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How we coped with the terrible pain of losing a baby

To mark Baby Loss Awareness Week, which begins on Sunday, Lisa Smyth talks to two mums about their heartbreaking experience of stillbirth and she recalls the sadness of suffering a miscarriage

Published 06/10/2016

Fighting back: Alanna Salter says speaking about the experience and remembering her daughter has got her through the bad times
Fighting back: Alanna Salter says speaking about the experience and remembering her daughter has got her through the bad times
Numbing sadness: Maria McLaughlin misses her daughter every day

Bereaved parents around the world will light a candle at 7pm on Saturday, October 15, at the global Wave of Light event which is part of Baby Loss Awareness Week.

The simple gesture will be in memory of the baby they lost during pregnancy, during or after birth, and leave it burning for an hour.

Two mums share their heartbreaking stories of losing a baby and writer Lisa Smyth talks about the overwhelming sadness of a miscarriage.

Clinical psychologist Alanna Salter (33) has been married to Simon (33), an IT business development executive, for two years. They live in south Belfast with their son, four-month-old Theo. They lost their daughter, Isobel, at 39 weeks and two days in June last year. She says:

I couldn't believe it when I found out I was pregnant. We'd been trying for a baby for a couple of years when I found out my tubes were completely blocked and there was no chance of conceiving naturally.

I was put on the waiting list for IVF, but six months later I found out I was pregnant. It was our little miracle baby.

We changed pretty much everything, we lived in an apartment so we moved to a house so we would have a garden. My husband moved jobs as he worked shifts and wanted a nine to five job.

We got rid of our car as we had a convertible. We had everything ready for the baby.

We got to just over 39 weeks. I had had a scan the week before and everything was fine. The baby was growing, her head was down, she was ready to come.

That Tuesday evening I felt a few twinges and the next day when I went for lunch with some friends I started to worry as I couldn't feel the baby move.

That night, when Simon came home, we went to the hospital. After waiting for two hours, the midwife brought us through and tried to listen to the baby's heartbeat but she couldn't find one.

Eventually the doctor came in to scan me. He put his hand on my leg, switched off the machine and said he was sorry.

I wanted to know how they were going to get the baby out and they said I was going to have to go through labour. We were sent home and given medication to start things.

I didn't want anyone to see me, I felt horrible. I felt totally repulsive and I remember getting in the shower and telling Simon not to look at me.

I didn't want him to see me; I felt such a let-down, like it was my fault.

I took some sleeping tablets that night but they didn't work; the two of us just lay awake talking and crying.

The next day the labour actually took a lot less time than I was expecting. I was induced at 11pm and Isobel was born at 2.30am.

They told me she was a girl and asked me if I wanted to see her. The midwife put her on my chest. It was only later that I was able to look at her and see she was beautiful, she was perfect, and after that I couldn't get enough of holding her, looking at her and stroking her face.

The midwife dressed her because I was worried about marking her skin.

I don't think I ever saw her foot because of the Babygro she was wearing and that is something that I regret. I was discharged after one night, but I stayed with her in the hospital until the funeral, which was actually on what should have been her birthday.

We found out that Isobel had died because of a rare condition in the placenta.

Later I started to feel like I had to have a baby or I would die. I wanted to be pregnant so badly but once I had a positive test, I was terrified I would lose the baby.

We went privately and it was a very difficult pregnancy because I was so scared. Having Theo has been amazing but it has also made me sad.

Before I had him I was sorry for myself, but seeing him grow and enjoy life makes me sad that Isobel will never experience any of that.

It's been an emotional rollercoaster. We found Sands very quickly and they've been fantastic because we have met other people going through the same thing and they just understand.

Losing a baby is so isolating. People say 'you can have another'. They don't mean to upset you but it does.

They can be scared to talk about her, but I try to be really open. It's okay to talk about her. I want to remember her.

I was given a mother and daughter charm, a friend named a star for Isobel, some friends texted me on the 26th every month.

They mention her name and they're not afraid to talk about her, basically people letting us know that she was important, that her life mattered and that she wouldn't be forgotten.

That's what has got us through."

Maria McLaughlin (43), a communication manager, lost her daughter, Niamh, at 34 weeks in 2012. She lives outside Lurgan with her husband, Thomas (42), a sales and marketing manager, and their children, Jude (7) and Cara-Rose (2). She says:  

During my pregnancy I was massive and asked my doctor why I was so big - to be told the baby was small. What I didn't realise was that my baby had stopped taking in amniotic fluid, so I was getting bigger. This wasn't picked up until later, though.

