‘I remember walking out of the hospital thinking, ‘I don’t know if I can survive this.’: Bereaved mom shares heartbreaking loss of baby boy at 40 weeks

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Disclaimer: This story contains details of child loss that may be upsetting for some. 

“My name is Hayley Storrs. I’m 33 years old and live in Leeds, UK with my partner Reece. On October 16, 2021, at 06:42 a.m. my beautiful son, Ollie James Watson, was born at Calderdale Royal Hospital after a 14-hour labor. Sadly, Ollie was stillborn at 40 weeks and 5 days term due to a catastrophic placenta abruption, which happened at home following a routine ‘Stretch and Sweep’ procedure that morning. This is where my old life ended and my new life began, where my story now begins…

couple stands on balcony overlooking city holding one another
Courtesy of Hayley Storrs

Before, when someone would ask me what my story was, I would define it by what I had done or what I had achieved. An NHS employee who obtained a journalism degree, with a passion for reading and vacations to Ibiza. A daughter, friend, partner, colleague… but all that changed when I became a mother. Now my son’s story is the only one I want to tell.

Positive Pregnancy Test

I found out I was pregnant with Ollie on January 31, 2021. The UK was still in lockdown following the coronavirus pandemic. I was living in an apartment with Reece, close to the city center, and this was our first month of trying for a baby. We had been together around 18 months and decided to move in together when the first UK lockdown hit. I was completely shocked when I saw the blue line turn to a positive. I was convinced it would take us a long time, as I had been taking a contraceptive pill for many years, but there he was. We were completely thrilled. Excited, nervous, happy, and hopeful for our baby.

husband and wife stand holding an ultrasound image of their baby
Courtesy of Hayley Storrs

We found out Ollie was a boy at a 16-week gender scan at a private clinic and celebrated with our close family with a gender reveal party. We moved closer to where my partner’s family lived and where we could raise Ollie in a house with more space. We announced our pregnancy following our 12-week scan and naively believed everything would work out just how it was supposed to. 

husband and wife at gender reveal party with confetti revealing they are having a boy
Courtesy of Hayley Storrs

Anxious Feeling

My pregnancy was smooth sailing until around 26 weeks when I noticed Ollie’s movements were changing pattern and he seemed sluggish. I was struggling to establish a regular pattern to his movement, and we attended maternity assessment several times for monitoring. Each time we were assured Ollie was ‘happy and healthy.’ His heart rate was monitored and was always in line with what was expected, but I still couldn’t shake that anxious feeling something was wrong. There was no indication to suggest this at all, except my motherly instinct Ollie wasn’t okay. I even insisted on a scan at week 37 to check that everything was okay with the cord and the placenta, but this was normal too. Ollie’s due date came and went with no sign of his arrival. I carried on as normal and spent most of my time walking or bouncing on my pregnancy ball to try and get him moving. We ate curries, raspberries, and did all the other old wife’s tales, but still he wasn’t budging. My community midwife suggested a ‘stretch and sweep,’ a very safe and common procedure which could be done at home.

At 11 a.m. on Friday October 15, 2021, my midwife arrived and carried out the procedure in our bedroom. I felt mild discomfort but nothing too painful. It was then she told me Ollie had turned and was now facing the other direction. She also told me my cervix was not as ‘open’ as she had expected, but this was nothing to be concerned about and it was normal. His heart rate was measured on the doppler and was normal, so I got dressed and she left. 

pregnant mom stands in front of sign with balloons for baby shower
Courtesy of Hayley Storrs

Something Wrong

At approximately 12:30 p.m. I went back upstairs to our bedroom to put makeup on. I planned to go for a walk to the local shop and wait for Reece to get home who was, sadly, at a funeral. I was sitting at my dressing table and remembered looking at myself in the mirror, dead in the eye and sighing. I was heavily pregnant, tired, and fed up. It was at that split second I felt a popping sensation. I stood up and walked to the bathroom feeling relief my water had gone, fully expecting to see clear fluid when I pulled down my leggings. But unfortunately, my underwear was filled with blood — a strange colored, pale red, thick liquid which did not stop coming…

