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Jenna's story: Honouring my angel baby

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, where we share the pain that mums and dads have been or are going through. This is also an occasion to raise awareness of the stigma that surrounds miscarriage and promote openness regarding pregnancy, childbirth and miscarriage. 

Women who lose their babies are often made to feel that should stay silent about their grief, either because miscarriage and stillbirth are still so common, or because they are perceived to be unavoidable. However, losing a child during pregnancy takes an enormous toll on women. Many women who miscarry can go on to develop mental health issues that last for months or years– even when they have gone on to have healthy babies. And while factually most women are able to carry a perfectly healthy baby after miscarrying a pregnancy, the loss of one can stay on your heart for a long time. 

Our hearts were torn apart when reading this story from Jenna, who experienced a traumatic and complex labour when giving birth to her angel baby. The grieving journey was difficult and she still misses her unfortunate little boy a lot. Once again, thank you, Jenna, for your bravery to open up the conversation and tell the story that needs to be heard. 

Little heart stopped beating

Mother holding an ultrasound image in memory of her angel baby

This is the birth story of our little angel boy whose heart stopped beating in my womb at pregnancy week 25, September 2020.

The pregnancy was tough, both physically and mentally. I had suffered a miscarriage even before this pregnancy, and I was worried that something would happen throughout the pregnancy. I also had a lot of pelvic pain. One day I woke up to a terrible feeling; I felt a weight on my chest and much anxiety. I had spent the night trying to get the baby to move without results, and I didn’t hear any heart sounds with my doppler.

First thing in the morning, I called the ER and told them I needed to come in for a check-up. When the doctor scanned me, I got the worst news in my life: our baby's heart had stopped. My world got scattered in one second, and I felt numb. The tears started streaming down my face, but I couldn’t say a word. I texted my partner, who was home with our first child, “I think this baby is dead”.

After this, the doctor told us to go to the maternity clinic for another check-up, so we drove 100km to the hospital to get the same words said to us again. The doctor thought it would be good for me to sleep one night before inducing the labor, and I got some sleeping pills with me at home to get through the night. The following day came with the hardest and most traumatic experience of my life.

The traumatic birth

The labor was started on Sunday morning 27th of September, with Cytotec tablets. I took the first two tablets at home, after which we drove to the maternity ward. I took Cytotec every 4 hours all day Sunday and Monday without any effect.

On Monday, I was given the last dose as a double, which caused some contractions. However, I was so tired that I asked for painkillers and got a pain injection that calmed the contractions down and made me fall asleep.

On Tuesday, I received two doses of Cytotec, still double. I sat and swang on the exercise ball, walked the stairs, and moved a lot so that the birth would progress. The midwife and doctor swiped the membranes and provoked the cervix a couple of times. In the afternoon, they insert a balloon to open the cervix. This initiated labor and the contractions started coming regularly and quite painfully.

I used the TENS device, which helped over the first contractions. When this method didn't work anymore, I also used joy gas. The contractions got harder and harder, and I asked for more medicine. I got a pain injection and a muscle relaxant. I threw up from the pain or the euphoria.

When the cervix had softened and almost disappeared, I had cervical anesthesia, which took the pain away for a while. I got some rest. At this point, a new day came, and contractions had been happening all night. In the morning, around 03:30, the midwife punctured the membranes. Around 04:00, I started to push, and the baby was born with two pushes at 04:12. The effort phase didn't hurt at all.

After the birth, the placenta still had to be delivered. I tried to force the placenta out, and the midwife pressed my uterus many times and tried to get the placenta out. However, only blood clots came out from the uterus. I got a drop of oxytocin, but that didn't work either. I received a double dose of Cytotec in the intestine, which caused horribly painful contractions.

At this point, the pain relief I had previously received stopped working. I had to go to the examination room without pain relief, and the doctor tried to remove the placenta. I threw up again from the pain. At this point, the doctor thought it was best to put me to sleep and scrape out the placenta under anesthesia. Minutes felt like hours in the middle of that pain.

I just wanted to hold the baby, and all the pain felt so unfair and cruel at this point. I cried out in pain and asked to be relieved of the pain; I begged for painkillers.

