Thank you to Tenielle and Scott for allowing us to share Ianto’s life story and the precious memories you have of him.
TRIGGER WARNING: This is a story of loss and stillbirth, with pictures.
In February 2010, my world collapsed around me as I found out my baby, nicknamed “Smudge”, had died inside me at 32 weeks gestation. This is Ianto’s life story. This is the story of how I became a mother.
Exactly a month before my wedding, I took a pregnancy test. It had been sitting in my underwear drawer for a few weeks, and to be honest I only did it because I was bored while my husband Scott was at work. I’d had no pregnancy symptoms other than the lack of a period, but they’re fairly irregular anyway. I was astounded when that little line went pink – I didn’t even have to wait the three minutes suggested on the box! I walked around the flat for what seemed a lifetime, staring at the stick. I eventually called Scott, and asked if he was sitting down. He was, and I blurted it out – “Uh… I’m pregnant.” He was silent for a few seconds, then choked out “Oh my god.” When he got home a few hours later, we stared at each other a few seconds, then burst into tears simultaneously and hugged each other.
Around a week later, I ended up in the emergency department at the hospital that would become so familiar with immense cramping on one side. They thought the pregnancy might be ectopic so they scheduled me in for an ultrasound the next day. That turned out well – not ectopic, and again, someone was surprised by how strong our baby was! The radiologist said it was the earliest he’d ever been able to pick up a heartbeat. We nicknamed the baby “Smudge” after what he (or she) looked like on that ultrasound.
For the rest of my pregnancy, everything went so well. I didn’t have a hint of morning sickness, and everything breezed through. Smudge was developing a great little personality in my tummy. We weren’t finding out the sex, so we chose to say “she” to keep from using the word “it.” I had had a feeling from the beginning that we were having a boy, but we’d always imagined having a girl first so we stayed blissfully ignorant of the little boy growing inside.
“She” loved AC/DC, always kicking along with the beat when I would play their music. “She” hated Robbie Williams, to my sadness, because she’d stay still or kick me in the ribs when he would play. One day, while Scott had his head on my belly listening to her, “she” kicked him hard in the face. Smudge wasn’t much of a kicker, so we relished the times we would get a flurry of movement
There were bad times as well – the last ultrasound where he was alive is forever etched in my memory as an especially horrible experience. We were supposed to have video of it, but they sprung a $70 fee on us when we asked. Plus it had to be rescheduled because I didn’t have a copy of my referral – the referral that had been faxed to them and I could see clearly on the desk! I also had a bit of a fainting spell early on, easily remedied by boosting my fluids via a drip (inserted rather incompetently, but it worked eventually.)
February 26th, 2010. That Day. That Awful Day, that will never ever leave me alone.
At about five a.m., I drove Scott to work. As was my habit, I went back to my mum’s place instead of home because I didn’t want to be at home alone. I was tailgated by some idiot all the way up the longest stretch of road. White Nissan. When I got to Mum’s I posted an angry Facebook status about it, then went to sleep on the couch because no-one else was up yet. Curled up holding my growing belly.
Eleven o’clock. I wake up. Youngest brother is at school. Mum and oldest brother clattering around the kitchen, tv on in the lounge. I think about how much I love my family. Hug my belly, realise I’m 32 weeks today. Get up, grab a drink. Bloody hell it’s hot today. 42 degrees, Mum tells me. Nah, I don’t feel like another drink. Not thirsty. Mum says my car should be back from the mechanic this afternoon. She and brother leave to pick it up, come back with the car they left in. Not ready yet. I’m pissed off, he’s had the car since August. A few days after I found out I was pregnant.
Noon. Having a great belly laugh with mum and brother. I wonder if I’m hurting the baby with all this laughter? Or maybe I’ll feel some kicking soon, the baby kicks more when I’m happy. Don’t give a thought to how I haven’t felt her kick today, she’s never been much of a kicker anyway.
Half past noon. Hate to love and leave, but I have to pick up Scott. We’ll come back here for dinner. I’ll get him to grab me lunch from work.
