Tuesday 20 February 2018

'She placed her hand on my abdomen and said: ‘I am so sorry but your baby has no heartbeat’' - Mother who lost her baby at 22 weeks

Aoife Bermingham with her daughter Cadhla and her baby son Senan at her home in Portmarnock, Dublin. Picture: Caroline Quinn
Aoife Bermingham with her daughter Cadhla and her baby son Senan at her home in Portmarnock, Dublin. Picture: Caroline Quinn

Aoife Bermingham

Tuesday September 28th 2016 started as a normal day but for me but there was an added excitement - I was almost 22 weeks pregnant and it was the day of my anomaly scan with my consultant in the hospital. Today I get to see my baby up on the big screen bouncing around.

Off I went into work as usual and at our daily morning meeting I informed the team I would be leaving the office at 2pm because ‘I had a date with my baby’.

When I got into the hospital, I did a 10-second Snapchat of me walking towards the scan room and then I put the phone away. Our scan appointment was for 3.45pm.

4pm came and I still wasn’t called. I was busy guzzling back ice cold water to get the baby to be active for the scan. I could feel the baby moving inside me.

At 4.05pm we got called in. Up I hopped on the bed and the sonographer started putting the gel on. I asked her not to give us any idea of the gender as we wanted a surprise. I joked with her that at my last anomaly scan the previous year the sonographer said ‘him’ and I spent the rest of my pregnancy assuming it was a boy and was shocked when we had a girl!

At 4.07pm my life changed forever.

The sonographer placed the handle on my tummy and within five seconds, placed her hand on my abdomen and uttered the words that constantly ring in my ears: ‘Aoife, I am so sorry but your baby has no heartbeat’… My own heart skipped a beat or two, my mouth dried up and my head went foggy, ….’don’t say those words, stop, this can’t be true, try again, this is all wrong, this can’t be true’... these were the words swimming around in my head but I couldn’t talk.

I looked at the screen and saw an outline of baby just lying there, not moving, on the screen. I couldn’t look any longer. I said nothing. I heard her next say ‘Aoife, I am going to go next door and get your consultant’. She left the room. I turned to Bobby and asked ‘Did she just tell us our baby has no heartbeat’, hoping he’d say 'no'. He said 'yes'. Numb, I started to panic. This can’t be. I’ve made plans for this baby, the plans can’t be undone. This is not the way it is supposed to turn out. Deep breaths, deep breaths.

My consultant walked in, sincerely sympathised with us and we got ready for him to take us to a quiet room. It all happened so quickly, less than 10 minutes ago I was outside in the waiting room knocking back ice cold water convinced the baby was moving inside me. Now this. I told the sonographer this and she said sometimes this can happen as the baby is still floating around in your amniotic fluid so you could feel movements like this. The sonographer asked me would I like a scan picture. I said no. I had two already, a nine week and a 12-week scan photo and my baby’s heart was beating in those ones.

We went with my consultant, Dr. Rishi, who I trust implicitly. This was my 3rd pregnancy with him, my first being an ectopic and my second being my beautiful healthy daughter. I had no clue what the options were or what happened in these circumstances, because they never cross your mind.

The only option available was to give birth to the baby. I broke down, I was broken.

You mean I have to go into labour and give birth to a silent baby, a baby who is dead, who's not breathing, who will never live a day on this earth, who's teeny tiny feet will never touch the ground. 

As we left the hospital I deleted that Snapchat from an hour earlier. Life had changed from an hour earlier. Now I had to tell people the news. At 22 weeks pretty much everyone in your circle knows you are expecting.

In order to bring on labour I was given a tablet to take, I didn’t have to take it right there and then, I could take it home and take it when I felt like it, but within 48 hours  of taking it, labour would commence. I took the tablet two days later, after I was able to process what the hell was going around me.

