Our son, Aidan Michael, was born on 4th September 2005 after a fairly uneventful pregnancy. Towards the end, I was aware that our baby didn’t seem to move around the same as other peoples’. I’d been anxious throughout the pregnancy but couldn’t put my finger on what wrong. Baby had been breech for a couple of months but no-one was especially concerned when I said my baby always seemed to be in the same position.
At 37 weeks we were scanned to see baby’s presentation. The sonographer was concerned about some of baby’s measurements: there was very little fluid but other things seemed to be functioning fine. We didn’t understand any of this but were sent up to the ward with the report she had written. Unfortunately at this point a miscommunication occurred between staff. As a result, placental insufficiency was misdiagnosed and it was decided to deliver the baby by section next day. I stayed in that night in preparation and for monitoring. All this time baby’s heart traces were “perfect” and “textbook” but I couldn’t shake the anxiety. As I awaited my section, I tried to imagine holding my baby but just couldn’t visualise a newborn in my arms.
Next morning as we waited to go theatre, we were suddenly called to see the doctor. She had realised the error and had contacted the local teaching hospital. We were no longer to have a C-section but a taxi was waiting to transfer us and a specialist would do a scan. The realisation that things were terribly wrong dropped into our hearts like a lead weight – we were in a whorl of anxiety. Why were things changing when my baby was about to be delivered?
The consultant at the teaching hospital scanned and scanned. I couldn’t watch the screen and began to break down as she silently moved the roller over and over my stomach. I knew something was terribly wrong. At last she finished and said: “I’m very sorry but I can’t see any kidneys.” She told us this was “incompatible with life”. A second doctor confirmed the diagnosis of Potter’s Syndrome. Because baby’s kidneys hadn’t developed, there had been no amniotic fluid so the lungs had not matured. Though my baby – this little person I had so longed for – was happy, well and kicking while I was carrying him, he would die when he left my body. Each kick and movement felt so precious yet almost too much to bear.
I had to decide how my baby would be born. To my surprise, I was told I could have a normal delivery even though baby was breech. The paediatrician discussed with us whether we wanted any monitoring during delivery or intervention afterwards, but we just wanted our baby to be delivered as naturally as possible and spend his short time in our arms.
We went home for the weekend, planning to return on Monday for induction. Much to our surprise, labour started that night. We went into hospital early as I felt I needed support to cope. Our midwives were wonderful. Labour was on and off all day and surreal. At times I was hysterical and at others calm and numb from the drugs. The long labour gave us a crucial chance to talk about what this all meant, finalise names, meet the chaplin and arrange for the baby to be christened.
The pushing stage was unbearable. I felt my baby moving till the last moments of delivery – I knew he had to be born and I wanted to meet him but I also knew he would die once out of my body. It was so hard to push – it was a mind-bending responsibility to give and lose life in one go. Once pushing started, the staff and my husband got quite caught up in the birth of our first child like any other proud parents. At 00:32 Aidan literally shot out to be caught by the doctor.
The moment Aidan was delivered I closed my eyes and howled, knowing that this life I delivered couldn’t stay. It was uncontrollable. The paediatrician had talked about the “features of babies with Potters syndrome” and I was scared to open my eyes in case my baby was hurt or looked odd. I don’t remember them saying “it’s a boy”. Eventually I came back to myself. I will never forget seeing my son Aidan: he was truly beautiful, looking so like his daddy. I couldn’t stop saying “you’re beautiful, you’re beautiful”. When he heard my voice he opened his eyes, took a single look at his mummy, then closed them again.
Aidan lived for about 45 minutes. Terrible and beautiful moments. We don’t know exactly when he died as he slipped away peacefully and gently: held by his mummy and daddy, met by his grandparents, uncle and aunty. Those moments – holding him, hearing his tiny gasps and feeling him move – still pierce my heart, but what better short life could he have had than in our arms surrounded by love?
Aidan’s life was incredibly short yet brought us so much richness and love. Despite the immense pain, we wouldn’t swap a minute of Aidan’s 9 months and 45 minutes for anything. Wading through the pain has been so very hard. At times I felt I would go mad with the grief or was often overwhelmed with anger.
As we approached his second birthday in September 2007, sadness crept up more than usual: the sight of sunflowers in the window, the changing light all took me back to when we lost Aidan – when winter came down on us. But this year we had a new member of the family, our daughter Eilish, to celebrate Aidan’s life with us. There are still times when our hearts break over again – but I will always be proud to be mummy to my little son.