“Child loss is not an event, it is an indescribable journey of survival”
*Warning* This content talks about child loss. It is literally the story of the day my baby died. It may be distressing to read. I strongly recommend that you don’t read it if you are pregnant or plan to get pregnant anytime soon as it could cause you unnecessary stress.
Dedicated to Jack Anthony Welch. Born 09.09.2003. Weighing 5lb 13.5oz. The one who made me a mother. The one who woke me up.
It was Monday evening on the 8th September 2003. I sat in KFC with my husband Ben, trying to eat my zinger burger. It didn’t seem to matter how much I chewed my nerves barely allowed me to swallow. My 39 week pregnant belly stuck out in front of me. We were half way to the hospital for my induction in a few hours. I was giddy with excitement but terrified of what was to come. Child birth!!
The day we found out.
Twenty one weeks earlier Ben & I were watching our baby on the screen at a routine ultrasound. Ten perfect fingers & toes! And a penis! Yep we were having a boy. That’s what those scans are for right? To check all the measurements and if you choose to find out the gender? It’s one of those appointments that you tick off your ‘things to do while I’m pregnant’ list. I was 20 and blissfully unaware that it wasn’t common practice for the sonographer to go and get a doctor. I mean we were in a hospital to look at our baby. It sounded perfectly normal to me that the doctor would take a look.
I can’t remember in what order this all happened but I do remember this. Being told that something was wrong and that the doctor would need to look over all the scans. We were told to wait a while to have a chat with the doctor. I honestly couldn’t remember if we waited for twenty minutes or three hours. I remember standing in the carpark and calling my mum to say that something was wrong with the baby. Sitting in the waiting room holding on to Ben’s hand so tight. Then sitting with the doctor while he drew diagrams to help us understand what was happening on the inside of our sons body.
Our baby was diagnosed with a diaphragmatic hernia. Our diaphragm is the thin muscle that separates the chest cavity from the abdomen. A hole (hernia) meant that organs from the abdomen could go through the hole in to the chest cavity. Not allowing enough room for the heart and lungs to develop properly.
We were booked in with a specialist and told we would go to The Women’s and Children’s hospital from then on. I was now a high risk pregnancy.
Getting through the pregnancy.
The next twenty one weeks were filled with fear, questions, scans and tears. It was gruelling! One thing I refused to let go of though was my faith. I believed with all of me that my son was going to be ok. I couldn’t let my mind go anywhere else for even a second.
With a diaphragmatic hernia each scan can show something different. It all depends on where the babies organs were on that particular day. One scan could show bowel pushing in to the chest cavity then two day later it wasn’t. At approximately 33 weeks I had a series of scans and tests done. They were looking to get an idea of how the babies lungs were developing. The way they tested for that then was to do a lung to head ratio scan. They measured the lungs and head and would get a score based on those measurements. That score then put your babies survival rate in to a percentage group.
This scan gave our baby such a low score that the specialist told us to come back and try again in a week. He said “hopefully this is a bad hair day.” I don’t think I’ve ever prayed harder than I did that week. We needed a minimum score of 4.1 to be in the 90% survival rate category. His first score was between 1 and 2. That week I went in to a trance. I did nothing but pray and repeat out loud the number 4.1 over and over and over.
Getting the results.
The day we went back to have the test repeated we had the scan first then went to the specialist’s office to get the results. We beat the results to the doctors office. Ben, the doctor and I sat around his desk waiting for the phone to ring with the test results. Our file was sitting open in front of the doctor on his desk. Ben and the doctor made small talk while I chanted the number 4.1 over and over in my head.
After what felt like an eternity the phone rang and I jumped. The doctor answered the phone and I studied his face looking for any sign of positivity. In all honesty I didn’t like that doctor much. The first time I met him I was 20 weeks pregnant and he asked me if I would like to abort the pregnancy. I know it was his job to ask but I hated him for it. I found him to be cold, stern and only told us the facts. No fluffing about to soften the blow, so I found him a bit hard to deal with. It wasn’t his fault that the only reason he met us is because my baby was sick.
No mother wants to be told anything negative about their child. So having someone constantly tell me that my child might die was insulting to me. Trying to read his tone or expression was pointless. I just had to wait and breathe while he listened to the person talking to him on the phone.
That phone call only lasted a few seconds. I didn’t take that as a positive sign. He put the phone down looked at us and said four point four. A jolt went through my body because he didn’t say four point one. I needed that damn 4.1! I don’t know if I spoke or if I had confusion all over my face but the doctor looked me straight in the eye and said “four point four!” This is when Ben jumped in and explained to me that 4.4 was better that 4.1! I was so focussed on 4.1 that it didn’t register at first. The doctor closed our file and said “I don’t need to see you again until your baby is born. I’ll do a keyhole procedure to close the diaphragm.”
