My husband Jake and I had been together for 11 years, married for 2, when we decided to start a family. We were overjoyed (and nervous) to find out we got pregnant quickly in June 2021. My symptoms were manageable and lasted until around 17 weeks. I was quite anxious early on in pregnancy as I was aware of miscarriage, but after the 12 week scan I naively didn’t think anything could go wrong from this point onwards. My pregnancy was low risk and everything was ‘normal’ throughout. At the 20 week scan, we found out we were having a little boy and all was healthy.
I am a dentist, and I was working throughout my pregnancy during the COVID pandemic. The previous year, pregnant women were classed as vulnerable and were allowed to isolate if working in a patient facing role. I enquired whether I could at least not work in the third trimester, but the policy had changed, and I could only be off if I took maternity early. So I decided I would take maternity from when I could to be safe, which was 2 months early.
Under 2 weeks before I was meant to start maternity, I tested positive for COVID. I only found out because I was doing lateral flow tests twice a week for work, and on that day my only symptom was tiredness, which I assumed was due to the pregnancy. I did develop a mild cough, lost my sense of smell and taste, and had a fever on days 8 and 9 of isolation. But it was all mild, and I wasn’t bed bound or anything.
I emailed the midwives that I had COVID and was told to keep hydrated, to take a paracetamol if I had a fever and to call an ambulance if I had difficulty breathing. I was more worried for myself as the TV news was saying how pregnant women can end up in intensive care, but nothing about the effect on the baby.
The day after I finished isolation, I went for a walk for some fresh air. Whilst sat in a café, I realised that the baby’s movements weren’t very strong today. He wasn’t that active every day and had quiet days before. I didn’t even think about COVID affecting anything at this point as I was past the critical 10 days. I am usually an overthinker and worrier, but for some reason the fact that COVID could cause anything to happen to the baby didn’t even cross my mind. This is likely because I hadn’t heard of anything happening to a baby because of COVID, which is why I wish I’d known.
That night, my husband came home after midnight and I felt a kick, which reassured me to fall asleep. I now know this kick was Jacob’s last. I believe Jacob waited for his daddy to come home to give one final kick for daddy.
The next morning, on 12th December 2021, I didn’t feel Jacob at all, but I didn’t always feel him in the morning, so wasn’t immediately worried. I was 31 weeks exactly on this day. I had organised a virtual baby shower for my friend in Australia that morning. It feels weird that I was on this zoom baby shower while my own baby was dead inside me already. After the baby shower, around midday I said to Jake that I haven’t felt Jacob all morning. We googled it and I tried some jumping jacks, tried drinking something sweet/cold, but nothing moved him. We called the maternity assessment unit and they told us to come in.
On our way to the hospital, we never imagined what was coming next. Jake wasn’t allowed in with me due to COVID, so he waited downstairs in the café. I waited probably about 45 minutes; no one seemed worried. They took my blood pressure and asked for a urine sample. Next, a midwife tried to find the heartbeat with a doppler but couldn’t. Another tried, and also couldn’t find a heartbeat. At this point, I still wasn’t too worried. Looking back I can’t believe how positive I thought the outcome could be. I’m normally one to jump to the worst case scenario in my head and worry. But here I just never imagined this worst case scenario could actually happen.
Then they took me to the ultrasound room where a young doctor was checking the baby. Another more senior doctor came in and also checked the ultrasound. I was still blissfully unaware what was happening. I wasn’t asking any questions; I just laid there waiting. It almost feels like a different person as that’s so not like me. The senior doctor then said to me, ‘Unfortunately there is no heartbeat’. I don’t think I quite understood what that meant. I texted my husband to come up and in those few minutes while I waited, I was in such shock I think. I didn’t cry. I couldn’t believe what was happening and I was all alone.
Jake arrived and I kind of shook my head at him that the news was bad. The doctor told him that our baby had died. They gave us a few minutes alone where we hugged and cried, but I just wanted to know what’s next and how to end this nightmare. I didn’t realise that the nightmare never ends when your baby dies.
Next a consultant came to confirm that Jacob had died. She said they have seen COVID causing pregnancy loss like this. That is when I finally realised it was COVID. They explained that it is best for me to give birth naturally. I just agreed as I thought they knew best. They took some bloods from me and gave me a pill, which was meant to start the induction process. We were told to return 2 days later to give birth, but no other information. I didn’t even get a leaflet. We hadn’t yet been to any antenatal classes, so I had no idea what to expect with birth. In my head I was about to go into a horror film where I am giving birth to death. I was terrified I would also die because why not, my baby just died so I can easily die too I thought.
