Expectant mother Frankie Brunker could not wait to meet her first child.
"I was so excited," recalls Frankie, 31, who lives in Bishops Stortford with her husband Mark, 33, an assistant head teacher, and their second child, four-month-old son Jago.
But in September 2013, she was relaxing at home alone one Saturday morning when she realised she hadn't felt her baby move for a while.
Frankie, a civil servant, was 38 weeks pregnant by then and already had her hospital bag packed in case her contractions began.
When Mark got home from rugby practice an hour later, he suggested they get out the second-hand Doppler machine a relative had given them.
But when he pressed it to Frankie's stomach neither of them could hear anything and so they decided to call the maternity unit at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow where Frankie was due to have her baby, and a midwife advised them to come in.
"I wasn't particularly worried as we drove to hospital," admits Frankie. "But Mark was very quiet."
Frankie was examined by a midwife who connected her to a monitor. "I expected to hear the baby's heartbeat straightaway, but there was absolute silence."
She remembers Mark clutching her hand, as two consultants were ushered into the room. One turned the ultrasound screen away, as they started to whisper.
Finally one of the consultants turned round and his words will remain imprinted in Frankie's memory forever.
"I'm so sorry," he said. "We can't find a heartbeat. It looks like your baby has died."
Frankie remembers screaming hysterically as she and Mark were taken for another ultrasound by a different consultant who confirmed that their baby had passed away in the womb.
"It was horrifying," says Frankie. "Nobody could tell us what had happened."
Too traumatised to even ask the sex of their child, Frankie and Mark were told to go home and to return the following day so the baby could be induced.
Mark wanted Frankie to have a caesarean but she knew if she did, the whole ordeal would become worse. "I didn't want my baby removed from me," she explains. "As its mother, I wanted at least to give birth, to do that one first and last thing for my child."
Back at home, Mark and Frankie sat numbly in the brightly coloured forest-themed nursery they had designed together for their child.
Still shell-shocked, they returned to hospital the following evening for Frankie to be induced. And at 5.39am on Monday 23rd September, she gave birth to a little girl they named Esme.
"Mark held her straightaway, but I was afraid at first," says Frankie. "It sounds irrational, but I didn't want to hurt her."
But as soon as she picked her daughter up, her fears evaporated, and the couple, along with close family members, were able to spend the next seven hours with Esme. It was a time Frankie still treasures now.
The couple later held an intimate family funeral for Esme in a beautiful woodland area close to the hospital.
"It was a lovely ceremony, and we played several songs, including Ed Sheeran's Small Bump, which had everyone in tears," says Frankie.
But afterwards, Frankie and Mark struggled to come to terms with what had happened. It was another blow when the results of Esme's post-mortem came back as inconclusive, three weeks later.
Frankie was then horrified to discover that the UK has one of the highest rates of still births in the developed world – one in every 200 pregnancies ends in a stillbirth here. And a third of all stillbirths in this country remain unexplained.
She knew she had a choice - she could either let the tragedy of Esme's death define her whole life or she could try and prevent other women from having to go through the same thing.
Determined to do something positive, Frankie began volunteering at the MAMA Academy, a charity set up to encourage healthy pregnancies. She also started fundraising for SANDS (The Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity) and got involved in bereavement training for midwives.
"I still think about Esme every single day," says Frankie, who became pregnant with Jago six months after losing her little girl.
She and Mark, who have been together since their teens, reasoned there would never be a good time to have another child, and so they just decided to get on with it.
Going through another pregnancy so soon was daunting for Frankie, but she was closely monitored, and Jago was induced three weeks early, weighing a healthy 7lbs 4oz
"Jago really has brought us the most incredible joy," says Frankie, who has just set up a local playgroup for bereaved parents. "But we will never, ever forget our beautiful Esme."
Frankie and Mark are determined to continue to do all they can to raise awareness of fetal health and in April, Mark is taking part in two marathons to raise funds for the charity Tommy's which funds medical research into the causes if stillbirths, miscarriage and premature birth.
To sponsor him, please visit his fundraising page.
*According to Count the Kicks, a charity set up to reduce the rate of stillbirths, most babies will start moving between 18 and 20 weeks. It is important to get used to what level of movement is normal for your baby, as this varies greatly between babies.
*Reduced fetal movement, even in late pregnancy, is cause for concern. Try and prompt your baby with a cold drink or by rubbing your stomach. If there is no change, contact your midwife.
*Increased fetal movement is a sign that your baby is in distress, and if you experience this, you should also seek professional help immediately.
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