That was the last time I saw him before my baby died. The next time we met was to touch base over what had happened to our boy. It was then that this doctor told us that his first baby died too. That’s why he was so factual, that’s also why he became a paediatric surgeon.
Despite the fact that I was still a high risk pregnancy I started to feel better from that day on. I still had regular appointments with my obstetrician and he would give me a quick scan at each visit to check but everything looked great. Because of the fact that our son was going to be born with this condition it did mean that he would need care as soon as he was born to make sure he was stable etc. That’s why my obstetrician decided to induce me a week early as they needed to have a team of people on standby when he was delivered.
At each appointment we would go over the order of events again to make sure I understood. I would deliver him naturally as that would be best for his lungs. When his shoulder had been born the doctor would give him an injection to anaesthetise him. This was so he didn’t try and breathe on his own until they knew for sure that all of his organs were in the right cavity as they could still move around in utero. Then he would be fully born, the doctor would take him to a table in the same room and make sure he was stable, give him to me for a quick cuddle then take him to ICU where he would remain until he was stable for the keyhole surgery. My obstetrician and I went over these steps one hundred times and I had repeated them to myself a thousand.
This is really happening.
Once I was checked in to the hospital I was given gels (well my cervix was) to help soften it and get things moving. Ben was told to go home to get some sleep and I was tucked in to bed and told to do the same. But obviously I couldn’t. At some point in the early hours of the morning I was given more gels and eventually some contractions started. The baby was in the posterior position which meant he was laying facing up instead of facing down. I had so much lower back pain with each contraction. My midwife put me in the shower to help. While I was in there mumbling all kinds of insults at Eve for eating that bloody apple my midwife popped in to let me know it was a shift change and my new midwife would be in shortly.
The part the caught my attention was that I could have sworn she referred to my new midwife as Paul. Um, excuse me!?! I stuck my head out the curtain and said “you mean Pauline right?” But no, she actually meant Paul. Paul the midwife with a penis was going to come and hold my hand in the shower and talk me through my contractions. I’d lived a sheltered life. I was mortified. Thankfully he was BRILLIANT!! Paul and I soon became good friends. This was my first baby and the pain wasn’t that bad. I very quickly outgrew my fear of being seen naked. To the point with baby number five the anaesthetist asked me to put a gown on and I cried because I wanted to stay naked cause I was in too much pain to hold my arms out while someone put the gown on me.
My pain relief plans.
During my pregnancy and birthing classes I had made the firm decision that the only form of pain relief that I would use was a TENS machine. I had declared this to the world. I had given my husband strict instructions that no matter what I said during labour I didn’t want any other pain relief. When the anaesthetist came around early that morning to introduce himself and talk me through the procedure “just in case” I needed him through the day, I very smugly told him that I wasn’t having an epidural so thanks but no thanks.
By late morning I was in a lot of pain with regular contractions but I wasn’t dilating because of the baby being posterior. At lunch time a doctor came in and broke my waters. I laid on the bed while she did her thing with her crochet hook. The next thing water gushed everywhere! All over the bed and floor and anyone in the rooms shoes! The doctor’s glasses got covered in fluid and my stomach reduced in size by nearly half. I honestly thought labour was over!! It turned out that due to the baby’s condition I retained a lot more fluid than usual. I was huge!! I often got asked if I was having twins.
I’ve changed my mind! Where’s the anaesthetist?
Once my waters had been broken the contractions were not ok! Like nothing I had ever imagined!! And they just kept coming. Whatever cushioning the waters were creating to stop what felt like the baby grinding on my spine were gone. I could not handle the pain. The midwife ran a bath and that helped for maybe two contractions until I started shaking uncontrollably and vomiting with contractions. It was somewhere around this point that I made my way over to the midwife at the edge of the bath and told her I needed an epidural and not to listen to my husband if he said not to listen to me.
It’s as if time stands still during labour. That lovely anaesthetist that seemed so keen to help me out earlier in the day was now very busy bringing sweet relief to other labouring women. Women who I am sure were much less up themselves than I was towards him earlier that day. I would have made me wait too. He took hours to get to me. By that point I was apparently delirious and declared my undying love for him and told him I was taking him out for dinner just as soon as I got this baby out!
Ahhhhh the sweet relief that came twenty minutes later. An epidural was the best choice for me. I needed it for more reasons than the pain relief even though I didn’t know it at the time. I was given the epidural in the afternoon which allowed me to nap and rest. Little did I know that they were the last few hours of my life as the person I was. I am so glad I was able to have those hours of nearly no pain and was able to laugh, joke and smile with my family and support people.
