“Experiencing Baby loss has given me a new empathy as a GP” – Baby loss awareness week 2022

baby loss awareness week 2022

Baby Loss Awareness week 2022
Real Life story: Vickie

For Baby loss awareness week, we speak to mum & GP Vickie, who lost her son nearly 10 years ago.

I was asked to write a small piece on my experience with baby loss, and after nearly 10 years I finally felt in a position to write this. But while writing this I realised that I can see why there are many people who struggle to really listen when mums and dads need to talk, because it’s a horrible subject. So my trigger warning is to think hard before you read this, I never could read other people’s stories as it brings too much back for me, but if this helps you in any way to realise you’re not alone then take what you can from it.

One out of every 4 to 5 pregnancies ends in loss, mostly in the first few weeks before we ever realise it, but sometimes later and at or after birth, it’s so common but we don’t talk about it and as such it has become taboo.

When I first lost my baby I realised I really did need to talk about it, but I found that there actually aren’t that many people who truly wanted to listen or you feel unable to talk to for fear of upsetting them. I don’t blame them in any way as it is sad and triggers lots of uncomfortable emotions, they may have been touched by it themselves or because it’s taboo no one knows the right things to say or do so keep their distance so they don’t say the wrong thing. I have cherished the people who have broken this mould and listened, with me probably giving TMI, but I now see those who struggled to talk or listen, it’s not their fault.

It’s nearly 10 years since I lost my little boy.

We held off pregnancy to do the usual stuff; get married, buy a house, and when we did decide to try we were super lucky and I was pregnant 2 months later – ironically I was working as a Doctor on a maternity unit at the time.

Within the first 5 weeks of pregnancy I had bleeding and scans which, though stressful at the time, showed that everything was fine. I developed horrendous sickness for which I was admitted twice for fluids. However at 22 weeks I started to feel great, even managed to go to lunch with a friend. 

Then at 23 weeks I woke up with some spotting again, but felt fine, the baby was moving so I went to the local maternity unit for a check up.

I remember chatting away with a lovely doctor who did the usual exam with a speculum then he stood up and his face was deathly pale, the midwife with him looked twice and quickly ran off. The consultant was in within 2 minutes where she told me I was 4 cm dilated and I was rushed to the labour ward’s “ bereavement room”.

I was beyond shocked and could barely speak, I managed to calmy call my husband, telling a little porky pie so he didn’t rush or panic. 

When he arrived I remember just saying sorry over and over again, while they were preparing me to deliver. I was so guilt wracked that this was my fault somehow. I was still in utter shock and it really hadn’t sunk in.

Later that afternoon while sitting in the bed I had a sudden let down of milk, I was soaked. I just couldn’t understand it and that was the moment I first lost it and broke down, an amazing health care assistant just held me. Then on her break she went to the shop and bought me a packet of skips and a drink, it was a small act of kindness but meant the world.

Then nothing happened for 5 long and torturous days. My baby was still alive and perfectly healthy in my womb, I was well, but I was in bed with my cervix open, imminent to deliver at any minute. I was offered watching and waiting, to let nature take its course, to termination, but I baffled staff by the fact I did not progress.

Those 5 days were the most soul destroying of my life, hard not to feel hopeful, but unable to grieve and fully prepare myself. It was hard, as a Dr myself, knowing more than the average patient about risks, statistics and outcomes, but when it’s you in that situation it all goes out the window. Every day was another day hanging on, hopeful to get further along, versus the fear of whether I could cope with an extremely premature baby who could face many significant challenges.

As I got closer to viability I was offered surgery to try and place a stitch, it was very high risk and unlikely to work, but at that point there wasn’t any alternative to try and save the pregnancy. It ultimately didn’t work and in the process my waters broke. But still nothing happened.

It was on day 7 when I had amazingly reached 23 weeks and 5 days, they decided to transfer me to a specialist Centre as my baby may be viable. They said if he was delivered, he had a chance of life – I finally allowed myself to have a slither of hope.

The ambulance arrived and the doctor came for the final exam and check before they could put me in the ambulance. Unfortunately they found that I was now 10 cm dilated and the umbilical cord was hanging down; my hopes of being transferred and hanging on to viability felt snatched away. I delivered a few minutes later. 

James was born and taken by the doctors, but it was clear he was too small to survive. Me and my husband held him, and sang to him, and he stayed with us for the next hour.

Once home it was surreal. I did not know what to do. I couldn’t focus on anything, I couldn’t sleep, but I was too tired to function. I remember hearing babies crying in the wardrobes and not wanting to be left alone.

In hindsight we often forget about the partners and other family members, everyone scrambles around the mum. I find often it’s the dads who get ignored and struggle not knowing what to do.

During the weeks after I struggled with postnatal depression and good old fashioned bereavement. I went to see my GP and was heartbroken that 6 weeks after his death her advice was to take long walks. After having the most amazing care from the maternity team I felt horribly let down, even worse it was by my own profession!

I’ve struggled with depression and the after effects for nearly 9 years and both me and my partner just struggled through. We should have got help, counselling, but didn’t and subsequently our marriage broke down as these things change people.

I don’t want to end this on doom and gloom. I’m not a fan of the word rainbow baby, but I went on to have an amazing little girl, though I may be a single parent now, we are doing great. I’m starting to get back to who I used to be and enjoying life.

It will never leave me but, you can move on, and it can get easier. I am grateful to live in a world where termination was an option for me and I had family and friends to support me.

I have a new kind of empathy when dealing with my patients, friends and family who have been through this. I will often cry after a patient leaves my room or I speak to them on the phone if it triggers me, but I am ok with that, I wouldn’t not want to see these patients, doctors are only human.

It’s ok not to know what to say or do when someone has lost a baby, it’s ok to be self-protective and say I’m sorry I am struggling with this situation myself I need some space, it’s also ok not to say a thing and just listen. 

Vickie x

If you need any support about anything discussed in this story, you can contact us via email or our Facebook page. If you’ve been affected by Baby Loss, contact the SANDS charity helpline.