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"I had a stillbirth, there were angels in the Butterfly Suites"

About: St Thomas' Hospital / Maternity care

(as the patient),

July 2021, I had a stillbirth at 41 weeks.

At 40-week appointment, my birth plan was to induce the day after due date. The community midwife explained that the standard practice is to induce 10 days after due date. She advised that should I feel in labour, call the hospital using the phone numbers on the back of my hospital maternity folder - Home from Home Birth Center or Maternity Assessment Unit - tell them I am in labour, then go.

Thursday 2pm, 6 days overdue, I started feeling anxious and wanted an induction sooner. 2:08 pm, 3 calls to the hospital for 8 minutes, no answering.

Friday 6am, after a sleepless night, I started timing contractions on the app, by 9 am there were 3 in 10 minutes - definitely in labour. I told hubby we need to go to the hospital. 9:42am, I called Home from Home Birth Center, no answering. Hanged up and immediately tried again at 10:02, 10:03 then 10:11 held on the line for 42 min 43 sec, still no answering. How can a hospital not answer phone for a total 73 minutes! Shouldn't there be a dedicated phone line for pregnant women in labour to call?!

10:55 am, I called a different line to cancel the 41 week appointment with the community midwife, as we were heading straight away to the hospital, I asked the staff on the phone if she could put me through to the Birth Center, tell them I am in labour and on my way, she said: "If you cannot get through to them, neither can I."

We got on the taxi, I was in tears with contractions tearing me inside. It was my first time, our first baby, and we got to finally meet her now. It was certainly naïve of me to expect the hospital should know we were coming and have a bed ready upon our arrival.

11:30 am, we arrived, the Maternity Unit was very busy, full of pregnant women sitting in the hallway. Hubby was instructed to stay in the waiting area, while I walked to the reception where a few staff were busy with a laptop, I managed to tell one that I was in labour, she said there were no beds to assess me, so I waited in the hallway. After maybe 10-15min, a midwife took me for ultrasound, a very puzzled look clouded her face. She fetched a doctor and moved me to a private scan room. I texted hubby to come from the waiting area to the same room. The doctor looked for the baby's heart on the ultrasound, held my hand, looked straight into my eyes, in a very slow, calm, almost hypnotizing voice, said: "I am really sorry, your baby has died. There is no heartbeat."

“But I remembered feeling her around 2am in the middle of the night, I remember her moving.” I said, trying to find my own heartbeat.

“Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the baby was moving when you are having contractions. Now the contractions have started, the best course of action is to deliver her naturally. This is the best for the mother. We will arrange a room for you.” The doctor explained, left the room, giving space for hubby and I to process this unimaginable, horrifying news.

A staff came in setting up equipment to check the baby and me. Hubby asked: “Do you think she knows what happened?” I said to her: “The baby has no heartbeat.” She apologized profusely for the misunderstanding and rushed out of the room.

At 36 weeks, 5 weeks ago in that same room, we heard the baby’s robust heartbeat. Now at 41 weeks, still the 3 of us, but she had already said goodbye without me knowing when. Time became indiscernible, as it was for the baby, as now for hubby and I in this dark hospital room, as it continues for the rest of our life.

More staff came for more blood tests, gave me a membrane sweep to break the water and accelerate the delivery. As we waited, hubby held my left hand tight, without a word. There was Anna, holding my right hand, her badge read “Specialist Midwife”, as I couldn’t comprehend the shock, her appearance, her soft voice and touch, came from the heaven.

An hour or two later, I was moved to an en-suite with a double bed hidden in the closet – where hubby would stay through the night. A staff came to take our meal orders. Hubby already called parents and friends about the news. Inhaling gas didn’t relieve any pain from contractions, at that point the birth plan I had written and discussed with community midwife at 39 weeks - to give birth in water rather than a hospital bed - became a distant joke, no one had been able to read it, and clearly not up to me in that sort of state to ask for it. I was exhausted after 2 hours of howling in tears on my knees trying to push, crying for a cesarean section. Hubby rang the bell, more midwives and the same doctor came and convinced me the best option is to deliver vaginally.

Eventually I surrendered to an epidural injection, within half an hour, most pain were gone, I relaxed lying down and learnt the names of the River Team Midwives that were looking after me, Chloe and Lisa. They checked my cervix had fully dilated, said if I feel the pressure similar to delivering a poo, I should push. So I did. 8pm, Chloe’s shift finished, but she saw through my delivery. I pushed sitting down, holding onto hubby’s hand, the pressure at the bottom was clear but painless thanks to the epidural. Chloe and Lisa gave clear instructions as to when and how much to push, and I followed. 37 minutes later, baby was delivered, hubby and I couldn’t face her, so they kept her in a cold cot in the next room. Lisa looked after me the whole night, listened as I chatted for hours about being in UK without my parents and how lucky I was to meet hubby. She dressed the baby, later Anna took photos of her and placed in an envelope for us to take home. They did such a good job with my delivery that I had only 4 small scratches which didn't really need stitches. Angels in that Butterfly Suite.

Post-mortem results came 7 weeks after, the gynaecology consultant was on annual leave, and no other consultants were available, so we waited, the in-person meeting eventually took place at week 10 - contrary to the expectation that the post-mortem brief should be held around 8 weeks. The results suggested that the baby appeared to have died within 24 hours before delivery, no substantial reasons found to explain her death caused by sudden lack of oxygen, except that "the placenta showed masssive perivilous fribin deposition. This may recur in subsequent pregnancies (range 12-78%)." - the consultant did not explain what this really mean at the meeting, what could we do to prevent this from happening again.

My placenta was frozen and kept for 6 months. We enquired to look for signs of infections such as ureaplasma, as a private doctor found in my urine sample 5 weeks postpartum.

Had any of those 7 phone calls I dialled 24 hours before birth been answered, would our baby have survived? Shouldn't there be a dedicated phone line for pregnant women in labour to call?! Should it be deemed normal for a hospital to not have their phone answered for more than 1 minute, 10minute, or probably a record setting 73 minutes?

I feel the need to share this story here so that other first-time mothers like I was, would now know to NOT waste time calling the hospital, just pick the hospital bag and go, follow your motherly instinct. I had mine but I hesitated, and my baby died. Please, less of such pain for other moms-to-be.

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