Sunday 19 November 2017

'The doctor turned to me and said so quietly 'I’m sorry, there’s nothing' - Mother who lost her baby at 41 weeks

Pádraig and Clare McGhee with their children Muireann (18 mths), Laoise (5) and Ciaran (7) at their Kilcock, Co. KIldare home last night. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
Pádraig and Clare McGhee with their children Muireann (18 mths), Laoise (5) and Ciaran (7) at their Kilcock, Co. KIldare home last night. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

Clare McGhee

On Wednesday, the 16th of July 2014, I sat down at 10am to have a cup of tea and I realised I hadn’t felt the baby move in a while.

I could feel the baby’s back lying across my belly so I prodded him, but he didn’t move. I had a cold drink and lay on the couch, but still nothing. I was trying not to panic but I was concerned. I had been talking to my friend and my sister online and my friend told me to get it checked out. I messaged my mother and although she told me not to worry, she said if I wanted to go to the doctor to drop the children down to her. My husband, Podge, told me that if I was uneasy, I should get checked out.

I rang the doctors who told me to come straight down. I decided to bring the children with me as I didn’t want to create a fuss. The doctor would hear the heartbeat and everything would be ok.

I was called in and I explained what was wrong. The doctor tried the doppler and couldn’t hear a heartbeat. He told me not to panic as the battery was going and he was going to change them and all would be ok. I knew he was worried even though he pretended not to be. I got a message from Podge asking how everything was. I replied telling him that he couldn’t find the heartbeat and that I was trying not to panic. The doctor arrived back in and told me the nurse would be in with the doppler having replaced the batteries.

In the meantime, he tried to listen to my belly using an instrument shaped like a horn. He turned and asked my two children playing on the floor to be quiet as he couldn’t hear. I started to panic, I could see he was worried. The nurse arrived back in, but after several attempts, they couldn’t get a heartbeat. At one stage, they thought they got a faint heartbeat, but I don’t think they did. I was advised to go to the hospital straight away to get checked out. I had an appointment later that day (to be given a date for induction) but I was told not to wait and go straight in. Again, I was told repeatedly not to worry, that they baby could be lying a funny way and the hospital equipment was a higher standard and they’d find the heartbeat. I rang Podge in the car outside and burst into tears, he was already on his way home from work.

I dropped my two up to my parents, my mother met me at the door and I just burst into tears. I told her they couldn’t find a heartbeat and I had to go to the hospital, she hugged me, blessed my belly and myself and told me not to worry. Podge arrived at the house and off we went. On the drive down, I had a call from the hospital, the GP had rung them and they wanted me to go straight to the maternity ward. I knew that wasn’t good. I prayed so, so hard to anyone who was up in heaven for everything to be ok. I knew at this stage something was wrong, but I never, not for one second, believed that our baby was dead. I don’t think Podge did either. I really thought they would scan me, realise baby was in trouble and rush me in a for an emergency section.

We arrived at the hospital and were directed to a waiting room. A midwife called Olivia called us into the next room to hook me up to their trace monitors. The first thing we heard when we walked into the room was the galloping heart of the baby of a woman in the bed next to us. A trace was put on my belly and there was no sound. I now understand the phrase ‘the silence was deafening’. I started to cry, the woman next to us was moved out of the room, the midwife told me not to jump the gun, but I knew, I just knew. There’s no escaping the noise of your baby’s heartbeat on those machines, it’s such a loud noise.

We were told the sonographer was coming up to do a scan. Podge was in the chair beside my bed holding my hand, desperately trying to keep it together. The sonographer arrived and started to scan. He was taking too long to speak, he was staring intently at the screen (which was facing away from us), his face creased in a worried frown. Then he turned to me and said so quietly ‘I’m sorry, there’s nothing’. Those words, I’ll never, ever forget them. The midwife, standing behind him asked ‘there’s no heartbeat?’ He just said ‘no’, still looking at me. He put his hand on my leg, looked at me for a second and left. The midwife turned to me and said ‘I’m so sorry, I wasn’t expecting that’ and handed me one of many tissues.

