by Ann Douglas
On October 9, 1996, at 7:30 a.m., I gave birth to a 1 pound 1 ounce baby girl, Laura Ann Douglas. We spent the better part of an hour holding her before it was time to say goodbye. She was perfectly formed from head to toe. The cause of her death was cruelly obvious. There was a knot in her umbilical cord...
It was supposed to be a routine prenatal checkup in the midst of a completely ordinary pregnancy. Why, then, was the midwife having such a hard time finding my baby's heartbeat?
As I lay on the examining bed, I began to feel frightened. I was 26 weeks into my fourth pregnancy, and nothing like this had ever happened to me before.
"Try not to worry," said Jaylene Mory, my primary care midwife. "The baby is probably just in an awkward position. Just to be sure, we'll send you for an ultrasound."
A few hours later, I was once again lying on an examining bed. I tried to joke with the ultrasound technician, but she was unnaturally silent as she did the examination. After a few minutes, she put down the transducer and went to find the radiologist. When he returned, he told me the unthinkable: my baby was dead.
The radiologist called Jaylene and told her the bad news. She asked me to come to the clinic right away so we could talk. I knew I was in no state to drive, but I didn't care about my safety or well-being at that point. When I arrived at the clinic, the receptionist ushered me into a waiting room. She handed me a box of tissues. A few minutes later, Jaylene came in to see me, and we began talking about what would happen next. She told me that I had to deliver the baby. Because my pregnancy was so far advanced, a D & C was not possible. I asked if I could have a caesarean and be put under a general anaesthetic, but this wasn't an option either. "I can't do this," I sobbed. "I can't cope with the grief and the pain." Jaylene was crying, too. "There's only one way to get through this, she told me. "You have to walk into the fire."
When I arrived home from the clinic, my husband Neil was waiting for me in the kitchen. I hadn't been able to reach him by phone earlier in the day, but he knew something was wrong because it was 6:00 p.m. and no one was home. Our three children - ages 8, 6, and 5 - were being cared for by a friend.
Neil had just gotten off the phone with Jaylene, so he already knew the worst. He held me while I cried: "I'm so sorry you have to go through this," he said.
I explained to Neil that I had to deliver the baby. My choices were to either be induced (my preference) or to wait until my body went into labour naturally. Then, we had to arrange to bury or cremate the baby. By the time we left to pick up our three children, his head was swimming, too.
We waited until we got back home before we told the children about the baby. They knew something was up because I had been crying in the van, but they weren't ready for the bombshell we were about to drop on them. Five year old Erik did his best to try to cheer me up: "It's okay, Mom," he said, kissing me. "The baby will still come at Christmas. Don't worry."
Seven year old Scott wanted to know everything we could tell him about dead babies. While he initially seemed to be more fascinated than distressed by our news, over time his grief came out. He drew a sad face in green crayon on the ceiling above his bunkbed.
Eight year old Julie was the one who had us the most concerned. She had initially been hostile to the idea of the pregnancy - "This family doesn't need another baby," she had said - and we were worried that she somehow felt responsible for the baby's death. It wasn't until after the funeral that she was able to let her emotions out.
The following evening, I was admitted to Peterborough Civic Hospital for an induction. Although my previous three births had been drug-free, this time I was after any drug they would give me. I didn't just want to be pain-free: I wanted to be numb.
On October 9, 1996, at 7:30 a.m., I gave birth to a 1 lb. 1 oz baby girl, Laura Ann Douglas. We spent the better part of an hour holding her before it was time to say goodbye. She was perfectly formed from head to toe. The cause of her death was cruelly obvious. There was a knot in her umbilical cord.