It felt like no one was listening to me.

They started taking me to the operating room. My husband had to stay alone in an empty room with our dead baby while I was taken away. I screamed and cried all the way to the operating room. A cheerful nurse met me in the operating room and said, "Take it easy. Congratulations on the baby. Everything is fine". The information had not gone to the operating room, so they didn't know my baby had died.

I shouted to the nurse that everything was really not well, and I just wanted to sleep. I screamed and asked why it was taking so long. I regretted my behavior afterward, but I think I went into shock. Never before have I felt such pain, and I hope I never will again.

I woke up a couple of hours after this. I felt empty. The tears immediately started rolling down my face. I asked if I could see my partner, but it wasn’t possible at that time. I cried and stared at the ceiling.

Alone.

The nurses were talking about their stuff only a few meters away, laughing and having fun. That felt so wrong. I felt hate. All the tubes and drips were bothering me, and I just wanted to be with the baby and my partner. Almost an hour passed before they told my partner he could come to me. He came and was also in shock.

He had sat alone in an empty room with the baby and had no idea where I was or how I was doing. He had watched the baby alone and was scared and anxious. He came to the recovery room, angry and worried. He regretted being with the baby alone as the baby looked scary to him.

My husband was frightened by what had happened to me. We had to stay in the recovery room for a long time before they came to pick us up back to the maternity ward. We had our things moved to a different room, where the baby had been nicely put to bed, and a candle was lit on the table.

I wanted to hold the baby in my arms immediately. He was beautiful. Little fingers and little toes. Cold, soft skin. He was so light and fragile that I didn't dare to touch him first.

I held his hands, touched his skin and legs.
I gently kissed the forehead.
I looked at my little boy.
I took him in my arms and held him on my chest.
I talked to the baby and told him that I love him.

Mother lovingly holding her child in her arms, cherishing every moment together.

Fortunately, my husband felt better looking at the baby when I was with him. He could also now see how beautiful our little angel was. We were allowed to be with him as long as we wanted.

In between, the midwife took the baby for examination and brought him back again. He was dressed in an angel dress and placed beautifully in a sleeping nest made of blankets. He weighed 553g at birth and was 31cm long. A little perfect angel boy.

I lost 2.5 liters of blood during the birth. Hemoglobin at home was 83. After giving birth, all muscles were sore - calves, back, glutes and neck were completely stiff. My head hurts all the time. Post-contractions came sometimes, but fortunately, there was not much leakage afterward.

Onto the grieving journey

After the birth, we talked to social workers and a priest, and received much-needed peer support. In Finland, if the pregnancy is over 22 weeks, you can stay on maternity leave even after stillbirth. So I stayed home and cried for one month every day.

I felt anger, grief, despair, anxiety, yearning, and all other harsh feelings. I walked a lot in nature, sat late at night with candles, and listened to music that reminded me of the baby. Thanks to our first child, I kept myself busy and had to carry on, and she helped me a lot. When my body was ready, I also started going to the gym, which was like therapy.

After the birth, the baby was taken to the pathologist for examination. I felt terrible that our baby was all by himself, that I had abandoned him there. He stayed for almost one month. When the pathologist was ready with her work, we went to get him home for the funeral.

We went to get a little casket and drove him home ourselves. The casket became the most heartbreaking thing I have ever held in my arms. I can still feel the weight when I think about it now. The church let our baby sleep at the altar one night before the funeral. That somehow felt comforting.

The next day our baby was buried in the same grave as his grandmother. The funeral was held only in the presence of the church staff, my partner, and me. It was a beautiful ceremony. I felt relieved after that and could move on with the grieving process. The reason for the death of our baby, however, was never found. He was healthy and perfect.

Mother holding her newborn in her hands, their noses touching

 

Two years have passed, and I still miss our angel a lot. I visit the grave and look at his pictures. We have been blessed with a rainbow baby exactly one year later, and he somehow gives meaning to all this. I am thankful to our angel for making me who I am today. Without him, we wouldn’t have met the little one-year-old that we have at home now.

Jenna

Read more: Jenna's journey: A grieving mother's testament to self-care