I'm not one to worry. Even when I started having seizure – like episodes, I didn't worry. I got checked at the GP and all was well. I didn't worry about my baby because bad things don't happen to me. It sounds arrogant but things just go OK for me. Even when I collapsed and spent a few days in hospital, things were OK. Friends rallied and helped Andy out at home and I was OK in hospital. Baby was fine, my babies are always fine.
Preparing for a trip to Moana to see my inlaws, I started to feel low. I felt a need to stay near home. I reassured myself that I was Ok to travel. My midwife assured me I was OK to travel. I put my mind at rest and went. We had a lovely day of enjoying the rural environment, watching the kids enjoy their grandparents, their animals and the property. I started to think about baby Eleanor inside me. She was usually very active in there and I hadn't noticed movements while being in Moana. I still didn't worry as bad things don't happen to me, or my babies. But I knew this was an 'alert sign' on the front of my pregnancy notes – so I diligently messaged Chris, my midwife. She also thought all would be well, but suggested I get checked at Grey Hospital just to put my mind at ease so that I could sleep that night.
Still, I didn't worry. She would start kicking any minute. Or I would arrive at the hospital and be laughed at for being a worry-wart and be sent home. We made the 30min trip to Greymouth and begrudgingly dawdled into the maternity ward. The nurse took my blood pressure (prefect, as always), pulse and temperature, and told me it was all very positive. The midwife came in with the doppler and I got ready to hear that train like sound of my baby's heartbeat.
I started to wonder if I should worry? She changed the place she put the doppler.
Baby must be in a weird position, I thought. The midwife admitted she was very concerned as she couldn't find a heartbeat and baby felt wrong.
Should I start to worry now? I'm feeling OK but this is all rather worrying. The midwife was talking so very carefully to me, and treating me as if I was terrified. It was definitely a sign I should be worrying. She called the on-call obstetrician who came in casually with an ultrasound machine. I was calm while it was plugged in and started to boot up.
I still managed to be un-worried enough to make inappropriate jokes about lube as I was prepared for the scan. The obstetrician carefully scanned my belly, showing Ellie's wee body. I could see her ribs, I could see her chest but couldn't see her heart. Hearts don't show up on ultrasound unless they are beating. I stared and stared at the screen, imaging a heart appearing out of nowhere and starting to beat. If I stared and imagined it hard enough, surely it would happen? Otherwise a very bad thing was happening and bad things don't happen to us.
Suddenly I heard the strangest cry. It was so foreign and desperate and pained. I soon realised that was me crying, as it matched the pain in my chest as I lay on that hard bed, admitting to myself that she had gone. I held my stomach, feeling her still in there, willing her to jump to life. How can she be gone? My body MADE her alive in the first place, how could she die inside me?
This was the first time I'd seen Andy cry. It actually calmed me – because I could see he felt the pain I felt and we were in this together. I thought we were so close before, but we got even closer that night as we survived that pain. It was surreal, walking out of that room after being told to call the hospital if I were to go into labour. I had two small pages of notes outlining my baby was dead. Those two small pages added into my huge book of notes, created over the last eight months of loving Ellie, and enduring various pregnancy symptoms. My huge book of pregnancy achievements and milestones, made totally irrelevant in one small minute in that hospital.
I called Mum and Stacey – both of whom cried as painfully as I had. I couldn't understand half of what they said through their tears, and I can't recall the other half in all the commotion. Andy had called his mum and we started the empty journey back to their house. This journey was physical and emotional. During this journey I went from grief to terror, as I came to terms with the fact that I had to birth my baby. How can I birth my baby when I don't have the mental strength? I don't have a live, crying, wiggling baby to look forward to. Labour is just torture when you don't have a baby at the end of it. I felt sick. I wanted to keep Ellie inside me until she sprung back to life.
After lots of tea, coffee and tears we went to bed to prepare the 3 hour journey home the next day with our two children, and Ellie all wrapped up safe inside me. Andy and I bonded on the way home, talking about what had happened, processing, distracting ourselves, crying over every song on the radio that seemed relevant to us. We'd told the kids that morning, they seemed to understand and their emotions reflected ours and changed frequently.
