"I didn't feel my baby's movements... and I lost her": A Singaporean mum's story
When had I last felt my baby's movements, her kicking? Definitely not in the last hour, or two for that matter...
14th August 2013. This was a day that changed my life. As difficult as it is to share my personal story of devastating pregnancy loss, I want to, so that pregnant women will understand how important it is to learn the pattern of their baby's movements in the womb. And even a small change in that pattern of your baby's movements may indicate that something is not quite right.
2a.m. It was a peaceful and silent night like any other but I could barely contain the excitement within me, knowing that when the night ended, the break of dawn would bring with it a new beginning. I kissed my barely fifteen-month-old son and went forth into what was to be the longest night of my life.
I appeared to be in high spirits as I sat in the taxi, flanked on each side by my parents. My husband was working and had just received the call from me. In actual fact, I was vacillating between excitement and anxiety in equal parts. It had after all happened a tad too fast. No sooner was I walking around experiencing strange intermittent pains, than my water bag had burst and there I was on my way to the hospital.
My first labour had been induced so I had no idea what to expect this time. As the car trundled along to the hospital, I could not help but wonder why there had been that odd greenish tinge to the otherwise brown liquid that gushed out of me when my waterbag burst. I shrugged it off. It was probably just one of those things that came with labour, no big deal.
"I couldn't feel my baby's movements"
I looked out of the window, looking forward to getting to the hospital as quickly as possible. I wasn’t afraid of what was to come. I knew the drill only too well. It was going to be an emergency c-section, that was for sure, considering I had just undergone one not too long ago. Before I knew it, we would be a family of four, complete with our princess.
Then it struck me. When had I last felt my baby's movements, her kicking? Definitely not in the last hour, or two for that matter. I forced the thought out of my head. I probably had been too busy to notice.
When I got to the labour ward there was a flurry of activity. After I had changed into my surgical gown, I was told to collect a urine sample. When I handed it over to the nurse, she muttered something about meconium. I asked what that was and she said that it meant that my baby had passed motion. I laughed and replied that I didn’t know that was possible.
My laughter came to an abrupt halt when she looked me in the eye and said, “It means your baby was in distress.” I had no idea what that was supposed to mean and she said no more when I asked her a barrage of questions, her expression not betraying a hint of emotion.
"The sound of my own pulse, but no baby's movements"
The silence around me was deafening as I lay on the bed watching everyone. I noticed, crestfallen, that the chirpy smiles of the nurses that had greeted me were now faded. The nurses moved about with furrowed brows and no one met my eye. Noticing my bewildered expression, one of them turned up the volume on the machine. In hindsight, I realise she probably did it to give me a false sense of assurance. But it didn’t take long for me to realise that it was the sound of my own pulse that I was hearing. My heart sank.
I ventured so far as to ask her if something was wrong. “We are just trying to find your baby’s heartbeat,” she said in a voice that was clearly riddled with anxiety. I couldn’t help but notice how she kept alternating between the usual machine and a handheld Doppler, which was unusual. In almost a whisper, I asked if she could not find the heartbeat and to the last hour of my life I will remember her expression as she placed her hand on mine and said, “I may be wrong, dear. Wait for your doctor”.
I tried to calm myself down but nothing seemed to make sense. My husband had not arrived and my parents were denied entry in spite of my vehement protests. I lay on my back with tears streaming down my face as I desperately tried to recall when I had last felt my baby's movements in my wombs, her little kicks.
Eventually, they arrived. Before I knew it, my doctor was shouting orders, there was a mask on my face and I was being wheeled out. Then, smack in the middle of the hallway, they did a scan on me and my doctor uttered the dreaded four words that chilled me to the bone. She has no heartbeat.
"My baby's heart had stopped beating..."
It was all a blur. I screamed. I cried. My husband hugged me and for the first time in my life, I saw him breaking down. They wheeled me back to the ward to ‘discuss options’ whatever that meant. Was there an option to restart a heart that had stopped beating? Why did it stop? It couldn’t have stopped. No, it couldn’t be possible. It was all a terrible mistake, no? I insisted that I felt my baby's movements, just a flutter, and my doctor switched on the machine, pointed at the screen and explained as she would to a five year old, “You see, those are the heart vales, they are not moving. There is no heartbeat. I’m so sorry.
Somewhere in the midst of my hysteria they blacked me out and when I opened my eyes, I found myself alone in the recovery area of the operating theatre, with an eerily resounding silence. It was only when I saw the empty baby cot next to me, which was meant for her, that I really and truly realised what had happened. My heart broke like never before and tears stung my eyes as I tried to make sense of a world I no longer recognised.
But the worst was yet to come.
I was moved to a ward, far away from the nursery, so that I would not have to hear the cries of other babies. As I waited, for what seemed like eternity to see my baby, I heard my family making funeral plans. I shut my eyes and shut everybody out. I could not believe that while I was still hoping against hope that a miracle would happen, they were making plans to set her end in stone.
