COMMENTARY: Seven years ago, Nasreen Majid lost her child a few hours before going into labour.
She writes about what happened on the day she was supposed to give birth, finding out that her baby had no heartbeat and coping with the grief in the wake of her child's death.
This article has been republished with permission from theAsianparent and is part of the Project Sidekicks campaign that aims to reduce stillbirth rates in Southeast Asia by 10 per cent in the next three years.
October is also Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.
By Nasreen Majid
August 14, 2013 was a day that changed my life.
When my waterbag burst, I did not know what to expect.
It had, after all, happened, too quickly. No sooner was I walking around experiencing strange intermittent pains when my water bag burst and I found myself on the way to the hospital.
My first labour had been induced so I had no idea what to expect this time.
As the car trundled along to the hospital, I could not help but wonder why there had been that odd greenish tinge to the otherwise brown liquid that gushed out of me when my waterbag burst.
I shrugged it off. It was probably just one of those things that came with labour, no big deal.
I looked out of the window, looking forward to getting to the hospital as quickly as possible. Before I knew it, we would be a family of four, complete with our princess.
I had not felt my baby’s movements for the past two hours
Then it struck me. When had I last felt my baby's movements, her kicking? Definitely not in the last hour, or two for that matter. I forced the thought out of my head – I probably had been too busy to notice.
After I had changed into my surgical gown, I was told to collect a urine sample.
When I handed it over to the nurse, she muttered something about meconium. I asked what that was and she said that it meant that my baby had passed motion. I laughed and replied that I didn’t know that was possible.
My laughter came to an abrupt halt when she looked me in the eye and said, “It means your baby was in distress.”
There was only the sound of my own pulse
As I lay on the bed watching everyone, I noticed that the smiles of the nurses had now faded.
My heart sank.
When I asked if something was wrong, she said: “We are just trying to find your baby’s heartbeat.”
I couldn’t help but notice how she kept alternating between the usual machine and a handheld Doppler, which was unusual.
In almost a whisper, I asked if she could not find the heartbeat. As she placed her hand on mine and said, “I may be wrong, dear. Wait for your doctor.”
I tried to calm myself down but nothing seemed to work nor make sense. My husband had not arrived and my parents were denied entry in spite of my vehement protests.
I lay on my back with tears streaming down my face as I desperately tried to recall when I had last felt my baby's movements in my womb. Her little kicks.
Before I knew it, my doctor was shouting orders, there was a mask on my face and I was being wheeled out.
Then, right in the middle of the hallway, they did a scan on me and my doctor uttered the dreaded four words: “She has no heartbeat.”
I saw my husband break down for the first time in my life
It was all a blur after that. I started screaming and crying. My husband hugged me and for the first time in my life, I saw him breaking down.
They wheeled me back to the ward to “discuss options”, whatever that meant.
Was there an option to restart a heart that had stopped beating? Why did it stop? It couldn’t have stopped. No, it couldn’t be possible. It was all a terrible mistake, no?
I insisted that I felt my baby's movements, just a flutter, but my doctor switched on the machine, pointed at the screen and explained gently, “You see, those are the heart valves, they are not moving. There is no heartbeat. I’m so sorry.”
Holding my child
I was moved to a ward, far away from the nursery, so that I would not have to hear the cries of other babies. As I waited for what seemed like eternity to see my baby, I heard my family making funeral plans.
I shut my eyes, wanting to shut everybody out. I could not believe that while I was still hoping against hope that a miracle would happen, they were making plans to set her end in stone.
Then she arrived, swaddled and placed in a pretty Moses basket. My husband placed her in my arms and just for one infinitesimal moment, it felt like my life was complete again.
I ran my fingers over smooth skin, which was starting to take on a bluish hue. I traced her delicate features, her lips like a tiny rosebud, her perfectly pointed nose. Oh, how beautiful she was.
I asked everyone to leave before I rained kisses on her and told her that I loved her.
Before I knew it, it was time to say my last goodbye. I kissed her my last kiss and watched as she was taken away.
Just like her life that had been cruelly snatched away, a part of me was gone, never to return.
I was overwhelmed with guilt
Later on, the doctor explained that my daughter’s umbilical cord had wrapped itself around her tiny neck and slowly cut her oxygen supply. That's why I couldn't feel my baby's movements anymore.
It probably happened over 12 hours before I got to the hospital, and they could have resuscitated the baby if I had gotten to the hospital soon enough.
It was then that realisation hit me like a ton of bricks: What had I been doing 12 hours before it all happened? Clearing my work, sending emails to my office – everything but focusing on my baby.
Why had I not counted those kicks as I had been told to? Noticed my baby's movements... or the lack of them? How long had the cord been around her, slowly stealing life away?
A fresh wave of sorrow and guilt crashed over me as I buried my face in my hands. My doctor tried to calm me down by reminding me that it wasn’t my fault.
As difficult as it is to share my personal story of devastating pregnancy loss, I want to, so that pregnant women will understand how important it is to learn the pattern of their baby's movements in the womb.
And even a small change in that pattern of their baby's movements may indicate that something is not quite right.
After three painful days in the hospital, it was finally time to go home. I sat at the pick up point, waiting for my husband to drive the car over. No balloons, no flower bouquets, no bathtub, no baby.
At the corner of my eye, I spotted a nurse rolling an empty cot back to the hospital after sending off a set of happy new parents. The sight of the empty cot destroyed the tiniest bit of strength I had pulled together.
But I did not crumble. I took a deep breath, and accepted that it was what it was.
Perhaps the wound might heal. But I knew for a fact that every time I see a baby, or every time the 14th of August comes, it would feel like a fresh wound all over again.
That was just one of those things that I had to live with, but I pray that no other mother has to go through that.
Gone, but never forgotten
Life hasn’t entirely been unkind to me.
It has been seven years now and I’ve been blessed with two more children, but my Natasha will never be replaced.
Strangely enough, in all my pregnancies, the only semblance of a stretch mark on my body is that one odd silvery line at the side of my left hip – I take it as Natasha fiercely refusing to fade away into a distant memory, imprinting herself on my body forever.
The c-section scar, cut and sewn time and again, is symbolic that neither life nor death can change the fact that my four children’s lives are intertwined with each other.
A part of me will never forgive myself for not paying more attention to her kicks, for it could have saved her life.
Even if it didn’t, I would at least know that I had done all that I could to save her.
A part of me will never heal completely. She may be gone but I carry her in my heart. She will forever remain a part of me and when this life passes me by, I hope to see her, my angel, smiling at me at Heaven’s gates.
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Top image by Eric Froehling via Unsplash