Coping with the loss of a baby. A mum shares her experience of stillbirth
Mel Scott's baby boy, Finley, died during birth at 41 weeks gestation and after a 'perfect' pregnancy in 2009. Mel, now 33, and mum to daughter Toni, two, is campaigning to raise awareness and funds for parents who lose a baby through stillbirth or miscarriage. She tells us her story.
I'd had a lovely pregnancy and there was no indication anything was going to go wrong. I was gearing up for a water birth and didn't want a hospital delivery at all.
I ended up going over my due date and was booked in for an induction, but then my waters burst at 41 weeks plus 5, and I went off to the hospital to get checked over. When I got there they found meconium in the water and put me on a heart monitor.
Everything seemed fine at first but gradually changed through the night, and my baby's heart-rate dropped and didn't come back up. As I result, I ended up having an emergency caesarean.
When I came round from the anaesthetic I was told my baby boy had died in the middle of the operation and they couldn't resuscitate him.
Before that, because I hadn't been in labour, they'd sent my husband Baz home. They'd had me call him late in the afternoon, but there was no indication that he needed to come quickly, so both he and my parents only arrived after the caesarean.
The midwives helped Baz bath and dress our son and my mum videoed it so I have memories from the early stages.
I was confused because of the morphine and general anaesthetic and every time I woke, somebody had to tell me again what had happened.
It was just so awful to contemplate, that each time I just didn't believe it.
When my mum brought my son to me and asked me if I wanted to hold him my first reaction was 'no', but she put him in my arms anyway. I didn't want to hold him, I didn't want to spend any time with him.
But when everyone went home and he was in his cot at the end of my bed I gently touched him and the blanket he was in, and gradually starting to accept that I'd had a baby.
By the end of the first night I didn't want to put him down. I was caring for my baby and my mothering instinct really took over.
The day after his birth, the chaplain came and gave him his name - Finley John. We recorded the ceremony and took lots of photographs which really helped to make it all real.
The midwives told our visitors to talk about Finley in the present tense and call him by his name, and that was really helpful. It felt like he was a real person and he was part of our family, and it made the whole experience a bit more easy to accept.
All of our family came and saw us, but one of the hardest things for me was that my room was full of sad cards and flowers and Finley hadn't had any presents at all. I remember sending Baz home to get him a teddy bear because it just hit me that every baby should have a teddy and nobody had bought him one.
The staff allowed us to stay in hospital as long as we needed to and Finley stayed with us the whole time; it didn't occur to me that he would have to go anywhere else. The day we had to leave the midwives came and asked me what I wanted my last memory to be. I remember breaking down and saying 'I just want to change his nappy'. Because all of that had been done on the first day and nobody had told us that we could do it again if we wanted to. They helped me bath him and change him, and then I read him a bedtime story.
That goodbye was a really important step because suddenly in talking about it with the midwife I realised he was dead and I was going to have to leave him in the hospital. It was the hardest thing that I've had to go through, but also really important because it was the first part of accepting what had happened.
But having to face up to the fact that you're not going to take your baby home is so hard. There were all sorts of traumatic conversations to have like whether we wanted a post mortem or not. I didn't want to think about that happening to Finley, but at the same time I needed to know why it had happened.
They never found anything, just that he'd had low oxygen for a number of hours. There was no infection, nothing wrong with the placenta, nothing wrong with me, nothing wrong with him.
We had a funeral for Finley two weeks after I'd left him at the hospital. I couldn't bear not to see him again but was really frightened about what he would look like. The funeral directors suggested that they took a photograph of him and then we could decide whether we wanted to see him. We did go and see him, and I decided I wanted to bring him home for the night. He spent the night in his coffin inside his cot in his bedroom. Again, a really important process. Another step to letting go – not being able to hold him was a kind of gentle graduated way of realising we were never going to be able to do that again.
I was lost for a long time after Finley's birth and funeral, and just didn't know what to do.
Baz would have to remind me that I needed to eat and drink.
Obviously I'd been expecting to have a baby and had been geared up around not doing anything apart from nappy changing and feeding for the next few months.
One of the nicest things I recall from our experience with Finley was my community midwife sending us a 'welcome to your baby boy' card. She had been away when he was born, and so it came a bit later. But it made a huge difference. Amid all the sympathy cards somebody had validated the fact that we'd had a baby.
And underneath all of the sadness, the pain, the loss and the grief and the denial and the not wanting to believe it had happened, it showed us that yes, actually we did have a baby, and we were really proud of him.
I started to write and found that it gave me an opportunity to get everything out of my head. A couple of weeks later when I was reading back over what I'd written I thought 'this is actually a really useful record for other parents and for professionals to know how to look after mums'.
I decided to turn what I had written into a book, After Finley, and then eventually I started writing a blog, Finley's Footprints, which became a place of support for other mums who'd lost a baby. People were offering to raise money for us, and from the £500 collected at Finley's funeral, we were able to fund memory boxes for the hospital for other bereaved parents.
Inspired by that, I am now setting up a charity, Towards Tomorrow Together which will help parents come to terms with losing a baby, and also provide support during future pregnancies.
We are planning to provide the hospitals locally with a 'cold cot' which goes into to Moses basket so parents can spend longer with their babies.
Often parents tell me they've not been allowed to bathe their babies, photographs haven't been taken, memories haven't been made. And that's so important because you never get that time back again.
The January after Finley died, I found out I was pregnant again. I had a terrible pregnancy and ignored most of it. Everything became about getting to the next milestone. We had fantastic care - midwife appointments every week, scans every month.
I had a caesarean booked in for 38 weeks, but at 36 weeks I went to hospital to be monitored and they said the baby hadn't moved enough. I started having flashbacks and couldn't cope at all. I managed to drive myself home but went back because I was convinced the baby had died. I basically admitted myself and begged for a caesarean which they did at 37 weeks. The bereavement midwife who looked after us with Finley swapped her shift so she could go into theatre with us. She was the last person to hold Finley and the first person to hold my daughter, Toni.
Toni had breathing problems and went into special care for four days. That was really hard. The nurse had to put my hands on her because I just didn't want to touch her. I was looking around and seeing all these really, fragile, tiny little babies and was taken completely back to what it was like to lose a baby.
I kept myself so distant from her because I was so frightened that she was going to die as well.
It took until I was about to go back to work, about nine months after her birth that I actually enjoyed a day with her, and felt like it was going to be alright.
This is the bit that most people don't talk about; the ongoing ripples, people expect that now you've got a new baby everything's going to be OK...