The doctors didn't seem worried about my size so I wasn't overly concerned.

It was New Year's Eve and I was 34 weeks pregnant. I hadn't felt much movement for about 24 hours and the next day when there was still no movement we went to the hospital where I was put on a heart monitor.

The doctors gave me a few glasses of ice water which they said was like a cold shower for the baby.

Having got a heartbeat, I was told everything was fine and sent on our way.

The next morning I was still really worried that something wasn't right, so I went to the hospital myself while Thomas stayed at home with Jude.

I asked the nurse to give me a quick scan but she was reluctant. Because I was so worried she finally agreed.

I remember lying there thinking, 'please move, please'.

The nurses exact words to me were, 'I'm not going to lie to you, I can't find a heartbeat'.

I think at that stage I started squealing, I couldn't believe it. The doctor came in but he couldn't find anything either. They phoned my husband and told him to come up straight away. They told us they were sending us home to get our thoughts together.

I can't describe the pain I felt. I remember telling people my heart was broken and it really was.

I can't remember much of the day. I remember my mum crying, everyone was crying.

When I went back to the hospital, they induced me but it wasn't getting the labour going.

It took quite a long time, two days. It was the most horrendous experience of my life, to be honest.

You're lying there and all this is happening around you while you're in the middle of a nightmare.

As soon as I saw the baby she was perfect; she didn't look like anything was wrong, and we spent that night with her in hospital. Her grandparents came up to see her.

I think I got through it by talking to other people. My family and my husband's family are very close and we do talk about things.

Even months after we still talked about the baby a lot, and we cried a lot, too. We went through the grieving process.

A woman who had lost a baby came and saw me and explained it was something I would never get over. She said I would never stop loving or missing Niamh, but I would learn to cope with it.

There was one morning Jude got into bed with me and started to cry.

I asked him what was wrong and he said he didn't know, that he just felt sad, and it was at that point that I realised I had to do something.

He still needed our love and attention so we vowed we wouldn't get upset in front of him anymore.

When I got pregnant again it was terrifying.

I couldn't relax and enjoy it. I was counting the weeks and days until we could get her here.

It was unbelievable when Cara-Rose was born. There isn't a day goes by that I don't think of Niamh."

... and our reporter Lisa tells her story

I had a miscarriage at 10 weeks in February. It is estimated that one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage and yet it is the most isolating event I have ever encountered in my life.

For some reason it remains taboo, something you don't discuss, and people don't know how to react when you tell them.

I was one of those people until my miscarriage.

It was a beautiful sunny Wednesday and I spent the afternoon interviewing a woman for a feature I was writing on infertility, listening as she told me about her struggle to conceive and the miscarriages she had suffered. My heart went out to her, particularly as I knew I was going for my first scan that evening.

The terrible morning sickness I had been suffering had started to lift and I felt like I was finally able to start enjoying my pregnancy.

But just a few hours later, I found out my baby was dead. I could tell as soon as he showed up on the screen, there was no heartbeat and he wasn't moving at all.

Until that moment, I had never really thought about the practicalities of miscarriage - what would happen to me, what was going to happen to the baby?

Fortunately, a friend arranged for me to see a consultant the following day who confirmed there was no heartbeat.

The consultant gave me a couple of different options on how to deal with the miscarriage and I opted for medical management.

However, the earliest theatre slot was the following Monday so I spent the next four days stuck in a terrible limbo.

The day finally came and after a few hours in hospital it was all over and for the first time we were offered counselling, but were advised against it, as we were told we would wait so long to see anyone.

We left the hospital with nothing but a leaflet for the Miscarriage Association.

It turns out our baby had Down's syndrome. My husband and I were tested and told we don't carry the gene for Down's - but we're still at a greater risk of having another baby with the syndrome.

I eventually felt able to try again and we found out I was pregnant in July, but I miscarried soon after.

This time it happened at home and I felt even less able to talk about it because it happened so early on.

Trying to come to terms with the miscarriages has been hard and I know I still haven't.

I try to tell myself that I have been spared the terrible trauma of loving a child who would probably not have survived for long and would certainly have suffered immensely during his lifetime.

It doesn't make much difference, however. He was my son and I will love and miss him for the rest of my life."

Belfast Telegraph

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