Answers that make more questions

I’m not doing so well.

I wish i was the kind of person who could switch off, accept things as they are, not question, not query, not wonder. I suppose i’ve headed on past shock and denial stages of grief (though shock seems particularly capable of re-emerging, i spent most of the last two days feeling much as i did in SCBU) and i’m on to anger and blame.

But who to blame? In the past, when births went badly and i was hurt and damaged, that was easy. The hospital and the people who cared for me got the blame. Perhaps that was a luxury of a live baby, a ‘good’ outcome. But they weren’t really good outcomes, they just had healthy babies who came home at the end of them; there is no doubt i found the aftermath of 2 of the births of the girls extremely difficult – debilitating and difficult – and i don’t look back and snort at myself because of that. And the other thing, oh anger and blame were easy in that – Max, myself, life, chance, fate, timing, myself, Max…. Mostly not fair, mostly pointless – but grief has anger and blame in it and it has to go somewhere, even if the places it goes aren’t fair.

When Max and i were in hospital, the thing that upset him most visibly, most clearly, was the thought of us going back to circles of blame and anger and distress. I promised i’d find a way not to do that and i’ve been battling against it as hard as i can. I keep telling myself i knew, KNEW that something was not right and finding this post the other day was a bit of a shock, even in the face of all the other things i listed the other day here. I even know that i spoke to both my midwife and a friend, panicking for some unearthly reason that Social Services were going to come into the ward and take the baby away before i even got out of the delivery unit. I cannot think why i would have been uttering such ridiculous fears if i hadn’t been absolutely physically sure that he was not okay.


There isn’t any explanation for why he was so dreadfully unresponsive at birth; brain damage due to low oxygen, critically, terribly, heart-sinkingly low oxygen in his blood. The paediatrician came up, at best, with “there are some unanswered questions about Freddie” and really, i can’t help but feel that is just to save my feelings. He didn’t try, not AT ALL, to breathe and yet i know that he was moving downwards with contractions in a way i never felt any of my others do. I did worry the night before, i did worry the weekend before when my blood pressure went up, i did feel he wasn’t safe but i thought i was being paranoid as is my wont. I did know, in early labour, that he seemed to be still quite still, not kicking, but not having had relaxed and ordinary labours before, that didn’t seem much different. I hunted for his heartbeat while i was still at home  because i was worried, just a tiny bit worried, and found it and it was exactly the same as it was throughout my pregnancy.I don’t remember any of the others kicking about while i was in labour either so i don’t know that he was so very unusual. When i was in the pool he seemed happy enough and carried on moving downwards and that was only an hour before he was born.

At an appointment yesterday, where i spectacularly didn’t think to ask some of the questions it has made we wonder about, the only things that we really could say was that the blood gas results showed it happened chronically, in the hours before, not the minutes before his birth. The cord bloods were easy to get, his circulation hadn’t collapsed, but he wasn’t dead in the womb either, so it had happened recently. But if it wasn’t cord compression, what was it? I forgot to ask if my blood pressure could have been a factor; i’m hardly a candidate for pre-eclampsia but it did take a while to come down after, enough for thme to take blood, but i assume that was the circumstances of the post birth hours. I did have terribly swollen feet after, bad water retention from early on, but i’m not a tiny woman, so it didn’t seem that odd and afterwards, stood and sat in SCBU for hours, it didn’t seem odd at all. I never got discharged or had a 6 week check, i forgot one and begged them not to do the full scale “have you thought about contraception” discharge, so i haven’t thought about it since.

I forgot to ask, if not cord compression, then what? What else would cause his oxygen not to be there? The placenta was fine, his heartbeat was absolutely fine – so… what?

One little something, something i also knew and fretted about, was that although i never had critically less fluid, not enough to trigger a worry, i had a smaller bump. He was my second biggest baby, even at only 3 days overdue, but i was tiny by comparison to the girls and my bump was rock hard, painfully hard, for weeks. I let myself think it was because he was a boy, because i ate better, because it was longer since i had been pregnant, but something was different. There was just less fluid, less room for him to move. When my waters broke, while i was asleep, there was no gush of it at all, though i assumed that was due to him being more engaged. I did wonder briefly is a smudge on a pad was greenish waters but after that what little there was seemed clear enough, just very little of it. I got to the hospital and through a few hours at home with just pads – i wore a towel, a hand towel, in my trousers with Josie. We discussed whether, if his brain and heart needed all the oxygen, he diverted his blood away from his kidneys. I certainly feel there are some questions over his kidneys and liver – he needed lights for jaundice at less than 24 hours old and i know his wet nappies were just a bit bigger than they expected, but no one else seems to find that as odd as i do. I suppose i only know about well babies.

