I was a busy mum to a 19 month old daughter and heavily pregnant with "Surprise" baby Number two! It was a totally normal pregnancy with no complications. It was rather fraught initially as our first daughter had been born with a rare chromosome deletion (this was actually diagnosed whilst I was pregnant with our second baby.) We were relieved to find out that it was "de Novo" and would not affect further pregnancies.
I'd had a scan at 37 weeks; all was fine. Good weight, growth, movement etc. I had my 38 week check with my GP; all was fine. Two days later; 25 September 2009 I noticed the baby had not kicked. At first I put this down to just being busy. By lunch time I mentioned it to my husband. I remember the look of fear that crossed his face. It mirrored what I was thinking but did not want to be true. I phoned my midwife who advised me to go immediately to delivery suite.
Delivery suite was busy when we arrived. They were expecting us but I was not seen straight away. My husband took our little girl off somewhere quiet. I was then called through to a room without them. The midwife was positive and upbeat. She was determined to find a heartbeat...She could not....but she showed no negativity. A consultant then scanned me. The consultant cleared his throat: "I'm very sorry but there is no heartbeat." He confirmed my greatest fear, our baby who I had carried for 38 weeks and two days had died.
I shouted: "No! No! No!" over and over. No tears came until my husband came into the room. He sobbed into my chest. We cried together for the child we had lost. At this point my world as I had known it was crumbling but through it all was this wonderful man; my husband. He was holding my hand. It was an amazing moment of clarity. I realised that I was so very, very lucky to have him.
The care we received was professional, compassionate and personal in what was a very busy maternity unit. The midwife I saw on admission was the midwife who delivered our beautiful baby girl, Astrid the following evening. Her birth was bitter sweet. We were overjoyed and delighted to meet her. We smiled and remarked how she looked like her sister. She was exquisite. Long and slender with dark hair and lashes. A pert little nose and a perfect cupid's bow. She was a healthy 7lb and 8ozs.
Then reality hit... she would never open her eyes, I would never know their colour. Her beautiful long fingers would never reach for me and I would never hear her cry. Yet when she was placed in my arms all my pain disappeared. I could have held her forever... my arms ached when she was not in them. But I knew I would have to leave her eventually and it broke my heart.
We requested a visit by the Hospital Chaplain on the morning of the 27 September 2009. Although neither of us are religious people we did want her blessed. His kindness and serenity was very poignant.
Later we returned home. Instead of carrying my new born child I carried a yellow folder. Inside was the information we would need to help get us through the next few weeks. How to organise a funeral, register a death, counselling services and Sands.
We chose not to have a post-mortem...however we did have tests on the placenta. Astrid's death was an "unexplained stillbirth." Despite being a very negative result it was also very positive for the future in that there was no reason why we should not go on to have a successful pregnancy.
Our son was born in October 2010. A year and two weeks after losing Astrid. We call him: Astrid's gift. He is her gift to us. As without her we would not have him. And he is a joy. I like to think I see her smile in the faces of my two living children.
So... here we are almost six years on. Has the pain diminished? No. It is just as painful today as it was then. I have learnt to live with grief and that becomes easier. How? The existence of Sands enabled us to meet others who have also lost a child. We regularly attend Snowdrop teas set up by our local Sands group. We attend the annual Sands memorial service. We also had bereavement counselling for a full year after losing Astrid. Talking about the loss of Astrid and acknowledging the impact she had on all our lives has helped us to live and cope with her loss.
I also believe that programmes such as EastEnders can do a lot of good in raising awareness of stillbirth and neonatal death. By dealing with the story in a sensitive, realistic and compassionate way it will hopefully help to dispel the myths surrounding child loss. It will hopefully get people talking about a topic which is still sadly a "taboo" in our society. It will hopefully help people to understand that this happens to ordinary people every day. It is fact not fiction that over 100 sets of parents in the UK will return home each week without their babies. This has to change.
For further details about Sands, the stillbirth and neonatal death charity visit www.uk-sands.org.