When Gail Lindsay's son John was stillborn earlier this year she had nowhere to grieve in hospital. She had to pass new mums and their babies when going to the toilet, adding to her pain... now she's campaigning for a bereavement suite
The Co Antrim mum has gathered over 3,500 signatures as part of her campaign for the facility at Antrim Area Hospital, as she tells Lisa Smyth
Stay-at-home mum Gail Lindsay (31) lives at Nutts Corner. She is mum to Kaiden (3), Codi, who will be two in November, and John, who was stillborn in July. Gail describes her harrowing experience in hospital as she grieved for John while surrounded by pregnant women and new mums and their babies, and urges people to sign a petition calling for a bereavement suite at Antrim Area Hospital.
It's difficult to think of anything worse than being told your baby has no heartbeat one month before your due date.
Gail had a shortlist of names, the pram was ready and she had gathered up a wardrobe for her new arrival.
But in one gut-wrenching moment all her hopes and dreams for her much-loved and longed for son were snatched away.
Gail suffered a placental abruption, meaning the baby was starved of oxygen, and Gail was lucky to survive herself.
Faced with planning her son's funeral just days after delivering him was an excruciating ordeal - but through it all she was overwhelmed by the support and care she received from the staff at Antrim Area Hospital.
Despite the best efforts of the doctors and midwives, however, her experience was made all the more traumatic by the desperate lack of facilities for women affected by baby loss.
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"I was in a room with my baby and I could hear women in labour, I could hear babies crying," says 31-year-old Gail.
"It might sound strange, but I would listen to them cry and I would want to go and ask their mums if I could hold the babies.
"But apparently it's normal, the midwives told me it's your hormones.
"You still have all the hormones in your body that you have after having a baby, they're what make you get up in the middle of the night to look after your baby, but I didn't have my baby.
"My room didn't have a toilet, so I had to be wheeled to the nearest toilet, which was in the induction suite.
"I had to go past the bays with mums and their newborn babies to get there, I had to go into the induction suite where all these women were sitting waiting to give birth.
"It was horrific, no woman should have to go through it."
Gail's nightmare began on July 5 when she woke early in the morning with pain in her tummy.
However, at that stage she wasn't overly concerned.
"I had five more weeks to go until my due date, so I thought at the very least it would be two or three weeks before the baby arrived," she says.
"Up to that stage the pregnancy had been fine - it was the best out of all three of my pregnancies.
"Every scan we'd gone to had gone well, I had a scan done at 14 weeks and even though it was a bit early I asked the consultant if they could tell the sex and she thought it was a boy.
"She actually apologised because I already had two boys, but I didn't care - a girl would have been nice but all that really mattered was that the baby was healthy, so I was happy."
After finding out she was expecting a boy Gail began to gather up clothes and blankets and she and her partner started to think about names for the newest member of their family.
"I went for a 4D scan at 30 weeks, it's the only pregnancy I did it in and I'm so glad I did now because I have a video of the whole scan," says Gail.
"One of my friends actually said it is almost as if it was meant to be that I had that scan done.
"So, we had no worries about the pregnancy at all and in fact, when you get to 35 weeks, you think you're out of the danger zone and you can relax but then I woke up at 4am on July 5 with this pain in the bottom of my stomach."
Eventually she woke her partner for reassurance and as the pain got progressively worse, they called for Gail's mum Eileen to come and take her to the hospital.
While Gail went in to the maternity unit her mum went to park the car.
She continues: "I was there by myself, I got up on the bed and the nurse started using the wee doppler scanner but couldn't get a heartbeat, so I was taken into a different room to be scanned by a doctor.
"The next thing she said was: 'I'm sorry, I can't find a heartbeat'.
"I asked her to check again and she did but there was nothing there, I could see his wee heart, but it wasn't beating.
"I didn't cry, it was like an out of body experience, as if I was drunk."
In the early stages of labour Gail had to break the news to her mum as she prepared to deliver her precious baby son.
She couldn't face telling her partner the crushing news over the phone, so she asked her mum to ring him and tell him he needed to come to the hospital.
However, by the time he arrived their baby son had been born.
"I wasn't scared to see him and the midwife put him on my chest, wrapped under my top and tucked in under my chin," continues Gail.
"He was perfect and we decided to call him John.
"I was able to wash him and dress him and put him in a wee outfit and we had a cuddle cot so he could stay with us for a few days and that time together was so important.
"He was our baby and we wanted to hold him and tuck the blanket round him, we never wanted him to be alone and there was one time we wanted to get out and get some fresh air and we asked one of the midwives to sit with him.
"The whole experience was just so surreal, you never expect to be lying in a hospital bed googling the price of your baby's funeral when you're 31 years old.
"You expect to bury your parents, but never your baby."
After two days making memories with their son, the time came for him to be taken to the mortuary.
"The midwife asked if we were ready and we decided to leave it until it got dark, because then it would be like we were putting him to bed," says Gail.
"We had to pick a wee outfit for him to wear and we went for a wee sleepsuit that actually arrived on the Saturday morning after he was born, and a cardigan my granny had knitted for him. We went to register his birth and while we were there, we had to get a certificate for permission to bury him, none of it seemed real.
"We took the boys to see him and they both gave him their dummies to keep.
"Codi is too young to know what was happening, but we told Kaiden that John was going for a big sleep in the sky, so he won't be able to see him again.
"When we drive past the funeral home now, he tells everyone to be quiet because the baby is sleeping.
"My partner bought me a promise ring for my 30th and we put that in with John.
"It's been so difficult, the doctors told my partner that I nearly didn't survive so he's happy I'm okay, but I can't be happy about that because I'm so sad about John not being here.
"When you're pregnant, everything in your future is planned around the baby and then it's all taken away.
"The staff in the hospital couldn't have done any more for us, they have been amazing, but having a bereavement suite would have made such a difference and that's why I set up the petition.
"I started it up just over a week ago and there are already over 3,500 signatures and so many people have said they have gone through something similar, which shows how much a bereavement suite is needed.
"I don't really have a plan yet but I'm going to take it to the chief executive of the Northern Trust and ask that he makes the funding available so that grieving parents don't have to go through what we went through.
"Having somewhere away from the maternity unit wouldn't have changed the outcome for us, but it would have made it easier."
How to sign petition
Every week in Northern Ireland four babies are stillborn or die in the first four weeks of their life.
A bereavement suite is a room located away from the main maternity unit in a hospital.
Leading baby loss charity Sands NI has been working to provide a bereavement suite in every maternity unit in Northern Ireland for four years.
There is one at the Ulster Hospital, and the first unit funded by Sands NI opened at Altnagelvin Hospital in 2017.
Since then the charity has been involved in the implementation of specialist suites at Daisy Hill and Royal Maternity hospitals.
Sands NI is working with the health trusts to put in place bereavement suites at Causeway and South West Acute hospitals.
To sign Gail's petition, log on to www.change.org
Gail is also raising funds to help the staff at Antrim Area Hospital support bereaved parents and to make a donation to Sands NI. To make a donation, log on to In Memory of Baby John Paypal page.