One forty-five. Send Scott an SMS – “can you bring me some food? Just my normal meal, but a frappe as well as the Coke.” Geez I’m thirsty now. Should’ve brought a water bottle. Two fifteen. Where’s Scott? Open the car door to get some more air flowing in the car. Ugh, still too hot! Close door, send Scott another message asking where he is. I’m pissed off now, dying of thirst. Should’ve brought a drink… Put my head down, feeling groggy…
Wake up to Scott shaking me. I’ve passed out, he says. Gotta get in the passenger seat so he can drive us home. I stumble over, feet feeling heavy. Fall into the seat, lay it back and open the window. Feeling groggy again…
Wake up briefly around ten minutes later, wonder when we started moving. The cooler air feels nice on my face. I sink back into darkness. Wake up out the front of Mum and Dad’s, Scott shaking me. We go inside, I need to lay down. Lay on oldest brother’s bed, Mum gets a wet flannel for my head. Black. Wake up – I frantically ask “is the baby okay?” As my world fades again to black… “Is the baby…” Black again. “Tenielle, do you want to go to hospital? Maybe you should take her to hospital…”
Flannel is wet and cold again. Somehow get to the car, to the hospital… “I’m 32 weeks today, I fainted in the car and I’ve been groggy since.” “Go up to the Maternity ward, they’ll get you in for a check.”
Sitting. Haven’t fainted again since we got here. Woman in labour is let through to the birth rooms after waiting with us for a few minutes. I’m going to be doing that soon. Do you think if there’s anything wrong I’ll have to have the baby today? I’m somewhat excited by the thought. She’d have to be in special care a while, but what if I get to meet my baby tonight? Wow…
Finally called through. Bed 20. Drink this water, give us a urine sample in this jug, we’ll be back soon. Wee in the jug, leave it in the bathroom because I don’t know what to do with it. Fiddle with the radio. Whoops, I didn’t mean to break the dial off! Lay on the bed, have some water. Chat with Scott. He’s on my left. “I’m feeling much better since I got here, that’s a good sign, right?”
Midwife enters the room. I tell her what happened, apparently I passed out and kept asking about the baby. No, haven’t felt any movement today, but I have a perpetually sleepy baby in there. I never really feel much so I’m used to going a few days without feeling anything. Maybe Wednesday was the last time I felt anything?
My favourite part of every appointment – “Let’s just listen to bub’s heart, shall we?” …crackle crackle… More gel… Crackle crackle…. “Hmm, might be in an odd position. I’ll just go grab the portable imaging screen.”
Alone in the room. I dab the flannel on my forehead. I look calm, but I don’t look to my left. What if…? No. Don’t be silly. Midwife comes back. Black and White flash on the screen, hey I can see the baby’s head! Aww how cute… There’s the chest… Tiny flicker, disappears right away. She presses harder, trying to find that flicker again. “Are you sure that’s the chest?” I’m properly worried now. A doctor comes in. She tries… We explain about the flicker… She can’t find it either. “This is old equipment, I’ll just go get the newer one.”
Alone again. Scott makes a small whimpering sound next to me. My chest feels like an elephant is on it. I’m not sure I’ve breathed in the past few minutes. But… We saw that flicker, the baby’s okay, right? Maybe we were right and it has to be born early. Doctor comes back with two midwives and the new machine. More gel on my belly. Wait for the machine to boot up. Everyone chatters nervously, we did see that flicker. Just have to find it again. Machine’s ready. Wand goes on my tummy… Five minutes pass, everyone holds their breath.
Finally… “I’m so sorry. There doesn’t seem to be a heartbeat.” More things are said, it’s arranged that we’ll go down to Radiology on the big machine. But that’s pretty much just to get the official report. Everyone leaves the room. Scott and I are alone again.
The door closes and instantly I choke on the breath I’ve held for the past few minutes. “Scott…” I look left. He’s crying silently. Says nothing, just embraces me and stares blankly at the machine’s black screen. I still have gel on my stomach, going everywhere all over us. What’s happened? What? Smudge… What just happened?
