Thinking & Feeling

“The world is a tragedy to those who feel, but a comedy to those who think.” Horace Walpole

Monday, 23 March 2015

Losing Anqelique

My birth stories were all hosted on the Earth Babies web site. I was devastated to discover that after being sold all the stories were deleted. I don't seem to even have a copy of Quinn and Griffin's stories any more so I will need to rewrite them from memory. :(

In the mean time here is the story of my first born.

My precious baby angel girl. Born too soon....


I was thrilled when I became pregnant for the first time in October 1997. I initially had a textbook pregnancy with no problems at all, to the extent that I had been planning a midwife assisted home water-birth. I loved being pregnant and was thoroughly enjoying the experience.  

When I was 25 weeks pregnant we took a train trip to Johannesburg to visit my family for the week-end, having been told that it was safe to travel at this time. It was to be our last trip before we became a family of 3… 

We arrived at my parents' house feeling elated and happy. That evening we had a huge family dinner, we mainly spoke about me and the baby and how well I was doing. We went to bed quite late on the Saturday night after attending a music concert. I woke up several times during the night feeling a bit uncomfortable... I got out of bed at 6h30 because my tummy felt a bit crampy. I noticed my stomach was a bit upset, but I wasn't really worried. When Richard woke up I told him how I felt. He told me to phone my mid-wife. I didn't want to trouble her early on a Sunday morning, but eventually did phone. She told me she was sure it was nothing to worry about and that I most likely had a tummy bug, as there were several going around. She said I should be fine to make the journey back on the train.

We boarded the train at 12 that afternoon. I wanted to sleep, so lay down on the bunk immediately. I found I couldn't sleep though because my stomach kept cramping up. I decided to try time the cramps. Richard even joked that I must be one of the only people who have ever timed intestinal cramps! 

I noticed that I was having the cramps every 3 mins, lasting about 20 seconds. They seemed to be too regular for my liking, but I kept assuring myself that everything was fine. I was starting to feel very uncomfortable though, and started having to breathe through the cramps. I was getting worried because I realised I hadn't felt the baby move since the evening before. Finally at about 4pm the baby kicked several times. I let Richard feel, and we were both assured that everything would be fine. 

I still couldn't get comfortable though as I was still cramping, but kept forgetting to time them since I was dozing between them, they did seem to be lasting longer though… 

By about 7pm I was starting to moan a bit during the cramps, Richard assured me that stomach bugs can be very painful, he managed to get some medicine from the tourists in the cabin next door to us. After which I sent him off to go have dinner in the dining cart. 

By the time he came back I was visibly in pain. He asked me if I wanted to get off the train – something that stupidly hadn't occurred to me as a possibility until then. I immediately said yes. 
We were still about 1 1/2 hours away from the next station. Richard managed to contact a Doctor in the next town, and arranged that we would go into the hospital so that I could be checked. 

We arrived in De Aar at about 12h30am, an ambulance was waiting for me. I was taken to the little hospital, and taken straight into the maternity section. This concerned me. I had to change into a hospital gown, a nurse checked for the baby's heart beat, and it was loud and strong. I felt so relieved, everything would be fine! She did an internal, and then told me to tell her when a 'cramp' started and stopped. She timed 3. They were about 3 mins apart, lasting well over a minute each. I had to breathe deeply to cope with the pain. 

After that she looked up and told me that I was 6cm dilated, and I was having an 'inevitable abortion'. I was stunned with disbelief. Richard burst into tears. A doctor was called. He confirmed what she had said, and told us we had 2 choices; either they could deliver the baby there, where there would be no chance of survival, or we could transfer to Kimberly hospital (around 350km away) where they have facilities for premature babies. 

We of course chose to transfer. I was put on an Ibrodol IV to try to stop the contractions – which gave me heart palpitations - and put back in the ambulance with a rather reluctant driver, Richard and all our luggage. We set off on the 3.5hr trip, with a sleepy nurse in case I delivered en route. I had about 4 contractions in the ambulance, but they finally stopped, and I was able to doze a little. 

