Monday 16 September 2019

'It was at that moment that I broke. I sobbed and sobbed as my poor husband hugged me' - mother's heartbreak on losing her baby

Philippa, Enda, Jack, and Molly Mai
Philippa, Enda, Jack, and Molly Mai
Philippa, Enda, Jack, and Molly Mai

Philippa Mc Dermott

My name is Philippa, my husband is Enda. In 2012 we were blessed with our son Jack. All we ever wanted was children but it wasn’t until June 2016 that we finally became pregnant again.

The joy we felt was unreal but it was short-lived because at around 10 weeks I had a silent miscarriage. We were devastated, at that time it was the worst we felt could happen to us.

In August we were pregnant again. I cried with happiness. It never crossed my mind that anything would go wrong, as naive as that sounds. Everything this time just felt right.

Jack had been asking for a sibling for so long so the thought of telling him was amazing. Due to having the miscarriage we had to go into the early pregnancy unit of the Rotunda at nine weeks. We went and straight away there was the little heart beating away, but within seconds extra fluid was detected at the back of our baby’s neck (cystic hygroma).

A consultant said it was far too early for the sonographer to say this to us so we were handed a leaflet on what this could mean and told to come back at 11 weeks. We spent the next two weeks praying and convincing ourselves it would all be ok. We even said "she’s probably not very good at her job".

We returned for the re-scan where a doctor scanned me and tried to reassure us all was fine and he said "I’m not worried about your baby at all". We wanted to take what he said and run but something just wasn’t sitting right with us so we explained how worried we were. The doctor said ‘okay, to put you at ease, I’ll send you upstairs for a detailed scan in the next two weeks’. We luckily got an appointment in the next few days.

We went in at 10am for that scan. When I think back, how was I not more worried? I almost skipped in the door, maybe my mind was just willing it to be okay.

Within seconds the sonographer said ‘well yes the fluid is very obvious and there is cause for concern’. We were quickly brought to a private room to meet a specialised midwife and a social worker. We knew then it was serious. I think it was from that very moment that the numbness began.

I was offered a CVS test. In simpler terms, it’s a large needle in through my belly, in through my uterus to remove a sample from the placenta. This contains DNA which can be tested to see if the baby has any chromosomal abnormalities. Bloods alone would not be 100 per cent.

I was hesitant but when it was explained that it would help doctors to be prepared at the birth to help baby, if we knew exactly what we were dealing with. I agreed and had it done that day. The results took a week. I can’t even remember that week – it’s a blur. But imagine hoping your child has Down Syndrome as that would be the 'best' of a list of syndromes we were told.

On November 11th at 9.10am we received the phone call to say our baby girl had Edwards’ Syndrome Trisomy 18 and also an upper left hypoplastic heart. That means that baby is incompatible with life. ‘You have a choice to carry on or have your files sent to Liverpool for an abortion,’ she said. It wasn’t a choice for us. For us, we would never give up on our baby once her heart was beating. We would leave it up to her when the time was right for her to go.

After that phone call we fell apart. This life-limiting illness as we prefer to call it meant we may go full-term or may not. Baby may not survive delivery or if she did it would only be minutes, hours, days until she passed.

We attended the Rotunda the next day to talk it all through and we named our baby Molly Mai. It made her all the more a little person. So how would we carry on now? I still can’t fully answer that but with the support of the Rotunda staff, knowledge from doctors and charities, comfort from family, friends, and neighbours and even strangers, we did.

We learned at that time there are really good-hearted people. Personally also the strength I felt while Molly Mai was alive inside my belly was unreal. We were very positive all the way through the pregnancy. Sometimes almost like robots, when told information on how to cope we carried it out by the book. This included telling Jack everything which now we know was the right thing but one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. You just want protect your child but we couldn’t protect him from this. Only thing we could do was try to bring him through it in the right way.

The Rotunda and charities helped us with all our memory making. This was Molly Mai’s time to live, with her safe in my belly. These memories are so very important and we will have them forever but sadly during this time we also prepared for our precious Molly Mai’s funeral and the outlines of what would happen when she arrived. I often felt by doing this I was letting her down but I never gave up hope. We always had hope that Molly Mai would defy the odds and come home. One day we’d be picking her coffin or her burial gown but the next day we’d be buying a pile of stuff for her - my "hope pile", I called it. We had to prepare for the worst and hope for anything extra. I’m glad we had all this time but nothing or no time prepared us for the passing of Molly Mai. 