I ran into the bedroom for my phone and called the labor ward immediately. They advised me to go to Maternity Assessment straight away, and if I was unable to get there myself, to call an ambulance. Luckily, my friend lived around the corner and was at my house within minutes. I made it to the hospital in around 20 minutes and by this time the bleeding had subsided a little. Reece was on his way from the funeral, which was unfortunately an hour away, so I waited in the assessment room alone. Due to covid restrictions, Hannah was unable to sit with me. I knew something was wrong, very wrong, and realized I hadn’t felt Ollie move for around 30 minutes.

husband wraps arm around his pregnant wife
Courtesy of Hayley Storrs

Despite heavy bleeding, I was kept waiting for over an hour and was ignored by midwives on the unit when I repeatedly told them something was wrong. Eventually Reece arrived and a receptionist on the unit took pity on me, forcing her way into the Maternity Assessment ward demanding I be seen immediately. However, I knew it was too late. I hadn’t felt Ollie move for around an hour now and knew he had gone. The midwife finally attached the straps and started the Doppler… nothing happened. She told me, ‘His shoulder is probably just in the way,’ and moved me into several different positions, but we still heard nothing. However, we had a small glimmer of hope when she told us, ‘I think I can hear something. I’m going to get the doctor just to be sure,’ and left. Reece was very optimistic about the outcome. As his mother, I knew this was wrong and that his heart had stopped. 

Heartbreaking Loss

The doctor attended and repeated the same exercise. He told us, ‘I’m sorry, I’m not detecting a heartbeat.’ What followed is a blur. I recall Reece shouting NO repeatedly, but I stayed silent. The world seemed to stop, and I felt like I was watching myself on a TV screen, that this could not be happening to us. I remember looking at the midwife’s face who was as shocked as we were. He was 5 days overdue. Ten months later, I am still shocked by my emotional response. If someone would have told me I was going to react this way, I wouldn’t have believed them. I felt nothing. I felt completely numb and shut off from the entire room. The doctor asked me if I understood what they had told me. I said yes, and from that minute my life was over. 

ultrasound images of fetus in the womb
Courtesy of Hayley Storrs

I was moved to the bereavement suite. I called my parents and told them he had passed and messaged my friends to tell them the same. I asked my close group of friends to please contact everyone to inform them of the news. I was still getting messages from people who were completely unaware of what had happened, asking if he had arrived. To this day, I feel immense guilt at how I broke the news to my friends who I consider to be family, and the burden I imposed on them to relay that terrible news.

I had a long labor; I was given a morphine injection to help with the contractions and then given an epidural and anti-sickness injection to stop the vomiting. I was attached to a glucose drip and oxytocin to induce my labor. Due to Ollie’s position and the epidural, after pushing for around two hours, not much was happening. The registrar attended and the decision was made to use forceps and do an episiotomy. After two hours, at 6:42 a.m., Ollie James was born. He was taken next door where he was cared for by the midwives and washed and dressed. I hemorrhaged post labor and went into shock. Luckily, I was established quickly.

We took some comfort from the fact Ollie’s death would have been instant, and Ollie would not have known much about what was happening. I also took comfort from the fact he died with me, listening to my heartbeat, so he knew his mummy was with him. Ollie weighed 7 pounds 10 ounces and had beautiful light brown hair. I couldn’t understand why I had survived and he hadn’t. Had the option been available to me, I would have happily died in his place. It seemed unfair I was spared. 

loss mom writes out baby's name in sand for remembrance
Courtesy of Hayley Storrs

Surviving Grief

I was discharged a day later, thankfully, with no follow-up. I had lost a lot of blood, but my iron count returned to normal quickly. Leaving the hospital without a baby was honestly the most harrowing and painful experience I have ever encountered. I remember walking out of that hospital and thinking to myself, ‘I don’t know if I can survive this.’ 