I’ll never forget that first morning after finding out the news, waking up, thinking and wishing that this was all just a terrible nightmare. For a split second that’s what I thought it was but then reality set in. Knowing that my baby, the one supposed to be growing in my tummy, was dead. Dead. Such a horrible word to have to use but that’s what I thought that morning. That is a very lonely, helpless and horrible feeling for anyone to feel. That the life inside you is gone. I can’t even put it into the right words, it’s just incomprehensible still to this day. I was numb. I was scared.

On Sunday October 2nd at about 5.30am I went into labour. I could feel the surging pains which woke me up. My little bag was packed the night before, it took me no time, I had no baby clothes to pack, no first born outfit, no nappies or wipes. It was just a nightdress for me and some toiletries. That was another awful part for me, packing a bag to go into a maternity hospital to give birth to a baby that needed nothing because my baby wasn’t going to be alive when born. Stillborn.

When I arrived at the hospital it was empty, thank God, as it was a Sunday morning. I was brought straight up to the gynaecology ward, not the labour ward, where I would have had to endure the screams of mothers in labour, and new babies making their first cries as they came into the world. I was given pain relief -pain relief from the physical pain. Nothing can be given for take away the emotional pain.

Bobby was with me and we talked, both in this numb state together. Him feeling the pain of watching me go through this, but being strong and trying not to show the emotion. I valued his strength for me at this time. This was a lot different to the labour I was in with our daughter a year before.

Room 35 in the Gynaecoloy ward. It wasn’t my first time in this room, this was the room I was in when I had my ectopic pregnancy in August 2014. I can’t believe I am back in this feckin’ room, again.

At 11.13am on Sunday October 2nd 2016 I gave birth. A little boy. Stillborn on the day of the Feast of the Guardian Angels. Our little Guardian Angel now.

I could feel him resting on my thigh as he was born, silent, not moving. I wasn’t ready to look at him yet. I just couldn’t, that’s how I felt at the time and I am sure others do things differently. I was afraid I would be mentally scared as he was only 22 weeks. I needed to think about it. I tossed and turned in the hospital bed all night knowing that our son was lying in a mortuary within the hospital and I don’t know what he looks like yet. It made me sick to my stomach. Babies and mortuaries… those words just do not go together.

The next day when Trish, the bereavement midwife, came to see me I asked her what I should do: would I regret seeing him or not seeing him? She didn’t put pressure on me but I asked her from her past experiences and getting through this what have people in my situation said to her. I didn’t want to look back and regret seeing him or not seeing him. I wanted to see him of course but I was afraid. However, my heart told me I needed to be with him and see him. I asked for him to be brought to see us and he was brought up to myself and Bobby in room 35. We spent time with him and I don’t regret it one bit. He was angelic. 

We named him Oisìn. After the Irish warrior from the famous Irish legend, Tìr na Nòg (the land of the young). It seemed fitting. Our Oisìn will forever be in Tìr na Nòg and in our hearts forever.

We were given a memory box which was donated to the hospital by the stillbirth and neo natal death organisation, Féileacáin and we put in here his clothes that he was dressed in at birth and blankets he was wrapped in. The hospital also gave us laminated sheets with his hand and foot prints. So tiny. The clothes Oisín was dressed in and the blankets were also donated to the hospital by a group of women who knit them specifically for stillborn babies. There was so much about stillbirth I never knew, but I was learning.

My body had also changed the next day too, it was no longer pregnant and had just given birth so the usual post natal stuff started happening, my milk started coming in and even though I was feeling such sadness those baby blue feelings kicked in and made it all even worse.

We then had to decide on the funeral arrangements. This was all getting a bit too much. The Bereavement Team in the Rotunda were amazing. We had decisions to make but they did all the arranging for us. We decided to get Oisìn cremated. Personally I didn’t want him buried with any of my family or Bobby’s family who had passed on. They didn’t know of him and he didn’t know of them, and we were too young to start buying our own burial plot. No, I wanted him at home with us, even if it would be in an urn. Then whenever either myself or Bobby passed on, his ashes could be buried with us.