Sitting in a wheelchair now. There’s a baby crying in the room ahead. My world has turned black, but that woman’s life was just given a rainbow. I can see the colours if I close my eyes. I still have some hope I’ll get to hear mine cry. Surely that doctor didn’t know what she was doing. The person in Radiology will. Clunk, clunk, out of the birth suite… The guy pushing my wheelchair is happily chatting away. I hide my tears. Scott’s gone to call work, tell them he won’t be in tomorrow.
Arrive at Radiology. So quiet. So alone. The wheelchair man turns the tv on for me. I’m vaguely aware of movement on the screen, but nothing else.What’s happened to my baby? My Smudge? I still think there was a mistake. Scott comes back. We enter the radiology room, the same one we first saw Smudge in, this gives me hope. I smile at the woman doing the scan, tell her the doctor thought there was no heartbeat but they need to be sure. More gel, more hard pressing on my tummy. We see the spine… “There’s where the baby’s heartbeat should be…” Her voice trails off as silent tears run down my face. Her face is wet as well. Should be. Fuck. It’s real. The baby has no heartbeat. Fuck!
Sitting in the wheelchair again, Scott’s gone to tell work what’s happening. I told him not to call my parents yet, tell them in person when you go pick stuff up. I look at the tv, the winter Olympics. Ice skating. That woman’s mum died the other day. She cries. I cry. Wheelchair man comes back, takes me to the birth suite again. It’s almost ten o’clock. My baby… I’m back in the room. Scott comes back in. His eyes are red. I’ve been told we’re going to room 19 now. I pack up our stuff. Remember the wee jug in the toilet. Tip it down the toilet, leave the jug on the floor. They didn’t check it.
Set up in room 19. This one has a tv. It takes ten minutes to work out how to turn it on. We’re not talking about what’s happened. Someone comes and says the report hasn’t come up from Radiology. They don’t want to induce without the report, do I want to go home and come back tomorrow? No way. You’re inducing me tonight. We argue – who fucking argues something like this? – and I win. They’ll be back soon to induce me. Scott leaves to pick stuff up from Mum’s. I tell him to say it as gently as possible. Alone again… More tears fall. It’s almost midnight. Everything gets too much for me after a while, so I lay down and nap. At some point Scott returns and watches me sleep.
They come and talk with Scott, telling him they would induce me but they don’t think they should. They wake me to get my consent, which I give, and they leave again. I lay on the bed and cry silently, staring up at the ceiling. Thirty two weeks. No heartbeat. What’s the date? I have to remember the date… The day my Smudge… Died. My baby is dead. Every time the realisation hits me for the next few weeks, I sit and howl with pain.
Saturday 27th February 2010 – They put the gel in around midnight, and again at 6am when I hadn’t dilated at all. In the early hours of the morning, I sneakily turned my phone on and updated my Facebook status thanking those who had already heard and sent their love. I had a few visitors over the day – my parents and brothers, Scott’s dad (who I didn’t want to see) and aunty… There was a bunch of flowers from the rest of Scott’s family in Queensland, a few small gifts from various family members. I napped on and off, watching TV in between, and waited for the gel to start working. They put more in at 1:30pm, and this time told me I wasn’t to use the toilet for an hour. I wasn’t even allowed to raise my bed for half an hour. No wonder the first two lots of gel hadn’t worked – I’d been to the loo within minutes of them being put in! I was a bit angry at that. I started having mild cramps around 11:30pm. They were so bad I gave in and asked for a bit of pain relief – funnily enough, I had a pethedine injection before I let them give me Panadeine and a sleeping tablet. They worked, and I slept for the longest I had since Friday.
Sunday 28th February 2010 – At 3am I woke up, the cramps getting worse. At 3:45am, after extremely regular “cramps” I finally admit I’m in labour and try some warm water for relief. At 4am, I asked for another peth injection. This one knocked me out a little, but didn’t take the pain away. It was coming at 5-minute intervals and getting worse. They came and checked my dilation (finally!) at 7:30, and I was fully effaced but only 3-4cm. I told them to call my mum in. Throughout all this I was in and out of the shower, aiming the hot water at my round belly and my lower back alternately. I wished I had two jets for it to be constant on both areas. At some point I gave up and sat/lay on the bed.
