So, this is us back in 2016. My family... me, Mike, Max and Olivia Although one very special little lady is missing. On 25th November 2015 I gave birth to our second child Lexi Grace Murray, She was stillborn at 27 weeks gestation.
Most of you will know that I donate money from every sale to Tommys The Baby Charity, this is because in our subsequent pregnancy with Olivia we were expertly cared for by The Tommys Rainbow clinic in Manchester. I was asked to write a piece about my experience with Tommys for a conference they were holding. As its currently Baby Loss Awareness Week 2020, I thought I would share this extract from my presentation...
Pregnant with an Angel
I felt like I told everybody I met that Lexi didn’t move as much as Max had. I became used to the response "every pregnancy is different and every baby is different". I began to believe it, convinced that this baby was just a bit lazy.
I was working long hours and rushing to collect Max from nursery it was only when he was in bed that I'd sit and think I haven't felt the baby move today.
I was 26 and 4 (a Thursday) when I went to the doctors because of excruciating pelvic girdle pain. She asked me about my movements and I said I hadn't felt anything all morning. It was 11am. She called the hospital and sent me straight down.
When I got to the day unit the midwife listened in with a handheld doppler for what couldn't have been more than 30 seconds. She told me she was happy with the heartbeat and to rest and eat and drink plenty. Because if I was tired and sluggish so was baby.
4 days later on Sunday 22nd November I realised her movements had lessened still. We'd had visitors over the weekend so I'd been busy entertaining. When they left on Sunday the reality kicked in that she really hadn't moved much that day. I called triage and went in to be monitored.
I was told because I turned 27 weeks that day, new regulations meant I had to be attached to the CTG for 30 minutes. She was struggling to keep a trace on Lexi's heartbeat. She told me to drink a cold glass of water and go for a walk. I did. When I came back she couldn't find Lexi's heartbeat at all. She told me it was because at 27 weeks she was still so small and was floating around in the sac. She advised me to go home and come back tomorrow to the day unit where they have newer equipment which would better trace her heartbeat. So I left.
I returned the next morning to the day unit. One midwife tried and failed to hear Lexi's heartbeat she even changed the batteries in the doppler incase it was that. She then called in another midwife, when she tried and failed, they suggested we go straight for a scan.
I was walked out of the day unit and through the waiting room where women and their partners were sat waiting for their scans. By this point I knew she'd gone and tears where pouring down my face.
I lay on the bed as she applied the cold gel. For a minute the calmness of the room gave me a sense of hope and a feeling of peacefulness washed over me. And then she said he words "I'm so, sorry there's no heartbeat" and in that moment life changed forever.
What happened next was what I can only describe as chaos. I felt disorientated. I was taken into a side room. I'd forgotten my phone in the rush to get out of the house and get to the day unit. So I couldn’t call Mike, they were asking me for his number but I just couldn't remember it.
Midwives, consultant, I don't know who they were but the room was flooded with people all looking through my notes and asking me questions about my visit the previous evening. I finally remembered Mikes number and they called him for me, I couldn't get the words out. He was told the news as he sat in the waiting room at the Dr's surgery. He arrived a short time later.
I begged them not to make me deliver her. But several different midwives and consultants spoke to me and eventually I agreed. I took the first tablet to induce labour and returned to the hospital 24 hours later to take the second.
I delivered Lexi on Wednesday 25th November 2015 at 4.33pm. She weighed 1lb 3oz. She was perfect, she looked just like her brother.
Then followed the postmortem, the funeral and the all consuming grief.
We buried Lexi on 9 December 2015.
Pregnancy after loss
At the very end of January we found out we were pregnant again. We were shocked. I wasn't ready. Emotionally and physically, I wasn’t ready. I felt awful. How could we have done that to Lexi. I didn't want another baby. I wanted Lexi. I was still grieving, still forcing myself to get out of bed and paint a smile on my face.
I was 5 weeks pregnant when we went back to the hospital for the results of Lexi's postmortem. I felt sick. Complete betrayal.
We were told my placenta had blood clots and wasn't functioning properly. We were told there were two failings in my care and that on the two occasions I presented with reduced movements I should've been taken for a scan. I was told there was no guarantee that Lexi would've lived had the growth restriction been detected. I was told the staff concerned had been spoken to and everybody was very sorry.
As we drove away from the meeting I knew I couldn't go back to that hospital ever again.
And then panic set it. What was I going to do...
Tommys The Baby Charity
I first heard about the rainbow clinic after reading an article on facebook about a family who had experienced the loss of their child, and were receiving their antenatal care for their rainbow baby at The rainbow clinic in Manchester.