This was the calm before the storm. Arriving home started the stream of crying , but also started the stream of support. Chris visited to explain what was to happen next. There would be forms. There would be medications. There would be needles. There would be pain. There WOULD be a baby, but there would be such little time with her. We had to make memories. As many memories as we could fit in our hearts in so little time. She was so right. I was given a 20 page booklet that the doctors use as a guide to the induction of my baby. TWENTY pages of check lists, forms, consents and a list of 14 tubes of bloods I would need to give.
At least I had the terror to distract me from the emotional pain. The terror of an induced labour when I am a home birther. The terror of being in the hospital and being out of my control. The terror of having to do this and not being able to get out of it – no moaning, screaming, demanding or refusing would get me out of what I had to do the next day. It was completely inevitable.
My mind was a blurr as she showed me information from SANDS about what to do when your baby dies. I had to think about cremation vs burial, services, mementos, induction choices, protocols, what I could choose and what I couldn't. I'm glad this process started early, because my brief time with Eleanor was so precious that I had to have a clear head – clear enough to fill to the brim with memories, not cluttered with details and choices.
My support network swelled as Laura, my birth support, was promoted to PA and Mum was chief support person and, well, my Mum. They were both grieving in their own selves, but still processed with me, and did everything for me. All I had to do was make essential decisions and just, well, do what ever I needed to do. Their support and all the million jobs they did made this so much easier than it may have been.
On Sunday morning we dropped the kids off at my dads for their fun couple of days with him. We'd always promised they would have fun with Dad when baby came and we weren't changing that now. As mum drove Andy and I to the hospital my mindset developed – this was still the fun labour and birth I had planned. I was still going to meet my baby girl soon, that hasn't changed.
How do I introduce myself to the lady at the desk at Christchurch Women's Hospital?
“Hi, I'm Erin, I'm here to have my baby induced, don't congratulate me, she died”
No that wouldn't work.
“Hi, I'm Erin, I'm here to be induced”
No that wouldn't work either – they might look happy for me.
I settled on “Hi. I'm Erin Maxwell”.
That was all I needed, she looked at her paperwork and her face dropped. I was taken to the “Garden Room” - that room that the staff there probably dreaded being assigned to. The room where staff held their breath as they entered and looked at me with pain in their eyes. The room with the double bed, TV and kitchenette – the “go gently room”.
As I sat on the bed the terror overwhelmed me. I was so scared. Not sad yet, just scared. The midwife on duty introduced herself, Chris arrived and lots of people went over and over what was to happened. It all kind of stuck in my head, but lots just fell out. All I could think of was panic and pain.
Hospital time is slow. This really helped calm me and get in the right mind space. Mum was with me, Chris arrived and Laura was coming. This was starting to feel more like the labour and birth experience I had planned. Well kind of. It was all going to be OK, as bad things don't happen to me.
11:40 – Ultrasound scan to confirm “no fetal heartbeat found”.
It took until 12:40 to finally start the drugs to induce labour. We had been in hospital for over three hours. As I said, hospital time is slow. We were told not to expect any “action” till tomorrow as the process is slow. It's hard to induce a baby that isn't ready to come yet. But again, the pace helped my mind and my heart. It helped me to come to terms with what had happened and what was to happen in the next few days. I'd decided back on the coast that I would undo all the knitting that I had done for Ellie, and remake it into a blanket that I could keep. The slow hospital pace enabled us to start our own wee knitting circle of women. Mum, Laura and Chris all had needles going like mad while I was taking apart cardigans and singlets. Every hope and dream I had to Ellie while knitting those clothes was taken apart with them and was remade into something else, just as my expectations were remade. My hopes were ripped apart and made into something different.
At this stage, I'm not yet sad and upset. I'm moving from fear and anxiety to excitement over meeting my baby. Things are changing and different, but not over yet. Nothing is over – just different. Baby isn't gone, she is just different. We still have her.
With a helping hand in the form of a sleeping pill I drifted off to sleep that night, the first proper sleep I had in two days.
Monday is here. Time to get real. Time to take more drugs, make more arrangements and to do more knitting and chatting. Aunty Bean is here with mum and Laura – so I have even more women to add to my circle of support. Andy seems calm, but his head is always so full and he is often so deep inside himself I have no idea what he's thinking. I hold back on asking him how he is, because I'm sure even he doesn't know.
11:45 exam by Chris. Cervix not favourable.
Time to soldier on with more drugs.
“Now I Lay me Down to Sleep” photographers have been contacted to take photos once baby is born.
