Monday 12th June 2017 was the start of the end of our pregnancy journey. It was the week we became parents. It was the week that our son died. It was the week our life changed forever. A week that is imprinted on our hearts and minds forever.
I had woken up on the Saturday morning before and when I went to the toilet I wiped away a teaspoon of what I can only describe as clear jelly. I had never seen it before so felt unnerved. We’d got to over 23 weeks in our pregnancy, we naively thought we were home and dry so this was the last thing we were expecting. I phoned triage to put our mind at ease and was told by the midwife that if it wasn’t watery or bloody then not to worry. So we didn’t. Well we did but we tried to listen to the midwife’s advice and assume all was ok. Then on the Sunday afternoon I had awful tummy ache, it kept coming in waves…cue the frantic googling. I convinced myself it was just trapped wind or Braxton hicks. We phoned triage again (not wanting to make a fuss) and I was told to not worry and that if it got worse to phone them again. It didn’t get worse, if anything it got better so we naively continued. I could still feel Dexter moving so everything must have been ok. I now feel so many feelings of guilt, hurt, frustration about that weekend. Why wasn’t I more forceful with the midwives? Why didn’t I just go in? I guess you just trust in the professionals’ judgement and I guess I was too naive to accept that something might have been wrong. We both feel that we were let down by our local hospital and will be writing a letter of complaint, not to gain anything personally, we’ve lost Dexter and nothing will bring him back, but for people to learn lessons, for it not to happen to other women. Who knows…if one of those midwives had asked me to come in then maybe they could have prevented my waters breaking? Maybe they could have put a temporary stitch in or prevent such an early labour? We don’t know, we’ll never get to find out and this is something we’ll have to live with forever. We’re not angry because there’s no point being angry, again it won’t change anything but we do feel let down and frustrated.
On the Monday I went to work, I had felt Dexter, not lots but I never did in the morning but I had felt him. We were seeing our community midwife on the Tuesday so we could discuss everything then. I taught English and Maths at the primary school I work at in Leeds and then sat in my classroom to have my lunch. 12.44pm. The moment my life changed forever. I stood up and felt a gush, I thought I was wetting myself so tried to stop it like you would stop a wee but it didn’t stop. The gushing just carried on. I was mortified. I was in shock. I was frightened. I didn’t know what to do. I had a couple of girls in my classroom doing jobs so I calmly asked them to go next door before they realised anything was wrong. I asked them to send my partner teacher through and he went to fetch my headteacher. Within minutes I had my amazing support staff phoning an ambulance, telling me it would be ok while I stood shaking and absolutely mortified by the mess I’d made of my classroom carpet and chair. I remember phoning Dave, also a teacher, who was on a school trip in Hornsea (a good 90 minute drive from Leeds) and panic set in. He was in a state, crying and alone. I felt so helpless for him so my autopilot kicked in, I must stay positive, we will be okay. The paramedics arrived and wanted to examine me so we went down to the ambulance so they could check the baby wasn’t coming, which he wasn’t. I was frightened and knew we were heading towards the hospital, I didn’t want to be alone. My younger sister, who’s also a teacher, worked a couple of miles away so I phoned her and asked her to meet me at the hospital. She dropped everything and left work and was at the hospital within 5 minutes of me arriving. I was taken to Leeds General Infirmary as they provided early neo-natal care which my local hospital only offer from 28 weeks gestation.
When we arrived I was taken up to the ante-natal ward where I had a speculum examination which showed my cervix to be firmly shut. The nurses were really positive, this can happen and babies can stay put for a good few weeks, born early still but manage to get to 34 weeks in some cases. Being the eternal optimist that I am, I was hopeful. I was 23 weeks and 5 days by this point, I had a niggle in the back of my head thinking if the worst was going to happen it was really important to me that we got to the Wednesday…24 weeks, viability, Dexter could be registered and not seen as a ‘late miscarriage’. I remember watching the Coronation Street storyline where Michelle delivered her baby at 22 weeks and I remember being broken for her, and Kym Marsh the actress who plays her who had also lost her own son Archie at 23 weeks. I was so sad that because the babies hadn’t made it to 24 weeks they were seen as ‘late miscarriages’ and wouldn’t be registered or receive a certificate of birth, death or stillbirth. I still cannot fathom this. To know what I know now, to have given birth to my son, to have held him and nursed him I really struggle to understand why the law around registering babies is only after 24 weeks. Literally a matter of minutes from 11.59pm to 12.01am could change how your baby’s life is acknowledged medically. It is staggering. Something I hope is one day changed.
