Jen's Story | Baby Loss Portrait Project

 Portrait of a woman sat on a bench looking into the distance.

I was diagnosed with polycystic ovaries in my early twenties so I’d always known having a family might be harder for me. After deciding we were ready to start a family it took me and my husband three and a half years to conceive. After years of disappointment and endless negative tests, the week we were supposed to start IVF treatment we found out that I was pregnant with our little miracle baby. After waiting for so long we couldn’t believe it had finally happened, it took us five positive pregnancy tests to believe it was actually real.

My pregnancy was quite straightforward, the weeks ticked by and we got to the 12-week milestone. I’d had some early spotting but a scan had shown that everything was ok. Because it had taken so long to get pregnant I was never really at ease in the pregnancy, I didn’t want to jinx things, so I would only read a week at a time in my pregnancy guide, not wanting to get ahead of myself.

We got to the 20-week scan and found out we were having a little boy. Our baby was the picture of health wriggling around on the screen, we had reached the halfway mark and were now on the countdown to his due date in early April. It never for one moment crossed my mind that we would never get that far.

It was in December when I reached 22 weeks pregnant that things changed. I started to have some bleeding and so I went to the hospital twice within that week to get checked out. On both occasions I was told everything was fine, that the bleeding was ‘probably just one of those things’ and I was sent home.

On the day I turned 23 weeks pregnant I woke up with heavy bleeding, and I knew this time that something was really wrong. Feeling panicked we headed straight to maternity assessment. Once there a doctor came to see us and examined me. I don’t know what I expected him to say, however I wasn’t prepared for what he told us. He knelt down next to my bed (I went on to realise that whenever a doctor knelt down to talk it was always to give bad news) and said that my cervix was opening and that the baby’s sac was starting to bulge out. He explained that I would probably need a cervical stitch putting in and bedrest. I started to get intermittent pains in my stomach but they weren’t regular so I was told to monitor them and let them know if they got worse.

I was admitted to the ward and had to wait for several hours to see the on-duty consultant. Whilst waiting, the pain in my stomach was starting to intensify, a student midwife came in to monitor the baby and to ask about my pain. I described it to her and she assured me that they couldn’t be contractions as they would be spreading across my whole tummy if they were.

When the consultant came to see us he knelt down next to me and told us that a stitch wasn’t possible. He said there were signs of infection and it would be too dangerous for me and that we just had to wait to see what happened. The bleeding got worse and the pain intensified until it was becoming unmanageable. Despite the contraction like pains I still didn’t fully comprehend that I was in labour until they wheeled me into the delivery suite. Nobody had actually explained to me that my baby was coming and there was nothing they could do to stop it.

In the delivery suite, things progressed quickly, I was given gas and air to help with the pain but it was excruciating. I couldn’t take in the information or process what was happening as the contractions were just relentless with barely a break between them. I remember saying to the midwife ‘I don’t know what to do’, as I hadn’t got to the labour part in my pregnancy book.

The neo-natal doctor came in to see us to explain what would happen. He told us that at 23 weeks, the chances of survival were slim and that if our baby did survive he would be susceptible to infections and brain bleeds affecting his quality of life if he even got through them. He told us that if he came out crying and fighting they would do what they could but if he didn’t then it was best not to give life-extending care. It was an unbelievable situation to get our heads around, it was like an awful nightmare.

A monitor was put on the baby to listen to his heartbeat, a sound that I had previously loved listening to suddenly filled me with sadness as I knew at some point that heartbeat wouldn’t be there. Not long later, Chris had nipped out of the delivery suite for a moment, whilst he wasn’t there I suddenly had the urge to push. He heard the emergency buzzers going off and saw medical staff racing to my room and so rushed back in. The delivery suite was full of people, the neonatal team was stood at the back of the room waiting to assess our baby when he came out.

Having your body do something you desperately don’t want it to do is a truly awful feeling. I knew that when my baby came out he would more than likely die so I tried my best to fight the urge to push but there was nothing I could do to stop it. Joshua was born at 18.40 weighing just under 1lb 2oz, he was born alive and breathing but didn’t show the signs of fight the doctors needed to put him on life support. They handed Joshua to us wrapped in a towel wearing a tiny hat and said they would leave us alone with him and check back on us and him shortly.

