In the last 7 years I have been blessed to fall pregnant four times.
Four times of excitedly waiting for the word ‘Pregnant’ to flash up on that little Clearblue set screen. Four times of waiting nervously for scans, and four times of planning bedrooms and shopping for tiny little clothes. Four painful labours.
Sadly despite this, only three times have I brought my babies home – three times they have slept in those bedrooms, and got to wear the tiny little clothes that I so lovingly picked out for them. Sophie our second daughter was stillborn at 24 weeks gestation in 2012.
Izzie was born in 2010 after a relatively straight forward pregnancy. She was 5 days overdue but tiny and perfect and I fell into life as a mum feet first and loved it. I had no reason whatsoever to have any worries when we found out in September 2011 that we were pregnant again.
Aside from a minor bleed at around 8 weeks, and some debilitating morning sickness, running around after a toddler, the weeks flew by in a blur of a 12 week scan, and later a 20 weeks scan. At that appointment the baby was not playing ball, and had no desire to let on whether we were team pink or blue, and so we booked a private gender scan the following day and found out we were team pink again -and we were ecstatic. My wish for Izzie was to have the sister that I didn’t have and always wanted growing up.
I have to mention at this point that because my pregnancy with Izzie was straight forward, I had considerably less midwife appointments the second time round, later hindered by the fact that my midwife was taken ill and had to take some time off work. I was then seen by several locum midwives and probably didn’t receive the best care I could as there was no consistency.
At my 12 and 20 week scan it was mentioned that I had an anterior placenta – where your placenta is attached to the front wall of your uterus – and this meant that I didn’t feel a lot of movement or kicks, because they were cushioned. As a result of this, and the gaps in my care I resorted to using a home doppler to check on the baby a few times a week.
The home doppler was something I had purchased when pregnant with Izzie, purely just as a fun way for us as first time parents, and also family to be able to hear her heartbeat – it was totally a novelty and wasn’t used in a serious way at all.
The problem came the second time around when I actually became reliant upon it to reassure myself.
At around 21 weeks of pregnancy I developed an awful bout of flu – now I know a lot of people say they have flu, but this was like nothing I had experienced before. At the time Ell was also working away and I was struggling to function myself, let alone look after a 21 month old too. I hadn’t had a flu jab – due to the afore mentioned gaps in my care.
I got better and life carried on – still feeling very little movement and still using the home doppler for reassurance. At around 23+2 I realised I really hadn’t felt much movement at all that day, and as usual got out my home doppler. I picked up a heartbeat straight away, and then went to have a warm bath along with an ice cold can of coke – which was always guaranteed to get her moving.
In the bath I felt a huge movement, almost like a flip. Now I honestly think that was her ‘last hurrah’. The weekend continued, it was crazy busy, and stupidly I didn’t really keep a track of movements – I did continue to use the doppler and although I struggled sometimes, I picked up what I thought was her heartbeat. I was wrong. In hindsight I had been picking up my own heartbeat. I felt like my bump had gone squishy and managed to convince myself she had settled in my back and thats why I wasn’t feeling any movements. I think I was totally in denial. Looking back at this photo now I realise that I should’ve worked out something was wrong – I was so tiny.
On the Monday morning when everything had slowed down I suddenly panicked realising that I really hadn’t felt any movements – and this time the only sound I could pick up with the doppler was static. I hurriedly arranged to get checked out, and Ell came home from work. I was still trying to convince myself it would all be ok, and so we took Izzie with us.
In that tiny dark room, with an ultrasound machine that was probably older than me, the two midwives confirmed, after trying with their own dopplers, they couldn’t find a heartbeat. I then had to go to the Maternity Unit at the big hospital where they confirmed with a scan that Sophie had passed away – and also that there was very little fluid left (explaining the squishy bump). I just remember repeating ‘but we’ve painted her room pink’ and ‘her clothes are all hung up ready’.
Over the following 48 hours I had to take medication to bring on my labour, I went home to wait, and Ell helped me pack up her room – I couldn’t bear the thought of coming home from the hospital and having to deal with it. We then returned to the hospital the following evening. Sophie was born sleeping at just after midnight on Wednesday 1st February 2012 – the day I would’ve been 24 weeks pregnant. She weighed less than 1lb.