Time now is spent joking, chatting, eating food sent by our vast support group and knitting. As I start to get more pains and realise things are starting to happen I start to think about pain relief more. I refuse to go through labour and birth naturally, I want all the help I can get, even if that means needles and IV lines.
After a large amount of gas and air, I managed to be brave enough to have an IV line put in and a PCA connected. At the push of a button I could have relief from physical pain.
9:10pm – artificial rupture of membranes, very little meconium stained liquor
Contractions were much stronger from here and it was a steady pace till it was time to do some real work and push. I knew the feeling was coming, so Laura, Mum and Aunty Bean were sent outside the door to wait.
I pulled the covers off and rolled to my back. I reached down to feel her head moving down and realised it was really time to push. There was no waiting till the next contraction, no panting as her head crowned, just steady pushing and easing her out. I was warned this part would be much harder as she can't “help” herself out. I was ready for hard work, but in a matter of a couple of minutes, she was lying on the bed between my legs.
I still lay on my back and removed the gas from my mouth and lay there.
“Is she beautiful” I asked?
“She IS beautiful” Chris assured me.
I looked to Andy
“Is she beautiful?”
“She really is beautiful” He reassured me. I could tell by the look on his face that she was beautiful.
Chris spoke “Erin, you have your answer. There is a true knot in her cord, a tight knot and the cord is around her neck twice”
I slowly looked down, terrified to look at my baby. I expected to see a foreign, unfamiliar baby that offended me. I prepared myself to not like what I saw. As soon as I saw that innocent, soft, brand new baby I fell in love. She looked just like any other new baby, just asleep.
“She's so beautiful, she really is beautiful” I repeated as I picked her up and lay her on my stomach. She was soft, wet and had a face I recognised. She was OUR baby and felt like it. I bonded instantly and was overjoyed.
Andy wept and wept as I was beaming, proud of myself for birthing her and I was so in love. I was HAPPY. She was beautiful, she was our baby and she was here. Just like any other mum with any other baby, I had been looking forward to meeting her for so long and had spent hours imagining what she would look like. I was not disappointed.
I felt so guilty seeing others breaking down around me while I was so happy to have her.
The others came in to meet her. I could tell that their hearts were aching seeing her, as they were falling in love but hurting at the same time. They were wanting to bond and love her but scared of the pain.
All too soon everyone was gone, Eleanor was wrapped up in bed and we were alone. I slept very well, exhausted from the nights events.
With the morning came celebrations. We had a professional photographer come and swoon over our gorgeous baby. Andy dressed her gently and she was even more 'real' to me. I got to know her. I took the time to memorise every little feature of my darling girl. Her big feet, long fingers and little pouty mouth.
Ellie was famous! So many photos and even hand and foot castings done. The Garden Room was a hive of activity – power tools revving, mixing up the ingredients for the casting, shutters clicking, knitting needles clicking and wool scraps lining the corridors. I was the proudest mum as different people met Ellie and Andy looked pretty proud of himself too.
Going home was strange. I was a proud mum wanting to carry out my baby with a smile, but I was so worried about strangers stopping me to see her, then realising she was dead. Poor Ellie was snuck out the back way, into a waiting car. It felt so strange to be in a car with her in my arms, not in a carseat! I only hope I wasn't judged too harshly by onlookers.
Things were just different – I still had my baby, I was still happy and taking my baby home to be with her family. Sophie and Lachie seemed to understand. They met her and thought she was so cute! She was tucked into a specially bought wee basket that Laura had lovingly prepared with as much attention to detail as she would have for her own children.
Now we come to today. Her memorial, at home where she belongs. The knitting continued and was a great way to break the awkward silences. So many people came to meet her and all fell in love with her and expressed how beautiful she is. I was still the proud mum with her beautiful baby. Nothing was gone, she was just different. I was still the proud new mum with the gorgeous new baby.
But now. She's gone. We have taken her to the crematorium and done what no good parent does – we have left her there. Yes I lovingly tucked her up in her bed, but I left her on a cold, wooden table and turned away from her, and left. Now I'm not the proud new parent. I'm the empty shell, missing her baby and feeling fear for the future. My baby is alone, without me and I'll never see her again. I feel so guilty for letting her go. I miss her so much.
But I have learned one thing, the reason I have always thought bad things don't happen to me is because that even though bad things do happen to me, I have the gift of being able to see the good side of things. Ellie has taught me so much and given me so much in the little time I have had her, that I will continue to grow, even though she can't.