8:30am – The pain was amazing! I was grunting through what I now knew were contractions, and rolling towards Scott with each. The first time I did it, he thought I was falling off the bed, so he started pushing me back. Big mistake. I grunted at him that I needed to “grab onto you, you idiot!” and he understood – Do Not Mess With A Labouring Woman. The midwife and anesthesiologist came in (I’d consented to a morphine drip and had a cannula in already) and they started doing their thing. The drip was explained to me, so I pushed that damn button every time I could. It didn’t work straight away so the gas was given to me as well. That worked a treat – I still felt the pain, but it was okay. I think I moved up the bed at some point and handed Scott the gas tube, because with one of my contractions I was yelling at him that this time I wasn’t reaching for him, I was reaching for “THAT!!” Between contractions, I told him that I was never having any more kids – I couldn’t do this again (I was half talking about going through labour, half saying I couldn’t deal with the possibility of losing another child). In a moment of clarity, I asked Scott whether he thought I was possibly in transition. “Nah, you wouldn’t be asking if you were” he said… Ha! How wrong he was.
8:45am – My mum still wasn’t in the hospital. The midwives gave me the choice – did I want my waters broken now, or when she arrived? I wanted them done now – this would still take hours, right? (Turns out that’s why mum wasn’t there, she thought the same thing and had a shower before she left) Another contraction and I was pushing. The waters were visible from the outside so they pushed back on them and waited for the contraction to subside. Mum came in as they nicked the membranes. There was a tiny squirt of water. Another contraction and urge to push. POP! One of the midwives almost got hit in the face. Scott told me later that it looked like someone had burst a water balloon between my legs. Another contraction, another push… I needed a poo. That contraction felt as though it lasted forever, but I yelled I needed a poo. Everyone around me told me it was okay to go on the bed, which confused me – didn’t they know I was just telling them so they could clean it up when I was done? I know what happens in labour, I’m not embarrassed…
8:52am – It wasn’t a poo. Two pushes after my waters were broken, my Smudge had been born. No-one had been expecting him, so he came out onto the bed. They asked one final time – was I sure I wanted to hold the baby? I got angry and snapped that I did – Smudge was put on my chest and I cuddled “her” while they got the cord sorted. That pain was almost worse than the labour – it was a very short cord, so it felt like I was trying to pull myself inside out. Scott was asked if he wanted to cut it, he did, and relief again. I nuzzled my baby, finally able to bring “her” to my face. I was still contracting slightly and was annoyed that they were distracting me from the cuddles, so I agreed to the injection to help get the placenta out. I couldn’t even tell you where they stuck it in, I was just entranced by this little baby in front of me. The placenta came out, and was the most disgusting feeling ever – so slimy! If I could choose a favourite part and a worst part of birth, I would choose pushing and birthing the placenta respectively.
I was then asked pretty much the stupidest question I’ve ever been asked – Did I want to know the sex of the baby? Of course I did. I told Scott to tell me, and after a few seconds of trying to compose himself, he told me Smudge was a boy. Ianto. We’d agreed on both boy and girl names long ago, so we didn’t even discuss it. I felt something moving on my arm, and I realised the cannula had come out. It would emerge that it hadn’t been put in properly to begin with, so I hadn’t had any morphine at all! I’d done it with just gas (which in my original birth plan had been the most I’d been willing to have re: pain relief). I noticed the TV was still on, and quickly told someone to turn it off – there was a Johnson’s baby wash ad on. So not what I needed to see when I was coming to terms with the fact my baby was gone. Gone, but right in front of me – how strange.
It was both the longest and shortest day of my life. I spent all day staring at my little baby boy. My son. My angel. My sweet, soft boy. He has my nose. Everyone said he looked like Scott, but I couldn’t see it until they were together – exactly the same face, only Ianto had my nose. He had a bath, his foot and hand prints were taken. One of the most heartbreaking parts of the first day was the tiny little differences to a live birth – like they didn’t need to hold him to weigh him, they just placed him on the scales and left him there while they took the information down. Unlike pretty much everyone in my immediate family, he had some hair when he was born. We cut some off and put it in the memory book the hospital had given us. We dressed him together.