The hours and days that followed were the darkest of my life. I am not ashamed to admit I contemplated numerous times taking my own life to be with Ollie. But somehow, I made it through by taking things hour by hour. For a long time, I was unable to be left alone and friends and family took turns to sit with me, drinking cups of tea while I stared into space. I was flooded with hormones and there were times where I physically could not stop crying. I stayed up most nights until 3 a.m. watching mindless television because I developed a fear of the dark. I was prescribed Diazepam to control severe anxiety and panic attacks that developed in the days after his death. 

wife places her hand on top of husband's as rainbow light is reflected on them
Courtesy of Hayley Storrs

A postmortem we consented to, told us Ollie had died due to a large placenta abruption in which his oxygen supply was cut off. There was no way he could have been saved. I made several complaints to the hospital where he was born and met with the senior executives twice to discuss changes made as a result of his death. Despite how traumatic this was for us returning to this place, I couldn’t bear another family enduring a wait like we had; it could have made a difference to that baby’s life. Still to this day, I cannot forgive the midwife who kept us waiting. We held a small, private funeral for Ollie which, to this day, I cannot talk about or relive. 

stillborn baby's handprints on paper in ink
Courtesy of Hayley Storrs

Finding Purpose

After around 3 months the fog of grief started to clear, and I knew I could not continue in the way I had been. My personality is very much an ‘action taker.’ I like doing things and sitting on my sofa day after day wasn’t helping me recover. I started seeing a therapist once per week, joined a local support group run by SANDS charity, and signed up for a 13 mile walk in London to raise money for them. We moved, as I could no longer stand to sleep in the same room where he had taken his last breath, and I felt increasingly isolated from my family and friends. 

I remember wandering around the house trying to find something to do, to occupy my mind while keeping Ollie’s memory alive, which is when we created ‘OJ the Octopus.’ OJ is named after Ollie. I had a lot of sea creature themed items for Ollie and loved how cute little smiling octopuses are. They are small, handmade, felt octopuses which we send to bereaved parents to provide comfort to them following the loss of their child. OJ gradually grew in popularity over my Instagram page and to date we have sent over 120 OJ’s worldwide.

care package containing toy octopus to honor stillborn baby
Courtesy of Hayley Storrs
plush octopi made to honor stillborn baby
Courtesy of Hayley Storrs

I also started a blog where I began to write about our experience and connected with other loss moms worldwide. I’m also halfway through writing a book about our experience and Ollie’s life, which I hope to complete soon. Lastly, I plan to start a podcast with another loss mom this summer, in the hope of breaking the stigma surrounding baby loss and encouraging families to share their experiences and their babies’ stories.

illustration of colorful octopus to honor stillborn baby
Courtesy of Hayley Storrs

I have made a promise to Ollie I will live my life in a way that honors his, and that he will never ever be forgotten. I want Ollie to be associated with love and light, not darkness and my demise. He will be a beacon of hope to other families that life can, and does, go on. That there is always hope in the darkest of hours, the sun will rise again. 

Pregnancy After Loss

In May 2022, Reece and I found out we were expecting another baby, which we later discovered is a little girl. I never thought I would be ‘ready’ to try for another baby, but I actually found there is never a ‘good’ time because when would I ever be ready to potentially put myself and my body through this trauma again?

woman holds up positive pregnancy test
Courtesy of Hayley Storrs

Pregnancy after loss is the hardest thing I have ever been through, aside from losing Ollie. My faith has been tested more times than I can count, and every day is filled with anxiety, terror, confusion, guilt, sadness, happiness… an entire mixture of emotions. I can’t yet feel movement, so I find myself in a constant state of, ‘Is she okay? Has she died too?’ But I’m trying for the both of us, to take each day as it comes and stay positive for a better outcome in this pregnancy.

pregnant woman stands in front of mirror holding her belly
Courtesy of Hayley Storrs

We are praying we bring Ollie’s sibling home with us in December 2022. I can’t be sure whether that will happen or not, because no one can predict the future. All I can do is hope, and hope is a beautiful thing. 

If there is one thing I would like someone reading this to take away from Ollie’s story, it is that there is always hope. Even on the worst days of your life, there is always hope. To hold on even when you think you can’t live for another second feeling how you feel, believe you can and believe there is light in all darkness. You can survive and you will survive. You are not alone.”

husband and wife stand together, wife is pregnant
Courtesy of Hayley Storrs
pregnant woman holds her belly while smiling
Courtesy of Hayley Storrs

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Hayley Storrs, Ollie Watson’s Mum, of Leeds, United Kingdom. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her blog. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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