Saturday, 1 March 2014

A Father's Perspective

When I first started writing this story down, about 18 months ago, I wrote chronologically as the memories came back to me.  I knew, at some point, that I would need to write about the events that led up to Emilie's delivery but I struggled.  I left a huge blank in my story as I carried on writing, documenting the events following her birth and the months that followed. However, the hours following the confirmation of intra uterine death continued to be  a blur for me and I had never fully been able to recall the memories. I later learnt that this is common in severe traumas.  I spoke to John about a year ago asking if he would be comfortable writing down what he remembered from the day. Initially he wrote in bullet form to trigger my memory but as I sat down to write it in my own words it felt like I was writing about someone else's I was a fly on the wall.  We decided that to fully convey what happened over the 24 hours or so after the confirmation John would write his own chapter.
This is his account.

I recall most of the events of the day although the order of things, with different friends coming and going is a little patchy.  My first memory of the day though starts in the assessment bay with the nurse looking to find the heart beat.  Having tried for a minute, and despite quickly finding Claire's, she was struggling to locate that of our baby.  I could see the nurse's hand shaking whilst she tried to stay calm and reassure us - suggesting that a smaller machine would help.  When this machine could also only locate Claire's heart beat the nurse, again very calmly and reassuringly said that she needed some assistance and would be back shortly.

Despite the nurses best efforts to assure us that babies can quite successfully hide in their mummies tummies we were panic stricken and I quickly text one of the pastors of our church to ask for prayer.

After a few minutes, our consultant together with 3 or 4 other ward staff including the original nurse entered.  Although it was amazing, and exceptionally fortunate we would later find out, to have our consultant there the number of extra nurses and porter only fuelled my fears for what to expect.

Moments later our consultant confirmed it with the image of a motionless ultrasound as she turned to Claire and said the words "I'm so sorry Claire but your baby's heart has stopped".  A tear immediately ran down Claire's face and we hugged, cried and wailed together.

Claire cried out that she wanted Sam cuddles but we were both too upset and the nurses led him out followed by us.  The assessment bay is only a small room with 3 or 4 beds separated only by curtains; we were now on our way to our own private room, specifically reserved for such bereavements.  We walked arm-in-arm down the corridor crying in such a way I can't really describe.  I remember being vaguely aware of passing others and just thinking how it must be obvious exactly what has just happened.

We were led into our room and Claire, sat in an arm chair in the middle, had a huge panic attack.  Sam wasn't in the room at this point but Claire desperately wanted to cuddle him.  First the nurse advised that it may be upsetting for him but it took me to convince her that we both need to calm down a little and then he can come in.

With Sam in the room we gave him the biggest cuddles, both of us completely overrun with emotions including a fresh revelation of how amazing he is.  We said our 'goodbyes' to Sam before he went home with a close friend Faye.  He had been given juice, biscuits and a latex glove which was blown up and had had a face drawn on it. As far as Sam was concerned this was possibly one of the most exciting days of his life.  Much to our amusement he kept the glove for weeks at home until it was completely shrivelled.

As we sat in the room with the various medical staff the realisation that Emilie was still in Claire's tummy hits us both bringing about fresh panic.  Claire had always been unsure about a natural delivery for Emilie so our first instinct was to insist on a c-section.  Our consultant explained that natural is best here and what she would recommend; it wasn't what we wanted to hear it.

I next had to go and call our parents to break the news.  I found an empty room down the corridor.  I called Claire's mum first then mine; I wasn't really sure which I expected to be easier but neither was.

On the way back to the room I saw our consultant and the midwife now looking after us.  I raised the topic of a c-section again explaining to them that a natural delivery had never been appealing or what we were planning.  Whilst she conceded that a c-section would be an option our consultant maintained that she wouldn't recommend it.  The conversation was restarted in our room and Claire was slightly more open to natural, although quickly went off it when it was explained that it takes a few days with a home stop inbetween.  The idea of having to go home today still pregnant traumatised Claire just as much as having to wait two days.

I called our pastor who I'd text earlier to update him but only got his voice mail.  I left a message and called our other pastor at home and spoke to his wife.  Jen said they'd come over immediately.  Claire also asked me text Carol to let her know the news but that she didn't need to come down.

As we sat in the room, with time passing irrelevantly our consultant came back in and asked if anyone had taken Claire's blood pressure, they hadn't and on doing so confirmed early preeclampsia.  I didn't know much about what this meant back then but I could see that our consultant was quite concerned at this point and informed us that going home today would no longer be an option.

Not being allowed to go home reopened the delivery conversation now with the possibility of doing it all whilst we were in now.  Our consultant mentioned the possibility of a specific drug combination that she was hopeful would allow is to start induction for a natural delivery today.  She needed to check the details but this sounded encouraging to us both.  Claire was becoming convinced about the post op immobility argument caused by a(nother) c-section and also warming to the idea of giving Emilie a natural birth experience.

I clearly remember that Claire asked what Emilie would be like.  I remember it so clearly because it hadn't occurred to me at all and half expected our consultant to brush off the concerns.  Instead though, she explained that depending on when death occurred the skin can become fragile surrounded by the embryonic fluids.  To my relief though she also added that from the scan she'd performed it looked like death was probably within the last 24 to 48 hours so she didn't have any particular concerns over this.

When Nic and Jen arrived they sat with us and prayed.  Jen also prayed if there was any way that Emilie could be born alive then it would happen; I admired her faith and confidence to make such a prayer and appreciated that at least it had been asked of our God.   One of the hospital staff brought in a memory box supplied to bereaved parents.  Inside was a poem which included a line that God had decided to take our baby early which Jen spotted and commented that God didn't plan this.