Time moved too quick and somehow we reached 40 weeks. She had now even passed out her big brother Jack who was born at 39 weeks. At this point we were going into the Rotunda every Friday for weeks. We lived for these days to see Molly Mai bouncing around and hear her heartbeat and talk about her.

After internals trying to help things along, doctors decided to break my waters on the 23rd of May. We checked in to the hospital at 7am, waters broke at 10.30am and I very quickly had contractions so we were moved to the delivery room with our amazing midwifes. You would probably think that room would be sad and quiet but we talked, laughed, cried, watched TV and laboured for 14 hours. I got a scan at this stage and was told "no, there’s no heart beat, sorry, she’s gone". We sobbed in what now was a silent room but then I needed to push. I pushed for four hours and 45 minutes and I was still thinking ‘she’ll be alive’. The mind is so powerful - if I let it sink in that she was gone, I’d break.

Finally at 5.15am on the 24th of May, 2017, weighing 5lbs 15oz and a half, and 42cm long, the precious, perfect Miss Molly Mai was born and placed on my chest.

When you’ve had a baby before you are waiting for that cry but there was nothing, just silence. I blew on her as if it would wake her up but she was gone… The most bittersweet moment. We had our baby, she was so perfect, but she was gone. Why? I dont think I’ll ever understand it.

I lay there lifeless myself while the midwife did the necessary. Then we were moved to a private room with a cuddle cot.

We both dressed Molly Mai. It took so long. No one prepares you for that. It’s so different to dress an angel baby, afraid her tiny arms will snap and her delicate blistered skin will rip. At 10.30 that morning, 11 of our family, our priest and the Rotunda chaplain came to our room and we had a little christening. It was so special. The next day we got ourselves together to go home. The midwife who had been with us through the pregnancy helped us wrap Molly Mai in her special blankets.

We had requested to leave the hospital through the front door like everyone else. This was agreed, once I held Molly Mai and they draped a blanket round me. The pride I felt walking out that door was unreal. The sun was beaming for us as we got into the car to travel home. That was the start of the most surreal moment of my life. Having my angel baby with us while we cried, laughed, chatted. Jack played, people visited. We somehow seemed normal, cooking dinner while Molly Mai lay in her mosses basket/cuddle cot. But that first night home, it hit and boy did it hit hard. I’ll never forget the feeling on that first night of going into my son’s room, all warm and snuggly, putting my hand on his back to feel his breathing like I always do, and kissing his warm forehead and then going into our room to my baby, cold, damp from the cold cot, and no life. It was at that moment that I broke. I sobbed and sobbed as my poor husband hugged me sobbing to. I truly was in a very dark place that night.

We had five special days at home which was amazing and for those five days I felt I had it all, my family all together.

Monday came so quick and it was the day for Molly Mai’s funeral. It was such a strange day, the worst day we would ever have to go through but yet we had a feeling of wanting to do it for her, to show her how much she was loved. It was also the only day I’d ever get to plan for her, my precious baby girl.

We invited everyone to come who wanted to come to show their love. I got ready for my baby’s funeral with engorged breasts and severe cramps from bleeding, things no one would have known by looking at me. I was a pro at this stage and putting on a front.

We were overwhelmed arriving at the church. So many people had turned up. I carried Molly Mai for the mass, and we only placed her in and closed the coffin at the grave. Enda screwed in one end of the lid and I the other. It was the absolute hardest thing I’ve ever had to do but I was determined to do every last thing I could for her.

And then she’s gone. Buried. I remember leaning in to Enda, I would have crawled inside his chest and hid there forever if I could. What do we do now? So we did what we do best, got up, got dressed and carried on. OK, not in a normal way or the old way, but in a new way, a different way, one day at a time. To anyone the best advice I can give is to acknowledge we’ve had a baby. Even congratulate us or say sorry for our loss, but say something. When people say nothing it’s so hurtful and it probably is what we struggle with most at the moment.

And to any parents out there going through this, the best advice I could give them is to keep swimming. Some days you’ll just barely thread water, but that’s okay. The pain of her loss is the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life but she was the most beautiful life I’ve ever known.

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