Stillbirth mother won't give up fight for answers
Published 23/03/2013 | 07:59
One woman who has fought for 12 years for answers about the death of her stillborn baby son has vowed to keep campaigning.
Siobhan Desmond's son Axel was delivered stillborn at Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry at the end of a healthy, uncomplicated pregnancy.
Her personal tragedy in 2001 left many unanswered questions, but Siobhan was left facing a medical profession that stayed silent.
As the law stands, any child who is stillborn is not recognised by law as a 'person' – and therefore there can be no recognition of their death.
But if Siobhan succeeds in getting an inquest for Axel, his death could leave an enduring legal legacy for coroners' courts.
The Derry woman's search for answers about Axel's death has been taken up by the Attorney General, John Larkin, and a High Court judge in Belfast is now considering her case and will announce a decision later this year.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Siobhan said that despite the short time her son spent on earth, he could make a powerful impact. "The way the law is at the minute means that because my son was stillborn he lost all right to an investigation into his death," she said.
"The law says he is an entity and not a person. And because he is not considered a person, there is no death – so no inquest.
"Any right-thinking person – and certainly any woman who has carried a child – will know that this is nonsense and wrong.
"This fight is about getting answers about my son Axel. But it is also so that no other parent of a stillborn baby will be ever denied the answers that only an inquest can give.
"A coroner has the authority to make recommendations into how stillbirths are dealt with so that no parent will ever have to endure what I have had to."
Ten years after the stillbirth, Siobhan won a personal injury claim of £20,000 and legal costs estimated at around £30,000 from the Western Trust in an out-of-court settlement.
The trust did not admit liability. But the claim was only for injuries suffered by Siobhan during labour and in her Caesarean section – Axel was not considered.
Siobhan said she was not the only mother left facing unanswered questions over a stillbirth.
"It isn't just me – there have been hundreds of mothers over the decades that have been silenced and prevented from asking what went wrong," she said.
"In court this week I listened as legal representatives argued over what defined a person and heard the opposition barrister refer to my son as an 'entity' – because if he had called him a baby then he would have recognised him as a person," she added.
"He said that there was no evidence of life outside the womb, no breath had been taken, (and) no heartbeat had occurred. Therefore, Axel was an entity – so no need for an inquest.
"That is what has taken me down this road I now find myself on, which is very different from the one I expected when I realised I was pregnant way back in 2001."
I got to spend one night with Axel in hospital. I kept waiting for them to tell me why he died... 12 years on, I'm still waiting
Siobhan Desmond knew that being a mother was the role she was meant to fulfil in life. So when she discovered she was pregnant at the age of 37 her delight could not have been greater.
This would be the start of nine months of health, contentedness and happiness during which she planned a new future with her baby.
Not once had she a reason to doubt that dream would not happen. But somehow, it would be sadly and quickly torn away from her.
"I knew instinctively that I was pregnant so when the test showed positive it was no big surprise," Siobhan said. "I work in holistic therapy and I am very body aware, so I knew when I was due.
"After considering all the possibilities, I wanted a home birth – but was ready and prepared to take advice from my nurses and doctors too."
Siobhan described her pregnancy as "amazing". "I didn't have a single day when I had morning sickness," she said.
"In fact I positively glowed with health, had loads of energy and loved every day of it – even the different cravings I went through.
"I stayed quite neat in size for a good while and most people didn't even suspect I was pregnant.
"My mother knew all along, but I was seven months before I told my father. Straight away he asked if this was the reason I had been taking lemons in my tea and I told him that was what I was craving.
"The next day he had filled the salad box in the fridge full to the brim with lemons.
"Looking back, I see how readily he accepted that Axel was a wee person and made provision for him in our family and yet the law can say differently. It's a nonsense."
Siobhan attended all her ante natal appointments and classes and her only concern arose when her consultant disagreed with the date the baby was due to arrive.
But this did not interfere with Siobhan's hopes for a home delivery.
On that fateful October morning, Siobhan woke up at 7am with the realisation she was in the early stages of labour.
"That day was filled with excitement and there was a great atmosphere and things were progressing the way they should for a good while," she said.
"But then the midwives thought it was best if an ambulance was called and I immediately agreed without question.
"On the way over to Altnagelvin, Axel's heartbeat dropped and they put the blue lights on and told the hospital to prepare for an emergency.
"I knew there was something badly wrong and kept saying to them, 'He is in trouble, please get him out, please'.
"Eventually they took me to theatre for an emergency Caesarean section and my poor mother was standing in the corridor watching as they fought for 20 minutes to try and revive him – but it was no use.
"The hours and days after were so horrendous, this just wasn't what was supposed to happen but no one would tell me why my son died.
"They put me in a room that night where I had to listen to fetal monitors recording the heartbeats of other babies and I could also hear other babies that had been born crying.
"I got to spend that night with Axel but I kept waiting on them to come and tell me what happened.
"Even then I was asking about an inquest because I knew that would look into the whole proceedings that led up to Axel's death.
"But 12 years later I am still asking."