I worried throughout this pregnancy. I hadn’t even bought anything for the baby, and felt awkward telling people I was pregnant again because I was sure it was all going to go wrong.
At 22 weeks, my worst nightmare came true. It was the day of my anomaly scan. I really didn’t want to go as I kept thinking something awful was going to happen. The technician kept measuring and re-measuring this funny shape on my babies spine. Then she looked at the skull, and I thought, That just doesn’t look right—having two other children, I knew how it should have looked. I tried to stay confident, and told myself to stop being so paranoid. Then she kept trying to look at the heart. Even when she said she would fetch someone else to help,I tried to deny to myself that something was indeed wrong.
After the scan, she said, “I’m sorry, it’s not good news.”
I felt shocked and numb. We were led to a consultant who explained that my baby had spina bifida and some related problems with the brain and possibly the heart. She explained what spina bifida could mean, and said we had the option to terminate the pregnancy, and explained what would need to happen.
Before it happened to us I believed I could never go terminate a pregnancy, especially not when I had felt movements. But faced with this prenatal diagnosis, my practical side kicked in.
Another scan with a neurologist confirmed the initial diagnosis, and also that our baby was a boy. We called him Mathew.
Our doctor couldn’t say for sure how badly spina bifida would affect Mathew, except to say that he would need a lot of hospital visits and operations throughout his life and he could still die at any time. The level of his physical and cognitive disabilities couldn’t be determined. She talked about the impact this would have on our our life as a whole, and I was starting to get a glimpse of that aspect of it already: In the two weeks starting with the initial diagnosis, we’d been running back and forth endlessly between hospitals and doctors. My daughters were being dropped off and picked up by different people every day. We just couldn’t cope with a lifetime of this.
We decided that we would let Mathew go. It was a hard choice. After the decision, every kick and movement was devastating. I worried I wouldn’t be able to go through with it. On the day the termination procedure was to begin, I went to fetal care where the chaplain blessed Mathew, and then Mathew was given an injection to stop his heart. Since he was at 23 weeks gestation, they didn’t want him to be delivered alive. I was quite calm until she said we had to wait two minutes and I then knew he was gone. I thought I might never be able to stop crying.
I was then given a tablet to prepare my cervix and sent home, and two days later I was back at the hospital, in the labour suite. That day passed in a blur. I was in labour for 12 hours and given diamorphine to help with the pain, I never got regular contractions so we didn’t think anything was happening. Then I had one huge and painful contraction and somehow I knew I had to push.
Mathew was born still floating in his amniotic sac. Even the placenta came out with him. I needed to see him. The midwife showed us his spina bifida, the hole in his spine that caused such huge problems.
The midwife then took Mathew away to the doctor. She dressed him, took some photos, and brought him back to us in a little Moses basket. We held him, kissed him, and looked at every part of him. Although is spina bifida was obvious, many parts of him looked perfect. His fingernails and toenails fascinated me. He weighed 1lb 5oz; bigger than w’ed expected. He was beautiful; we took loads of photos and gave him a teddy bear. We were then taken to a parents room, where we kept him with us for the night. Having that one night with our baby was very special.
The next morning, the chaplain named and blessed Mathew. My husband and I couldn’t stop sobbing. Then came the hardest bit, saying goodbye. I didn’t want to let him go, but I had to. We were both heartbroken. It felt so strange leaving the hospital and going home without our baby. We took his teddy home with us so that we could keep it forever.
That was two weeks ago and I have had to get on with things, which is hard and makes me feel guilty, I still have to rush home for a cry, especially after I have dropped the girls off. I feel guilty that this is already becoming a memory. It doesn’t feel real. The hospital held a cremation service for Mathew; they do all the lost babies together. We couldn’t go through a proper funeral, and I dreaded seeing the coffin.
Eventually we did go on to have another healthy girl, Rachel. All turned out well, although we still think about Mathew every day.