The decision was made to have him cremated in the chapel of Angels in Harold Cross. But I wasn’t ready yet. I waited another few days for the shock to subside. It was tough leaving the hospital knowing I was leaving my baby in the mortuary, alone. I could have brought him home if I'd wanted to but I decided I couldn’t do it. I would be bringing him home but in a few days’ time, in a different capacity, in an urn.

We collected Oisìn from the mortuary in the Rotunda and said goodbye to him and we placed the lid on his little Willow basket. We drove to Harold’s Cross with the Willow Basket on my lap. We had a short little ceremony with Bobby, Cadhla, our 14-month-old daughter, and my parents. Bobby’s mother lives abroad and his father has passed on. I spent some time preparing for it in the previous days. I had some poems and a prayer to read out. A song popped into my head during these days, an old song from the 90s by Savage Garden called ‘I knew I loved you before I met you’. I found a lovely acoustic version of it and we played it in the Chapel of the Angels at the end of Oisìn’s ceremony. It was just us, no priest or religious aspect to it.

I remember being at the kitchen table the day after the funeral, having breakfast with Cadhla and Bobby and I cried my eyes out knowing that Oisìn will never get to sit with us as a family and have breakfast. He won’t get to do anything with us as a family. We won’t be that family I had planned.

Oisìn’s ashes are now at home with us and I have an urn locket I wear around my neck, close to my heart, with his name and date of birth in which I keep a small amount of his ashes. He is always with me. He grew inside my tummy for 22 weeks, now he remains with me on the outside. I gave him life for as long as my body could give it to him. I gave birth to him. After the postmortem we were told the cause of death was heart failure, but for reasons unknown as his little heart was perfectly formed. Nothing makes that news any easier.

It has been, and still is, a painful experience. I have been going to counselling and it has really helped. My counsellor has also been through a stillbirth too so it is good to talk to someone who actually understands. I’ve learnt over time to cope with and accept what happened and time really is a healer. I will never forget and that’s fine, I don’t want to ever forget. Life throws some curve balls at us and this certainly was a huge one.

We have a little apple tree planted in the garden in front of our bedroom, given to us by Bobby’s sister, who would have been his godmother. It’s growing fast and even has fruit on it already. Every year it will grow bigger and stronger and will be a reminder to us of our son, grandson, brother, nephew.

On February 20th, Oisín’s due date, we let off some balloons and wrote his name in the sand on a family holiday to Lanzarote.

I often think back to 2pm on September 28th 2016 when I, Aoife Bermingham, left work that day. I never returned, I never returned in the sense that I am not that same person anymore. How can I be? What happened changed life forever.

Please don’t get me wrong, life does go on, and the good times come back but when you go through a trauma like that you are never really the same person again.

Just before we went to Lanzarote in February we found out I was pregnant again, we weren't expecting it to happen quite so soon, so it did come as a bit of a shock. But a happy and welcome shock... my fourth pregnancy in three years! Here I was, pregnant within 12 weeks of Oisín's birth. Did I feel a tinge of guilt at first for being pregnant so quickly? I did but I tell myself it wasn’t because I wanted to quickly forget and move on… far from it. I wanted another baby and I was 37 years of age, the clock was ticking and what if it took me ages to get pregnant again? While it was a tough pregnancy mentally, physically it was perfect and at every stage and anytime I had any fears I was seen to straight away in the Rotunda. I have to say they have been a great support to me throughout.

I am happy to say that I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy we named Senan. He is doing great and we are all totally smitten with him. Senan arrived a year later in the same week we found out the devastating news about Oisín and I can only think he is up there looking after us all. October 2nd brought another emotional day as it was the first anniversary of Oisín's birth, and the four of us walked down to our local beach in Portmarnock and let off a star-shaped balloon for our little star in the sky, Cadhla's little brother and Senan's big brother. This will be our new family tradition on October 2nd every year, to mark his birth.

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