Our midwife was brilliant, she spoke to Joshua and to us as she would do any newborn baby and new parents celebrating his arrival, I will always appreciate that. Joshua didn’t cry or open his eyes but I will never forget watching his little mouth open and shut as he breathed laying in my arms. He took his last breath whilst being held by his Daddy.

Our families came that night to visit him, I’m so glad they got to meet and hold him but what should have been tears of joy on meeting a new addition to the family were tears of sadness.

We were moved to the bereavement suite and spent the night there with Joshua, we took photos and tried to make the most of the short time we had with him. The following day we knew we would have to go home. Losing Joshua was unbearable but leaving the hospital that morning was one of the worst moments for me. How do you decide that you’re ready to say goodbye to your baby knowing you are never going to see them again? How do you leave your newborn behind knowing that he’ll be alone? Walking out of the hospital with an empty tummy and empty arms carrying only a memory box was devastating. Watching other happy parents leave with their babies in car seats carrying celebratory helium balloons was heartbreaking.

My arms ached for my baby and for the first few months after we lost him my heart physically ached with grief too.

I’m not sure how we got through those first few days. As Joshua had been born alive we had to register both his birth and then his death, getting a certificate for each one. We also had to plan his funeral, a task which Chris thankfully stepped up to do. I think it was his way of feeling useful. The whole world around us was preparing for Christmas and we were preparing for our son’s funeral. You never, ever expect to find yourself googling ‘songs suitable for a babies funeral service’. The service was held the day before Christmas Eve.

On the day that should have been my 25-week checkup with the midwife we picked up Joshua’s ashes from the funeral directors.

After losing Joshua I desperately wanted to be pregnant again, not to replace him but to give ourselves hope and something positive to look forward to. Two days before what should have been Joshua’s actual due date we found out we were pregnant again, after initial joy and excitement it, unfortunately, turned out to be an ectopic pregnancy which I went onto miscarry at eight weeks, the overall feeling of loss and further heartache was a lot to deal with so soon after losing Joshua.

We were referred to a specialist who’s investigations found that Joshua’s premature delivery was down to a problem with me and nothing to do with him. He was perfect. I was diagnosed with cervical insufficiency, something I had never heard of until then, a condition you’re born with and usually don’t discover until you have a premature labour. When the pregnancy got to a certain weight my cervix wasn’t strong enough to support it so I went into labour, if it had been spotted earlier then Joshua’s death could have been prevented. It’s hard to know that your healthy baby died because your body let him down.

Two years later we finally got pregnant for a third time following IVF treatment. I was under consultant care due to needing a stitch to prevent another premature delivery. Despite near weekly scans and close monitoring I never dared let myself believe we would be taking this baby home. Pregnancy should be exciting, it should be full of hope, of future plans and new life. For me it was terrifying. Only as we approached the last few weeks did we even start to buy anything as I couldn’t bear the thought of having to return things if we lost another baby.

Despite a dramatic arrival by emergency c-section, we welcomed our little rainbow baby Jacob in July last year. Six years after deciding to start a family we finally took a baby home, something we never take for granted.

As soon as you find out you’re pregnant your future changes. You find out the due date, you make plans, you adjust your life for the imminent arrival, your life changes massively before they even arrive. When you lose that baby everything is taken away, your hope, your plans, the life you imagined. You are catapulted back to your old life but you’re not the same. I can honestly say that when Joshua passed away a part of me died with him, it definitely changed me as a person. When the worst thing you can imagine actually happens it shakes everything you believe in and how you see the world.

Fertility issues and baby loss can be very lonely experiences as they are not openly talked about when everyone around you seems to get pregnant and have babies so easily it can be very isolating. We’ve had a lot of great support from friends and family if I was to give advice to people supporting a loved one through the loss of a baby it would be to continue to remember the child they’ve lost. It means the world to me when people mention Joshua, acknowledge his birthday or do something in his memory.

I think about Joshua every day, wondering what kind of little boy he’d be growing into, wondering if his personality would have been similar to Jacob or if he would have been totally different to his little brother.

On the day we left the hospital after Joshua had died I remember seeing a rainbow overhead as we drove home. Rainbows have also appeared on other significant days such as the day of his funeral as we left the service, on his due date and on the morning of our wedding day. I like to think they were sent by him and take them as a sign that Joshua is ok and is always looking over us.