‘She took her place in the hearts of our family….’
In the early hours of Monday 21 February 2011, after 41 weeks and five days of anticipation and excitement, our beautiful little baby was born – a 6lb 6oz girl we called Daisy Johnston. However, what was meant to be a joyous celebration of our firstborn child has been a nightmare. Despite a wonderful, complication-free pregnancy – so low risk, we opted for a homebirth – Daisy was stillborn. We’d lost her in the last few hours of labour.
Nick (my husband) and I had been trying to conceive for about four years. In fact, we were about to have IVF treatment when, as so often happens, we discovered we’d conceived naturally. Words can’t describe how ecstatic and blessed we felt. Despite trying for so long, it was still a surprise! Everything about the pregnancy was happy and easy – from telling our family and friends to not even getting a sniff of morning sickness.
Early on in the pregnancy a friend told me about hypnobirthing, a set of techniques to prepare for and cope with labour. It’s based on the principle that if mum is relaxed, then labour can be relaxed and there is less need for medical interventions. It might sound a bit hippy, but the more I read about it, the more it resonated with me. And I can honestly say it worked for us too. On Sunday 20 February at about 6.30pm, I felt what I thought were contractions. We called the hospital who told me to have a bath to see if the contractions continued, which they did. And so, at 9pm, we asked the hospital to send a midwife. The atmosphere in our house was exactly as we’d planned – relaxed and serene. The midwife confirmed I was in labour and we listened in to baby and heard a good, strong heartbeat. By now it was about 10.30pm and I was 3cm dilated. “You’re doing really well,” the midwife told us, “there’s going to be a baby here by the morning.” Nick got the birthing pool set up and I continued listening to my hypnobirthing CD.
Our first midwife left us about 11.30pm and we called for another about an hour later. By the time she arrived it was 1.30am and I was in the birthing pool. I was still coping really well with the contractions, although they had definitely intensified. I got out of the pool to use the loo and then the midwife examined me. To my surprise, I was fully dilated and she said before I started to push, we’d listen in to baby. That’s when our world fell apart. The midwife couldn’t find a heartbeat and we could see she looked as shocked and scared as us. The next few hours are a blur. The ambulance. Being rushed into a delivery room. The monitors. The doctors’ faces. Giving birth to our baby. Her lifeless body being placed on my chest and then being whisked away. Being told she’d died. Pure shock. Inconsolable grief. Nick calling our family. Their arrival at the hospital. You’re reading this, which means you know how it goes.
I describe the first few hours and days as being like a war-zone. We stumbled around like wounded soldiers – merely existing. My mantra was ‘nothing will ever be worse than those first 24 hours, maybe as bad, but never worse.’ Looking back, I don’t know how we survived – but we did. The love and support of our amazing family and friends definitely helped, as did the care and guidance we received from SPRING. At the end of that Monday, we moved into the SPRING Suite to spend two precious nights with our baby. Being able to bond as a family, to look adoringly at our beautiful girl, to hold her and share her with her grandparents, aunts and uncles was amazing. She took her place in the hearts of our family.
Returning home with empty arms was horrendous. I just remember going into the lounge and pulling a blanket over my head. At times, it felt like I’d never been pregnant, that we hadn’t had a baby. But the family and friends who stayed with us, and the messages, cards and flowers we received from others, gave us strength. People would say ‘no words will help’ but actually they did. Knowing people were feeling our pain, and thinking of us and Daisy, really did help.
We decided to let Daisy go for a post mortem – mainly because if there was an explanation for what happened, then we wanted to know, particularly as we want Daisy to be a big sister to other children we have in future. Strangely, this gave us time to plan a funeral that would be poignant and special. The ceremony was led by a wonderful humanist celebrant, and Nick and I read letters we’d written, and music was played that summed up our feelings of love and loss. It was a bittersweet occasion – so, so sad, but also rather beautiful as so much meaning was attached to such a little life.
Daisy’s legacy. At the same time, we wanted to do something truly positive and inspiring in Daisy’s name. Within a week of Daisy dying, Nick had signed up for the Bournemouth Bay 10K run, which was taking place on Sunday 3 April – Mothers’ Day. We told family and friends about the run and, to our amazement, a further 19 people had joined Team Daisy. The day itself was magical. Donned in Team Daisy t-shirts featuring a picture of our beautiful little girl, our team members literally ran Daisy around the streets of Bournemouth. The runners were of varying degrees of fitness, so they all came in at different times. This was great for the Team Daisy supporters. Dotted along the route, we cheered and shouted as each runner went by. Daisy was the talk of the town – and even got name-checked in the Daily Echo’s post event article! Best of all, Team Daisy was fundraising for SPRING – raising an unbelievable £10,000 (and still counting!). What an amazing legacy! As Nick said, Daisy has contributed more in her short little life than many people do in a lifetime. After the run, we had a garden party and hog-roast at our house. It was another opportunity to share Daisy with our family and friends – and to ensure she is never forgotten.
We know we are only at the start of recovering from the loss of our first-born child, but thanks to SPRING, we have been given the foundations on which to rebuild our lives. Being able to give something back to SPRING has made us feel incredibly proud. Like most people, we had no idea that babies were stillborn at the end of a complication-free pregnancy. Sadly for us, like so many others, a window has been opened on a world we knew nothing about. Nobody talks about it until it happens to you. Then it seems everyone knows someone who’s had a similar experience. That makes me sad. But if the money raised in Daisy’s name can help others who find themselves a member of this club that no-one wants to join, then at least we have found something positive in all this. It means we have gained, as well as lost.