Sunday 18 March 2018

'I'd to phone my husband - thousands of miles away - to tell him' - Irish woman who lost baby at 31 weeks

Sinead Ryan writes about how she and her husband Adrian sadly lost their baby Aoife Margaret Roos, at 31 weeks, on December 20, 2017

Sinead Ryan and her husband Adrian on their wedding day.
Sinead Ryan and her husband Adrian on their wedding day.
Sinead Ryan

Sinead Ryan

I am a mother, yet I do not know what colour my baby's eyes are or the colour of her hair. My child has a name and she existed on this earth as much as you or I do, but she will never grow old.

Instead, my baby is lying by my mother's side in a graveyard in Limerick. I wake up late at night worried that she is cold.

Aoife is my first baby. I had adored being pregnant - I loved talking to her, rubbing my belly, reading to her and feeling her kick. We had known that she was a girl since our twenty week scan, which had gone very well. I had never felt so healthy and wholesome before.

Living in Dubai, I kept my family in Ireland updated on my pregnancy in frequent WhatsApp pictures, texts and anecdotes. In general, I had a wonderful pregnancy and like every expectant mother dreamed of holding my baby in my arms. 

The sense of wonder about my pregnancy ended and was replaced by a growing anxiety at about 27 weeks when I felt that she wasn't moving as much as she had been. Several severe migraines worried me also. We were reassured at each scan when we saw her lovely little body that she was doing fine.

However, the doctor mentioned that I had high blood pressure but didn't give me medication or order further tests so I carried on with my busy life. It was my first pregnancy, I had no reason to question or doubt anything. At 30 weeks, my husband came with me for another scan so we could get a certificate to allow me to travel home for the Christmas holidays. The doctor gave me tablets to take if my blood pressure went over a certain number and instructions on how to monitor it. We were also told the baby was small and to book a Doppler assessment to check the blood flow to the baby on my return from Ireland.

I breathed a sigh of relief when she gave me the go-ahead to fly home for Christmas with the added instructions to just relax. I was eager for a holiday after an incredibly busy term at school and eager to show off the baby bump to the family. 

A drumming sound in my ears kept me from sleeping much on the night before I flew home. My overly anxious mind was plagued by worries about the blood pressure, the baby's size and most of all what if, God forbid, anything should happen to my baby.

A vision of myself suddenly surfaced: it was of me standing by my mother's grave sobbing for my baby and I pushed it to the back of my mind reassuring myself that it was just the angst of a first time mother. 

Before the flight, I remember having a nervous feeling in my stomach that I put that down to worry about the baby and my own general anxiety when I fly. “Have I packed all the gifts? Have I remembered all the duty free requests? Where's my passport?”

I was sad to leave my husband who was staying behind. After taking my blood pressure, I popped one of the pills into my mouth, reassuring myself everything would be fine. 

During the flight another headache struck pretty severely - I remember putting a blanket over my head and just crying; crying for my baby that I wanted so much, crying for my mother, crying for my husband who wasn't with me. Eventually the headache subsided and I slept for a while. 

My friend's husband picked me up from Dublin airport and we made our way back to her house. When I saw her we happily compared baby bumps, both of us being due just one day apart.

I took my blood pressure again and got alarmed about how high it had climbed. She rang the Coombe who told us to come in. We chatted innocently all the way. We had no idea what lay ahead. About half an hour later after many attempts to find a heartbeat, I heard those words every mother dreads; 'I am sorry, but you have lost your baby.' It felt like a punch in the stomach. 

Nothing could have prepared me for the physical ache that is losing a baby. Having to make the initial phone call to my husband to tell him that we had lost the baby just twelve hours after I had said goodbye to him was agony. His first reaction was disbelief - I had to hand the phone over to the consultant who confirmed it for him.

I remember crying that she didn't even have a name yet. We decided at that moment to call her Aoife Margaret. Then there were the phone calls to my sisters. I called my eldest sister, I remember her saying 'Oh Sinead, your little baby.' Aoife was 31 weeks. She would never get any bigger. I asked the consultant several times 'Are you sure?' Surely, it had to be some cruel mistake? 

After being diagnosed with hypertension, doctors quickly put me on medication. Like a lunatic, I kept repeating to everyone again and again, that the baby had been fine on Wednesday, blaming myself and the doctor for letting me get on that flight.

My family drove up from Limerick that evening and we all cried as soon as they entered the room. I should have stayed in Dubai where my baby had been alive. She was alive on the 13th December and on the 16th December she was dead.