We arrived in Kimberley after 5am. We were greeted with extreme reluctance. The Kimberley staff wanted to know why we were there and kept saying that they couldn't admit us, and that we must go back to De Aar! Eventually Richard insisted that they at least let us go inside, as I was now lying on a stretcher in the hospital driveway!

After a debate was held about where I should be admitted (they wanted me sent to the casualty room) I was eventually taken up to the maternity ward, without any assistance from the Kimberly staff – the ambulance driver and Richard had to get me out of the ambulance and wheel me to the maternity ward themselves.  

On arrival at the maternity ward we were met with more resistance and reluctance. The nurses wouldn't admit me and told me to go to the trauma ward. They were obviously not in the mood for dealing with another case, and I think their shift was due to end shortly. When we explained that we were there because we needed access to the neonatal ward, they rolled their eyes and told us that 25 weeks was too young, and that the incubators are expensive etc. They also said that they had other ladies in labour, and I would upset them if I was in the ward. The whole attitude was that we were an unwanted nuisance and irritation to them.  

By this time I was feeling ill and asked for a bucket. No one responded and when I vomited, they again started sighing and rolling their eyes. I kept feeling I had to apologise for disturbing them. 

After much persistence we managed to convince them that we were staying. They then tried to make Richard leave, saying he was not allowed in the labour ward, but he stayed anyway. A doctor was called and I thought that, being a trained professional, he would know the right thing to do and would take charge of the situation and help us. I was wrong.

This doctor also said that 25 weeks was too young and that he could do nothing about it. His words were, '"We'll have to take it out of there". I was devastated and offended by his words. As we had been planning a gentle home-birth, and this was not at all what I had been envisaging as a birth scenario. I asked him if he meant he wanted to do a Caesarean. He said no, I could deliver vaginally if I wanted. 

All this time the baby had been fine with a strong healthy heartbeat, my membranes were still intact and the contractions had stopped. After that things happened VERY quickly. I wasn't consulted about anything, and kept having to ask what they were doing. The nurses were very abrupt. The doctor ruptured my membranes; I remember feeling so very sad then, feeling all the warm fluid leaking out. I was taken off the Ibrodol IV I was on. The doctor then proceeded inserted a Pitocin IV. He was INDUCING me! At the time this seemed strange, but I thought he knew what he was doing… I didn't think to question him. I never saw the doctor again...

When the nurses came back, they were very rough and terse. They started doing things to me without explaining anything. If I asked questions, they seemed annoyed and when I told them I did not want a catheter, I was told I had no choice, it was hospital policy and I had to have one. 

There wasn't any time. The Pitocin caused a massive contraction, which felt as if it was going to rip my legs off, I did not know what to do with myself. The nurses started walking away, leaving Richard and I alone.  I started to panic a bit, I didn't want this to be happening, I didn't want the baby to come out, it was meant to stay inside me!!! I remember saying to Richard 'I don't want to do this now...' 

I was frightened and in pain, the nurse told me to push whenever I wanted to and was walking away. The baby was crowning, I was scared and desperate, and as she walked away I called out; 'Come and HELP me!' She came back. 

I was trying to keep control, and use what I had learned; I was pushing, and using the yoga-breaths I had practiced. She shouted 'PUSH, STOP breathing!!' I tried to ignore her, and just concentrated calmly. 

At 6h30 on Monday 23rd March after just three pushes I gave birth to my baby. A small perfect little doll of a baby girl was born. The nurse immediately cut the cord, and said 'It's a girl'. I tried to sit up to see her, but the nurse grabbed her and started walking away. I had no idea where they were going and if I'd ever get to see her. So I asked to hold her. All I heard was 'incubator', so I let her go. Richard, who had held my hand the whole time, was crying again. I held his head, I felt numb... The nurse came back minutes later, and handed the small bundle to me, she said, "865 grams, too small" and left us.  

A beautiful little girl. A perfect little angel. She was so perfect, and so sweet, pink and very much alive. She was trying to breathe and was even blowing little bubbles through her nose - they hadn't helped to clear her airways or anything. This was extremely heart wrenching to watch, and I felt desperate and anxious that nothing was being done to help her - but we knew that it was already too late... both Richard and I unspeakingly chose to treasure and nurture her with love and caring and not trauma or angst.