I desperately wanted my mum with me. She’d make it okay and would know what to do. Unfortunately, she was on holiday in Greece so my sister had to phone her to tell her what had happened. I can’t imagine how worried she must have been, especially being in another country. I just wanted her by my side. She began to make plans to return as soon as she could. She had also been on holiday in 2015 when I suffered my ruptured ectopic pregnancy. It’s fair to say she’s not allowed to leave the country when I’m next pregnant.
After what seemed the longest wait, Dave finally arrived, looking frantic with worry but relieved to have seen me. His parents also joined us and very kindly went to collect some essentials; pyjamas, flip flops and some toiletries. I was admitted and looked like I might be in for a while. My bloods were taken, I was given a steroid injection to help support Dexter’s lungs and started a course of antibiotics intravenously as I had Group B Strep (we know that the GBS wasn’t the cause of Dexter’s death). We then waited for what seemed like a lifetime for a doctor to come and do a bedside scan but they eventually arrived and there he was – our beautiful baby boy with his beautifully strong heartbeat. He had lost all the fluid that was surrounding him but he was on the screen, gently snoozing with his flickering heat beating away. The relief. We were definitely not out of the woods but our baby was alive. We then spent the next few hours googling stories of babies who had been born at this early gestation and had survived – we needed hope to cling to.
That evening, the early hours, I was then admitted to the labour ward as 80% of women whose waters break often go swiftly into labour and although my cervix was firmly shut I had begun to bleed. We were in Room 1 and within minutes of us arriving the neonatal team came to see us and began setting up all the equipment they would need to help a baby delivered at such an early gestation. I remember choosing a little green hat and
placing it down ready. It was so tiny. Was this actually going to happen? Were we actually going to meet our son 3 months before we expected to? I was frightened, I didn’t know what to expect, I’d never given birth before and I wasn’t expecting to do it so soon. The consultant obstetrician and her neonatal team came to see Dave and I, it was about 4am, we were surviving on zero sleep but we were now officially 23+6. The consultant explained what would happen if I went into active labour with Dexter and if I delivered him so early. She explained what his chances were, what they would be looking for when he was born and what would happen immediately after he was born. We listened intently, took all the information in and then had to answer a question. ‘Would you like us to resuscitate your baby?’ I was astounded. My gut reaction was of course YES. Yes, I want you to give our son every chance of survival. Yes. Yes I do want you to have a go at resuscitating him. Just yes. I now understand that we were asked that question because a baby being born at such an early gestation would not have necessarily had a positive outlook however, to us, we wanted to give our son every chance. Once that had been agreed and everything was set up, Dave and I then tried to get some sleep.
The following morning, after we managed a couple of hours sleep, the consultant on the labour ward came to see us. She knew we felt strongly about getting to 24 weeks and she agreed. She wanted to wait until midnight, that all-important 24 weeks and then we would consider inducing labour. I remember thinking that I didn’t agree with her. Why would we induce labour if Dexter was ok in my womb? Surely he was better in my womb, I could try to build my waters back up and hopefully he could hang on for a few weeks longer. My midwife at the time listened to my concerns and agreed Dexter was probably better where he was. This will haunt me forever. What if we had have induced labour when we knew Dexter was okay? Would he have survived? Would we have had to fight a daily battle in the NICU? Would we have eventually brought him home? We’ll never know and this is something I regularly have to talk myself out of thinking about. We have met with our consultants since who have said they don’t believe Dexter would have survived, labour is very traumatic for babies and they think it would have been too much for him So, we have to take some comfort from that and believe them.
The rest of the day (Tuesday 13th June) was spent on the labour ward. I was given a drip of magnesium sulphate which is an experience that’ll live with me forever. The drip is given to strengthen the baby’s brain, just as the steroid injections were used to support Dexter’s lungs. It was the most bizarre experience of my life. The midwives warned me and so I felt quite nervous receiving it. The initial five minutes of the drip were horrendous; it takes over every inch of your body, makes you feel like you are on fire – I could feel it behind my eyes, in my brain, all the way down to my toes – it really did feel like I was ablaze. I had to ride it out for five minutes and then it eventually settled down. Although it was horrendous, I didn’t care, I would do anything to help make my little boy stronger.
The rest of the day was spent with visitors; our friends Bekkie and Matt (who bought the most amazing M&S food care package), Dave’s parents and then my siblings all came to see us. They all brought such optimism, support and distraction with them.