I’ve wondered whether we pootled about at home and he was dying all that time, but when i got to the hospital i had 20 minutes of monitoring before i went in the pool and the trace was fine, just fine. So if it happened in the hours before birth – when? what? how? why?

The trouble is, i’m struggling to hear my own instincts above the reality of the know-ables. I know that my anxieties got significantly worse after i got flu-ey. I had real problems with terrible coughs and colds from the end of October onwards and after one that began on New Years Eve, i never managed to get my nose back to being non-congested. breathing became a real effort but i put it down to extra blood flow in my nose and body; it cleared once i had him. And i do have issues with breathing; one side of my nose is permanently slightly blocked with a polyp or something and it was so bad that i had to use a nose spray, one i used with Josie too so no anxieties about that, to keep my breathing clear. I meant to go to the doctor about it all, but it seemed like one of those pregnant thing – full of baby, had dreadful cough and colds, low immune system, stop making a fuss. Did that flu start a string of events of him just not getting quite enough oxygen? Did my sedentary lifestyle make that worse? Was labour the last straw? Was the last couple of weeks the last straw? Would he have survived a c-section? Would he have survived an epidural? Would it be better or worse now to have a damaged in womb baby that half made it because i didn’t labour? Better or worse to have had him born flat by c-section and me stuck in a bed away from him? better or worse to know it couldn’t possibly be my fault because i didn’t labour?

There are some things here that ring true, not least the stuff about chest infections and colds and the mention of heightened activity in the womb during periods of distress. I know he did that, i know he scrabbled about but i wondered if he was lying on his cord. If he was, he’d have died. So what was wrong? (Don’t tell me not to Google unless you have also had to come home from a Maternity Unit without a full term, apparently healthy until the birth, baby. Please, just don’t.)

And in the end, the inescapable truth. Did my decision to give birth naturally kill him? Why did i do it that way, when the ‘easier’ option was a c/s? Did i put myself first? Did i think experience was more important than baby? Have i got my just deserts for railing against the way i had to have the girls? How ironic that after all those miserable and unsupported pregnancies and births, the one time i was supported, care for, listened to, included in my care – the thing had to happen that is the big fear in all labour wards. The one time i got to experience a beautiful, easy, relaxed and natural birth, it had to be the time the baby wouldn’t cry.

I just don’t know. I don’t know anything. If i had sensible feelings about him, why did he make it to full term, a good size, looking healthy with a good heartbeat? If he was damaged through the birth, why did his heartbeat stay good? If it happened that way, how was there time – from the minute i woke up, just before 3am and knew it was starting (with waters broken, which was my big fear) to the moment i gave birth to him at 12.30pm, it doesn’t seem long enough. There wasn’t a critical moment of panic, there wasn’t more  “ooh, let’s just check this” than i’ve experienced in any of my other labours. I was 2-3cm at 9.30am and he was born 3 hours later. It was easy. It should have been easy on him. His heartbeat and traces suggest it was easy on him. So why the hell wasn’t it?

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  1. says

    you poor love my heart breaks for you i wish you could have all the answers you need but maybe there isnt any i dont know but i know you are grieving for your lovely boy and that is normal . keep talking to us and we will listen . that is all i can do i wish i could heal some of your pain you will get through this we will help you . love to you and yours anne x

  2. says

    I’m not gonna tell you not to google, I googled and googled until my head spin.These days I’m mostly accepting of the fact that we just don’t know why Florence died, yeah sure the post mortem gave us a cause of death, but no reasons.
    Like you I’ve gone over and over every little detail of the pregnancy, the labour the birth, every tiny thing.
    There was nothing to indicate anything was wrong, just a feeling I had, and even if I’d gone to the hospital and said about my instincts, they’d have found nothing.
    I’ve had countless conversations with patient and caring doctors, and they are baffled too.
    It’s so hard to go on knowing that we know nothing.
    I will say that if you still have questions, go back to your doctors, and ask them, even if they seem ridiculous. I’ve done this and only ever been met with understanding.
    Sending you love. x

  3. says

    Thanks both – and really sorry about it moderating people randomly. It keeps doing it to all sorts of people and i have no idea why.

  4. Carol says

    I so desperately wish there were answers for you, and reasons to explain why something so unfair has happened.
    I understand that Max doesnt want to go through endless blame and recriminations – that is his way. But I think your way through is to do what you are doing and just keep talking and blogging, and working through your grief vocally – that is your way.
    *many hugs* xxxx

  5. Mieke says

    I so wish that if there are any answers, they will come to you :(. I have nothing to offer but ears to listen, eyes to read. That doesn’t even come close to sharing. As Anne says above, please keep talking to us – if and when you want. Love and hugs xx

  6. Jenny says

    I can’t find, and I have been looking, anything online but James Walker from RCOG has been doing a lot of work over the last 4-5 years on risks to subsequent babies of previous caesareans including higher miscarriage, stillbirth and SIDS risks and there was certainly a study in 2003 in the Lancet about increased unexplained stilllbirth in women with previous caesareans. Elective cs is definitely associated with higher rates of breathing difficulty than VBAC which doesn’t make it the “easier” option at all. I suspect you know all this but happy to find the refs if it will help. Maybe I have too strong an interest in proving that your birth choice didn’t cause Freddie’s death. I hope not.
    As always, thinking of and praying for you all.

