Tragedy that no mum should have to endure
Textbook pregnancy ended in unbelievable pain and sorrow
To bring to a close this
year’s Baby Loss Awareness Week, bereaved parents, families and friends around the world will tomorrow light a candle to commemorate babies who died too soon.
In the second part of our feature to mark the week in which to remember precious little lives that have been lost, we meet South Lanarkshire mum, Charlene, who will always carry in her heart love for her lost daughter, Francesca.
Doting mum Char le ne Espie brought two beautiful babies into the world –but when people gush over her 18-monthold son with his tumbling, golden curls, whilst barely acknowledging his big sister, it breaks her heart.
Deep down, Charlene knows that rather than say the wrong thing, some decide it’s safer to say nothing at all about her daughter, Francesca Alexis Johnston, who was born on February 8, 2018.
And they’d rather not look at the photographs of Francesca in the family home, to which Charlene and partner Steven Johnston’s son, Leo, points when asked: “Where’s your big sister?”
With her bedroom decorated in all shades of pink, and baby shower gifts adding to her growing collection, expect ant parents Charlene and Steven couldn’t have been more excited about the arrival of their longedfor daughter as her due date approached.
But having carried Francesca during a textbook pregnancy, Char le new as to face what no mother should ever have to endure.
She had togo through the emotional and physical trauma of delivering what she’d been told would be a dead baby.
“We were never really baby people, before ,” explained Char le ne ,36.“But when I fell pregnant with the wee one, everything changed instantly. She was the missing piece we didn’t realise we had been missing.
“I remember Steven and me being so completely happy at ever y scan, when we got to see her wee outline on the screen and to know she was perfectly happy and healthy in mummy’s tummy.
“We loved seeing her so much, we even paid for extra scans privately as we just couldn’t wait to meet her. We moved from our flat into a lovely home with a garden where we could picture her running around.
“We promised that we would bring her up a polite, caring and loving little girl who wasn’t spoiled, but truth be told we would have given her anything she wanted, as she had us wrapped around her tiny fingers from the day those blue lines appeared on the test.”
Like any first-time mum, and especially one who was overdue, Charlene had so many questions and anxieties.
When her mid wife failed to return a few of her calls, she sought reassurance from a midwife supervisor.
“Through routine questions, it was noted that movements had slowed,” said Charlene.
“That was normal for Francesca throughout the pregnancy, though. There was never a pattern. I assumed it was normal. She suggested I go and get checked. So, I got my wee case and went to Wishaw triage.
“They kept me on the monitor for four hours. Never once did it cross my mind that something would have gone wrong.”
A doctor who was called to provide a second opinion dismissed the erratic results as baby hiccups, and s he was advised to go home.
But overnight, pain in her back became excruciating.
Within three hours, Charlene was back in hospital. After a scan, t he room filled with doctors – one of whom told the couple, in a matter-of-fact way, that there was no heartbeat and their baby was dead.
“I was in labour. Her wee bag was there with her little clothes. What just happened to our lives, there?” said Charlene, who was advised that a natural deliver y rather than a section would be the safest option for her.
“How could it be that we had to say goodbye before we even had a chance to say hello? All of a sudden, it was all taken from us in a cruel twist of fate. It is the cruellest thing anybody can go through. It was darkness for Steven, as well.
“How could they possibly crush my heart and say: ‘Up you go to the labour suite’?”
“A midwife said: ‘God will make it quick and will not make you suffer any more than you have to.’ How much more suffering can there possibly be as a mum? If my baby is dead, I don’t want to be here either.
“With Francesca’s birth, it was quite horrific. I got really ill during labour. I don’t know if my body just shut down. I lost a lot of blood and had transfusions. My body was in absolute tatters. Instead of coming home with a baby, I came home with a bag of pills.”
A devastated Steven helped to bath his baby daughter, who’d weighed 8lb 11oz, dress her and take the pictures they will treasure forever as she lay in a cot beside her broken mum for three days.
“When your family are coming into see your baby, it’ s not as you’ d imagined. She wasn’ t going to open her eyes for them,” continued Charlene, whose relatives attended a blessing organised by a bereavement nurse.
“I felt I had let everybody down, because they’d been so excited
about this wee one. Steven had thought we’d be going home as a complete family. Instead, he had lost his daughter, and I wasn’t doing too well.
“Nobody knew what to say. As lovely as everybody was, there was no-one to help me mentally and physically.
“There were no visits from the community midwife. I thought I must not matter any more. I put a lot of blame on myself. My family told me I needed to see someone to get help. But I thought I kind of deserved to be in pain and left alone. I felt so lonely without my baby.”
The results of a post mortem
revealed that the maturing of the placenta had contributed to Francesca’s death.
The consultant who delivered those results with tears running down his face promised to help them through when they felt ready to have another child.
And even though they were not in his district, he was true to his word when Charlene discovered she was carrying her second baby – a son whose due date was February 8, Francesca’s birthday.
The consultant, himself a father-of-three, scanned Charlene ever y week and, 37 weeks into the pregnancy, performed the Cesare an surgery that would bring Leo into the world.
“We thought Leo wasn’t going to get here, either. He is our miracle ,” said Char le ne, who lights up when she talks of her boy.
“He’s hysterical, a wee character with such a good sense of humour for a wee baby. He has massive blond, ringlet curls and blight blue eyes, and he’s the double of his sister.
“I hope t hat one day when he is old enough, he will realise what a special little baby he is and how much he means to so many people, just the way his big sister does, too.”
Char le ne has managed the grief of losing Francesca through writing blog st hat help other parents who’ve lost little ones too soon. She also helps to make memory boxes for charity Simba –the beneficiary of the £3500 Steven has raised by taking part in Tough Mudder and the Kiltwalk in memory of Francesca.
To those other parents, Char le ne says :“You feel like you are never, ever going to get through that pain, the horrible darkness, the shock, all this grief. It is a brain fog you will have for a very long time.
“We are living proof that there will be better days. It’s not always going to be just as dark and you’ll find ways to cope so that it will not always consume you. You’ll also find ways to make sure your wee one is always involved as part of the family.
“Just because they are not there in person, they will always be there in your memories and the way you talk about them with their siblings.
“Francesca was a baby. She won’ t be defined as simply another statistic or stillbirth. She was our baby and she has a very big family who love her very, very much.”
Visit www.simbacharity.org. uk for more information on the charity.
How could it be that we had to say goodbye before we even had a chance to say hello?
Memories Charlene takes newborn Leo to visit his big sister’s tribute on the tree of tranquillity
Tribute Francesca’s leaf from the Simba Tree of Tranquility
Giving back Simba Steven has raised £3500 for charity
Fundraiser Dad Steven raises charity cash in Francesca’s memory
In safe hands Dad Steven heads home from hospital with baby son, Leo
That’s my boy Mum Charlene and little Leo
Perfect Baby Francesca’s tiny little hands
Blue-eyed boy Miracle baby Leo