Pregnancy after baby loss – Lemara’s story

After experiencing the trauma of a stillbirth, Lemara worried about what would happen during the course of her next pregnancy. Here she shares her emotional journey.

During my first pregnancy I was diagnosed with severe IUGR and our baby Robyn weighed a tiny 195g at 23 weeks. Unfortunately, there was nothing the doctors could do to save my pregnancy.

When it was time to deliver Robyn, I was admitted to a special bereavement suite away from other mothers and babies. My room for the night was designed to be more homely and my partner Jon was allowed to stay with me. The staff were very sympathetic and I had a visit from the chaplain which I found helpful. Robyn received a blessing whilst she was in the chapel of rest. I was also given a bereavement pack from the baby loss charity Sands.

Jon and I went away for a few days soon after the birth which was a good way of avoiding people. I found comfort organising Robyn’s funeral; designing the obituary and adding poems and passages. I forced myself to continue going out and really wanted things to go back to how they were before the pregnancy. I went to a few Sands sessions which helped me feel less isolated. I even went back to work at a primary school after just three and a half weeks albeit in a less demanding role.

Friends and family were sympathetic in the early weeks but many stopped mentioning Robyn after a few months which was around Christmas time and my grief felt worse.

We tried to block out the pregnancy – we were probably in the denial stage of grief - but as time went on I found I was surrounded by triggers. Seeing other pregnant women, new babies, adverts on TV and even songs could really impact how I was feeling. Jon was the only person I could really talk to about Robyn although I also attended a ten weeks of counselling which was a good release for my bottled up thoughts and feelings.

Jon and I soon realised that we desperately wanted to be parents to another baby and planned to try a year on from the anniversary. The following year, almost to the date, I found out that I was pregnant again. I felt a rush of excitement and anxiety.

I was really worried that I’d have IUGR again. I worried my baby could be even smaller than Robyn and I was always anxious to hear the baby’s heartbeat in scans.

This time round I was much more proactive with booking in scans and doctor’s appointments and even went to London for private early scans and a second opinion about managing the pregnancy. I was determined to do everything I could to help my baby survive. I was more conscious of what I ate, drank lots of water, slept on my left, and did everything by the book. I know lots of mothers can just carry on as normal whilst pregnant but I felt like I had to be very cautious because of my past.

After blood tests it was found my PAPP-A levels were extremely low again. This indicated that my baby was either high risk for Down’s syndrome or high risk for a low birth weight. I took a private Harmony blood test and was given the all clear of Down’s syndrome. I was warned that my baby would be extremely small and literally told to pray to God for a miracle. I took heed of this and also made a decision to think as positively about my pregnancy as possible. I read a couple of books by rainbow baby mothers about how to get through a second pregnancy and I practiced mindfulness to try and ease my anxiety.

My interpretation of mindfulness was setting aside 30 minutes every evening to think about my baby, block out the worries and feel thankful for reaching the stage in pregnancy that I was at. I would count the kicks, listen to relaxing instrumental music and take ten deep breaths while saying a personal mantra: “My body will nourish my baby, my baby will grow strong and healthy.”

When I reached 24 weeks I felt relieved. I was given a fantastic new consultant who monitored me closely and told me that although my baby would not be full term we had to keep the pregnancy going as long as possible. Although my baby wasn't putting on any weight, I was told that her organs were developing at a normal rate.

My main thought during the pregnancy was that I had to keep my baby alive. At 28 weeks whilst I was resting and counting kicks I didn't feel any movement. I poked my baby and ate something sweet but still no movement so I took myself to hospital whilst Jon was at work. It crossed my mind that I might be wasting hospital time as it was around 10.00pm but I also knew it was important to get checked out. Thankfully my baby had a strong heart beat but my scare did prompt my consultant to increase my scans to twice a week, a mixture of growth scans and Doppler scans, which made me feel more reassured.

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My contractions started that same week and I was admitted to hospital. Four days later, my baby was showing signs of stress and I had an emergency c-section booked in for the afternoon. I felt nervous but with both my mum and partner by my side I found the strength to go to the delivery suite.

Everyone was really friendly in the delivery suite. There was a team of NICU nurses for my baby and an anaesthetist kept me preoccupied talking about baby names. He said it would be likely that my baby would have a very weak cry and that we might not hear her, however minutes later we were all deafened by an enormously loud baby bellow.

Annmarie, my rainbow baby, made her grand entrance into the world and at that moment I felt in my heart that she was going to be ok. She was strong and having read how premature babies are whisked away upon arrival, I was shocked to have her brought over to me for kisses. There was even time for a quick photo, and then Annmarie was rushed away as expected. I felt so proud of her and I couldn't wait to see her again, although I knew I might need to be patient.

After my c-section I was closely monitored. Jon and I were ecstatic when our first visit to the NICU was organised. Annmarie slept peacefully in her incubator with all the tubes I had imagined; I was so happy to see my baby girl alive and surviving

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Annmarie’s weight was confirmed to be 2lb. She weighed less than predicted and was completely off the percentile chart. The NICU team told us that Annmarie's main goal would be to gain weight and stay healthy. I was strongly encouraged to express milk and it was further fortified to give Annmarie extra calories.

It was a different world in the NICU, Christmas was approaching but I felt completely detached from the outside world. I learned about premature babies through the Little Bliss magazine and the Bliss website and spent all my hours practising skin-to-skin with Annmarie. We had the usual worries of NICU parents and it was challenging leaving Annmarie at nights and expressing round the clock.

Finally after seven weeks in NICU, Annmarie weighed 4lb which was double her birth size. She was breast feeding well which was a miracle and I couldn't thank the team enough. Annmarie and I spent Boxing Day and the day after together on a semi-support ward and as a result of her continued weight gain we were discharged and sent home where we were able celebrate the New Year.

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Annmarie is now three-years-old and a happy, energetic child. She is still very petite but as a typical IUGR child she acts her age not her size! I am forever proud of my daughter and grateful to all the antenatal and neonatal staff that I have met over the years and to all the team at Bliss. Whilst Annmarie was an infant the one baby group that I took her to was the Bliss baby group - Early Birds and Seedlings where I felt safe with like-minded mums who understood the life of a NICU parent.

If you are pregnant with your own rainbow baby, don't be afraid to ask for help from medical professionals. Be proactive. Hospitals are doing some amazing work and Bliss is a great place to learn about inspiring stories and what NICU is like before you get there. Take one day at a time and try to be positive that everything will be ok this time. Be gentle with yourself if you feel down and be proud when you have positive days.

To friends and family of someone having a rainbow baby, try to understand that although the mum will be happy and excited to have a new baby, they will most likely be feeling anxious until the day that they take their baby home (and even then there may always be some grief and anxiety). The new baby is not a replacement but a wonderful and cherished much wanted addition to the family.

It has been a rollercoaster journey but we can’t believe how far we’ve come and are looking forward to our future.

If you have been affected by any of the issues mentioned in this post and would like support, you can call our helpline on 0808 801 0322 or view our online support pages.

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