We think she died after about 20 minutes, while I held her in my arms. They did not even issue a birth certificate. 

She was taken away from us and I was wheeled out into the corridor. I was exhausted, shocked and numb after the arduous events of the past day and was dozing off. I was left in the corridor for a long time, while Richard was trying to make arrangements regarding our baby. Eventually he got them to move me into a ward. It was the maternity ward, which had about six other women with their babies in it. I was pretty much ignored. I gathered that the hospital was being inspected that day and the nurses were hurrying around trying to neaten the place up, tie curtains back, etc. 

Richard was told to leave and that he was not allowed in the ward outside of visiting hours. He ended up walking around in the streets of Kimberley, on his own, for most of the day. 

When the hospital inspectors arrived they were paraded around the ward. They then stopped at the end of my bed. They obviously had not been told anything, so they tried to make idle chitchat with me, saying things like "you must be very happy". I was too numb to respond at all.

The hospital was filthy (even after the inspection clean-up). There were cockroaches everywhere. The toilets were grimy and smelly, and there was no toilet paper. The bath had no plug and no soap. 

Apart from one sympathetic admin lady, who managed to arrange to get our baby brought back to us later, so we could say good-bye to her, the nursing staff were unfriendly, unsympathetic and uncaring. 

We named our baby Angelique. She was all I had ever wanted. I loved her from the second we found out I was pregnant. It was the most difficult and emotional time of my life, and yet I was made to feel that I was in the way and was being an inconvenience. Richard was also affected by the cruel and insensitive treatment. We were made to feel that we were interfering with their routines. 

At the time I didn't know any better, but I now know that the primary reason for losing our baby was incorrect medical intervention. The fact that the De Aar doctor had managed to stop my contractions, that my membranes were still intact and that the baby was not distressed in any way, meant that I could have been kept on bed rest. Angelique very possibly could have stayed inside me for another few weeks, during which time she would have grown big enough to be viable. Or I could have been transferred to another, better-equipped hospital. Instead I was treated like a problem, which needed to be eliminated before the hospital inspection in the morning. 

I felt so very empty afterwards and couldn't believe what had happened. For weeks I expected to feel her kicking, and for everything to be fine.  My milk came in, and my breasts got engorged. I was given medication to make the milk dry up, but I didn't want to take it, the milk was for her! 

Nothing will ever replace Angelique, or our memories of her, but my hope is that my story can help to prevent anyone else from having to endure a similar situation. 

Many people have asked me why I have not pursued the doctors, nurse and hospital for the poor treatment I received…

The reason is that early on in the experience I realised that I wanted to use the experience as an opportunity to grow and learn. I wanted my memory of her pregnancy, birth and death to be special and meaningful, not sad and bitter and resentful. I would never chose to go through what I did, but once something like that has happened, you do get to chose how you are going to deal with it, and how you are going to let it define who you are.

I chose to let the experience teach me of the fragility and transient nature of life. To appreciate things more, to be more aware, more compassionate and more loving. It has also made me want to work to help even one other mother not have the awful experience I had. Being left alone and treated like an inconvenience. I know first hand how much of a difference support and empathy can make. 

I believe Angelique made me who I am today, and for that I am grateful.

My boys know about her, and talk about her often as their Angel Sister who looks after them.


Mother to
Angelique (23rd March 1998 6h30-6h50) born at 25 weeks.
Quinn (3 Jan 2000) a wonderful healing midwife assisted water-birth at 41+3 days.
Griffin (12 November 2001) a midwife assisted land baby at 39+6 days
Nathaniel (29 August 2014) conceived, grown and born for Andrew. A perfect unassisted home water-birth. at 41+2 days.

Happy 17th Birthday Baby Angel

Today marks Angelique's 17th birthday. My first born, my girl child, my baby angel. My biggest teacher and guide. It was because of her that I am so drawn to birth and so compelled to assist other in their journeys and so determined in my own to be aware, and to 'do it right' and with meaning and intention - and indeed without intervention and interference.

It feels like a lifetime ago that she passed through my life for such a short time.

She changed the course of my life and catalysed the me I am today.

I love you baby girl. Thank-you for all you have taught me.