‘I lost a baby, too,’ Why is she saying that? I’m not losing my baby, am I? Surely they can save her!’: Woman experiences her baby being born still, ‘I have learned grief is not linear’

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“Growing up, I always knew I wanted children. It was always something I pictured in my mind, having a big family and a loving home. I never in a million years thought achieving this would be anything but easy.

In March of 2018, I discovered I was pregnant.  It came as a huge shock, but one I welcomed with open arms. I was terrified, all the usual worries of a mother-to-be, ‘Would I be good enough?’,’ What about finances?’ etc, but the main feeling which consumed me was love. I was finally going to have the child I had always dreamt of and nothing had ever felt so right.

Courtesy of Joanne James

At first, I wasn’t convinced it was happening, the thought of me actually having a baby. After fearing an ectopic pregnancy, I went for an early scan at 5-6 weeks and was reassured all was okay. This is when it really sunk in. I always knew many women lost babies in the first trimester (the first 12 weeks), so those first few months were slightly daunting, but I never feared losing the baby, I was just preparing for his or her arrival. When the 12-week scan came, it all became real, our little baby on the screen, the tiny heartbeat. This was really happening! The happiness and warmth which flooded me in that moment will be something I will never forget.

In my naivety, I believed once you were past the first 12 weeks, it was smooth sailing and in 6 months’ time, I would have a baby in my arms. Turns out I was very wrong. My partner and I went to our 20-week scan and found out the baby was healthy and growing as it should. We were having a little girl! I was absolutely over the moon, having had an incredible relationship with my mum and my nan, I was so excited to soon have this with my daughter, to have 4 generations of girls together.

A week later, I began to experience some issues down below, something I had never experienced previously. I will spare you all of the gore, but it turns out it was a cyst. After seeing many health professionals, I was placed on antibiotics. I wasn’t too worried as the health professionals who dealt with me knew what they were doing and were happy for me to go home with no further action. However, a few days later, it all went wrong.

I woke up early one morning due to mild stomach cramps, something I hadn’t experienced during my pregnancy so far. I mentioned it to my mum and we agreed it was probably just constipation, so I carried on with my day as normal. I went to the dentist and food shopping, when the pain suddenly became much more noticeable. On the way home, I explained to my mum I was now in quite a lot of pain, in the lower right-hand side of my tummy. We went home and had two friends come over when things took a drastic turn. I began to bleed very, very lightly. I phoned my local hospital and spoke to a midwife who advised me to get straight to the early pregnancy ward.

Courtesy of Joanne James

I was in a lot of pain at this moment in time and it was coming and going. It was then, on the way to the hospital, my mum recalls she just knew I was experiencing contractions. However, I was still blissfully unaware and was expecting to be sent home and told not to be a drama queen. When we got to the hospital, my mum dropped me right outside the doors as I was barely able to walk. She went and parked the car. I managed to find my way to the early pregnancy ward through the help of a kind nurse. When we were in the lift, I remember the nurse turning to me and saying, ‘I lost a baby, too,’ and proceeded to show me a tattoo of her child’s name on her arm. In that moment I remember thinking, ‘Why is she saying that? I’m not losing my baby, am I?’

After that it was all very much a blur, a memory which is too painful to think about. All I remember was being told by the midwives, ‘We think you have appendicitis.’ The next thing I knew I was leaning over the bed explaining I need to push. By this point, my partner had managed to be with me, as well as my mum. I remember everyone rushing around me speaking words I did not understand. I was in so much pain I could barely talk and my questions were barely heard, let alone answered. Eventually, I gathered the energy to ask one of the midwives if I was losing the baby. I remember her kind face, full of sadness as she told me, ‘I’m really sorry, but yes, you are.’

In that moment, I knew my life would never ever be the same again. No matter what I did, the pain of this would never go away. I tried to fight, explaining surely there was something they could do to save my baby girl. I soon found out there was no way of this happening as I was 21 weeks and 5 days pregnant and at the time, you had to be over 24 weeks for babies to be helped or resuscitated. It was at this point I closed my eyes and tried to breathe through the pain and allow what was happening to happen.

It all became a blur. The physical pain was excruciating, the emotional pain was like something I have never experienced. I listened to my mum and partners concerns about me and the baby. As I pushed, I was absolutely exhausted, wanting this all to be over, and within the hour I had delivered the most beautiful, sleeping baby girl. The 7th of August of 2018 was the day we said hello and goodbye to our baby. I remember the midwife placing my daughter on me, I hadn’t opened my eyes and was terrified as I had never seen a dead body before. She quickly took her off and I remember just crying. All I wanted to do was swap places with my baby. I didn’t understand how this could have happened and how I was ever going to overcome something like this.

