Lifestyle

Woman who had to give birth to her dead baby feels left alone in a ‘nightmare’

A woman whose baby died when she went into labour at 18 weeks pregnant says she feels abandoned in lockdown.

Faye, 28, who works for a charity in campaigning and communications, lost her child when she suffered from preterm premature rupture of the membranes (PPROM).

PPROM occurs when the amniotic sac that holds the baby and the amniotic fluid ruptures – otherwise known as your waters breaking, – before labour begins. In most cases, this rupture starts labour.

It occurs in only 3% of pregnancies, and mothers must receive antibiotics to prevent infection-related complications in the baby because the amniotic fluid, which protects the baby against infection, is no longer present.

Babies are viable at 24 weeks, so if PPROM occurs then the baby has a 60% chance of survival. Before this, there is an incredibly small likelihood that a baby will survive PPROM.

In Faye’s case, she had to deliver a stillborn baby after 18 weeks of pregnancy. She says that due to coronavirus and lockdown, she has had minimal aftercare.

When Faye found out she was pregnant with a girl in late November 2019, she was met with ‘all the naive emotions that most people are’.

She said: ‘As soon as you see those blue lines on a pregnancy test, you are planning a life for that baby. No matter when you lose your baby, that baby was already a life you had created and planned for.

‘You think about what kind of person they’ll become and what role you will have to play in that. From the moment you see the blue lines on a pregnancy test, you are a mother.’

Faye had a healthy pregnancy. At the routine 12 week scan, she was told everything looked perfectly fine.

After this scan, she says she felt ‘invincible’.

‘We naively thought that everything that could have gone wrong would have gone wrong before this point, so we felt in a very false sense of security,’ Faye says.

‘On that day, we felt like we had everything. Our baby looked healthy and was kicking away, and we had our future planned out.

‘I’d do anything to go back to that day and be the naive mother to be that I was in that moment.

‘That’s the hardest thing about baby loss, it takes away your naivety and excitement for a future pregnancy. Your view of the world completely changes.

‘When you have given birth to a baby that will never come home, you have come into contact with two things that should never collide – life and death, and with that comes a layer of complexity that is impossible to understand unless you have experienced it yourself.’

Soon after finding out she was pregnant, Faye told her friends and family, her work colleagues and shared the news on social media. She was so excited to tell everyone so that they could celebrate with her.

But in March, just as the UK went into lockdown and 18 weeks into Faye’s healthy pregnancy, everything changed when her waters broke.

‘It was the middle of the night and my waters were dripping’, she says.

‘It was just like the movies. I stood up and was gushing with water. We went straight to A&E in our car, but I knew in that moment we were losing our baby.

‘I had an internal scan and was told my cervix hadn’t opened and to head home and come back the next day for a scan. The following day we headed to our local hospital and were told the news I already knew, our baby wasn’t going to survive.

‘I had a severe infection myself and was becoming unwell. I was told I’d need to deliver the baby, something that felt pretty barbaric, and still does.’

Faye was told she would need to go through labour to deliver a dead baby, an incredibly traumatic experience.

‘You should never have to deliver a baby that doesn’t come home,’ she tells us. ‘I had always joked about what kind of birth I’d have. I’d already researched how to push for an elective C-Section because giving birth wasn’t something I felt was for me.

‘Yet just days later i was being met with the news that I would have to deliver a dead baby that would never make it home. It really is a nightmare, but you can and do get through it.

‘And in a strange way, you feel proud that you birthed your child, even though it was in circumstances that you never ever imagined.’

This is a horrific experience at any time, but for Faye going through PPROM has been made even harder by the pandemic.

She says: ‘Losing a baby is hard enough, yet losing a baby in lockdown has felt so much harder.

‘I haven’t seen the majority of my friends or family since I found out I was pregnant. Which to me, makes it hard to accept that she was ever alive at all.

‘I had morning sickness every day and had had a quiet few months before lockdown trying to save money for our future while also trying to get anywhere without throwing my guts up.

‘In a way it has felt like the world has been mocking me. There are parents everywhere talking about homeschooling, kids popping up onto work Zoom meetings, and people moaning about their holidays being cancelled.

‘Anyone experiencing grief, whether it’s for a baby or someone who has lived a long time, has had their grief exasperated by this whole lockdown experience. Everyone keeps saying “we’re all in this together”, but we aren’t.

‘Everyone’s experience of lockdown is so different, especially for those dealing with grief or the loss of a baby.

‘What shocked me the most throughout this whole experience though is the lack of mental health support for people experiencing baby loss, especially amid a pandemic, when a whole new level of complexity is added to an existing impossible situation.

‘I left the hospital having given birth to a dead baby the night before, with no access to mental health support. I had gone from choosing baby names to choosing what kind of post mortem I wanted, and was left to navigate this alone.’

Faye was told by her midwife that a charity called Petals, a baby loss counselling charity, may be able to support her, but that she was incredibly unlikely to be referred as the charity didn’t currently serve patients at her hospital.

Thankfully, she was able to access support by referring herself to the charity online.

