The 24th of May 2017 was the worst day of our lives and the best, all in one. After all, we met our little boy, Jasper and we finally experienced the joys of becoming parents.
Jasper really was long awaited. We had had a tough couple of years with two earlier pregnancy losses, and my physical and mental health suffering as a result. It had taken quite a long time for me to feel physically and mentally ready to try for a baby again, so when we did fall pregnant very quickly after starting to try, we were happy but also absolutely petrified. I had counselling and was under the care of both the obstetric and endocrinology consultants due to a chronic thyroid condition I have and due to anxiety issues. My anxiety in pregnancy stemmed from having a difficult first pregnancy which ended in a missed miscarriage that required me to have a medical management. That’s a story for another day, but it is safe to say it was a pretty traumatic experience which lead me to have psychological issues which were also exacerbated by my thyroid condition deteriorating post-pregnancy. However much I thought I was ready to be pregnant again, the fear of losing yet another little soul and the thought of having to experience it all again sadly put a real dampener on my joy; something I really regret now of course. Unfortunately my anxiety was magnified when at nearly seven weeks I started to bleed. It was all too familiar, after our problems in the first pregnancy started in a similar way. To our surprise and utter relief, our first trip to EPU with Jasper, or ‘Passenger’ as we knew him as then, showed that things looked fine and that he was developing as he should be. My nerves were really tried for the whole of the first trimester, as I continued to bleed on and off until we reached the 14 week mark. I lost count of the scans we had but it was the only thing we could do to try and alleviate a little bit of the worry and it does mean that we have quite a collection of scan photos.
As we reached the second trimester, I still continued to be anxious but managed to keep it a little more under control. However, neither my husband nor I could bring ourselves to be too hopeful. While other expectant parents discussed names or even started to buy items for the nursery, all we could manage was breathe a little sigh of relief every time we got another week further. When we went for our 20 week scan and things seemed to be good, I actually allowed myself to dream a little. When we got out of the hospital and into our car, I remember saying to Matt, ‘can I tell you the names I have in mind?’ However brief, I am glad that I remember little hopeful moments like that.
It was just when I thought I had started to relax a little, at 21 and a half weeks that I suddenly noticed I was spotting again. A trip to triage confirmed that the baby’s heart beat was fine and that my cervix appeared to be closed. It was concluded that the bleeding was probably from the cervical erosion I had developed, which they said was more than likely due to pregnancy hormones. They told us not to be alarmed if I had a little bit of blood but to go back if I continued to bleed. At 22 and a half weeks, the same thing happened but this time more blood. After the same routine again we were reassured that it was still due to the cervical erosion and we went home feeling tired but reassured. Then, I reached 23 weeks and things started to happen again. The day before Jasper was born, I felt a little under the weather. I had had the whooping cough vaccination the day before and presumed that was why I felt so bad. When I look back, there were some symptoms that must have been linked to labour but I didn’t recognise them at the time. I also think I had some Braxton Hicks contractions but mistook them for Jasper’s movement as he had been quite a wiggly baby.
24th May 2017, I woke up at about 4:30am feeling really uncomfortable with back ache. I told Matt I needed to call triage as something wasn’t right. I called them and explained the symptoms but the midwife I spoke to felt that perhaps I might have a urine infection so instructed me to take paracetamol and a warm bath….. which I did, like a good patient. An hour later the pain had worsened but apparently I didn’t show it, as even my husband questioned whether I really needed to go to hospital! The pain became much more severe on the journey to the hospital, but the strange thing was, despite the severity of the pain, I don’t once remember feeling panicked or thinking I was in labour.
On arriving at the hospital, the pain quickly worsened and I started bleeding quite heavily. I think seeing the blood was the first moment I really clocked on to what might be happening as I remember saying to Matt, ‘This might be it you know.’ From then on, my memory is a bit sketchy and I remember things in snippets. I remember the registrar walking into the room after what seemed like an age, took one look at me and said, ‘I think I better get the consultant.’ I remember the consultant asking me if I could bear having an internal exam and agreeing to it. I remember the speculum being in for a matter of seconds and knowing what that meant. I remember the consultant gently placing his hand on me and saying ‘I know it is upsetting, but I need to take you to delivery right now.’ I remember whimpering and Matt saying to me beside me, ‘We’re going to be alright. We’re going to be alright.’ I remember being rushed down the corridor and seeing glimpses of people and the ceiling as I was carted off to the delivery suite. I remember being handed the gas and air and having to ask what to do with it. At 23 and a half weeks it was too early to attend antenatal classes yet I still had to go through labour. I remember my lovely midwife Steph saying that my body would tell me what to do, and she was right. I also remember asking her how far dilated I was and she told me that the consultant had informed her that I was fully dilated with membranes were bulging.
As many of you will know, 24 weeks is seen as ‘viable’, but different hospitals have different approaches, and I think it is also perhaps down to the consultant in charge as to whether they feel they will offer resuscitation. When the consultant told us he had to rush me to delivery, he also explained that at 23 and a half weeks, the chances of survival were very low. He did however, give us the option of intervention. We could have refused, and they would have simply delivered Jasper and handed him to us to pass away peacefully. We felt we wanted to try and do something to save him, however futile it may be, and we are ever so grateful that we were given that opportunity as I know many aren’t. We felt that if we didn’t try, having been given the opportunity, we would always question whether he could have been saved. I remember the paediatrics team coming in to see us to explain what they would do when he arrived, but I can’t remember a single bit of what they said. I just have the expressions on their faces firmly imprinted on my mind.
At 8:29am, a little over an hour after arriving in delivery, Jasper was born. Neither Matt nor I will ever forgot Steph, our Midwife saying ‘Hello baby, hello baby’ as she cut the cord and hurried to get him ready to be handed over to the paediatrics team. I remember hearing her ask for a bag and thinking ‘Oh god, he didn’t make it.’ What I hadn’t realised then is that they put premature babies is what can only be described as something resembling a little sandwich bag to keep them warm. By this point we were descended on by masses of staff from NICU, all working on Jasper to try and stabilise him and keep him alive. While the consultant and Steph looked after me and I delivered the placenta, another nurse or midwife (not sure who she was) stood by me and explained to me and Matt what the team were doing. I felt that was a brilliant thing for them to do and so important, as we weren’t left terrified, wondering what was going on. I have no idea how long it was before they started to wheel Jasper out to go to NICU. I remember saying, ‘Can I see him?’ and they wheeled him over. One of the nurses grabbed my hand and placed Jasper’s tiny hand on my finger, while another nurse asked if we had a camera and frantically took pictures for us. How glad I am of those pictures of his tiny hand gripping onto my finger.
I lay waiting in the silence of the delivery room with Matt by my side in total and utter shock, waiting for news. Soon, Steph arrived with a wheelchair ready to take me and Matt to see our little boy. I refused the wheel chair as if to say ‘why would I need that?’ When I look back, it probably wouldn’t have been a bad idea, but in the moment or shock and in survival mode, I didn’t feel a thing. We walked in to NICU to be told that sadly, despite best efforts, they were unable to raise oxygen levels in Jasper’s blood and that there was nothing more they could do for him. I don’t really remember how I felt being told that, apart from saying to the nurse that I didn’t want to prolong his suffering. She explained that she didn’t think he would be in pain or be suffering. I sat in the chair and she passed me this little person, our son, wrapped in a starry blanket. I know from pictures that he still had all his ventilation tubes in when we first held him, and in later pictures these are removed, but I do not have any recollection of handing him back to have these removed. I remember holding him and looking down at his beautiful little face, trying to take in every little detail. I remember watching him wiggle in my arms and being in total disbelief and thinking ‘Surely he can’t just die?’ While holding him, one of the nurses said, ‘Has baby got a name?’ Having not allowed ourselves to be too hopeful all through pregnancy, we hadn’t decided on a name. All we had to go on was a handful of names I had shared with Matt a couple of weeks before. It is hard to pick a name that you like when you are a teacher as many have been tainted! That was when Matt turned to me and said, ‘Let’s call him Jasper. You liked the name Jasper, so let’s call him Jasper.’ The nurses and consultant in NICU were absolutely amazing, and created a peaceful environment for us while still explaining everything to us clearly. Luckily Matt had called my parents just as I was rushed into delivery, and they arrived in time to meet Jasper and to have a cuddle. I am so grateful that they were able to meet him. I feel he is more ‘real’ in our minds as a result. Staff returned periodically to check his heart beat, and three and a half hours after he arrived, our brave little boy passed away peacefully.
We have a handful of pictures of us holding Jasper, and in every single one of them all I see is an expression of shock on my face. It is no wonder considering how quickly everything unfolded and how little a time we had to prepare for it, but I am sad because it I don’t think they really show just how calm, peaceful and beautiful our moments together were. We were overcome by sadness yet I remember a clear sense of joy alongside it. Several days after Jasper’s birth, I stumbled across an extract of a poem by Louis MacNeice that seemed to resonate and seemed to capture the essence of the time we had with Jasper. The poem entitled ‘Meeting Point’ was written about a very different moment in life but an extract of it really hit a chord with us. Time seemed to pass at such a strange pace once Jasper arrived and although it wasn’t enough, the time we spent with him was so beautiful and precious, and that it was as if time had stopped. If only we could go back to that moment.
God or whatever means the Good
Be praised that time can stop like this,
That what the heart has understood
Can verify in the body’s peace
God or whatever means the Good.
Time was away and he was here
And life no longer what it was,
The bell was silent in the air
And all the room one glow because
Time was away and he was here.
(Adapted from ‘Meeting Point’ By Louis MacNeice)