That was when our world shattered to pieces. It took me a few seconds to understand what was happening. I wanted to scream at him, ‘no, there can’t be nothing, I’m 41 weeks, the baby was moving yesterday, there has to be something’. I couldn’t believe that was it. Baby was dead, no more they could do, end of. Our world collapsed around us. We sobbed like we had never sobbed before. I honestly thought I would die from the pain, it was like nothing I have ever experienced in my life. I just kept saying to Podge that it couldn’t be true, it couldn’t be happening. How would we ever get on with our lives after this? How will we ever be ok after this? When it had started to hit home, I just thought ‘oh my God, how will we tell Ciarán?’ Ciarán, our 4 year old boy, who had marked the baby’s due date on the calendar, Ciarán, who had kissed my belly every night and whispered something secret to the baby before he went to bed. Ciarán who was so excited about having a baby in the house.

We both text our mothers and let them tell our families. Everyone in complete shock. Podge’s mother just kept texting him 3 kisses. There are no words at a time like this.

We were brought down to the ultrasound room where they had to measure the baby and scan him for any deformities or anything they could find. I hoped against all other hope that she would find a heartbeat, but she didn’t. She also couldn’t see anything wrong. I asked her if it was a boy or girl, but because of the way the baby was lying, she couldn’t tell.

Before we left the hospital, the midwife and consultant sat with us to give us our options. In the shock I had completely forgotten that I would still have to give birth to my baby. How cruel to go through labour and not have the reward of a living, breathing baby at the end of it. Would we want to see/hold the baby? How would we feel when we saw them? So many thoughts going through our heads.

We gradually let close friends know what was going on, all met with complete disbelief and shock. After the hospital, we went back to my parent’s house where everyone was sitting in the sunshine on the patio - my parents, my brother, my sister and her boyfriend - the children playing happily.

Ciarán came over and asked why I was crying. I just told him. That the baby’s heart was broken, that he wouldn’t be coming home with us, he’d be going to heaven. His response broke my heart. ‘Please don’t send the baby to heaven mommy, I want the baby to stay with us in our house’. Laoise, who was only 2 at the time, really didn’t understand what was going on.

I went to bed that night and cried and cried. At one stage my heart was beating so hard I thought it would come through my chest. I prayed so hard that the strength of my heartbeat would make the baby’s little heart start up again. I wouldn’t really believe he was dead until he was here.

On the Thursday, we met with a lovely priest, Fr Des, to discuss the funeral arrangements. He was our rock and a nicer priest you will not meet. He was so understanding and comforting to us at such an awful time in our lives. We were both so angry and wondering how God could let this happen to us. Fr Des understood this and didn’t push it, he also never told us we had an angel in heaven. I know people mean well with that phrase, but I hate it. I don’t want an angel in heaven. I want a baby, down here with us.

Donncha’s Birth

I was given tablets at 11am on Friday morning and sent home to wait. If nothing happened, I was to go back in on Saturday at 8pm to be induced.

I had heard about a wonderful organisation called Féileacáin that supplied memory boxes to hospitals all around the country. We asked the midwife for one and she gave it to us. In the box was a shawl to wrap your baby in, a candle, a hand/foot printing kit, a camera, a box for a lock of your baby’s hair and lots of information, but the most precious thing enclosed were two tiny teddies. You were to keep one with you at all times and the other was to be given to your baby. Just before the baby is to be buried, you swap the teddies, so you have something that belonged to the baby and the baby has something that belonged to you. We gave the second teddy to Ciarán as soon as we got home, we told him it was the baby’s teddy and was very special and from that moment, it was never out of his hands.

On Saturday morning I was getting niggling back pains on and off, but nothing major. By 2pm, I was sitting on my parent’s patio and I knew my contractions were starting. We went back to our house to get some things for Ciarán and Laoise to stay over with my parents. I got my hospital bag and took out everything I had packed for the baby except two pink babygros and vests and two blue ones. I only needed one nappy. Such a hard thing to do, to unpack that bag. I got a strong contraction while there, about 3pm. We went to see Podge’s mother Mary before we left for the hospital, I had another strong contraction. We dropped the children’s things to my parent’s house and I had another contraction - about 15 mins apart.