    Lots of love,


  7. emma says

    Hi… have never commented before… my baby girl stopped moving on her due date.We went to the hospital, expecting to be made to feel paranoid, but she was already gone. There was nothing wrong with her, no placental/cord issues, no infection. I did everything right. The questions roll around constantly in my head but I have no answers. If there was absolutely nothing wrong, as I did absolutely nothing wrong, then how can she possibly be dead? If she was “perfect” as everyone pronounced her to be, how can she possibly have died? The pregnancy was exactly the same as my others, though I had a sense of foreboding and “bad” dreams. I never really prepared anything for her… with hindsight that sets off a whole new round of questions.Did I subconsciously “know”? Why was I not more forceful in my requests to be induced early, why did I not try harder to make people understand my gut feelings, why did I not pay more attention to my own instincts? I can truly empathise with you about the questions. I hope you find your way through them to some kind of peace. Or something close to it xxx

  8. says

    Having more questions than answers is so hard. I had a birth out of hospital and I constantly question that decision. Everything was normal and then she was born distressed. We have no idea why, and we will probably never know why.

    I have had many friends and my midwives tell me over and over again: you did what you thought was best for your baby. You made the best, most informed decision you could. It is not your fault. Sometimes these things just happen.

    Hearing these words repeatedly has helped me a lot so I pass them on to you: You were a good Mama. You took care of your baby and did everything you could for him. What happened was not your fault.

    I am so sorry there aren’t any answers. Hoping for gentle, calm days for you.

  9. says

    Emma, i am so sorry :(

    Angela, i read your story – i hope i didn’t say the wrong thing. You’ve been so unlucky and i know i do at least have my girls to comfort me. I’ve questioned everything, even using the pool, which i couldn’t have coped without and don’t even really recall choosing to use. But i’ve wondered – did that mask a problem? And i have no idea.

  10. Tech says

    Feel free to ignore random waffle….

    Have been in a similar place trying to find out why Dave got cancer. Have done the googling, the blame game, the ifs and buts and what ifs. Now we aren’t talking about a lost baby, only a testicle 😉 but, one thing I do know is that it took me probably two years to come to accept that we will just never know why. I think that accepting that there are so many things in life that we can only guess at, is one of the hardest parts of being human. It seems that our whole lives are spent looking for meaning, and to accept that sometimes things just are as they are makes life incredibly hard to live. And yet, at the same time it can be the thing that makes life worth living because the absolute wonder of just getting through another day is pretty damn amazing when you consider the odds that are stacked against us even from before our conception.

    I heard once that in, I think it was Thailand or perhaps the Philippines, people consider thinking to be a form of mental illness. When I heard that I totally identified with it! I don’t know how you get to a point of being able to not think, and stop mulling over the endless questions, and I often wonder why you would even want to to be honest, because I think sometimes there is comfort in the pain that can be generated by thinking about something that hurts, but I find that moments of peace and joy mostly sneak up on you in the moments when your brain just stops thinking for a moment. It’s finding how to make those moments longer that is the secret…. I think….

  11. Elaine G-H says

    My friend lost her baby daughter some years ago. There were no indications anything was wrong. The baby was born at home with no difficulty. She simply never took her first breath. At birth she was fine, there were no reasons it seems. She simply did not have the breathing reflex. My friend has blogged her story and I’ve asked her for the link if it’s in any way useful to you.

  12. rhonie says

    Merry, i am one of your unmet friends, i’ve followed your blogg for a couple of years, searching for the courage to home ed my 2 children and i have also struggled with my NEED to have another baby balanced with the needs of my family. I have wanted to comment for so long but worried i may intrude on your grief, or say the wrong thing, but reading today i felt i had to add something. I cannot imagine your pain, but i admire you greatly and wish you could recognise your courage and find some comfort in it.
    I was once a paediatric nurse and saw many children admitted to hospital with “over anxious” mothers, but 9 times out of 10 those mothers were RIGHT and we found something wrong if we looked hard enough, so I believe you when you say you knew. You did. I also cared for a family in SCBU whose child’s birth was painfully similar to that of your beautiful freddie. This baby too showed no sign of distress at any time but failed to take a breath after birth but that time, we could find no answers. That was 15 years ago and medicine has made great discoveries but unfortunately it still happens and the reasons remain totally beyond our control.
    You had no reason to make choices other to those you did. There was nothing you could or should have done. I have known many families distance themselves from a sick child in an attempt to avoid the pain, which is impossible, but what has struck me when reading your story is that you didn’t let your fears stop you loving him and you had the courage to do what every parent hopes to do, you allowed HIM to set the pace and to live the life he was here to live, all be it far to short. You didn’t make his choices for him, you supported him in what he needed to do despite the crippling cost to you and your family, you trusted that he knew best, and i believe that he would thank you for that if he could.
    Such courage may not seem like a great gift now, but one day it may be of comfort that it gave you the chance to know and love him and also to be proud that you are without doubt, the very best mummy he could of had.