After delivery, I was taken to a room in the hospital which was specifically for bereaved parents. The room was provided by a charity and looking back, it was the most beautiful place which helped me so much. It was in that room my partner’s parents turned up and the 5 of us spent time with our little girl. We named her, ‘Ella May Elphick.’ She was everything, so tiny, but so beautiful. She was the spitting image of her daddy, along with sporting his big feet and having  my matching chin dimples. We were allowed as much time as we wanted with her and we were given a camera and our own memory card to take pictures we would be able to keep, but no amount of time was ever enough because it would come to an end. All I remember is being in shock, thinking how it shouldn’t be this way.

Courtesy of Joanne James

After spending time with Ella and calling family members, I remember bleeding a lot, causing more shock to my system. The midwives came in and helped sort things out and explained what was next. While they were explaining, they handed us a box. A cardboard box, provided by an amazing charity, filled with many things, including: a teddy bear which Ella had held, a heart keyring with the center heart to be placed in Ella’s hands, and prints of her hands and feet. The midwives even printed off some pictures of all of us to keep. To this day, I cannot put into words what this box means to me.

We were offered to be able stay in the room for the night, but I remember thinking ‘I just want to be at home and pretend this isn’t real.’ So that’s what we did, we went home, cried and slept. I remember lying in bed, looking over at my partner sleeping and just feeling so much pain- he looked just like our Ella, what if I never got to watch him sleep again without my heart breaking? The next day was a blur, but we went back to the hospital, in the same room as the night before and spoke more to the midwives about the next steps. Those midwives were angels. They felt every emotion with me. We hugged, we cried, we talked and they made me realize again there is kindness in this cruel world.

After speaking with the midwives and being undecided on what to do, my partner and I came to the agreement we would still go on the ‘babymoon’ we had booked before all this happened, which was booked for 2 days later. It was 2 weeks away in Gran Canaria. I couldn’t think of anything worse and felt riddled with guilt for going. But at the same time, I needed to get away, away from reality and away from my house and my mum, who I couldn’t look at without either of us crying. So, we decided to go and while there we cried, we grieved, we rested, and looking back it was the best decision we could have made. It certainly helped us a little, having time just the two of us after something so traumatic.

During our time away, I lost a lot of blood one evening, so I phoned the hospital and explained what was happening. I was told to rest and if it happened again, seek medical attention. At this point I wasn’t bothered, the worst thing in the world had happened to me and not a lot else could touch me. I was completely numb.

During our time away I was adamant Ella was going to make an impact, not just on us, her family, but on the world. So I decided to set up a government petition, one which would allow all babies birthed to receive a birth and death certificate. At the time, only babies born breathing, or babies born after 24 weeks were eligible and it didn’t seem fair to me and my partner there was no proof or record our little girl ever existed, only in our memory and stories. We fought and fought and fought, sharing the petition far and wide through newspapers, radio stations and magazines. Sadly, we didn’t receive the number of signatures we needed for it to be taken into parliament.  At the time, I was gutted how we had gone through all of this, shared our story and yet we didn’t achieve what we had set out to do. However, looking back, I think we helped many people who had lost babies previously, and I am proud of it. I think I also hoped at the time if I put my all in, maybe it would bring her back, but I now realize it was just grief talking.

Six blurry weeks passed and I was beginning to come to terms with what had happened when I lost yet more blood. Two trips to A&E later and I realized I had placenta left inside of me, which could have killed me. It was yet another distressing time, but I was very lucky to have not become seriously ill, or dead. It was at this point, I wondered when this ordeal would all be over, without any more things being thrown at me.

A year and a half later and I still think of my baby every day. Some days are painful, some days I am hopeful. I have gone through every emotion possible and still do. I have learned grief, especially of this kind, is not linear. I still celebrate my baby on her birthday, due date, baby loss awareness month and every given chance I talk about her. Along with her box, I have many items in remembrance, including matching ‘E’ tattoos with my partner. I couldn’t have gotten through it without my partner, family and friends, they have been my guiding light through a time I really didn’t think I was going to get through. I am also so grateful for the NHS who provided me with such excellent care throughout this ordeal, I will be eternally grateful. I have since gone through another early pregnancy loss and am still wishing for the day I get a healthy, living child in my arms. Going through all of this has made me so aware of the different kinds of motherhood and how so many people are affected by infertility, pregnancy loss, still birth, etc. To everyone fighting these battles; you are warriors, and if this reality is fresh for you, it will get easier, I promise.”

Courtesy of Joanne James

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Joanne James. You can follow her  journey on Instagram and donate to her GoFundMe. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more touching stories of babies being born still here:

‘Can I see my boy for one more goodbye?’ A nurse gave him his first and only haircut. He was truly perfect.’: Couple loses son to stillbirth, anxious about new pregnancy, ‘My first is in heaven, I’ll meet him there someday’

‘As soon as she checked with the doppler she knew. And deep down I knew. I just prayed I was wrong. All I could get out is ‘why isn’t it flickering?’ They just said ‘we are trying to figure that out.’ Woman shares life after stillbirth

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