The Pain Of Stillbirth Never Goes Away. Here's How I Learned To Live With It

Chantelle Stephens lost her son Elijah to a placental abruption. She tells us how she pieced her life back together after his death.
Left: Chantelle Stephens Right: Elijah's foot and hand prints.
Chantelle Stephens
Left: Chantelle Stephens Right: Elijah's foot and hand prints.

In My Story, readers share their unique, life-changing experiences. Today, we hear from Chantelle Stephens, 39, from Birmingham.

When I found out I was pregnant I was overwhelmed, excited and nervous. It was my first pregnancy. There were no problems: I went to all my antenatal appointments and scans, and everything was fine. I suffered with the worst morning sickness for the first three months but apart from that, my pregnancy was great.

I always enjoyed bath-time, because that’s when my baby would become really active. I would be watching my belly, seeing how it moved, thinking: Wow, this is amazing. I’d talk to my belly, saying: ‘I can’t wait to meet you.’

It was coming up to my son’s due date and I woke up one morning and couldn’t feel him moving. I thought maybe he was still sleeping and carried on with my day. I made my way down to my mum’s for about midday and was saying to her how he seemed really quiet. She suggested drinking some icy water, which I did, but felt nothing. Then I tried gently swaying my belly, but there was still nothing.

I was really concerned at this point, so my mum’s husband drove me to the hospital. I went into the first observation where they put a stretchy bandage around my stomach with the heartbeat monitor attached. They told me they’d found his heartbeat and I was so overwhelmed I started crying.

Then they told me it was my pulse they’d picked up on, not his.

After that I was taken through to a scanning room and that was when they told me: “I’m sorry but we can’t detect a heartbeat.” My whole world came crashing down. No parent wants to hear those words. It’s like having your heart ripped out. In that moment I just felt alone.

I asked if they could give me a C-section, but they said the safest way was to give birth naturally. I was scared. The day after, they gave me a tablet orally and internally, and then I just had to wait in the labour room with my mum, my sister and my mum’s friend. I started to get contractions, my water’s broke and then the pain started. I was in labour for a good few hours and gave birth at 5.15pm – it was December 1st 2005. Elijah’s due date.

The labour was really hard. When a baby is alive and you’re giving birth naturally, that baby is working with the mum to come through that tunnel. But when a baby is stillborn, you’re doing all that by yourself. It was the worst pain physically but also emotionally.

Those first few moments when he came out, I can’t even explain it: I felt lost. Mum said he was beautiful and asked me if I wanted to hold him, but I couldn’t. Then about 30 seconds after that I said: “Let me see my son, I want to hold him.” He looked like he was sleeping, but his skin had started to peel on his cheeks.

The autopsy revealed I’d had something called placental abruption, where the placenta separates from the inner wall of the uterus before birth.

Chantelle Stephens

In the hours after, in the hospital, I felt lost, empty, and was trying to process what had just happened. I couldn’t really get my head around the fact I’d just given birth but my baby wasn’t with me. I asked the midwives: “where is he now?” They were so caring and spoke with such compassion – they told me he was in a room next door. They asked if I wanted a blessing for my baby, which I did. A pastor came around and said a few words and we lit a candle for Elijah.

I left the hospital with a box instead of a baby. It’s a yellow box with handprints on and inside was the blessing, the candle, and two soft teddy bears. I kept one of the teddy bears and the other is in Elijah’s coffin. A midwife came to see me before I was discharged and said you’ll have to start making arrangements for the funeral. I was only 22 at the time. I didn’t even know I’d have to plan a funeral, so I was a bit confused. My mum said she’d help. The next thing was having to get a death certificate.

I couldn’t face going home because everything was there: the cot was up, all Elijah’s baby things were there. So I stayed at my mum’s for about six months. I would say my faith kept me going during this time – a lot of my family kept me in their prayers. When you have faith, it’s a bit of comfort knowing your baby is in a better place and one day I’ll see him again. I remember the day of his funeral I saw a rainbow in the sky – that was a comfort, too.

On the anniversary of his death, I open up the yellow box, visit his grave and light the candle that was lit 17 years ago to keep his memory alive. I wasn’t able to get Elijah a headstone at the time because of it being so expensive, but I’ve been putting money aside to get him a Tatty Teddy one.

A poem Chantelle wrote for her son.
Chantelle Stephens
A poem Chantelle wrote for her son.

When you experience baby loss, the pain never goes away, but you learn how to live with it with each passing day. It’s the worst thing any parent can go through – and not just for the mums, for the dads too.

If you’re grieving, reach out to someone, seek help – whether that’s through your faith, a friend or family member. Don’t suffer in silence. There’s so much support out there: Sands, the stillbirth and neonatal death charity, have been great.

Since Elijah, I’ve had two boys who turn 14 and 15 years old this month. I’m also expecting my third son. The first pregnancy after Elijah was so scary. I was literally on edge every single day. It was overwhelming – every day you’re living in fear and anxiety, thinking: what if it happens again?

With that pregnancy, the hospital kept a closer eye on me. I was there every fortnight, I was having regular scans. My son was born two weeks early by planned C-section. He didn’t cry straight away, but when he did it was such a relief. Rock DJ by Robbie Williams was playing in the background. He absolutely loves that song to this day.

Chantelle was interviewed by Natasha Hinde and her answers were edited for length and clarity.

Help and support:

  • Sands works to support anyone affected by the death of a baby.
  • Tommy’s fund research into miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth, and provide pregnancy health information to parents.
  • Saying Goodbye offers support for anyone who has suffered the loss of a baby during pregnancy, at birth or in infancy.