We decided it was time to have a family. What could be easier. So we started to project manage this development in our lives just as we managed projects every day at work.
Matthew was conceived in April 1996, due for arrival in February 1997. The decorating schedule was duly drawn up. We had 9 months to decorate the whole house. Having moved in only six months earlier and had major work done in every room, it was desperately in need of a severe tidy up. The car was looked at. It was surely too small to carry around a pram and all the other equipment a small baby demands. We changed the car for a Land Rover Discovery. Lots of room in the boot. Big and safe if we were involved in an accident and seven seats. The aim was to fill them all.
The finances were looked at and, if we managed to pull in our belts now, we could manage while I was on maternity leave for up to a year. We holidayed in a tent in Cornwall for a week, instead of five weeks in New Zealand as we had done the year before! And it was as we were driving back in the Land Rover, that we stopped in Bodmin and I did the pregnancy test. It was positive. We laughed and sang along to the radio all the way to my brother’s house in Badminton. My mum and Dad were there also. We didn’t want to wait the customary 3 months before telling anyone. We wanted to shout it from the roof tops now. We were so excited and pleased. We told my family that night. I was on light duties from now on. I avoided lifting anything heavy. I didn’t eat soft cheese, pate and all the other forbidden foods for pregnant women. I did try to eat for two though! Work was still very stressful and the long hours were exhausting. I started going to the antenatal appointments. David came to them all. The ultrasound scan at 12 weeks was brilliant. We saw him move. We saw his little face in profile. It was amazing. We told all our friends and I started looking at prams and antenatal classes. The appointment came through for the twenty week scan, we were half way through the pregnancy. Back to East Surrey hospital we went to see our little boy again.
The sonographer doing the scan asked if I was sure of my dates. Yes of course I was. I had counted every day. Was I diabetic? No, not that I knew . ” Oh” she replied. “Wait here and I’ll get a doctor to see you.” What was going on. We had come in to see our little boy. The notion that the scans were really to see if the baby was well hadn’t occurred to us. Let alone the thought that anything may be wrong. We had gone past the 3 month period when miscarriage is a big threat. It’s supposed to be plain sailing from then on. Isn’t it?
We were taken to a general waiting room, confused and not knowing what was wrong. Only that something clearly was wrong. I broke down and a sister showed us into a separate room and asked what was wrong. We explained that we didn’t know. She looked at the pictures that the sonographer had taken. And probably trying to help said ” I’ve never seen an alive foetus with a placenta like that before”. I was not consoled. The consultant arrived and explained that our little boy was two weeks smaller than he should be. “It could be a chromosome problem or it could just be that he’s going to be small. You’ll need to go to King’s College Hospital for a detailed scan.”
The earliest appointment was the next morning at 9.00. We went home in shock, our bubble was bursting. We hardly slept that night. We were at Kings early. A sonographer did a scan and said we needed to go to another machine to measure blood flows around our little boys body. The Professor came into the room to look over the scan. Still we didn’t know what was wrong. As he looked at the screen showing Matthew’s little body he dictated a letter to his colleague for our consultant. Thank you for referring this lady at twenty weeks gestation. I have found severe restricted blood flows with high probability of intrauterine death…..” As the image on his screen started to shake, he realised that I was a person, that I was lying there, that I had just learned that my little boy would probably die and that I was crying. He looked at me surprised and then realised that no one had actually spoken to us about our little boy.
We were told that Matthew was suffering. He was starving to death. The placenta wasn’t working properly so was depriving his body of oxygen required to keep his brain alive. That was why he was smaller than he should have been. I was eating for two, so why was Matthew starving. I must be able to help him, I’m his mum. There was nothing anyone could do. All the media coverage about all the wonderful things they can do in medicine now – operations on babies while they’re still in their mummy’s tummy amazing special care facilities. And yet, even one of the world’s leading obstetrician said there was nothing he could do. We went home and tried to take in what was happening. Family said, don’t worry, it’ll be alright. How could it be alright. Matthew was dying inside of me and I couldn’t make him better. What could I do. My big belly was a constant reminder that I was pregnant, but Matthew was dying.
A week later I went into hospital with stomach pains. After waiting three hours for a scan, I found out that Matthew was still alive. I was on painkillers and on the maternity/antenatal ward. The other women were all happy, laughing and joking amidst the crying babies. I didn’t sleep, but I cried.
The next day David came to see me, still drowsy from a general anaesthetic. He’d had his wisdom teeth out the night before. I wanted to come home with David. We found a midwife who understood why I wanted to go home and at 8.00 that night we finally went home. We nursed each other all Sunday. The movement of the bed as I rubbed my tummy lulled David to sleep. At 5.00 in the morning, I woke David to take me to hospital. Matthew had died.