I frantically googled Dr Alex Heazell and emailed him straight away, I was shocked when he responded 20 minutes later! I ran upstairs to tell Mike immediately. Dr Alex saw us within three weeks of my email. I was nervous and scared but he was calm and reassuring. He spoke to us about the rainbow clinic and how they would help us through our pregnancy. He had my notes from my pregnancy with Lexi and I asked him to explain to me again why she died. (The consultant at the previous hospital told us it was due to blood clots in my placenta but I didn't understand fully what had gone wrong). Dr Alex explained in plain English (with diagrams and hand gestures) how the placenta works and how mine hadn't functioned as it should have. Although it was difficult and upsetting to hear, I understood and I need too. It was important to me to know that it was something I couldn't have controlled. I really really needed to know that.
I left the meeting confident that we were in the best place possible I felt like we were in safe hands and hopeful that this baby would make it here alive.
The waves of emotions during my pregnancy were multifaceted. The guilt (of being pregnant again), the anxiety (that I would lose this baby too), the fear and worry (that if I lost this baby the depths of despair I might fall too I might not recover from) the anger (that I'm even in this position, that my baby died). The sadness (that I'm forever changed, forever broken and this isn't how my life should be), the hopefulness (for this babys safe arrival) that briefly graces my mind but is quickly extinguished when one of the aforementioned emotions takes over again.
It was exhausting.
I doubted myself throughout the whole pregnancy, I didn’t trust my judgement, I didn’t trust my body to do what it was meant to do.
It was all consuming.
I survived the pregnancy by having fortnightly growth scans. Dr Alex would talk us through what he was doing and looking for as he scanned the baby. He told us what he could see, how the baby was growing and importantly he reassured me that my placenta and my body were doing what they should be. No question was too much and no appointment was ever rushed.
The few days that followed each scan where when I felt the most reassured, dare I say it, even hopeful. As the days passed I became more worried, nervous, anxious, fearful until the night before the scan I rarely slept, the morning of the scan me and Mike barely said two words to each other.
I lost count of the number of times I burst into tears when Louise asked me how I was doing. I lost count of the number of times Louise hugged me, reassured me and talked me back off the ledge. I was so grateful for her. I AM so grateful for her. That she understood. At every visit I was grateful to see her. And was comforted in the knowledge that she knew and understood my fears and anxieties.
When she didn't have the experience to help me she would put me in touch with women who had been in my position so I could email back and forth directly with them. It was such a help because I didn't know anybody like me. I didn't know anybody who had had a stillbirth I didn't know if what I was feeling was normal.
We had a date 38+3.
I just had to make it but I began to lose sight of any safe zone... We lost Lexi at 27 weeks. When I approached and hit the 27 week mark with Olivia I was overcome with emotion and flash backs. I vividly relived each day.... 'On this day in my pregnancy with Lexi, I was told she no longer had a heartbeat', 'on this night in my pregnancy with Lexi I turned over in bed and felt her move from left to right with me, I remember screaming, crying "I just want my baby back". 'On this day in my pregnancy I painfully laboured and delivered her. The eerie silence after she was born was deafening..." The world shattered again with every recall.
It was then I realised there was no safe zone, there was no 'when I get past 27 weeks'. Any day I felt could be the day I was told my baby had died. From this point on I never really found my stride in the pregnancy and each day, each week felt harder than the last.
I found myself withdrawing from everyday life, I refused invitations to birthdays, weddings, family get togethers. I didn't want to partake in normal life, I didn’t want to make polite conversation about the weather or your week at work. It all seemed so trivial compared to what I was battling. The inner turmoil, the grief, the tiredness and the anxiety that now haunted every waking moment.
This was compounded by the birth of my niece and nephew who were born just after my 27 week mark. In hindsight maybe this was why I never found my stride again. Their babies made it. They were alive. I still didn't know if mine was going to make it and I lived in fear at the thought. I avoided meeting them at all costs. I couldn't bring myself to do it. Some days I could see a picture of their tiny little newborns and join them briefly in their happiness, other days it crushed me. They were enjoying moments I'd been robbed of with Lexi and I didn't know whether I was going to get them with this baby.
As the weeks progressed and the delivery date approached, my anxieties worsened and I was offered weekly scans. God, I needed them and I was so grateful.
Then came the day of the delivery ward walk round. Naively, because this was a different hospital I'd underestimated how hard this was going to be. As Louise walked me round and we got nearer to the delivery suit, it dawned on me, that I was scared to see it. (I really don't know why I hadn't thought this through before) but as we walked into the delivery room and I saw the equipment, the bed, the little table they put the baby on immediately after they're born I fell to pieces. I had a panic attack. "I can't do this, I can't do this, I can't do this" is all I could say as I struggled to breath.