‘I was crying down the phone to my midwife that I didn’t know how I was going to cope, yet was told that there was potentially no specialist mental health support available to me at that time,’ Faye explains.

‘I was being let down by a system that was meant to protect me at my most vulnerable.

‘I looked into the Petals charity myself and referred myself online. Luckily they had availability and I have been having sessions ever since, albeit online due to COVID-19.

‘Had the pandemic not hit, there is a chance I would not have had any access to counselling because they operate outside of my local area. It’s sad that I feel that I am lucky, in an incredibly unlucky situation, because I have received the support I have needed through Petals.

‘But had I not thought to self refer, or researched that that was an option, I do not know what state my mental health would have been in.

‘I am angered and disappointed that women in my position are potentially facing this alone, amid a global pandemic, where they may not be able to see their friends or family. Not only that, but it also means that people are relying on local health services that are already underfunded and under pressure to serve others in need of support in my local area.

‘Following the loss of a baby, women need support, and shouldn’t have to wait potentially months for other mental health services to become available when they are already dealing with such a traumatic experience.’

Statistics show that women who do not receive support for their mental health following baby loss are much more likely to develop mental health issues such as PTSD, which has a long-term impact not only on their mental health but also physical health, their careers and their relationships.

Had Faye not found help with Petals, which she is given for free, she feels this would have happened to her.

She adds: ‘I want my daughter to leave a legacy beyond a signature on a post mortem file, so I’ll keep pushing for her memory to help others in pushing for mental health support.’

For Faye, lockdown has felt like a ‘weird nightmare’ she is ‘waiting to wake up from’.

‘In the space of six months, I have lost a baby, gone through a global pandemic, and haven’t had the usual help of my friends or family,’ she tells us.

‘Life has been stuck at a standstill, and I haven’t been able to cope with this situation in the way I would normally, which has been incredibly testing for my mental health.

‘I am coping – with thanks to my amazing husband, and the support of Petals, who have been invaluable.

‘Some days it’s impossible, other days it’s okay. Grief isn’t linear and there isn’t an emotion I haven’t felt in the last few months.

‘The future is unknown. I think whenever you lose a baby, your mind goes into overdrive and you question everything around you. Everyone is different, and everyone will deal with it differently.

‘For some women they may want to try again straight away, and there is no right way of dealing with it.

‘Personally I am taking the time I need to grieve for this baby, get the answers I need to know whether this will happen again, and then try for another baby when my mental health is in a place that I am ready for it.

‘At first I wanted to try straight away, I was obsessed with the idea of having another baby to help with the loss of this one. But I know for me personally, waiting is the best outcome for any future baby and my own mental health.’

Faye says she is ‘terrified of the future’. The lack of research into baby loss means that women are often left navigating such an isolating world without the answers they need to move on and try again.

‘I have been asked so flippantly by so many people when we’ll try again or “just try again”,’ said Faye.

‘It’s never that simple. Until you’ve lost a baby, it’s hard to understand the complexity and sadness around it.

‘I have no idea if I’ll ever be a mother, and for me, that’s one of the hardest things in all this. Baby loss takes away the excitement every woman should feel in starting a family.

‘There are no positives when it comes to losing a baby. There is no rhyme and reason. In all honesty, it’s just rubbish. You search for your answers on Google and find none.

‘You go through so many processes of grief from blaming yourself, blaming others, wondering why it happened to you, angry at other people, and then trying to come to terms and accept it.

‘I’m glad I’m at that second stage now, but it has taken time and it has been hard, sometimes impossible, and some days it still is. I am trying to take this though as something I can learn from, and be better from.

‘I used to speak so carelessly about having children and I will now always speak with caution and care.

‘I’ll never be the woman lusting over the photo of my baby in the waiting room, knowing that the person next to me could either have just experienced a loss or be managing anxiety with a pregnancy after loss.

‘My view of the world is so different to what it was 12 months ago. It’s gone from a place of naivety to a place that can go so incredibly wrong, so incredibly quickly. But I am kinder and more cautious because of it.’

Faye is sharing her story to break the taboo of talking about baby loss and call for more support for those experiencing grief in lockdown.

Faye adds: ‘What I have had to tell myself the most though is that I have not failed. Society has failed me in making me think that I have.

‘There is such a taboo in talking about fertility. Society tells us it’s the easiest and most natural thing in the world. But for many of us, it isn’t. It’s hard to accept the future that you have been given.

‘I am still so angry that I lost my baby, that she died amid a lockdown and that I haven’t been able to get on with my life in the way I had wanted to. I can’t go out and get drunk at the pub and get my old life back.

‘We are also now awaiting genetic testing to determine if we can have children in the future, which again, may be delayed due to covid 19. The whole pandemic has had to put our future on hold.

‘Life is still and isn’t moving on in the way it should be because of the outbreak of COVID-19. Losing a baby has been so hard, but losing one amid a global lockdown has often felt impossible, cruel, and as if we are being tormented by not being able to “carry on”.

‘There is no “get on with it”, we’re all just stuck here, waiting for the world to start again. A world that is so different to the one we entered before lockdown, because it is one without our baby.’