I was induced and after a short, but painful labour, Matthew was born. I cried out, “Where’s my baby!” But he was taken out of the room as soon as he was born. The midwife brought Matthew back to us in a mosses basket. He was tiny, but perfect. He had tiny little finger nails, beautiful hands, little eyelashes and big feet. We decided he would have been tall with those big feet. He was our little boy and we cried. We spent the afternoon with Matthew, not leaving him alone for a minute. But finally we had to leave him there and go home empty. Completely empty. We were in a daze and exhausted. David was recovering physically from his operation and I was recovering from labour. And we were both trying to deal with the utter devastation we felt.
A week later David carried Matthew’s tiny white coffin into the chapel. We had gone around the woods and fields the day before to collect autumnal nuts and berries, reds, oranges, yellows and greens to put on his coffin. It was a lovely natural posy that I hoped in some way would sustain him. I still longed to provide for him. When he was born I just wanted to put him to my breast. To feed him. To make him better.
The next week we went to collect Matthew’s ashes. We were handed a small cardboard box barely two inches by four inches. I don’t know what we expected, but the coldness of collecting him from an office and being handed a cardboard box was distressing. We took him home and kept him in the bedroom with us. We had decided to take Matthew for a walk and to scatter his ashes at a beautiful view point that we often walked to. We would have taken Matthew for many walks, so it seemed right that he should be in a place where we could come to see him and talk to him and be with him. It was very difficult letting Matthew go. It took four months before I could bare to part with his ashes. It was a sunny day when we took him to what we now call Matthew’s Place. David scattered his ashes at the base of a tree stump, by the fallen tree where we could sit and gaze at the view and talk to Matthew.
We had agreed to a postmortem to see if we could find out why. Why he died? What we did wrong. Why us? Why Matthew? Six weeks after Matthew was born we went back to see the consultant to hear the results of the postmortem. There was no chromosome problem. There was nothing wrong with Matthew. The placenta had failed and haemorrhaged. It was one in a thousand. It wouldn’t happen again. But that didn’t bring back my Matthew.
I clung to the photograph the midwife had taken of Matthew. I still had his scan pictures and a footprint they had done. They are all precious to me. I would not have thought of such things at the time. The distress of the situation was all consuming. But they are wonderful things to have. Matthew’s picture is in the lounge and the bedroom so I can be with him every day.
Three week’s after Matthew was born I went back to work. And five weeks later we decided to take a holiday. Driving to the airport the Land Rover blew up. The smoke and emergency services brought the M25 to a stand still. A fitting end for the Land Rover.
The first six months after Matthew died were a complete blur of grief, distress and desolation. Sands, was a tremendous support. I spoke to other bereaved parents and I soon realised that how I felt was normal. The feelings of complete hopelessness, the guilt, the anxiety, the sense of failure and the all consuming sadness and despair. Knowing these feelings were normal didn’t make them go away, but it did make it easier to get through each day, just one day at a time. As the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months we slowly found the strength to consider having a second child.
We were fortunate that I conceived again at the first attempt. Ruth was conceived in March 1997, and expected in December. But, being pregnant this time was a totally different experience. The consultant had told me that I would never enjoy being pregnant again. That I would find it a very stressful and anxious time. It was but I did enjoy being pregnant. I felt special again and maybe this time I wouldn’t be a failure.
The antenatal appointments were very difficult. David came with me again. But I cried through every one. When we went for the twelve week scan, we weren’t smiling excitedly like last time. We looked round the waiting room and wondered at the happy faces and thought, if only you knew, it’s just not that easy. We used to be like them. Never thinking, really thinking, that anything could go wrong. A lady went into the scan room with her partner, sister and mother. Ten minutes later she came out in tears. I felt sick. Something must be wrong with her baby. Her sister said, “It may not be right. They can’t always tell at this stage. She replied, “It is right. I saw it. It’s another bloody boy .” I stopped listening and tried to quell the anger.
I had scans at sixteen and twenty weeks. Everything was going fine. We were going on a budget holiday for a week, the last holiday before our second baby arrived. I asked the consultant for a “peace of mind” scan just before we went away. I was twenty seven weeks. Maybe, he said, this is a normal pregnancy and there isn’t anything to worry about. Finally he agreed and I went to East Surrey Hospital the day before we were due to go on holiday.
The sonographer had taken the time to read my notes and knew about Matthew. So when she said, “Your baby is a bit small, I just want a doctor to see this scan. Just to be on the safe side.” She said it carefully. It was exactly a year minus a day, in the same scanning room that we had heard those words before. Mentally we gathered all the strength we had and went to the maternity ward where I was put on a CTG machine to monitor Ruth’s heartbeat. The consultant on duty came to see us. The same consultant who had come to talk to us almost exactly a year ago. He was kind and tried to reassure us. Again he made us an appointment at a London hospital, St. George’s this time.