Then she arrived, swaddled and placed in a pretty Moses basket albeit one that was shut tight. My husband placed her in my arms and for a moment, just for one infinitesimal moment, it felt like my pretty little picture was complete and she was there to stay. I ran my fingers over smooth skin, which was starting to take on a bluish hue. I traced her delicate features, her lips like a tiny rosebud, her perfectly pointed nose. Oh how beautiful she was.
I asked everyone to leave before I rained kisses on her and told her that I loved her. Then I removed the swaddle and placed her against my bare chest, my breasts painful and swollen with milk that was to be hers. I had read many stories about miracles that happened during skin-to-skin contact, and I prayed fervently for our miracle to happen. But alas, perhaps miracles only happen in stories. She remained still as death and before I knew it, it was time to say my last goodbye. Funeral arrangements had been made and she was to be taken away.
I kissed her my last kiss and watched as she was taken away. Just like her life that had been cruelly snatched away, a part of me was gone, never to return.
When the door was shut, for as long as I could remember, I cried as if every atom of my being screamed in unison. The sun was rising outside my window but my world was plunging into darkness. When exhaustion got the better of me, and my wracking sobs passed, I whimpered plaintively until I slipped into a fitful sleep, falling headfirst into a deep abyss.
Not long after, my doctor arrived. She explained to me that my daughter’s umbilical cord had wrapped itself around her tiny neck and slowly cut her oxygen supply. That's why I couldn't feel my baby's moevements anymore. It probably happened over 12 hours before I got to the hospital, judging from what they saw when she was taken out. They could have resuscitated the baby if I had gotten to the hospital soon enough. She rested a hand on my shoulder, telling me I was lucky, for if the baby had remained in me, it could have become septic and that would have been life threatening for me.
It was then that realisation hit me like a ton of bricks. What had I been doing 12 hours before it all happened? Clearing my work, sending emails to my office, everything but focusing on my baby. Why had I not counted those kicks as I had been told to? Noticed my baby's movements... or the lack of them? How long had the cord been around her, slowly stealing life away? It could have happened over a few days, how could I not have noticed?
A fresh wave of sorrow and guilt crashed over me as I buried my face in my hands. My doctor tried to calm me down by reminding me that for the entire pregnancy, I had not felt as much of my baby's movements due to the position of the placenta so it wasn’t my fault. But even then, perhaps if I had counted the kicks, if I had been more paranoid, why didn’t I err on the side of caution? Why had I been so complacent that nothing would go wrong? I would never forgive myself.
After three painful days in the hospital, it was finally time to go home. I sat solemnly at the pick up point, waiting for my husband to drive the car over. No balloons, no flower bouquets, no bathtub, no baby.
At the corner of my eye, I spotted a nurse rolling an empty cot back to the hospital after sending off a set of happy new parents. The sight of the empty cot destroyed the tiniest bit of strength I had pulled together. But I did not crumble. I took a deep breath, and accepted that it was what it was.
Perhaps the wound might heal, perhaps my grief would abate over time or perhaps it wouldn’t, but I knew for a fact that every time I see a baby, every time the 14th of August comes and every time I catch sight of pretty floral smocked dresses, it would feel like a fresh wound all over again, and that was just one of those things that I had to live with.
"Six years and three children later..."
I feel that life hasn’t entirely been unkind to me. I have a beautiful daughter now, but my Natasha will never be replaced. Strangely enough, in all my pregnancies, the only semblance of a stretch mark on my body is that one odd silvery line at the side of my left hip that is there to stay. I take it as Natasha fiercely refusing to fade away into a distant memory. She has imprinted herself on my body and in my heart forever. The c-section scar, cut and sewn time and again is symbolic that neither life nor death can change the fact that my four children’s lives are intertwined with each other, a part of me in each of them, a part of each of them and a part of all of them in me.
I have accepted the cards played to me by the hands of destiny. Some say that we cannot fight the hands of destiny, and in the words of Shakespeare, A greater power than we can contradict hath thwarted our intents. But one part of me will never forgive myself for not paying more attention to her kicks, for it could have saved her life. Even if it didn’t, I would at least know that I had done all that I could to save her. I wouldn’t live a lifetime of regret and what ifs. I pray that no other mother has to go through that.
Every now and then, I stare into the black of the night searching for the brightest star coruscating against the black canvas of the sky. In the darkest of nights, I never fail to find that star, and I know, I just know, it’s my Natasha smiling at me. I allow myself time to grieve whenever I need it. Grief has no timeline and one part of me will never entirely heal. No one is going to tell me otherwise.
She may be gone but ever so often I have a fleeting glimpse of her face. I carry her in my heart and I feel her in the wind the caresses my face, in the pretty flowers, in the raindrops, in the sun’s rays and everywhere. Where there is beauty and life, there she is. She will forever remain a part of me and when this life passes me by, I hope to see her, my angel, smiling at me at Heaven’s gates.