Due to the hospital discovering that she had passed away on the Monday at 23+5, she was not recorded as a stillbirth – she was a ‘late miscarriage (a term in itself that turns my stomach, it just too cruel). We didn’t have a birth certificate because of this. We chose not to see her after she was born as we were warned by the midwives that she had passed away before Monday and due to having a lack of waters, she had started to deteriorate. I still feel that this was the best decision for us – not one that many will agree with, but I had a fear that she would look just like Izzie, and I didn’t know how I could carry on knowing that. The midwife told us that she had long legs and big feet (just like Izzie) and they took photographs and hand and foot prints and casts – these are currently stored at the hospital – I was so pleased to find out earlier this year that they had kept them. I don’t think that I want to see the photos, but I would like to think that one day I will be strong enough to bring the box home.
We did decide to have a post mortem and it didn’t show anything – questions were up in the air were whether my placenta had failed or whether the flu had been the cause, but there were no conclusive results.
I felt like I NEEDED to be pregnant straight away and after being given the go ahead to try again, we discovered we were pregnant with our rainbow baby Ollie on 27th April 2012 – just 12 weeks after we had lost Sophie. I had to have something positive to focus on. I had learnt my lesson with the Home Doppler – when we arrived home from the hospital after losing Sophie it was one of the first things to go in the bin – just the sight of it made me feel sick. I didn’t purchase another one, instead choosing to have more midwife checkups, which they were happy to do to reassure me, and to monitor the babies movement. I had a Kicks Count bracelet which really helped to reassure me too. Ollie was born safe and well at 37+6 weeks weighing 6lb 8oz. We then went on to have Mason who was born 14th May 2015 at 38 weeks weighing 7lb 14oz – luckily another straightforward pregnancy.
I am sharing my story today, as I want to support Kicks Counts Campaign and Petition to ban home dopplers. As you will have read from my story, it is a cause I am very passionate about. I was naive and believed I was doing the right thing in using a home doppler to reassure myself, but our story did not have a happy ending. I know there are other factors in Sophie’s death that are not dependent on the home doppler, but I strongly believe that it made me complacent about monitoring her movements. Nothing I could have done would’ve made a difference due to her early gestation, but I don’t want another Mother to make the same mistake as me. Midwives are trained for at least three years to be able to monitor your pregnancy and look after you and your baby in pregnancy, delivery and postnatally, and you are not able to do that yourself with a cheap machine purchased online.
So Why Should Home Dopplers Be Banned?
Kicks Count have started a campaign to ban Home Dopplers.
The UK’s stillbirth and neonatal death rate is the third worst in the developed world – Kicks Count believe that Home Dopplers are huge obstacle in reducing this. Home Dopplers readily available to buy online for as cheap as £30, and this makes parents believe that they are safe to use, despite the manufacturers of these devices stating that they are to be used by a medical professional. Like myself parents to be may find themselves reassured by using a home doppler, when in fact they are picking up their own heartbeats instead of the babies. The only way to safety monitor your baby yourself is keeping a track of their movements and report any changes to a medical professional as soon as possible – you will not be wasting their time. A change in movements could indicate a problem with your baby, and you need to get it checked out before, like for us and Sophie, it is too late.
The UK Government want to halve the stillbirth rate by 2030. In the UK, statistics from 2016 show that 1 in every 200 babies are stillborn. This is over 3000 a year. It may only play a small part, but banning the sale of home dopplers will help to reduce this rate, and stop other parents going through the same heartbreak that we did. Please please please, sign the Kicks Count Petition – you can find it here.
There will always be a huge hole in our family – Izzie will never have that close in age sister to fight over clothes and makeup with, and there will always be an empty seat at the dinner table but I will continue to share Sophie’s story, and fight for other parents to never have to go through what we did. It is the least I can do in her memory.
Stillborn, Still Remembered, Still Loved
Sophie Brushneen – 1st February 2012
You can read other posts that I have written about Sophie and more about her story here: