Claire M's Story | Baby Loss Portrait Project

Portrait of a woman sat on a park bench, smiling straight into camera.

My name is Claire and I live near Leeds with my husband Andrew and our rescue dog Humphrey. In September 2015 we had what the professionals call ‘a poor obstetric outcome’, our daughter Alexandra died after roughly 36 hours of life after 42 weeks of pregnancy. In our eventual investigation, we were told that I was basically left for far too long. If she had been born at 38-40 weeks; odds on she probably would’ve born healthy and have come home.

Alexandra’s movements had all been pretty regular. We were booked in for induction on Tuesday morning, 29 September. Sunday evening she was really going for it but by Monday evening I noticed she hadn’t moved as much so we called maternity assessment and off we went to the hospital. From here our entire world turned upside down.

I was attached to a heart rate monitor and asked to press a button whenever I felt the baby move. It was actually the sixth sense from a midwife that felt something wasn’t right. That heart rate couldn’t match with what I wasn’t feeling. More and more senior people came to see us until the most beautiful doctor I’ve ever seen appeared at the end of my bed (even Andrew was stunned!). He said my body was nowhere near ready to go into labour and I was rushed into theatre. The surgeons got to work and Alexandra was out within a matter of minutes, born at 01:42am weighing an impressive 9lbs 15oz.

The next thing I can remember after Andrew telling me that we had a girl is hearing “one, two, three. Adrenalin” and seeing more and more people running into the theatre standing over our girl fighting for her life. The staff then asked if we had a name for her and we said “Alexandra.” I could see Andrew crying at my head and I just thought “that’s it; we’ve lost her”. I knew she was without a heartbeat for a long time as I know it takes roughly 20 minutes to be put back together after a c section. In the end, we were told she was without a heartbeat for 18 minutes and they were very worried about her brain. We were told that she had to rally over the next 24 hours to have any hope of a meaningful recovery.

I spent what seemed like hours staring at Alexandra’s face to see who she looked like. The general consensus was that her gorgeous perma-frown was me. She also had my huge feet. Before she had seizures her reflexes were so strong. At one point I’d got a hand cramp and I couldn’t get these tiny fingers to let my finger go. When Andrew blew gently in her face she frowned even more. Andrew would tickle her feet and she would move them away.

We were told that although her liver and kidneys and other organs could recover her brain wouldn’t. It was very unlikely that she would make it to school age or for her to touch, hear, see, smell or even taste. At that point we thought “is that a life – if you can’t interact with the world?” We then had to discuss moving her from intensive to supportive care.

We decided we couldn’t keep prolonging the inevitable and took her off intensive care. We then got to cuddle her on a cushion with the ventilator still attached and take photos of her with her entire family. In the end, we had made the right decision as she was starting to slip away before the ventilator was taken out. Once this was done she was brought through to us in the family room. I cuddled her as she passed away in my arms. Once a doctor had confirmed that there was no heartbeat our families left us to spend some time alone with her.

She was wrapped in a big fluffy white blanket so I didn’t notice how cold she was until we had to take her back to the NICU. During our time alone with her, we got to take more photos, impressions of her hands and feet and ink-less imprints too. I can’t really express what it took for me to walk from the family room down the corridor to the NICU and have to put her into the cot. I never wanted to let her go.

Alexandra should be three now. That feels like yesterday and a lifetime ago. Our second little girl Ophelia is now two. Bringing her home was such a shell shock. I was (and am) still grieving for Alexandra but now I had a live baby to mother: would I be up to the task? Ophelia is a wonderfully funny girl. She’s full of independence and sass (well-played karma) and I always talk to her about her big baby sister. Alexandra’s photos will always be on the wall within our family photos.

I guess three years on I’m recognising when I’m having bad days better. I know the triggers and I know how to remove myself from situations that I just won’t be up for doing. I still talk about Alexandra often and I’ve just started a little blog, I feel 2018 is the year that the online “loss community” has broken mainstream.

Sometimes I feel that I might be getting an inward sigh or eye roll that I’m talking about Alexandra but I’m like any other parent really yacking on about my kids. I will always talk about both my girls. I just wish I had both – even though that would mean two teenage girls eventually!