Her little face will never look towards mine. She will never hold my hand; she will never kiss me; she will never take a breath, or a step; she will never know the joy that I felt when she kicked inside me. 

Her precious little heart stopped beating at 31 weeks and three days. My immediate reaction was to think - what had I done in those three days that might have caused her little life to cease. When did she die? What was I doing at the moment that my little baby was struggling to live?

My husband and I remember feeling and seeing the baby move on either Thursday or Friday night. I remember remarking to him - 'Look at how her head moves across my belly when she stretches!' One side of my stomach would stick up high in the air when this happened - reassuring us that she was fine. But she wasn't fine, our little baby had passed away - and we didn't even know exactly when. 

My husband arrived at the hospital on the 17th December, we just hugged and cried. No relationship counselling can ever prepare you for how to deal with this. There is no handbook in the world that could train you on how to overcome the pain of losing a child. We had lost our baby and the slow realization that the baby still had to come out had only really just hit me.

A midwife and consultant had visited my room prior to my husband's arrival. I had assumed that a C-section would be possible. Surely having to go through the pain of child birth after already losing my baby would not be expected? Coupled with the fact that Aoife was lying in breach position. I assumed wrong. They advised against a C-section due to the recovery time, the position the baby was in and the emotional strain of dealing with a still birth in the aftermath.

At the time it caused me a lot of distress, surely that should have been my right to choose? They assured me that all efforts would be made to make the birth as easy and pain free as possible. No matter what way a baby comes into this world - there are none that are pain free. 

Aoife's birth was incredibly painful, both emotionally and physically. It was very slow and then all too fast resulting in a breach birth without an epidural. At one point I felt myself hyperventilating and oxygen was given to me. The midwives who guided me were fantastic, they gently coaxed and encouraged me throughout the birth. I can't emphasise enough how kind and patient they were.

When I finally pushed Aoife out, I felt such a sense of relief and triumph and pride. I had done it - after all that pain! Remembering that Aoife was dead hit me again like a ton of bricks. She was placed in my arms in a little white towel, she felt warm and slippery. She was lovely. She had long pink limbs and the most beautiful hands. I will never know Aoife's eye colour. 

The feeling that descended on us after Aoife's birth was of pure shock and numbness. We felt in a kind of limbo stuck between living and dying. I couldn't quite fathom what had just happened to us. I had gone through the pain of childbirth yet my baby wasn't nestled up beside me.

Counselors came and helped us with her and placed her in a 'cuddle cot' which sets the temperature at 15 degrees. They showed us how to pick her up so as not to damage her delicate skin. They changed her clothes and took hand and foot prints. They did everything they could to normalize the situation.

Aoife was a beautiful baby. She was tiny and delicate - smaller than her 31 weeks gestational age. She had little button features and everything was perfectly formed. I remember looking into her cot and willing her to breath. 

I couldn't sleep at all for the whole day and night after the birth. For some reason, I was afraid if I shut my eyes I would never wake again. A type of fear took hold of me that was inexplicable as the worst thing had already happened. Yet, if that happened - what else could? 

I talked to Aoife throughout the day and read to her from a story book bought down in the gift shop. I wasn't expecting to bury my daughter over the Christmas holidays - I had no clothes for her, no toys or books. Feileacain provided all of those.

We clumsily held her, not used to babies. A naming service was held in the offertory later that evening with me, my husband and my sisters. Later, a photographer from 'Now I lay me down to Sleep' came to take some photographs of our little family. We kissed goodbye to her the following morning when she was taken for the post mortem. We brought her home to Limerick that evening in a beautiful little white coffin that had her name engraved on it and the date of birth and death - just one set of digits. 

My previous vision became reality - we buried her next to my mother. It was two days before Christmas on a bleak winter's day that gave little respite save for the time we were assembled at the grave site. A cold sun shone down as we buried our little girl. 

The risk of loving is loss. Having loved Aoife so deeply the pain of losing her sometimes almost takes my breath away. We have lost our baby and the future that we had dreamed about with her. I take comfort in the few memories that we created in the hospital and the pictures we have of her.

Five weeks later, I am grieving deeply and I ache for her, I am reminded of the poem about the butterfly who lands beside us momentarily and then flies away. I wish with all my heart that my daughter was here with me now, but I am also profoundly grateful that she was here at all and that she existed although my world has changed irrevocably. She is my forever baby. In the words of Robert Munsch in a story book I had hoped to one day read to Aoife:

'I will love you forever,

I will like you for always

As long as I'm living

My baby you'll be.' 

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