  13. Michelle says

    I can say dont google but you will anyway.

    I never googled. M did extensively and scared himself silly such that he was never, ever relaxed about no brain damage for the first 18 months of her life. I think hes feeling a bit more comfortable that shes mostly ok now, genetics aside ;-). As Id never googled I didnt know what awful outcome could have awaited us and just took her for herself. She didnt die though. Maybe I would have if she had, though I dont remember googling for answers with the others.

    But then I think I am perhaps better at compartmentalising and not worrying. Or is that burying? I worry about some things but quietly and try to pretend theyre not there at all. Then I remember that I did have that big crash and finally sought support from SANDS when Becs said she was pregnant with her 2nd child and a lot of shut away stuff came out and I still feel sick and fret about other peoples pregnancies and births. I know too many sad stories and most of them have no answers.


  14. Catherine W says

    Oh Merry. I can’t say it better than so many of these comments already have. Rhonie is right, you were the very best mummy that Freddie could have had. I’ve never met you but I know how much you loved your little boy, it comes through so clearly in your writing.

    You certainly won’t be getting a telling off from me about googling. To this day, I still like to upset myself with a good old google, trying to figure what happened, what I might have done wrong, why she died. And it’s painfully obvious why my little girl died. No mystery at all. And yet I still google.

    I just can’t imagine. I was so focused on prematurity that, when I first read a story of a healthy,term pregnancy ending in the death of a baby, I was shocked. I still am, despite having read the blogs of many mothers who have been through this experience. I’m so sorry. It seems so terribly, horribly unfair. x

  15. says

    Tech, i think the hard thing here is that i know i took what was medically considered to be a risk. The risk didn’t pan out as it might have done, but i had a choice and not knowing whether i choose the wrong path for him, if not for me, is very difficult. I’m not blaming myself if he was just sick, i’ve been down that route with Fran and it is well sealed off now, but birth – god, what if i could have him here if i’d had a section?

    Elaine, i remember that story. It was so sad. I hope they’ve had happy endings since. Freddie didn’t breathe at birth, he’d not have made it to hospital if he’d been born at home i don’t think, but he was breathing unaided later. I’ve got some many unanswered questions… too fast, too slow, wrong position… what?

    Rhonie, thank you for what you said. You are right – he was one of us from the second he arrived, to not be with him would have been unthinkable. He was like a little magnet who drew us back and back even in the worst and bleakest moments. I’ve thought a lot about that.

    Michelle, i doubt i would google if he’d made a miraculous recovery. I didn’t google after Fran either – but then, i didn’t have the internet!

    And Catherine – just :( I don’t think it makes any difference when they are born. I do know it was a terrible shock, day in, to realise his premmie room mates were far less sick than he was. But then, they were quite healthy premmies – not all are of course :/

  16. Elaine G-H says

    Hi Merry, I can confirm definitely happy endings later as she’s a very good friend of mine. She is just about to become one of the people who takes photographs for the family of babies that have passed away. They had a daughter some time after losing Kim. Kim is very much still a part of their family.

  17. Tech says

    Either choice was a risk. What if you’d had the CS and his outcome was the same? What if you’d had the CS and he’d survived, but you’d died? What if you’d had the CS and you’d both died? Ultimately you can beat yourself up about his birth if you want to and nothing anyone else can say will change that, but as you knew all along something wasn’t right, and there is no clear certainty (from what you’ve said that I can tell) that Freddie’s problems were down to his birth, it seems to me that you made the right choice, and all the what ifs in the world aren’t going to change the outcome, unfortunately :( So just try to be a little more gentle on yourself than you’re prone to. xx

  18. says

    Lol. Yeah.

    I hate what ifs. I can live with “this is how it is” even if i don’t want to hear it.

    But unanswered questions. Blah.

    The biggest problem is “if i do it again (if i CAN do it again) what then?” Before i even get pregnant, i’ve got to decide if i can bear birth or C/S – and neither feels like an option i can even bear to consider now. But nor does never having another little child in the house.

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