If you have no experience of baby loss then it’s probably hard to imagine what happens after a baby dies. Let’s be honest, it’s something most of us probably try hard not to think about and I don’t blame you – the thought is just too painful and I wouldn’t wish the reality on anyone. I can honestly say; it’s something I never considered before I was faced with the unexpected death of our daughter.
Thankfully, the hospital gave us something that I didn’t expect and didn’t know we desperately needed; time with our baby.
Only moments after Cora died, we were taken into our own private room where both of Cora’s grandparents and Aunty and Uncle were able to join us. We were accompanied by a lovely midwife who told us that our time with Cora could be spent however we liked; taking pictures, dressing her, cuddling her. Now I appreciate how odd or morose this may sound if you’ve not experienced this before; the thought of cuddling and taking pictures of someone who’s just died. But when you’ve had an entire lifetime of making memories suddenly and cruelly taken from you – having just one day to do some normal newborn things becomes the most precious memories you have. I actually did a post on Instagram for baby loss awareness week about how society views sharing these pictures here, if you’d like to take a read.
Joe and I decided that we’d like to bathe Cora and our conversation began as I imagine most first-time parents’ conversations do – with me telling Joe off for having the water temperature too hot (mum’s always right sorry!) When we asked if anyone else wanted to help, I expected our family to be nervous and uncomfortable but it couldn’t have been further from the truth. Before we’d even finished our question to them, six sets of loving and caring hands began to help bathe her through the tears and smiles. After we’d done that, we changed her nappy, brushed her hair, dressed her, and then sat around for hours talking and taking it in turns to have cuddles. While I rested in the room (having not slept for 3 days and on a lot of pain meds) Joe and our midwife made prints of Cora’s hands and feet which now sit framed in our living room with one of our favourite pictures of her.
At around tea time, our family left and we were able to take Cora back to our room with us where we were left alone to have cuddles for our one and only night as a family. I’ll forever be grateful for the 42 hours we spent with her; making memories to last us a lifetime.
The following morning, as we prepared to leave the hospital, I was overcome with fear and anxiety of Cora being left on her own. I knew that her life and soul were no longer there but looking at her in the cot – cuddling her teddy, dressed in one of her ‘going home outfits’, knowing it was the last time we would ever see her – I couldn’t bear to leave her alone. One of the midwives was so supportive and promised she’d stay with Cora until someone from the funeral home came to collect her and I was so grateful to know she wouldn’t be alone after we’d left. I gave her one final kiss and then closed my eyes not wanting to see her left behind as I was taken out in a wheelchair.
Leaving the hospital without your baby can only be described as soul-destroying. You feel empty, both physically and mentally, and getting into your car with your baby’s car seat sat empty behind you is just the beginning of so many constant reminders of what you’ve lost. We felt so alone. And I needed answers.
Humans are hardwired to look for answers. It’s how we make sense of the world around us and is how we’ve achieved so much as a species; by always searching for understanding. It therefore seems obvious, that when your world is turned upside down by an event, there is an intense need to be given answers to why. To make sense of your heartbreak.
The moment we were told that Cora was going to die; I began searching for answers. The fact the consultants, doctors and midwives had no idea what had happened and were as shell shocked as we were, meant that I began questioning everything I’d done. Did I sleep on my back too much? Was that glass of fizz on my birthday one too many? I even asked the Neonatal Consultant if forgetting to take my multivitamins a few times could have caused her death. I don’t think she knew whether to laugh or cry at that question, but your brain goes into overdrive searching for a tangible reason to why your healthy baby died. When we weren’t given one, the finger pointed to the person I felt was responsible for that life; me. Self-blame is a very common feature of grief and for me, it intensified my need to have a reason why everything went so wrong – so that I could let go of some of the guilt.
Six weeks after Cora died, we found ourselves back at the maternity wing in the waiting room. We had spent six weeks with no answers to what had gone so wrong in labour and we were finally receiving the post mortem results. I was desperate for there to be reason and in a strange way, I hoped that Cora had had something wrong with her; not only to have a clear answer but also to have the knowledge that nothing anyone could have done would have changed the outcome. As we sat waiting in the entrance to be called, I was completely unprepared to see a new mum and dad with their newborn baby in its car seat leaving the hospital. It took the wind out of me and the tears began to fall before the meeting had even began – great start!
As we’d all expected, the post mortem results confirmed that Cora was perfect in every way; something that made her death harder to accept. What we weren’t expecting was to hear that the placenta had a number of issues which would have made Cora extremely vulnerable during labour. It gave us some answers as to why her heart rate dropped so suddenly and didn’t recover but also left us with many more questions. Our consultant had spoken to a placenta specialist and no one could understand how she’d grown so big and strong if the placenta wasn’t doing its job properly. They said they would have expected her growth to show warning signs early on in pregnancy. With her weighing 8lbs 8; there were no signs of any issues.
We have been referred to the Tommy’s Rainbow Clinic in Manchester (and put on a very long waiting list) as this is where the placenta specialist works and lots of research is done into women who have lost children due to placental issues. We were told that if we go on to get pregnant again, I’d be on medication to help in case the same issues occur with the placenta (since it’s not something you can test for). I’d be highly monitored throughout future pregnancies and would be advised to have a C-section at 38 weeks – a far cry from the calm home birth I’d wanted and so nearly got with Cora. But as long as we get to bring a baby home, I don’t care how they enter the world!
Five months after Cora died and a week before our first Christmas without her, we received the investigation results into the hospital (something done when a baby’s death is unexpected). It concluded that a number of guidelines hadn’t been followed; the main one being the monitoring of Cora’s heartrate throughout labour and particularly during the epidural before her heart stopped. The medical panel on the investigation team suggested that Cora was vulnerable due to the placenta issues and that if the hospital had monitored her heart rate properly, it could have shown that she was in distress sooner. Of course, we’ll never know for sure and that’s something we’re having to learn to live with. Whether we’ll be able to accept it, I don’t know, can you ever accept that your baby’s death could have been prevented?
I had a number of tests done to try and find out why my placenta had some issues – we were told they tend to be linked to mothers with diabetes or antiphospholipid syndrome – but all the tests came back normal. It sounds strange to be disappointed by ‘normal’ test results but it acted as another huge question mark over Cora’s death. No reasons for the issues with the placenta; no answers; just bad luck basically. Really bad luck.
Through seeking professional help and the continued support from family and friends; I’m learning to come to terms with the answers we’ve been given and those that we’ll spend a lifetime wondering about. And of course, learning to forgive myself and understand that while I’ll always feel responsible for Cora’s life; it doesn’t make me culpable for her death.
So, what happens now?
I guess when all is said and done, as much as you feel that everyone and everything should screech to a halt like your life did the moment your baby died; the world keeps spinning and life goes on. It’s certainly not what we had planned for our introduction into parenthood but I’m quickly learning that life doesn’t always go to plan. What you decide to make out of those lemons that life has thrown so rudely in your face is what really matters.
And one thing I know for sure about moving forward; I’m going to spend the rest of my life trying to make Cora proud.