We went home and called our parents. Mine live nearby so came straight away. Everyone was heartbroken and crying. I was still in shock and hardly cried. I couldn’t sleep that night. I started googling ‘what happens when your baby dies inside you’. That’s when I learnt I am a having a stillborn. I came across the UK Tommy’s baby loss charity website and read everything about stillbirth and what happens. It finally all hit me, and I realised what was happening, that there is a baby inside me, and I will give birth to my baby boy. I read other people’s stories and how they made memories with their baby. That is when the uncontrollable crying started. I realised I was going to meet my baby and how I need to cherish those moments.
The next day was a waiting game. It felt like such a blur and out of body experience. I kept saying ‘I just want tomorrow over and done with’. The thought of birth was scaring me as I had no idea what to expect, so I wanted this over before we could start healing.
On Tuesday 14th December 2021, we packed and went to hospital in the afternoon. We were put in a room called the butterfly suite; I now know these sorts of rooms are special rooms for people like us whose baby has died. We were seen by the midwife, doctors and bereavement midwife. Around 5pm I had the first pessary, by which point I was already having regular cramps. The pains were getting progressively worse, and I was given paracetamol and dihydrocodeine. I tried to read and walk around as somewhere in life I heard walking helps when in labour.
By 8pm it became unbearable, and I had to lie down. I asked for gas and air. I had the second pessary and I think the midwife did a sweep. It all got a bit blurry from here. The gas and air quickly wasn’t doing anything. By 9pm I was given the epidural. It didn’t work immediately, and the pain was getting so bad. They gave me a bolus of morphine to help the pain while they fixed the epidural. It finally worked, but the morphine made me drowsy and I started falling asleep between contractions. Around now my parents arrived.
Suddenly I felt my waters breaking and shortly after I felt something coming. Heidi, the lovely midwife on night shift, said it must be more waters, but she looked and said, ‘Ooo baby is coming’. It all happened so quickly, I pushed once, and Jacob was born at 10:33 pm. He was born at 31+2 weeks pregnant. Then the placenta came quickly after that, and my mum cut the cord. I feel like Jacob wanted to help his mummy so made birth quick and easy-ish for me.
I glanced down at my baby and briefly saw him all curled up in a ball. Me and Jake decided we would ask the midwife to look at Jacob if he was deteriorated before we saw him because we were so scared. Heidi said, ‘He’s perfect’.
Jacob was wrapped in a personalised blanket which we brought with us, from Jacob’s auntie, and then placed in my arms. I was in awe of him. I couldn’t believe this was my baby boy. I didn’t know what to do or say, all I could do was stare at my gorgeous boy. The love I felt that day has only kept growing, and I never knew a love like this could ever possibly exist.
The midwife asked us whether we have a name and we both said, ‘Jacob’. That was what he was going to be called pretty much from the day we found out he was a boy. My mum baptised Jacob with some holy water. Jacob weighed 1550g (3 pounds, 6 ounces) and he was 45cm in length. His foot length was the average for a 34 week old!
At one point, the midwife said, ‘Oops he’s done a little poo’. For a millisecond I thought they had gotten it wrong, and Jacob was alive. She asked if I wanted to put a diaper on. I read about doing these sorts of things on the Tommy’s website. I put a diaper on Jacob, which was the first time I had ever put a diaper on a baby. I was really nervous and also scared that I would damage him as he seemed so fragile. The midwife was so good at talking me through it and just treating Jacob as if he was alive. This really helped as I didn’t know how to act really. We then dressed Jacob in a babygro, which was too big for him, so we rolled up the sleeves.
We spent a few hours that night with Jacob and then tried to sleep. The next morning my parents came back, and we had Jacob for another few hours. We took lots of photos and videos; these are all so precious to me and I have them all in a special Jacob photo album. We got a Simba memory box, which helped us make lots of memories with him like hand and footprints and taking a lock of his hair. A priest came and did a blessing. Those hours with Jacob are the most precious time in my entire life. I now look back at my birthing and hospital experience with joy as that’s the days I met Jacob and spent time with him. He was a perfect little angel baby.
Leaving Jacob behind felt so wrong. Instead of carrying my baby out of the hospital, I was clutching his memory box. Walking outside the hospital into the ‘real’ world felt wrong too. I felt how can people’s lives just continue when my whole life has shattered.
