Star on our tree, stillbirth, baby death

Nicole’s daughter, Jessica, was sadly stillborn on Christmas Eve 2013. Here, Nicole tells her story and explains why she’s supporting Sands’ Christmas appeal.

We had what was deemed as a textbook pregnancy and were due to be induced on December 22 at 41+4 weeks. I had gone into natural labour at lunchtime and got to the hospital that evening. I hadn’t felt Jessica move that day but I thought that was normal as my uterus was contracting and it would be uncomfortable for her.

When the midwife was looking for her heartbeat and couldn’t find it, I didn’t panic, as she was such a wriggler and midwives always found trouble trying to find her heartbeat because she was so active. But before we knew it there was a swarm of doctors round our bed and I could see her still heart on the screen. The midwife held my hand and said ‘I’m so sorry for your loss, your baby has died’.

I couldn’t comprehend what was happening. Our world fell apart and my husband and I just held each other and cried. We were encouraged to have a natural delivery which would be safer and cause less complications for future pregnancies. Future pregnancies? How could I think about future pregnancies when I was in the middle of this one still?

Two days later, at 10:45pm on December 24, I delivered Jessica. My husband saw the midwife look up at the clock and mouth 'thank god' as it wasn't yet Christmas Day. I felt that the act of giving birth to her was my last bodily tribute. My husband was amazing and helped me through the pain with just gas and air.

I didn’t want to see her at first as I was scared of what she would look like. The midwife came back in to the room a few minutes later and said that she was beautiful, there was nothing wrong with her, and that we’d regret not seeing her. I knew instantly that I wanted to see her and have her back with us. It felt like an eternity until she was brought back into us in a cold cot, but now I know that they were dressing her, making prints of her feet, recording all her details.

I was scared to pick her up as the plates of her skull moved under my hand. I didn’t want to hurt her. She was perfect. Absolutely perfect.  A cute little button nose and full lips. She looked just like my husband. She was underweight though at 5lbs 10 oz. We spent what seemed like such a short time with her, holding her, taking photos together as a family but it must have been longer. We’re not religious, but felt a blessing was the right thing to do. So the hospital Chaplin blessed her at about 2am on Christmas day. We asked for her to be taken away soon after as her lips had gone blue and her skin tone was changing, I didn’t want to see her change colour, it was too distressing. She was taken away at 3am. That was the last time we ever saw her.

We agreed to a post-mortem as wanted to find out why she died, and also for the future pregnancies to know what to look out for. The results came back inconclusive. She was a healthy baby, with nothing major wrong with her, but they thought she may had been growth restricted.

We left the hospital on Christmas day, without a baby in our arms, and walked back into a house that seemed cold and grey. We decided to be around family later in the day to distract us, and went to my parents’ house for Christmas lunch. My sister had also had her first baby 6 weeks before me and we were looking forward to our daughters growing up together. Everyone was scared how we would react being around our niece, but we couldn't feel ill towards her, it wasn't her fault. It made me just want to be the best aunt in the world and I was trying to make her smile. I needed an outlet for the mother in me, and if I couldn't practice them on my own baby, she was the next best thing. 

After Jessica died we were given some Sands support leaflets in the hospital. I didn’t know what to say to anyone at Sands at first. I was just numb. I’ve never been through counselling before and had never been through anything even close to the severity of losing your child. As it was the Christmas and New Year period when I rang the helpline, understandably it was busy.

I became obsessed with devouring information on the Sands website and all over the web. Looking through Facebook for support groups and networks, trying to find like-minded people that would understand.

Two months after Jessica died I attended a support group held by South East London Sands. It was comforting to find other people that had been through the same thing that I could talk to and understood what I had been through. 

The support I received from Sands and finding other people who had experienced the death of a baby made me determined to help reduce stillbirths in the UK. There is so much that needs to be done, and it’s not a one fix solution- there are multiple hurdles to overcome to get medical practices and parental awareness updated.

Jessica’s birthday is Christmas Eve. She would have been 2 this year. For her first birthday we decided that we would light the candle from our memory box for 1 minute for every year of her life she should have been here. So this year we’ll be lighting it for two minutes at 10:45, the time she was born. We also hang a tree decoration with Jessica’s name on that was given to us by a friend.

It’s difficult to approach any anniversaries related to your baby, whether it be mother’s day, or due dates. Jessica’s first birthday was especially hard for us as we were holding her 2 day old brother in our arms, Tristan. We tried to avoid December 22 and December 24 with his delivery by getting induced early, but he had other plans, and after a 5 day induction and 25 hour labour, Tristan arrived safely on December 22- a year to the day that his big sister died.

I’m supporting Sands’ Star on Our Tree campaign because Christmas is difficult enough for any bereaved parent, let alone one that has had a bereavement at Christmas. It reminds you of who should be there with you, you think about what they would be like now, the presents you’d be buying them and what mischief they’d be getting into.

I want parents to know that even though there are dark times, if I can get through this period, then so can you.