“I’m the lucky one. The lucky one who knew you. Who carried you. Who’s life will now be divided into before and after because of you.”
The hot doctor.
I was hooked up to a monitor the entire time that tracked my contractions and Jack’s heart rate. Everything was going as well as could be expected. The team of doctors that were waiting on Jack’s arrival kept popping in to see how close I was getting to delivery. They were so lovely. One of them was hot!! Think all the McDreamy’s and McSteamy’s combined. He would casually stroll in to the room with his hands behind his back and say “how are we going?” bend down and glance at my very exposed vagina then say “I’ll come back and check again in ten minutes.” Every time my auntie who worked at the hospital as a midwife and was also one of my support people would look at me and giggle and say “how embarrassing for you.” haha!
Eventually I started to feel pressure down below and informed the midwife that she had to help me up to go to the toilet. She checked and informed me that I did not actually need to go to the toilet but I did need to push a baby out. Everybody that needed to be there was called in (from memory there was 9 or 10 people) to watch me push Jack out and to step in and do what needed to be done. It was ok, I knew the steps, I had mentally rehearsed this moment over and over everyday for months.
Time to push.
At approximately 9.15pm it was time to start pushing. The room felt dark except for the massive spotlight on my nether region. Right before I went to give my first push my mum looked at me and said “I’ve never seen you look so happy before.” It was true. I had waited my whole life for this moment. One thing I knew that I really wanted in life was to be a mum. As Jack’s head started to crown and I was waiting for the next contraction the midwife grabbed my hand smiled at me and put it on his head and said “that’s your baby.” I couldn’t believe that I could actually touch him. That moment would be the only physical contact I would make with him earth side while he was alive.
Pushing only lasted for about 25 minutes. During the last seven minutes of delivery the monitor lost track of his heart rate. The midwife fiddled with it and moved it around my stomach but said that he was so far down in the birth canal that they couldn’t get it in the right spot and not to worry. Once his head was born we noticed the cord wrapped around his neck and the midwife pulled it over his head and unwound it quickly. Just like in the plan, once his shoulder had been born his doctor gave him an injection then he slid out quite quickly at 9.40pm. The placenta came out with him! The midwife and my auntie gasped but I didn’t think anything of it. The cord was cut and he was taken over to the table to be stabilised by the doctors.
I could hear the midwives mumbling and fussing over the placenta which was huge. Again I had no idea what size it should have been. All I could focus on was the two doctors standing over my baby on the table. They had put tubes down his throat to breathe for him. One doctor put a stethoscope on his chest and looked up at the other doctor and nodded and smiled. Oh the sweet relief! I felt myself breathe. My focus then went to the carry on that was going on with the midwives over my uterus and the placenta. It turned out that Jack’s umbilical cord was unusually short. Then because it was wrapped around his neck a few times making it shorter, caused the placenta to rip away and come out with him. This was very concerning to the midwives.
Realising something was very wrong.
Somewhere amongst all of this chaos I glanced back over at Jack to see a nurse doing chest compressions on him while the same doctor who only a few minutes earlier was smiling and nodding was looking very concerned and shaking his head at the other doctor. I grabbed hold of my auntie and asked if Jack was ok. She looked at me very concerned and said “you need to hold on to your faith right now.’
This is when the doctor who’s face I hadn’t been able to see because she’d had her back to me while working on Jack turned around and made eye contact with me. She had short blonde hair and her name was Dr Lilly. She didn’t have to say anything. I could see it on her face. As she went to take a step towards me I yelled at her not to come over to me. Because I knew she was coming over to tell me that my baby was dead. With what little feeling I had in my legs I tried to push myself backwards towards the bedhead to get as far away from her as I could get.
She explained that they hadn’t been able to detect a heartbeat for a while. I begged them to keep trying. That’s when she told me that his brain had been starved of oxygen for too long.
I put my arms out and asked for him. She put him in my arms and I finally saw his little face. He was absolutely perfect. His little hands and feet. Blonde hair. I was completely heart broken and so proud all at the same time.
My dad came in to the room so confused. When he had been born my auntie ran out to the waiting room to tell him that he’d been born. Twenty minutes later she went back to tell him he hadn’t made it. My dad walked up to me and put his hand on my shoulder and was looking at Jack in awe and brokenness with me. My poor husband was in complete shock. He’d been standing next to Jack watching the doctors try and save him. It all happened so fast. We were not prepared for this at all.