Contractions were manageable but noticeable as we drove to the hospital, both of us very sombre at the thoughts of what was ahead of us.

We arrived at the hospital about 4pm, contractions were closer together now, ranging from between 5 and 7 minutes apart. We were greeted by hospital staff who knew what was happening.

We were brought into a private room where the contractions started to get stronger. Nurses came in to take details and blood samples. They must have taken about 10 to 15 samples from me. I asked for the epidural, but was told we needed the results of the bloods before I could have one.

By 5.25pm, contractions were very intense, I really wanted pain relief, I didn’t want to feel physical pain on top of the emotional pain. I told the midwife and she said she’d transfer me to the labour ward so I could have gas and air. It did help.

By 6pm, I was told the epidural was ordered, that hopefully the bloods wouldn’t take long. The gas and air was working fine at this stage. The nurse put a radio in the room and music filled the air, we all knew what wasn’t being said. When the baby was born there would be silence, no cries, no sound of life.

By 6.25pm, my bloods were back so I was able to have the epidural. By this stage I could feel the urge to push, so shouldn’t have bothered, but was determined to have the epidural. The anesthetist administered the epidural at 6.30pm and then I was told it would take 25 minutes for it to kick in - was not expecting it to take that long!! Continued to use the gas and air, told the midwife I had the urge to push.

She checked me and I was ready to go. The midwives were absolutely brilliant, their coaching was perfect. I was so glad the epidural hadn’t worked. I felt every contraction and I felt completely in control. I listened to the midwives and followed their instructions. It felt like an out of body experience. I was completely focused on getting the baby out, oblivious to anything else going on around me. Donncha Ciarán McGhee was born at 7pm weighing 8lbs even, my biggest baby yet.

As he came out, the midwives examined him quickly to see if there was a reason for his death, but he was perfect and so like Ciarán. The cord was wrapped around his neck three times but not tight enough to have killed him and then Podge noticed a knot in his cord. The midwives did agree that it could have been what killed him. We were relieved, we didn’t want to have his little body cut open and didn’t want to lose any time we had with him. We later found out that Donncha hadn't died as a result of a cord accident but that his heart had just stopped beating, no reason they could give for it, something they call cot death in the womb.

Podge cut the cord and they wrapped him in a blanket and handed him to me. Myself and Podge kissed him and told him we loved him. I just kept saying sorry over and over again. Plenty of tears were shed in what was both a happy and sad moment. We were so happy and so proud to have met our youngest son, but so, so unbelievably heartbroken that he wasn’t alive. We longed to see his little eyes. I just so wanted him to be able to feel our touch, for him to know how wanted he was and how much we loved him. When he came out first he was so warm to touch.

The midwives weighed him and took prints of his feet and hands. They gently gave him his first and only bath. They put a little nappy on him and dressed him in Ciarán’s babygro. Then they handed him back to me. The midwives left us and allowed us time to be alone with him.

We examined every part of his little body. We hugged him, kissed him, touched him and cried over him. I’ve no idea how long we were there for, but it felt like an eternity, neither of us willing to go anywhere. We were lost in that room, just the three of us. We laughed, we cried and we loved our little boy with everything we had.

When the time came to move, I was transferred to a bed and wheeled to our private room. Podge had the honour of carrying Donncha in his arms. A cold cot (very like a moses basket with a cooling mattress) was placed next to my bed. He was wrapped snuggly and put into the cot, his teddy put next to him.

We spent the rest of that Saturday, Sunday and half day Monday in the hospital with him. When I felt overwhelmed or panicked or a wave of complete despair, I’d hold him and kiss him and tell him how much I loved him and it helped. Podge felt the same. The words were hanging in the air, unspoken between us ‘what happens when he’s gone and we can’t hold him and hug him’. I wouldn't have gotten through those days without Podge by my side.

My parents and sister came to meet him with Ciarán and Laoise. Podge’s brother and wife and parents also came to visit. It was lovely that they all got to meet him and hold him and see his little feet and kiss his silky soft skin, that by now was ice cold. It meant the world to us that we could show him off to them, just as we would have done were he alive.