Once they had left I was then seen by another consultant, she came to do a bedside scan and discuss next steps as were heading to 24 weeks. I could feel the nerves rise, the sick climb up my throat, was our baby boy going to be ok? And there he was!! Quite still, due to the lack of fluid around him but a beautifully strong heartbeat, our baby boy was still fighting. The relief. The consultant filled us with such positivity – I remember she had beautiful auburn hair and she was so kind – she was so thorough. She measured Dexter and expressed how long his arms and legs were (just like his dad) and she said he was measuring a bit further along and looked more like a baby at 25 weeks gestation. This was the most amazing news. Not only was our son’s heart beating still but he was a bit further developed than we thought. She then said that because Dexter seemed to be progressing well that we should go back to the ante-natal ward and just keep going, trying to build my fluids up and keeping him in my womb for as long as we could. To us, that was such wonderful news so again we were filled with positivity.
Wednesday 14th June, we had managed a couple of hours sleep. I was so lucky that the hospital allowed Dave to stay with me, although he didn’t get much sleep on a chair but we both wanted to be with each other. I remember waking up and switching on the television to see the news about the Grenfell Tower fire. It was horrendous, all those people, such devastation. However, since losing Dexter, we have a very strange relationship with the disaster. This is perhaps not something I should admit to but I strive to be honest about our story. Sadly, the Grenfell Tower fire is now etched on my mind as the day I was told our son’s heart had stopped beating and to us that is the worst day of our lives. We watched the Pride of Britain awards last week and the heroes from the London Fire Brigade were honoured (quite rightly) but selfishly, all I could think about was the day we lost Dexter Bear. I will always relate both of these events to each other.
The rest of the day was spent waiting to see a Doctor. There had been an emergency on the labour ward the night before so we were kept waiting, again something I’ll always have to live with. What if we had been seen sooner? Would the outcome have changed? No. Probably not but again something we’ll never know. We were in good spirits though, the news we had received the night before had really helped to make us feel a little more optimism. My mum was also making her way back, she had changed her flight to come back earlier but was now flying into Stanstead and my brother was kindly going to fetch her – considering I was in Leeds this was one hell of a round trip for him. I couldn’t wait to see her. I knew she was landing around 9pm so I’d get to speak to her then. My dad was also driving back from the South of France, cutting short his holiday with his partner. The rest of the day we waited for the Doctor to come, my sister came to visit us after work and then our friends Gemma and Adam came to visit too. We chatted, shared our news, ate chocolate together and they left around 8pm when we were told the Doctor would come to see us soon. We were all cautiously optimistic that Dexter would hold on.
The doctor finally came around 9pm with a bedside ultrasound scan. The nerves rose, the sick building in my throat again but surely we would be fine? Dexter had been okay the two nights previously. She turned the screen on and in that moment I knew. I knew where Dexter’s heart was, I’d seen it beating only 24 hours before, it was still. I desperately tried to cling to hope and that someone would tell me I was wrong. The doctor said not to worry yet but she wanted to get a consultant. The consultant came – she was a tall, slim lady with short, spiky blonde hair – I’ll never forget her face. She looked. She knew. I knew. Then that was it, she turned to look at me, put her hand on my knee and said those words no parent ever wants to hear. ‘I’m sorry there’s no heartbeat’. All our hopes and dreams came crashing down, obliterated and smashed to smithereens. Our life was never going to be the same again. 9.20pm. The time our lives stood still. I just remember the shock, the numbness, the complete and utter disbelief. Dave absolutely broke down next to me. I remained calm, I remember thinking that I just wanted this to be over as I knew what I would have to do now. So I listened to our options, I wanted the one that would be the quickest. I was fully aware of what I was going to have to do, I was going to have to deliver our sleeping son. I remember her saying that the quickest option would be to take a tablet to induce labour with a view to me delivering Dexter on Friday morning. Friday! 36 hours away…that was the quickest? It felt like a lifetime away but that was the option we chose.
Dave then phoned people to let them know the news, I remember asking him if he wanted me to ask a nurse to do it as he was breaking his heart doing it but he just kept saying, over and over again, ‘I’m Dexter’s dad, I have to do it’. I was so proud of him, so proud. He phoned my mum first as she had just text me to see how we were and tell us that she had just landed. I still can’t shake the thought of my mum stood in baggage reclaim at Stanstead airport having the news delivered to her that her grandson had died and her daughter was going to have to then deliver him. Dave then phoned other relatives and our friends. He phoned his friends, whose wives were some of my closest friends, I cannot even begin to imagine how difficult that must have been for the husbands to tell their wives our news – something I will never get out of my mind.
The guilt I feel for the ripple effect losing Dexter Bear has had.
We were left for half an hour or so to gather ourselves and contemplate the reality we were now faced with before being moved to the bereavement suite, the ‘Rosemary Suite’ where in just a few hours time we would meet our son.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post, it has been quite an emotionally charged one to write and I’ve decided to leave it there. I will do a follow up post about the day we got to hold Dexter in our arms soon.
For now, thinking of him always xxx