After losing Joseph, it was inevitable that any future pregnancies would be hard. Six years later, with fifteen miscarriages behind us, I was over the moon to finally be pregnant with Eva yet, as my pregnancy progressed, my biggest concern was that history would repeat itself and she would be stillborn. My fears at that time were very real, so much so that they consumed my every thought, just waiting for the worst to happen, wondering if I would realise if she was in distress, whether there would be time to seek help, whether I would even know should the worst happen.
And so when a friend suggested that I use a home doppler, it seemed like the answer to my worries. I could use the doppler as and when I needed reassurance, as many times a day as was necessary, all day, every day if that was the case, whatever it took to get me through the next nine months. I told myself that with the use of a doppler I wouldn’t have to be that woman, the neurotic Mother who phones the midwife every two minutes with concerns about their babies movements, who visits the doctor twice a week worried that something is wrong, who spends nine months up and down to the maternity unit convinced that their baby won’t make it home.
It was surprisingly easy to buy a doppler, there were countless sites offering me one to rent for as little as £9 a month or to buy for just £30. I decided to buy one and when it arrived the next day, at just 13 weeks pregnant, I scanned the instructions and spent the next hour trying to find the heartbeat. After hysterical tears and so much un-necessary upset, when I eventually found it I felt a rush of relief that my baby was safe and well, although, with hindsight, at that gestation, I was most likely hearing the sound of my own.
I look back on those days when she didn’t move until lunch time, when I had slipped getting out of the bath, when I laid awake night after night worrying that her movements had slowed, the days I’d had some some cramping, when I’d felt that overwhelming fear that something wasn’t quite right, and how lying there listening to her heartbeat had reassured me that she was perfectly safe and well. Using the doppler had meant that I had been able to get through the day without calling the midwife or visiting my GP, and “waste their time” with every little niggle.
Luckily our story had a happy outcome and Eva arrived safely into the world, and as I packed away the doppler I was grateful to it for getting me through the last eight months of worry. I remember passing it on to a friend, telling her, “I would have gone insane if it wasn’t for the doppler!”, attributing the fact that she had been born healthy down to the doppler for allowing me to monitor her heartbeat throughout.
For somebody as neurotic as I, with a lengthy history of baby loss, it now seems ludicrous that I allowed a £30 doppler to reassure me that my baby was healthy. I look back on that time and feel absolutely horrified that something I believed to be the right thing for my baby could potentially have been so harmful, and that I trusted a battery operated machine to reaffirm the well being of my child. And although I count myself very lucky that she is here safe and well, the truth is, for many women, that isn’t the case.
Back then I had no idea that home dopplers pose so many risks, nor that they are adding to the UK’s stillbirth rate. I didn’t realise that rather than being a way to reassure women their babies are healthy, they are simply causing women to overlook the fact that their baby is in distress.
If there is one thing I have learnt over the last few years, it’s that regardless of whether you’re phoning the midwife every single day, whether you’re a frequent visitor to the day unit or on first name terms with your GP, if you have concerns about the well being of your baby, be that woman. As a bereaved parent, having given birth and said goodbye to my son in twenty four short hours, believe me when I tell you that there is nothing I wouldn’t give to go back and be that woman.
Kicks Count have launched a campaign to banish the use of home dopplers and a petition to run alongside this calling for a ban on the sale of these devices on the consumer market
What are the risks of using home dopplers?
Kicks Count explain, “…the most significant risk of using a home doppler is that mums may be falsely reassured when they hear a heartbeat, when actually their baby could be in distress. This could lead to life threatening delays in seeking medical assistance. The best indicator of fetal wellbeing is always baby’s movements and this is what we should be focusing on – not these cheap imitations of medical equipment.”
Kicks Count go on to explain that the “heartbeat” you hear with one of these dopplers, may not even be the babies heart beat at all, “….home dopplers are not microphones. They are not amplifying the sound of your baby’s heartbeat. They are sending ultrasound waves into your body that reflect off moving blood vessels and simulate a sound. The placenta also pulses at the same rate as the heart and the mother’s main artery runs across the abdomen and that can also be picked up on a doppler. There are so many vessels that can simulate the same sound as a fetal heart.”
Given the fact that midwives train for three years to differentiate between these sounds, using equipment costing upwards of £400, a £30 device off Amazon and a quick You Tube tutorial will not give you the same care and experience as that of a midwife.
The fact of the matter is, if a baby’s movements change, it can be a sign that they are unwell. Just because they have a heartbeat does not mean anything, we all have a heartbeat right up until the moment we pass away. All a heartbeat tells you is that the baby is currently alive, which is the only time something can be done to help a baby in distress. If you wait until you can’t find a heartbeat it’s too late, and it is so important that mums do not use the presence of a heartbeat as a sign their baby is well.
There are 6,500 stillbirths or neonatal deaths in the UK every year – that is 15 every single day – and the Government has set a target to reduce that figure by half by 2030. We should be taking every opportunity to save as many of these lives as we can. The banning of home dopplers will be a vital and effective step in reaching that target. I urge those of you who are using dopplers to stop, those who intend to use them in future pregnancies to reconsider, and all of you reading to sign this petition and support Kicks Count in their quest to, save lives.
Please sign here.