I started to feel really unwell. I told my auntie something was wrong and someone needed to take Jack from me. My auntie (who is very loudly spoken because she grew up with a deaf mother) sounded like she was whispering to me. I was losing my hearing and my vision was starting to go. Ben was told to hit the emergency button. The blankets were ripped off of me and the bed laid down flat. My dad turned to face the wall while still holding my hand only looking down at my face to talk to me. He kept repeating to the doctors “there’s a lot of blood here” as the blood literally filled the sheets under my back, then my shoulders and eventually in to my hair.
My thought was is this must be what it feels like to die and in that moment I was so relieved. Although I was still in shock I knew that this reality was going to seem so much worse in the morning. I was given a full block of the epidural while the doctors tried and managed to stop the bleeding.
When it got quiet.
Once all of this was over at some point the room got quiet. The doctors left. My parents left. A beautiful midwife called Melanie came in to look after us. She was like an angel. So kind and thought of everything. Taking Jacks hand and footprints for us. Because of the full block I had no feeling in my legs for hours and every time I tried to lift my head up I would start to lose my hearing. I felt like a brick. Melanie was so sweet, she talked about Jack like he was alive. Talking about his features and how adorable he was while she somehow managed to change the sheets around me. Then she gave me a sponge bath because I was literally a bloody mess.
Ben was able to bath and dress Jack. Melanie set up a bed for Ben next to mine and a cot for Jack. Some time early in the morning it was finally just the three of us. Ben had to ring his parents who lived overseas and let them know what had happened. I can’t imagine how painful that must have been for him to try and interrupt their excitement as they assumed that he’d called to tell them that the baby had arrived. At some point we fell asleep. I remember waking a few times to the cries of babies being born in the rooms around us. Then I would remember where I was and what had happened.
The next morning.
Later that morning when there was light coming in the window I remember wondering how could the sun have even risen. How could I hear cars out on the street? Why was everyone just carrying on with their lives??? Our baby was dead!!!!! As far as I could comprehend the world should have ended. But it didn’t. It kept turning and somehow we had become the people who’s baby had died.
My dad came in early in the morning. My mum told me later that he had sat up all night in his arm chair praying and waiting for the phone to ring to say that Jack was ok! Dad held Jack for over an hour and cried continuously. I’d only ever seen my dad cry once before this. My mum later came in and helped me shower. She also took lots of photos of Ben, Jack and I. Photos I will always cherish.
A doctor came in and recommended that I take some pills to stop my milk from coming in. I agreed to take them. I’m glad I did. The hospital counsellor came in with him. She had the dreaded job of discussing funeral arrangements with us. I was sitting on the bed that I’d given birth to Jack on only a few hours earlier and now we were making decisions about his funeral. Something that the counsellor said to me brought me such relief. It was “you will never get over this.” Because I knew that there was no possible way that I could. Learning to live with it was one thing but I knew I would never get over this.
Although I wasn’t well I went home that day. I didn’t want to stay there. The midwife who had delivered Jack came in to work that morning. Her name was Jenny and she wasn’t rostered on to work. She came in to see how we were and offered to take Jack to where he needed be taken (the morgue) when we were ready. She said that she could take him before we leave or we could leave him in the room and she would come in and get him afterwards. Whatever we needed. I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving him in the room alone so we asked her to take him first.
We made it down to our car and noticed the baby capsule in the back seat that we wouldn’t be using. As we drove away from the hospital I held on to Ben’s hand so tight. How could going home be so painful?
Finding out what went wrong.
We were later told that the cause of Jack’s death was perinatal asphyxia. Durning the last seven minutes of delivery his heart rate couldn’t be detected because of lack of oxygen and blood flow. The umbilical cord was already so short and wrapped around his neck so it was pulled really tight stopping the blood flow getting form the placenta back in to his body. That’s why the placenta was unusually large. Jack was in desperate need of a blood transfusion the minute he was born but nobody realised because they were focussed on his other condition. It was hard to find out that our boy didn’t stand a chance at life. He had twenty minutes earth side and changed our lives forever.
I’m not normally one to leave things on a negative note but this is the reality of the day my baby died. My darkest day. There were many more to follow, and I will talk about those days at some point. When you are in this you can’t see the a light at the end of the tunnel. There is a huge full stop in your life. The only measurement of time is how long it’s been since you held your baby in your arms.
What I can tell you is that I survived. In fact I thrived. It is possible to feel utter joy again after losing a child. The pain never completely goes away but it does fade. Everyday life does become doable again. It didn’t come easily and it didn’t happen quickly. It’s not the life story I wanted, but some chapters are out of our control. All we can do is choose to steer the story we’ve been given in a positive direction.