‘The enormity of what we had lost hit us as we said goodbye; it wasn’t just Fraser the baby we had lost, it was Fraser the toddler, the teenager, the adult…’
Part 1 – The Beginning of Baby Fraser
Steve and I met in 2004 in our early thirties. Steve already had a teenage daughter but I had no children. After a few years we were ready to start a family, but found that was easier said than done. We had a long 4 years where nothing happened, had a miscarriage at 8 weeks in early 2012 and then a round of IVF which failed. Finally, a few weeks after the disappointment of the IVF, whilst building ourselves up to start the next round, we found out we had conceived naturally; the most unexpected but welcome surprise ever.
Our pregnancy was low risk, straightforward and enjoyable from the start and at 20 weeks we found out we were having a little boy. My age (40) meant they gave me an induction date very close to my due date, but when the time came it was put back a week as everything was going so well. At the time we were frustrated by that, desperate to meet our son; but we also felt that it gave him a little more time to come of his own accord. In the early hours of the 1st August 2013 he did just that and let us know that he was on his way.
In the early stages we had a couple of scares with his heartbeat dropping, but I was given the go ahead to try and deliver naturally in the birthing pool. After a little while when we weren’t progressing they assessed for forceps, but on realising he had turned the wrong way and was too high, they proceeded with an emergency c section. His heartbeat, despite the earlier concerns, was strong and stable, and just before the caesarean when we saw his feet come out and heard a little gasp we knew it was only going to be moments until we heard his first cry.
But that cry never came. He was whisked away and there were desperate attempts to start him breathing, but after 15 minutes or so the paediatrician came over to tell us that they had done what they could; the gasp we had heard was a reflex and they had been unable to start his tiny precious heart. Our world fell apart.
Like many of you reading this, we never, for one moment, contemplated going home without our precious baby. There had never been any thought of the possibility of stillbirth, it hadn’t happened to anyone we knew. At our antenatal class it was mentioned briefly once, but understandably, it wasn’t dwelled upon. And you always think it happens to other people not you. After all, it would be too cruel wouldn’t it, after taking so long to conceive?
Part 2 – The Aftermath
The doctors, midwifes and nurses in Poole’s maternity unit were incredible. Everyone we came into contact with over those next two days were upset and deeply shocked; it had been a complicated but routine failure to progress and it shouldn’t have had the outcome it did. At that point no one was able to give us any explanation as to what had happened and we made the difficult decision to have a post mortem.
That time is a blur for me, but Steve managed to keep everything together for us both. He had all the calls to make to our friends and family and how he got through those calls I’ll never know, I’m not sure he does either.
In the days that followed, thanks to SPRING, we were able to keep Baby Fraser with us and were given the time and space to create some very special memories. We explored every part of his tiny perfect body and carefully dressed him in the outfit we had brought to take him home in. We had professional photos and hand and foot prints taken, and Fraser and I were each given a small white knitted bear. At the time I remember thinking how on earth was that supposed to help? But it did, and in the early days at home without our baby that little bear became my crutch.
On the third day we met our wonderful bereavement midwife, Julie. All she did initially was hug us hard, and instantly we felt like somebody understood. Julie became our lifeline, particularly when we got home and we were out of the protective hospital bubble.
Part 3 – Grief
The grief process is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. You feel that you have entered a parallel universe; and you hope beyond hope that nobody ever has to experience what that feels like.
Emotionally we had gone from expecting to meet the most precious thing in the world to us having it all snatched away in a fraction of a second. Our hearts were broken, our anguish so painful we thought we couldn’t survive it. He just looked like he was sleeping and we would have given anything for him to have opened his eyes even once so he could see the love we had for him. I can still feel the shape and weight of him in my arms and how perfectly he fitted there. We had the awfulness of not being able to sleep; when we were asleep our minds full of dark and frightening nightmares and when we awoke again the raw, crushing realisation of what had happened came crashing down. For days, weeks, there was just no relief.
Although our world had stopped we got through those days. Julie encouraged us to have one or two tasks to do each day. Most of it involved medical appointments, putting a memory box together, making arrangements or choosing readings for the funeral, but it worked and gave us a purpose for getting up each day. We also had our dog that needed walking and feeding, and he was an incredible comfort.
The funeral probably marked the end of that first phase. It was a beautiful service on a sunny day that only Steve and I attended; but our family had written cards and letters to put in his coffin. We also swapped over the bears that Fraser and I had been given. The enormity of what we had lost hit us as we said goodbye; it wasn’t just Fraser the baby we had lost, it was Fraser the toddler, the teenager, the adult.
Not long after that we started to engage with the outside world again. We had become very close and reliant on each other. We had a couple of visitors in the early days and my sister came for a week, but we pretty much shut the world out. Now it was time to prepare ourselves for the transition back into ordinary life. Steve needed to think about going back to work and I needed to think about what I was going to do without him, I still couldn’t drive and I was terrified of him not being there.