Ciarán and Laoise were mesmerised by him, especially Ciarán. He just wanted to hug him and kiss him and touch him. We got the most wonderful picture of the three of them that I will treasure forever. They met their baby brother and will never forget him.

Those days we spent in the hospital were precious. We had private time, just the three of us. It gave myself and Podge time to spend with Donncha on our own and time to grieve. We took turns to cry and often just cried together. I couldn’t have gotten through those days without Podge being by my side.

We brought him home on Monday the 21st July. The undertaker, Paddy, brought in Donncha’s tiny little coffin. The sight of it broke my heart. It was beautiful, but it was a coffin for our baby boy. Coffins should never be that small.

We wanted to keep the babygro that Donncha had been wearing, but his little body was too delicate for too much handling, that we decided to just put a fresh clean babygro (also one of Ciarán’s) over the one he had on him. He was very tenderly dressed by Paddy and the midwife (Olivia) and placed into the coffin. Then, so not to cause upset to others, his coffin was placed into a special bag and we exited through the back door of the hospital. We drove home with him on the back seat in a white coffin, instead of being strapped into his car seat.

We opened our house to family and friends that evening. I was so happy to have been able to show him off. It meant so much to me that people wanted to come and meet him. He was real, he existed. The support and love we received that evening will never ever be forgotten.

That night we brought him upstairs in his coffin and placed him in the moses basket beside our bed, just like we would have done if he had been alive. During the night it gave me great comfort to be able to reach out and touch him when I needed to. That night was an awful night, filled with complete panic. His funeral was the next day and I knew that we’d be letting him go forever. The thoughts of never being able to hug, kiss or touch him was just too much to bear. No parent should ever face that, it’s just all so wrong. Neither of us had much sleep.

The next morning, we had family come into the house to see him one last time, say their goodbyes and offer their last kiss to him. Paddy asked us if we’d like to hold him one last time (one last time, imagine!) and we said we did. We held him together while sitting on the couch and had a few minutes in private, just the three of us. Then family came in to say their goodbyes and we got the most precious family photo taken of the five of us.

He was placed into the coffin, we swapped the teddies and put a picture of us in with him, we put holy water in too and a picture Ciarán had drawn. We kissed and touched him one last time and the coffin was closed.

We were driven down to the church by Podge’s brother (who had to come home from a family holiday in France to be with us, it meant an awful lot to Podge to have his family all around him). We held little Donncha’s coffin on our lap. At the church, we carried his coffin down the aisle together. I could feel myself unravelling when Podge whispered to me ‘stay strong’ and I did. I wanted to do Donncha proud.

The funeral mass was beautiful, Fr. Des locked all the doors of the church and we just had a very simple sermon with just our families there. Fr Des asked us to sit together at the top of the church, the same way we did on our wedding, facing Donncha’s little coffin. The sacristan, Liz, read out a lovely reflection at the end of mass.

We carried his coffin on our knees again to the graveyard. It was a beautiful, hot and sunny day. I’m not sure if that helped our mood or not. We had a short sermon while holding his little coffin in our arms at the graveside and then he was taken from us and lowered into the ground. A piece of my heart went into the ground with him that day, a piece that will never ever come back, it’s gone with him forever. It was one of the hardest moments of my life trying to keep it together while they lowered his coffin into the ground. Then that was it, he was gone.

We had lit the candle from the memory box on the Monday while he Donncha was with us and after everyone had left after the funeral, we lit the candle again and decided to stay up until the candle burnt out. Myself and Podge were sitting on the couch, exhausted and the flame just kept burning. I slept for 10 hours straight that night. I think my body finally gave in after an exhausting few days of barely any sleep and an exhausting few months of being pregnant. Donncha was finally resting, there was no more I could do for him.

* INM has a dedicated section independent.ie/babyloss where parents of all ages can share their stories of miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death. The section will serve as a testament to the women and men who share their stories, a memorial for the babies lost and as a resource for other people who have gone through or are going through the experience.

Your stories can be anonymous or on the record and nothing will be published in any format without prior consultation with you. If you would like to be part of this and tell your story, email Yvonne Hogan at

yhogan@independent.ie.

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