I try very hard not to have any regrets in life; every mistake I made was a lesson learned, every heartache made me that little bit stronger, every wrong path I took led me to where I am now, but I’d be lying if I said that I had no regrets in life, because I do. And my biggest regret turned out to be the most catastrophic of mistakes, something that I will regret until the day I die, the fact that had I known then what I know now, I may have saved my baby.
It’s very easy for others to tell me that there was nothing I could have done to prevent Joseph’s death, and for health professionals to cover their backs and insist that it couldn’t have been prevented. At times I even allow myself to believe that, to reassure myself that nothing I could have done would have changed it, and yet the sad truth is, it could. And ten years on I am still living with the harsh reality that our lives could have turned out so differently, that I should be sat here with five children in my arms, a ten year old Joseph and a decade of happiness, but I don’t.
At twenty three years old, as a first time parent, I was far more concerned with movements, kicks, and the possibility that something could go wrong. Having lost our first baby at thirteen weeks I was extremely anxious during my subsequent pregnancy, despite the fact that I had no real cause for concern. I can think of at least two occasions where I was so worried when he had not moved that day that my ex husband and I had rushed up to the maternity unit at our local hospital for monitoring. I can still remember how we had waited impatiently as the midwife strapped the monitor around my belly, holding our breath before that huge sigh of relief on hearing the beautiful whoosh of his heartbeat, laughing about the fact our little boy was giving us the run around long before he had even made it into our arms.
When Lewis arrived perfectly safe and well, the most beautiful of babies and the easiest of toddlers, we were eager to complete our family with a second child, and fortunately enough I was pregnant the following year. And in all honesty, I worried far less during that pregnancy than I had with my first. With an eighteen month old to run around after, the weeks flew by, and at our twelve week scan we were told that the baby was growing well. The sonographer pointed out that I had an anterior placenta, where the placenta is positioned at the front as opposed to the back, and I was told that although I may not feel his movements in the same way that I had with Lewis, this was perfectly normal.
At my twenty week scan, still feeling very little movement, we were relieved to hear that he was still growing perfectly healthy and that we would be welcoming a little brother for Lewis. And right there and then we felt like the luckiest people in all the world.
As the weeks passed, those initial flutters fast turned into kicks. Unlike Lewis, whose kicks had winded me, I felt the majority of Joseph’s kicks at the sides, lying crossways, his feet kicking at my ribs, going crazy every time I had a bath or lay down to sleep. And at twenty eight weeks, when I was found to be measuring small, I was referred for growth scans every two weeks, something which still did not phase me as I had measured small throughout my pregnancy with Lewis.
When the growth scans began to show cause for concern, I began to have twice weekly monitoring, every Monday and Thursday down at the maternity hospital, strapped to the CTG machine to monitor Joseph’s heart rate, the frequency of his movements and to reassure us all that he was doing just fine. I began to develop a feeling that I just couldn’t shift, perhaps only natural given all of the extra tests and scans I was having, or perhaps a mothers instinct, either way I had a feeling that something was terribly wrong. And yet I allowed myself to be reassured by the midwives, by the scans and the monitoring, by the fact that my little boy was kicking away in my tummy and I was in the safest of hands.
By mid July, during one of the hottest Summers on record, I was starting to feel very anxious. Whilst Joseph’s movements were still regular, they seemed different somehow, less powerful, less frequent, and, although I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, I still had a gut feeling that something awful was about to happen. At one of my appointments I had voiced my concerns to the midwife, telling her that the movements had changed, that I was starting to worry, that things felt very differently to when I was expecting Lewis. “It’s perfectly normal!”, she had told me, “Babies movements do slow down towards the end, they have less space to move and are conserving all of their energy for the labour.” And reassured, I had gone home reiterating her words to my husband, confident that we were in safe hands, happy in the knowledge that in no time at all he would be here and all of the worry would have been worth it.
On Monday the 17th of July, by a cruel twist of fate, one that I will forever think about with regret, my appointment for monitoring was cancelled and I was told that I would be seen the following day in clinic. Whilst on the phone I had mentioned again that Joseph’s movements had slowed down and that I was feeling increasingly worried. And for a second time, I was told not to worry, that it was completely normal, that as long as I felt ten movements within the space of a day everything was just fine, to bear in mind that I had an anterior placenta, that this was normal, and stress wasn’t good for the baby.
What happened next is engraved in my memory forever. I can remember the exact spot that I was stood, on the decking at our old house, the wood burning the soles of my feet, one hand on the conservatory door, the cool metal handle a welcome relief from the heat. I can remember exactly what I was wearing that day, a plain white vest and a navy pattered skirt, the feel of the sun on my face, and how, completely out of nowhere, I had felt the most bizarre series of movements, a frantic, frenzied struggle, arms and legs jabbing at every angle, my stomach visibly moving beneath my vest, taking my breath away with the surprise.
And then nothing.
I have asked myself a thousand times, why did I not ring the midwife back at that point? Why did I not realise what had just happened? How as a mother did I miss something so momentous, and carry on with my day as though nothing at all was wrong? And the truth is, I believed that it was normal. I believed the midwives when they told me that the movements would slow down towards my due date. I believed friends who told me that the same thing happened in their final trimesters. I believed what I had read on Google, during those late nights when I couldn’t sleep and I browsed baby websites. I believed that as a Mother, I would just know.
And the following day when I went in for monitoring, when the midwife struggled to locate Josephs heart beat and told me that perhaps he had simply moved, I believed her. When they lay me on the bed and went out to find my husband in the waiting room, telling me that everything would be fine, I believed that too. When not one of the three midwives, nor a doctor, could locate his heartbeat, when I sat waiting for a scan and my husband promised me that it would all be okay, that our baby was just giving us the run around in the same way that Lewis had once done, I wanted so badly to believe him. And when the sonographer lowered his gaze, told us that he was very sorry but our baby had died, when I caught a glimpse of the baby on the screen, our baby, our Joseph, I refused to believe it at all.
Thirty hours later, after a long, gruelling induction, holding my son in my arms, the most beautiful of babies, his eyes tightly shut, so still, so silent but for the sound of our cries, I asked myself the question that has plagued our lives every day for the last decade. Why?
Ten years on and the advice given to pregnant ladies is altogether different, and yet there are still so many misconceptions about movement during the final trimester. And although I can continue to honour Joseph’s memory and raise awareness of baby loss, I will always live with the guilt, the regret, and the inevitable thoughts of, if only.
If only I had known that a babies movements do not slow down in the third trimester. If only I had known that an anterior placenta merely cushions the movements, but does not reduce them. If only I had known that any change in movement, whether that be a reduction, any erratic movements or something that just doesn’t feel quite right, it is always worth checking with your midwife. If only I had known that two out of three mums who have had a stillbirth said that they noticed their baby’s movements slow down beforehand. If only I had know that ten babies are stillborn every day in the UK.
If only I had known that it could happen to me.
For more information about pregnancy, your babies movements, stillbirth support or ways in which you can support Kicks Count, please visit www.kickscount.org.uk