“If you think your baby’s movements have slowed down or stopped, contact your midwife or maternity unit immediately (it is staffed 24 hours, 7 days a week). Do not put off calling until the next day to see what happens. Do not worry about phoning, it is important for your doctors and midwives to know if your baby’s movements have slowed down or stopped.” .
The shoulda , woulda , coulda’s can eat you up inside when tragedy strikes. They never leave your mind and times you wonder if you can take much more of the regret and guilt you feel deep inside your tummy. It’s always there. Our little girl Francesca would have been coming up for 2 on the 8th of February this year but sadly for us there will be no little party full of laughter , balloons and nursery rhymes. Instead for our family it is simply another painful reminder that the beautiful baby girl I spent all those months bonding with, never made it home from the hospital.
I can’t help but go over the weeks and days leading up to Francesca’s death. How could I not have known my baby girl was in distress and needing the things I as a mother should have been able to give her. Unconditional love and protection. I was supposed to protect her from the horrors of the world and to think of anything ever possibly harming her somehow made me sick with worry. I wanted her to know only love and happiness in her little life but it was not to be. I spent 41 weeks nurturing my bump and taking heed of the advise given . I went to all my antenatal appointments , I never smoked , I never drank , always slept on my side , had all my jags , rested when my body told me too and almost became a recluse avoiding anyone around who had the slightest sign of a cold!
“The safest way to ensure your baby isn’t damaged by alcohol is not to drink while you’re pregnant. “ (NHS)
Unbeknownst to me at the time our tragedy took its turn on Monday 5th February 2018. I woke up that morning with the usual stroke of almost 1 week overdue bump and laughed to myself as I struggled to swing my legs out the side of the bed to go about my day. I walked to the bathroom, passing Francesca’s room on the way there. I couldn’t help but stop to look in at all the beautiful pink things, all ready for our baby girls arrival. I smiled excitedly and stroked her softly in my expanding bump. I went downstairs and checked the baby calendar to see if it needed updating but who was I kidding, I knew Steven was already on the ball. He was like a big kid at Christmas, every morning racing down the stairs to change the numbers down one on the countdown to our baby girls arrival. He couldn’t wait for her to be here already. I remember feeling anxious as I hadn’t had much contact from my midwife those last few weeks as her clinic was too busy to book me in at the 40 week sweep appointment so she had moved it to the following week which was 3 days away and I was starting to wonder if my already extreme first time mum worries could wait that long. So I decided to phone her for a chat in the hopes that I could ask her about a few things playing on my mind. I was also starting to worry that Francesca’s movements had slowed slightly but I put it down to my imagination running away with me or that she was simply “running out of room” which I know now to be a myth. Babies movements should never slow down. If only I knew that then. I phoned her twice that day and left voicemails but with no response by the end of the working day I decided to simply try again tomorrow.
“In the UK, 9 babies are stillborn every single day.Around a third of stillbirths happen after 37 weeks, when the baby is deemed full term. There is a common misconception that stillbirths only happen in high-risk pregnancies or when there is a known problem. However, stillbirth can affect any mum at any time” (Kicks Count)
The next day I tried calling again and with still no answer I tried another number and spoke to her supervisor. I remember apologising for taking up her time by calling, I know now how crazy that is to feel like I was making a nuisance of myself. She had seemed shocked that my community midwife hadn’t returned my calls. I had started to tell her about some of my niggling concerns and as soon as she heard the words “reduced movements” she immediately asked if I could make my way to triage to be checked over. It took me aback a bit as I wasn’t expecting that but I believed everything was still going to be fine. Surely I would know if my baby was in trouble, right?. I’d also been to triage a couple of times before with some other pregnancy concerns and things had always been ok then so I was positive that if something was flagged up they would take good care of me. I would be in the best place in the safest hands. My daughter would be here any day now. So I phoned Steven to come home from work and I got my hospital bag ready just incase they decided to keep me in and off we went to triage.
“If you smoke, the best thing you can do is to stop. Stopping at any time in pregnancy will help, though the sooner the better.” (NHS)
There we stayed for a few hours being monitored. I wanted to believe everything was ok so I listened when the doctor advised me everything was fine . He must know better than I did, what did I know, I was a first time mum and an emotional one at that. So I was unhooked from the trace and discharged… and I left… I simply left the hospital and that night my baby girl was gone.
The shoulda, woulda, coulda’s will never leave my mind but the main one of all was how very different life would be if I never left that hospital that night. I should have trusted my instincts but I didn’t. I could have spoke up and made that doctor listen to me more, but I didn’t. Maybe then I would have brought my baby girl into the world alive but I couldn’t. I have been learning to live with that decision every day since. The cause of Francesca’s death was put down to various factors but ultimately it was a break down of her placenta. I followed the advise given even more religiously with my 2nd pregnancy as I was beyond terrified of history repeating itself. My story has a little bit hope within it with the birth of our little blessing Leo who arrived 11 months after his sister. It brought my heart a little closure that maybe I wasn’t to blame as I did all I could for both my babies after all.
“Research suggests that going to sleep on your back after 28 weeks of pregnancy doubles the risk of stillbirth. It’s thought this may be to do with the flow of blood and oxygen to the baby.” (NHS)
I tell our baby girls story to keep her memory alive with the hopes that by raising awareness of Stillbirth and preventative measures that maybe someone somewhere out there will hear our screams and maybe a little life will be saved. Not all the causes of stillbirth are currently known, but through research we know that if pregnant women know the risk factors, the signs to look out for and when to seek help, this can reduce the risk of the little babies whose lives are lost every day.
As always for Francesca Alexis Johnston
Forever Loved and Forever missed. XXX
Born 6.01am 8/2/18