Jen had also spoken to Claire's counsellor, Carol who apparently had decided would come down later anyway.  Claire had known Carol for many years but I had only met her the week before - a meeting, an initial introduction, that I became increasingly grateful of over the following months.

Nic and Jen stayed for an hour or so by which time our other pastor, Dave, had arrived. 

Dave stayed for quite a while.  I can't remember the conversations but we were definitely finding it was good to have company with us.

Our consultant was able to confirm that we could start the induction that night but first they need to take blood samples.  I think they took something like 12 different samples and at first the nurse really struggled to find a vein.  Dave nearly stepped in as he said he was always good at that in his nurse days!

When Carol arrived we gladly welcomed her and she joined us while Dave was there and then several hours thereafter.

With Sam taken care of we now needed to prepare for an overnight stay so asked another close friend Sal to bring us over night bags.  Claire had one packed but asked for all baby related items to be removed although was still a little worried this wouldn't be done.  It was.

We were brought some food but Claire didn't eat.  In a state of shock her body was in shut down and she didn't really eat for a couple of days.

The induction treatment started that evening and we were advised that it could take 12-24 hours to 'start'.

As evening turned into night we cuddled up in bed and listened to a Hillsong album followed by some Mumford & Sons on our phone speaker.  Drowning out the moans coming from the surrounding labour rooms.  Crying and dozing together.

I slept for parts of the night on the sofa in the room, wishing that it hadn't happened or that it would all be over in equal measure.  The only thing I could pray was that the labour would be quick; and I could only pray that angrily.  Despite my anger though I knew that God was big enough and good enough to understand.  I text my close friends to ask them to pray, in particular because I could recall how unbelievably painful it was the day I drove Claire home from hospital after she was discharged following the c-section with Sam, leaving him in SCBU.  How much more worse would tomorrow be?

The drugs started to work quite quickly and by 11pm (I think) some contractions had started.  Claire was now fully feeling the hit of the mixture of pain numbing drugs and those to used to induce labour.  Through the trauma, tiredness, pain and drugs Claire became increasingly spaced out, talking slowly, lispy and often incoherently.

In the early hours the staff shifts changed, which didn't coincide well with Claire's drug supply running low.  The drugs actually ran out just as the contractions were getting worse.  The doctor who came to restock the supply was therefore under quite a lot of pressure as Claire/we were clearly distressed and the machine wasn't cooreperating either so it took 3 or 4 goes to make it work properly.

We continued to doze through the night as the pain came and went.  By early morning things were getting closer though with the mid wife coming in a few times to confirm that things were going well.

Claire went to the ensuite toilet, needing my help to move across the room.  Back in bed the contractions were now pretty frequent.  Having missed all opportunities for antenatal classes I didn't really know to expect other than what I gleaned from TV dramas.  I had therefore been taking mental notes of the gaps between contractions throughout the night and by my reckoning things were getting close.  I was therefore a little concerned when Claire said, no insisted, she wanted to go to the loo again.  I think we just made it off the bed though before Claire decided it was a bad idea, at which point (perfect timing) the midwife came back in and confirmed that Emilie was coming.

Emilie was born just after 7 am, pretty much exactly 12 hours after the start of the treatment.  After she was born, as discussed the previous day, the midwife gave her a quick clean then passed her to Claire to hold.  We all cuddled and cried.

After that initial cuddle I could tell that Claire didn't really want to hold her much.  I did.  I didn't want her to be put down.  I hated the thought of having such a short time to be with her and having her just lie in the moses basket. 

Carol and Dave both came back for many hours.  Nic and Jen also returned and brought a beautiful baby gown as a gift; one of only two changes of clothes she would wear.  Everyone commented how beautiful she was.  We took photos and I encouraged Claire to hold her as much as possible.

A doctor came to take Emilie for a medical examination and confirmed that she was perfect.  A little later a different doctor came to talk to us about post-mortem and what this would involve.  We were very tempted and took the paper work but that night decided there was nothing to be gained, as we were fairly sure already what the problem was.  The same placental problem, just with a quicker onset, that caused the problems with Sam.

Dave gave Emilie a cuddle, something he later told me he wanted to do so he could lay hands on her and pray for a miracle.

We had to register Emilie at births/death registry office in the hospital.  We didn't have to do it that day but felt it best to get it done while we were there.  Doing it all now seemed much more preferable.  The office had been forewarned of our arrival and Emilie's stillbirth to make the process as easy as possible.  When we went in the waiting room outside the office was empty.  Going through the papers was difficult but Claire broke down when asked what occupation to put on the form.  Claire had left work to look after Emilie and Sam.  We had a plan.  A few years out then back to work with Faye who was also pregnant, setting up their own business.  The anguish was palpable and I knew I could not say anything to soften that pain.

When we left the office the waiting room was full with at least three sets of mums, dads and new borns.   We put our heads down, linked arms and walked out in tears.  As soon we got out in to the corridor we both broke down and cried.

Later that day we went home, we were desperate to see Sam.  I went to fetch the car to save Claire having to walk across the car park.  Other than my toothbrush I hadn't used anything from my night bag.  Some weeks later I binned the clothes I had been wearing.

We had already made plans to go back the next day to see her again but had also decided that would be the last time. 

That night we broke the news to Sam, who as a very clever 2 year old had been fully excited about being a big brother.  We desperately wanted to get it over and tell him together but also knew that it would be best if he first brought Emilie up in conversation.  Despite some prompting throughout the afternoon this didn't happen - until bed time that is when it was just Claire who had to do it alone.

We ordered chinese takeaway, Claire's body still wasn't ready for food and she didn't eat.  Later on our friends John and Kirsten came round followed by Dan and Celia the following night.  On both nights we shared tears as well as laughter with those who cared for us and would be part of the many who supported us over the next days ...  weeks ... months ... years.

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