The next few days were a blur. I still had a postpartum body, but no baby. I was bleeding for about a month after. My pelvic floor muscles were non-existent and I had a few accidents. My breasts were lactating, not much as I took a pill to suppress it, but still some. I wish I’d known you could donate your milk, which I would have loved to have done.
I visited Jacob at the mortuary a few times, however he started deteriorating, so I had to make the devastating decision to stop coming to see him. I loved these visits as I got to hold him, read to him and sing to him, just more memories with my precious Jacob.
The funeral was 6 weeks after his birth. We only wanted closest family. The funeral felt so final, but I was happy to finally lay Jacob to rest and have a place to visit him. Now, one of my ways of mothering Jacob is by taking care of his grave.
Since Jacob died, my love for him grows daily. I have his momentos all around the house and in jewellery I wear. I love being reminded of him and I am proud to be his mummy. Jacob will forever be missing from our family photos and events, but he is our firstborn child and a cherished member of our family. We will always wonder what Jacob would have grown up to be like. Instead, our baby lives in Heaven watching over us.
I want to keep Jacob’s memory alive by always talking about him and by fundraising in his honour. Over the months I have gotten better at talking about him to friends and family. I hope to teach everyone around me to not be scared to mention him as they cannot make me ‘more upset’. In fact, it fills my heart with joy when someone asks about him. He will forever be in our minds and hearts, and we will grieve him forever because we will love him forever.
We had a full postmortem for Jacob as we wanted to know exactly what happened to him. Jacob was perfect and healthy in every way, but it was my placenta that was damaged. COVID got into my placenta and caused an immune reaction called CHI (chronic histiocytic intervillositis), which also led to blood clots. The CHI caused my placenta to not function properly and basically cut off blood supply to Jacob. I feel guilty that my body could not protect him from COVID. COVID getting into the placenta like this is very rare; it happens in approx. 1% of pregnant women with COVID. This is why it isn’t talked about, and some midwives still do not even know this can happen. I wish I’d known it was a possibility as I may have been monitoring his movements closer and come in sooner. The doctors say that it’s unlikely we could have saved Jacob because with this type of COVID-induced CHI, there is nothing that can be picked up on scans. CHI is not visible by ultrasound, only under the microscope. They also say that Jacob’s heartbeat would have been normal until it suddenly stopped due to the sudden blockage. I will always wonder though.
There is another type of CHI that is not associated with an infection such as COVID. This CHI has a high recurrence rate, up to 100% and some women never manage to carry their own children and have to have a surrogate. Even though all the signs point to my CHI being COVID induced, the doctors can never 100% guarantee this so every subsequent pregnancy will be filled with worry of it happening again. Therefore, I will always be classed as high risk and have lots more scans throughout pregnancy.
As soon as we learned Jacob had died, we started talking about another baby. I felt so guilty about this as I didn’t want Jacob to feel unloved. To me, suddenly my only purpose in this world was to be a mother to a living child. Without that, I didn’t see much point living, and felt like I would rather be in Heaven with my baby. After losing a baby, I guess all your hormones are telling you that you should have a baby, but you don’t, so the desperation to have another is hormonal, emotional and physical all at once. It took us 4 months to get pregnant this time, which felt like an eternity. I was convinced that I was infertile now especially because we got pregnant first month with Jacob.
This pregnancy with my rainbow has been really stressful. When we found out, I was just expecting to bleed at any point. Between weeks 6-20, we have had reassurance scans every 2 weeks, and then every 3-4 weeks after. At each scan I was convinced my baby had died. I have worried about everything that could go wrong in pregnancy, from all the different types of miscarriages to TMFR. The worry won’t stop until I give birth, maybe even later. This pregnancy isn’t as ‘normal’ as it was with Jacob. Already they have found group strep B in my urine, which could lead to neonatal death. I have a higher blood pressure in my uterus, for no reason. My placenta is anterior this time, so I am struggling to feel the baby. And ontop of that the worry of CHI (the placental condition) and COVID still being around. I am not working, and we are isolating to avoid COVID as much as possible.
However, we are trying to choose hope over fear. We are trying to still enjoy this pregnancy by taking all the bump pictures and cherishing this little life however long or short it may be. When we found out we were pregnant, a little life re-entered my eyes. I finally saw a light at the end of this dark tunnel, and I really hope we get to this light.
I hope by sharing my story I help to break the taboo surrounding baby loss and honour my baby. I also hope to raise awareness surrounding COVID and pregnancy loss. If my story can bring some comfort to even one person, then that’s all that matters to me.
Thank you for reading.
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