When Steve did go back I had a few weeks of people visiting me at home or calling on the phone and then I started to go out; arranging to meet up for coffees, lunch or dog walks. It was an incredibly difficult time but my friends got me through it. I had to vet venues carefully for the possibility of babies and new mums; the cries of little ones were torture to me and I abandoned several lunches midway through whilst friends took care of the bill. Steve, although his work were incredibly supportive and understanding, found it very hard to leave me each day, he struggled to focus or care about his work, and the energy he had to put into trying to be ‘normal’ was exhausting.
It had only really just hit me that I was also grieving for the loss of being a full time mum for 9 months at a time in my life when I was the most ready for it. Being on maternity leave without a baby is very hard, everywhere you go during the daytime is the domain of carers of young babies and toddlers. The supermarket could be a minefield as could driving during the school run. I learnt a few coping strategies during this time, but Julie helped me realise that I couldn’t avoid difficult situations altogether so it became a fine balancing act.
Throughout it all, and encouraged by Julie, Steve and I kept talking and grew even closer than we had been before. We had to work at it, the times we were upset and the things that triggered it were different and we were both worried about upsetting each other when we were having a ‘good’ moment.
One day we realised we were making progress. We had transitioned from feeling broken to feeling like we were existing, to feeling like we were living in limbo, waiting to find out what had caused our baby to die. Steve was able to switch things off better than I was; for him there was no point going over and over things, we could do that when we knew what we were dealing with. I wasn’t able to do that though. My mind was in a complete turmoil, it played several different scenarios over and over… Was it an error by the hospital or because my induction was pushed back? Was something wrong with Fraser? Was it something I had done or something my body couldn’t give him?
Part 4 – The Post Mortem Results
In October we had a follow up appointment with our obstetrician and the paediatrician who had tried to resuscitate Fraser. The initial post mortem results showed that the bones in Fraser’s skull hadn’t developed properly and the pressure of being born caused fatal head traumas. They assured us it would have been very quick, which we believed due to the strong heartbeat recorded moments before the caesarean; and that no matter how he had been delivered his survival rate would be very low. We were grateful for having been given a reason, which a lot of people don’t have; and although we were distraught that our little boy was poorly, we felt relieved that no-one was at fault.
It was then a waiting game for the full results to tell us if it was a recognised condition or if it was genetic. During this time we both decided to run a local 10k race; initially a goal for me to return to fitness. Incredibly though, as we started to mention it to people, it turned into an event that 13 of us in total ran (including a friend’s 4 year old little boy who ran the fun run on the same day), all wearing SPRING t-shirts and raising a phenomenal £8,500. We were blown away. I think most people felt so helpless by what had happened that this was a way they could help, by either running or donating. Some of those who ran had never run before, and one of those friends is now undertaking a challenge to do ten 10ks in one year, starting and ending with the same race.
We got the final post mortem results in early December, but strangely we didn’t learn very much more. Despite specialist bone surgeons having been consulted there wasn’t enough evidence to suggest a recognised underlying condition (the most obvious culprit would have been brittle bone) and it was classed as a ‘spontaneous mutation’. We were advised to go for genetic counselling to look at the likelihood of it happening again, but we have been told the risk is very low; and that is enough reassurance for us to try again; especially since we were reassured by our obstetrician that that if we are successful I will be monitored all the way through and will have a planned c section at 39 weeks.
Looking back on his birth, we are now so grateful that he arrived when and how he did. We had an extra week with our perfect little boy who was never meant to survive in the outside world, and any other method of delivery would have meant he would have looked less perfect.
Part 5 – Where We Are Now
Our obstetrician and SPRING are essentially the reason we can write and talk about what has happened. Our obstetrician has shown us nothing but kindness, empathy, care, advice and honesty; we can never thank him enough. The same goes for SPRING. Not only have they helped us cope with the immediate loss of our baby, they have set us up with the strength to come to terms with the impact of our loss for the rest of our lives; and that is just invaluable.
But we know it isn’t over. We are only five months in, Christmas is tough and we are dreading the anniversary of his birthday. However, we are learning to live with him being with us but not here. We have a grave we can visit, a memorial in our garden and I wear his picture and a lock of his hair in a locket. I am still off work but planning to phase back in soon and that will be another step on the journey. We are now doing everything we can to see if we can have his little brother or sister. I’m worried that it will never happen; after all we have had a lesson in how harsh life can be and we have our history of infertility to contend with. But we are heartened by all the stories of rainbow babies and so we have hope. Most of all Fraser taught me that I was born to be a mother and nothing can take that away from me, even if he was the only child I am able to have.