We went home in a daze. Is this really happening a second time. “One in a thousand chance. It won’t happen again.” We hardly slept and were up early to drive to London for the 9 o’clock appointment. The traffic was horrendous. After two hours we dumped the car and ran/walked the rest of the way. We didn’t want to miss the appointment. Unfortunately there were a couple of emergency cases and we had to wait three hours to be seen. It was extremely stressful. I fought back the tears in the waiting room, unsuccessfully. Finally we were seen by the consultant.
He scanned Ruth and pronounced severe IUGR (Intrauterine growth retardation). The placenta wasn’t working properly again. The consultant said to come back in ten days for a second scan and he would see if Ruth had grown. We explained what had happened to Matthew, but he assured us that Ruth was a lot bigger and that we had a chance this time. She would never go to term, but she might grow big enough for an early caesarean birth. We left St George’s Hospital remembering how we were supposed to go back for a second growth scan for Matthew, but never made it.
From St George’s we went to East Surrey Hospital for blood tests and blood pressure monitoring. When finally we got home, we started packing for holiday. We were meant to go that morning and now we weren’t sure whether to go at all. The hospital called with the blood results as we were about to leave. The kidney function test was abnormal. The most likely cause being pre-eclampsia. After lengthy discussions with the consultant we were advised to go on holiday for the week as the condition was unlikely to become critical. Reluctantly we went, feeling exhausted. We spent a week on Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel, with no roads, no medical facilities and twelve permanent residents. Under normal circumstances – bliss. But, after spending three days in bed with flu, we were helicoptered off the Island as the weather conditions were too poor for the boat. Back to hospital we went. I was admitted to East Surrey Hospital for the pre-eclampsia and was transferred the next day to St. George’s Hospital. Here I remained for the next two months.
The second scan showed that Ruth had grown slightly. So although the placenta was failing, it was still sufficient to sustain her with very limited growth. It was now a toss up between the pre-eclampsia accelerating and the placenta failing completely.
After 43 scans, 41 blood tests, 78 CTG’s, 233 blood pressure tests, 10 steroid injections, 41 urine tests, a kidney scan, 42 aspirin and more than enough stress and upset, Ruth was born by caesarean section 7 weeks early. She weighed 2lb 8 oz.
David was there at the birth, with me as always. He went with Ruth to intensive care, still in his theatre blues. He was now looking after Ruth. He was so intent on checking what was happening to her that the nurses mistook him for a new registrar. Ruth was connected up to a heart and respiratory monitor, oxygen saturation monitor and had an intravenous line put into her heart to feed her. Her nappy came up to her arm pits.
Ruth had four days of phototherapy and weeks of daily blood tests to treat/monitor her jaundice. And during the first week of her life she caught an infection and had to undergo a lumbar puncture, xrays, more blood tests and intravenous antibiotics. But soon Ruth moved onto feeding via a nasal tube, just 1/2 ml of my milk an hour at first. Ruth was on a concoction of drugs, including caffeine to try and reduce the number of bradycardias she was having. This is a condition caused by immaturity of the brain. Ruth would forget to breathe and her heart rate would drop right down. It’s terrifying to witness. The monitor alarms go off and you see the respiratory and heart rates drop. Sometimes a little nudge would remind Ruth to breathe, other times she needed a quick blast of oxygen to get her going again. We spent as much time as we could with Ruth. We would scrutinise her medical charts every time we went to see her to try to find out as much as possible about how she was progressing.
Although Ruth was all wired up and tremendously fragile, the paediatricians actively promoted “skin to skin” contact. In simple terms, open your shirt and put Ruth inside next to your skin. The warmth of your body keeps her warm enough and it’s been proved that close contact helps premature babies to thrive. It was a lovely sensation. So wonderful to be able to hold her at last.
December 12th was the big day when Ruth came home, weighing 4lbs. Finally we got to walk out of that hospital carrying our baby. Although we had to continue with the hospital routine of measuring feeds and administering her drugs and keeping her inside for the next month, we did finally get to look after our little Ruth on our own. And the sleepless nights were a joy! Ruth is now eight months old, weighs a grand 13lbs and smiles at every opportunity. And she is the reason why this article is entitled “So Lucky”. That’s how we feel – we’ve got the most precious gift in the world – life. But, still we never have and never will forget, Matthew, our little boy. He is part of our family of four. And we take Ruth to see her big brother, so she can tell him what mischief she’s been up to today.