Louise was brilliant. She grabbed me, she held me, she told me I was strong, she reassured me that my baby was growing well and is healthy. She confirmed over and over that I was so nearly there. I was, two weeks to go.
The morning of my section was strange! I felt a mixture of sheer happiness, it was nearly over. I'd felt the baby move first thing this morning, she was alive.
Louise met me and Mike as we were waiting to be told when I would be going into theatre. It was so reassuring to see her. I felt my shoulders relax and I began to feel calmer. She accompanied us to theatre, she spoke to the nurses and consultants and whoever else was asking me questions and answered them for me. By now the nerves were kicking in and she knew me well enough to read the signs. Thank you Louise!
As I sat on the bed in theatre the anaesthetist injecting my back the midwives prepping the cannula. I could feel a panic attack coming on. The room was busy, there were so many people. One of the midwives thought she was distracting me by asking whether this was my first baby and whether I'd had a natural delivery before. I lost it. Louise took over. Thank you Louise! She held my face she steadied me. She calmed me. She focused me. And she told them to stop asking me questions.
As the cesarean was underway. Louise told me what was happening, calm and comforting. THANK YOU LOUISE! There was pressure on my lungs and I couldn't breath. I panicked. Louise told me "they're just pushing babys bottom to help her out, any minute now" I relaxed. THANK YOU LOUISE!
Few minutes later there she was... perfect... tiny... crying...alive.
We named her Olivia Rae Murray
I’m so thankful to have found The Tommys Rainbow Clinic to have had such expert care and to have been cared for so lovingly. To have had such wonderful people to reassure my concerns, calm my anxieties, acknowledge my fears and nervousness. They held my hand, they wiped my tears and they saved my sanity. I don't know how I would've got through the pregnancy without them. I don't know what state I would be in now if it wasn't for their care.
I’m relieved to have had one to one consultant care (something the previous hospital couldn't guarantee me) and too have always seen the wonderful Louise, seeing the same midwife spared me the torture of having to explain to different midwives over and over again that my baby had died. But more than that I was grateful. Grateful, that I didn’t have to have my antenatal care in the same hospital where Lexi had lived and died. I was grateful that I didn't have to be scanned in the same room where I was scanned and told Lexi no longer had a heartbeat. I was grateful I wouldn’t have to wait in the same waiting area that I had with Lexi, reliving each appointment I'd had with her. I was grateful I didn’t have to do the same car journey to hospital, I was grateful that I wouldn't have to see the midwives that had twice sent me home after reporting reduce movements. I was grateful that I didn’t have to deliver Olivia down the corridor from the room I delivered Lexi.
Last month we attended the rainbow clinics tea party, to celebrate the rainbow babies born in 2016. It was the first social event since Lexi died that I was genuinely looking forward to attending. I felt comfortable, I wasn’t on edge waiting in anticipation for someone to say the wrong thing. I was amongst people like me, grieving parents whose hearts were broken. We shared experiences, we cried a little and we marvelled at our miracle rainbow babies. It felt liberating. I left on a high. But I also left with a saddened heart because for all the 100 plus miracle babies there were 100 plus babies that hadn't made it. It made me view the incredible work Dr Alex and his team do in a different light. We needed them. More women and their families will need them. More babies will need them. I don't have the words to thank them enough. How can I? When I said earlier that they saved my sanity, it wasn't for effect. They really did. I didn't have any bereavement counselling after Lexi died. I should have I know that now. So I relied on them, their shoulders to cry on, their reassurances, their compassion and their experience having looked after women like me. I trusted them. I couldn't have done it alone, I just didn't have the strength. I will forever be eternally grateful to them.
We planted an oak tree in a barrel in the garden in memory of Lexi, we have beautiful ornaments hanging from the branches some from ourselves and some that family members have sent. Lexi's ashes are also planted in the barrel. It was important to us not to scatter them but to bring her home. It's both a comfort and a curse because every morning when I open my curtains and whisper 'good morning Lexi' my heart breaks all over again. She shouldn't be out there, she should be in here waiting for me to get her changed so we can go downstairs and have our breakfast.
One year on from Lexi's due date and despite being blessed with our rainbow and the whirlwind that is Max. Some days I still feel incredibly sad, exhausted and strangely, lonely. Loving Lexi and striving to keep her memory alive to prove she existed because sometimes it feels she is slipping from the memory of others is exhausting.
It's hard to accept that this is the new me. A little broken and never quite present in the moment. Every seasonal change brings a new wave of grief for forthcoming memories that Lexi won't share with us.
We're a family of 4 but we should be a family of 5 and that hurts, I expect it always will.
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