One of the things that really got to Scott was how Ianto’s head was “clicky” – like any baby, his skull hasn’t fused, so the bones were clicking together each time his head moved. Heaps more visitors that day – my family. My dad had come in at the same time as my mum, when he came into the room he just broke down. This huge strong man, just sobbing his guts out. He couldn’t stay more than a minute or two. I told him it was okay, I could understand. I got a few more bunches of flowers. Midwives and nurses from all over the hospital came to speak to me, either for medical reasons or to give me some emotional support. Scott and I kept cuddling our son, only leaving him when my brothers came in (they couldn’t bring themselves to come into the room and see Ianto) and when I needed the toilet or a shower. The weekend social worker came in to talk to us. I ended up sleeping with him in my bed that night. I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving him. I still can’t, after I’ve already been without him for three years.
Monday 1st March 2010 – Another long day. Not long after I moved Ianto to his little plastic cot so I could have a shower and change my pad, it all started again – more visitors, more people coming to talk to me and support us… And I was asked when I wanted to go home. I said as late as possible and the time was set. I was going home at 7 that night, far too early for my liking. I spent the entire day in tears, aside from here and there watching TV and staring at my boy. I kept stroking his face – his soft skin. I redressed him, making sure his shirt was nice and snug. He had a new hat, a white one that was knitted for a prem baby. It was still too big for him so I fixed it as best I could to get it snug on his head. The whole day was a blur again. I spent a lot of the day taking photos of Ianto, trying to get every last detail – his nose that he got from me, his ears and lips from Scott. His nose had started to leak a little bit of fluid, so I cleaned that up. I kept fussing over him, straightening his clothes, making sure he was comfortable…
6:30pm – A knock at the door. My heart froze as I thought it was someone coming to take him away before we left. It was just the lady bringing my dinner in. I held Ianto as I ate. I don’t think I put him down the whole time I was in the room. I couldn’t. I was so fearful they would take him without me noticing.
7:05pm – My heart froze again when I looked at the clock and saw it was past seven. It meant they were coming soon. I started bawling again. They came in, talked to us a while, we got a few more photos, and… The hardest part of my life thus far. I had to leave. I kissed him a million more times, took a few deep breaths, and somehow got the strength to leave the room. Leave my baby behind while I went back to my mum and dad’s.
I cried the entire way there, and was just dead inside. I couldn’t go in for a while. There was a funny moment though, which I’m attributing to Ianto’s obvious cheeky side – as I left the hospital, my pants suddenly fell down under my bathrobe. Again, I’m sure people thought I was mad because I went from hysterical crying to hysterical laughing in two seconds flat. Late last year I went back to the hospital and stared at the spot my pants fell down. Yet again I’m sure the people around me thought I was mad, as I laughed and cried in harmony again.
Ianto’s story doesn’t end there. It never will end as long as I’m alive to remember him. In the week following his death and birth, I discovered a charity now known as Heartfelt. Heartfelt take professional photos of stillborn babies (as well as premature babies and terminally ill children) free of charge. I was too late to get them to come to the hospital to take Ianto’s photos, but they were kind enough to send someone out to his funeral. I will always cherish the memories we have, and photos are a big part of that. I have pledged to give a percentage of my profits from my doula business, Iris Birth Services, to Heartfelt for as long as I can, out of immense gratitude. The following photos are all by Jessie Broome, a Heartfelt photographer:
Heartfelt is a volunteer organisation of professional photographers from all over Australia and the parts of the UK, dedicated to giving the gift of photographic memories to families that have experienced stillbirths, premature births, or have children with serious and terminal illnesses. Heartfelt is dedicated to providing this gift to families in a caring, compassionate manner. All services are provided free of charge. Currently servicing Australia-wide, and the Essex area of the UK.