the place down! I was in floods of tears. There were tears all round!’
The clinics sit at the heart of the stillbirth research conducted in the centre
The clinics allow Alex and his team to gather data for future research into placental function. ‘They sit at the heart of our research,’ says Alex. ‘By following women through to birth we can study the placentas and make connections.’ For Jennifer, the clinic gave her the confidence that her pregnancy had the best chance of success: ‘The clinic is not going to guarantee a successful outcome, but it gives you more of a fighting chance and helps to relieve much of the stress. The team are a credit to the hospital, Tommy’s and the North West. I was very lucky and am very grateful. I would have been reluctant to try getting pregnant again if I didn’t know this clinic would be available.’
The Placenta Clinic, run as part of the Tommy's Stillbirth Research Centre at St Mary's Hospital in Manchester, is the largest placenta-focused research group in the world.
Tommy’s research centre in Manchester is based at St Mary’s Hospital. It was opened in 2001 and now houses 88 clinicians and scientists, researching the causes of stillbirth and finding treatments to prevent it.
When a baby dies after 24 weeks of gestation it is called a stillbirth. Incredibly, over 3,500 babies are stillborn every year in the UK and many of these deaths remain unexplained. Tommy’s research is dedicated to improving these shocking statistics.
research into stilbirth
By Anonymous (not verified) on 12 Dec 2016 - 06:59
I went over my due date & ended up giving birth to a still born girl on 5th march 2016, I am now pregnant again due in April , the worry & anxiety is becoming worse each day & im sick with worry , would be nice to speak with someone who is in the same situation.
By Midwife @Tommys on 12 Dec 2016 - 09:01
I am so sorry to hear about the passing of your beautiful daughter and a further pregnancy of course will cause you some anxiety and worry, those are completely normal feelings to have!
Please feel free to call us on 0800 0147800 to speak to a midwife and we can try to help put you in touch with some other parents experiencing something similar to you and your partner. Please look after yourself.
By Midwife @Tommys on 26 Oct 2016 - 09:46
I am so sorry to hear that you lost your baby at 37 weeks in August. Please do give us a call anytime 9-5 weekdays on 0800 0147 800. If you're not ready to talk please feel free to email us firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for posting Tommys Midwives
By Anonymous (not verified) on 25 Oct 2016 - 21:22
I lost my baby at 37 weeks in August.
Even after scans every 2 weeks IUGR was not picked up.
This does now give me much reassurance for future pregnancies.
Can anyone ring to speak to a midwife. X
By Midwife @Tommys on 11 Oct 2016 - 14:57
I am so sorry about the sad loss of your daughter, Eva.. I 'm glad you can relate to Jennifer's story &+ hopefully it helped a little. Perhaps you could get your GP to refer you to the Rainbow Clinic when the time comes for you to conceive again?
It may help you get some answers? Please feel free to give one of our Tommy's Midwives a call to talk through any of your concerns . A Midwife is here from 9am till 5pm every weekday if you want to have a chat
By Anonymous (not verified) on 8 Oct 2016 - 18:12
I was pregnant & I was induced on July 26,2016. Eva was born sleeping, she had no heartbeat, & was not breathing. My husband & I world stopped. It all happened so fast she was okay prior to giving birth. I want to have another baby.
I love Jennifer's story because she never gave up. Our children are living in paradise, they're safe in God's care.