I’ve been thinking a lot over the past week about how I am going to write Alex’s birth story. I’ve found it difficult to write, myself and Rob (my husband) have talked it over many times and the truth of it is, there are parts that neither of us can remember. The only thing I can put this down to is the complete and utter shock we felt at the time. It makes me feel so sad now, I feel disappointed with myself, I want to remember everything no matter how much it hurts to think back on. We don’t have a lifetime of happy memories to block out the bits we would rather not remember. But I’ve come to the conclusion that the shock and its effects on us are just a part of Alex’s story too.
My pregnancy with Alex was uneventful as far as pregnancy’s go. I already have two children and I enjoyed this pregnancy with the laid-back attitude that comes from having been there and done that. Both of my boys were way too comfy and were ten days overdue before I finally went into labour and Alex was exactly the same. I was eight days over and starting to feel fed up when I finally went into labour. I actually considered myself lucky at the time that he hadn’t kept me waiting quite as long as his older brothers.
Early labour started on Sunday, finally the baby we had waited so long to meet would soon be in our arms, I couldn’t wait to see the reactions of his older brothers William & Thomas. In bed that evening I timed the contractions trying to keep quiet and allow Rob to get some sleep; knowing only too well the sleep deprivation that comes with a newborn. By the time morning came I knew I was getting to the point where we should go to the hospital, we rang my Mom to come and look after the boys and put our carefully packed hospital bag in the car along with Alex’s car seat.
I was bouncing on a birthing ball when the midwife came in and sat down to ask me the usual questions. How often are the contractions? How long are they lasting? Are baby’s movements ok?
I didn’t know. I had been concentrating so much on breathing through the contractions I hadn’t noticed Alex’s movements. Despite this the midwife didn’t outwardly show any concern and I didn’t feel any. In our excitement, I hadn’t eaten or drank anything that morning so we decided on some tea and toast and hopefully we would have felt Alex again by the time she came back.
When she did come back I was desperate to say he was wiggling as normal but the truth was I still hadn’t felt anything at all other than contractions. A second midwife listened to Alex with a pinard, she seemed to hear a heartbeat and we both felt Alex kick which reassured me that everything was fine. The midwife in charge then listened with a doppler and after a lot of trying she couldn’t find a heartbeat. I feel so naïve looking back, I was totally oblivious to what had happened. Surely I should have known that something was wrong. Stillbirth was so far from my mind at that moment, it wasn’t even a possibility. After two scans with different scanners we were finally given those words. The words that no parent ever wants to hear. The words which broke our hearts and forever changed our lives. The words which sealed our entrance into the club that nobody wants to be in.
“I’m really sorry but your baby has died”
I remember the complete disbelief so clearly. What do you mean he’s died? No, he hasn’t. Get him out! Save him! You hear amazing stories of babies defying the odds all the time, Alex was a perfectly healthy, full term baby, I was sure they could do something. There wasn’t. Alex was gone and there was nothing they could do. I was in a room full of people and all I wanted was to be alone with Rob, I needed the labour to stop; I needed time to process what I had just been told.
There was no stopping though, we were taken off the labour ward, away from the healthy crying babies and into the Willow Suite to deliver our sleeping baby. I’ve had two babies without an epidural before and it wasn’t on my well-prepared birth plan this time either. I begged for it. I didn’t want to feel the pain. The shock and grief felt more than I could bear without the pain of labour added into the mix.. But it was too late, Alex was born before I could have an epidural. Looking back now I’m so glad that I didn’t get chance. I felt Alex being born in the exact same way I had felt his brothers before him and he deserved that. He didn’t deserve to be blocked out.
Alexander Robert Anthony Maguire was born at 10.58am on Monday 7th November 2016 weighing a chunky 8lb 10oz. Alex’s arrival into the world was quiet. I think a part of me still thought they had got it wrong, I hoped that there would be a miracle, so I stayed silent waiting for him to cry. I think we all did. He was everything I imagined him to be. A beautiful button nose, perfect kissy lips, lots of dark hair and delicate long fingers. I thought maybe there would be some undetected defect which would explain what had happened but there was nothing. He just looked asleep, which cruelly made it seem even more possible that he might cry. I loved him, rocked him, kissed his nose and patted his little bum in the way only a mother can but he was still gone.
And with that realisation my thoughts went wild. Why? How? Should I have known that something was wrong? Could I have prevented it? Should the midwife have picked something up when I saw her two days earlier. Should the sonographer have seen something on the scan we had a week earlier? Did I do something to cause this? If I’d come to hospital earlier would they have found that he was struggling? When did he pass away? Did the first midwife really hear a heartbeat and feel a kick? Did he suffer?
I find this one hardest parts of Alex being stillborn, the never-ending questions, the guilt, the blame, the unknown and the unanswerable.
But despite all of this, I am so proud to be Alex’s Mommy. Once I emerged from those early days of complete despair I began to see that Alex’s life would change us all for the better. Something good and bright had to come out of the complete darkness we felt after his death. And to show how proud I am, I talk, and I have told Alex’s story to anyone who will listen. Most of the time their reactions are caring and sympathetic but I often get the impression that they think I am just an unlucky statistic to have experienced something with such small odds. Sadly, that would also have been my reaction before Alex. Little did I know that 3600 babies are stillborn every year in the UK, 10 babies a day! We have one of the highest stillbirth rates in the developed world and the West Midlands, where we live, has one of the highest stillbirth rates in the country.
I feel completely deceived. If we have one of the highest rates then why don’t we all know about it? Why isn’t it advertised and talked about? Why aren’t Phil & Holly talking about it on This Morning and Loose Women debating it at lunchtime? Why is there so little research into why this is happening? As expectant mothers, we are told so much about cot death and yet it is far less common than stillbirth. I hope that talking about Alex and sharing his story will not only help other families through their grief but also that my voice will join lots of others who are speaking out and trying to raise awareness with the hope that the government will fund much needed research into stillbirth.