Lara Docherty 9/6/2011
“In July 2010 my husband David and I got married” Lianne Docherty begins “we were keen to start a family soon after. When it happened quicker than expected in the November we were over the moon. We told our parents and they were delighted because it was the first grandchild on both sides. We decided not to tell anyone else until after the 12 week scan. Mum always said that the weekend we told her was the best weekend of her life because the day after we gave her our good news, my sister got engaged. It was a huge weekend of celebrations.
“Throughout the pregnancy everything was fine. The 12 week scan went well and I didn’t suffer much morning sickness. Our first scan was on Hogmanay, so it was a great way to end one year and start a new one. After that scan was fine, we decided to tell the rest of our friends and family our good news and they were all delighted.
“Once I’d had my 20 week scan I felt I was on the home stretch. I started to look at baby things and began buying bits and pieces – I couldn’t help myself, I was so excited about the new arrival. I was doing everything right, never smoking, not drinking and eating all the right things.
“Once people knew how far on I was, they started asking me if I could feel the baby move. I must admit, I was conscious of the fact that I didn’t really feel much movement but never having been pregnant before, I didn’t have anything to compare it with. People said everybody’s pregnancy is different but I did start to feel a bit anxious. I spoke to the Midwife about my concerns and was sent for a scan at 25 weeks. I was told my placenta was at the front and that was acting as a cushion then as politely as possible the lady said there was a bit extra of me too! The baby had to kick against the placenta and then me before I would feel anything so that calmed me down a little. I started to relax more as we’d now had three scans and everything was fine.
“We excitedly carried on with all the preparation for the new addition to our family. The nursery was done and all our plans were made. Then came the weekend of our local gala and it was a really busy weekend with a lot to do. I was very tired when I got home as I had walked a lot more than normal.”
“That evening, we went to friends for dinner. I was aware of the fact that I hadn’t felt much baby movement that day but I was really tired and you get told when you’re tired, your baby’s tired. On the Sunday I still felt that something wasn’t right but as I’d had three scans and I’d been told at each one all was fine, I tried not to worry.
“However, by the Monday I decided that I needed some more reassurance. This time, because I was coming up to 34 weeks, I was sent straight to the hospital to have a trace of the baby’s heartbeat done. David came with me – but not for a second did he think anything was wrong just that I was overly worried. As we were driving to the hospital, I suddenly had an awful thought. What would happen if something was wrong and we had to do this drive back home again and everything has changed? It was a ‘what if’ that niggled persistently at the back of my mind.
“When we arrived at the hospital, we sat in the waiting room for a little while then got taken into the room to have the baby’s heart trace done. They picked up my heartbeat at which point I think it hit my husband that something could be wrong. I then had to have another scan and soon after that, a Doctor came into the room and told me the worst thing I will ever hear in my life. My baby had died. Our much loved and much wanted first child, had died. There was no heartbeat. I became completely numb. You would think I’d burst into tears and be hysterical but there was nothing. I was in total shock. Our whole life and our dreams had gone. It had all been taken away from us. My world had stopped turning.”
Lianne continues “My mum and dad were up in Tenerife at the time and they organised flights home straight away to be with us. They were distraught about losing their grandchild but mum just wanted to be with me. David’s parents live in the north of Scotland and got the bus down immediately. My sister also, came straight to the hospital to be with us.
“As I was 34 weeks, Mum had thought it would be safe to go on a little break before the baby came. It was awful having to tell family and friends the terrible news.
“I knew I would have to deliver the baby but I don’t think this had dawned on David. I think he believed I would have a caesarean section. None of us had experienced anything like this before and couldn’t really understand why I had to go through labour. Looking back, it would really have helped to have all that explained in more detail at the time.
“It wasn’t until later the next day when David asked the midwife to explain things more fully that we began to understand a bit better. I had been sent home from the hospital having been given the tablets you take to start getting ready for labour and then told to go back two days later. It would really have helped to have someone to talk to during that time. Those two days were dreadful. Luckily I had friends and family with me but what if someone was alone with no support? People could end up taking drastic action and harming themselves and no-one would know until they didn’t turn up for their next appointment.”
“I’d never been through labour before but am familiar with the stock answer people give ‘you’ll forget all the pain because you’ll have your beautiful baby at the end of it’. Try doing it knowing you’re giving birth to a dead baby.
“I was put in a family room where I stayed all the time. My Midwife said she was there only for me but she often had to leave. I know it’s all down to money and resources but it was so busy that day, she often had to go and tend to others. David came with me, as did my mum and dad but none of us knew what to expect. There was so much waiting and uncertainty as to what was happening. At one point the Doctor came in and said ‘I hear you’re not in a rush to start things.’ I have no idea where that came from because none of us had said anything like that. We had been told to go in at 9am but nothing happened until after 12. The sitting and waiting until then, was so hard. Eventually I was given tablets at 12.30 but my labour didn’t start until 7.30 that evening. Our beautiful Lara was born at 1.30 the next morning weighing 4lb 7oz.”
“I had been taken to the delivery room for the birth. I’d been told that they would make it as pain free as possible as of course by now, the drugs won’t affect the baby. I think my labour went a lot quicker than had been expected. I’d been prepared for an epidural but something wasn’t right and I kept telling them that I felt really uncomfortable. When they examined me, it was too late, I was already crowning. I had to carry on without an epidural and relying on just gas and air.
“Earlier on when I was still reeling from the terrible news that my baby had died, it had been so hard to make any of the important decisions about what to do after she was born. Did we want to see her? Did we want to dress her? I wish I had been able to speak about all this more and take time to reach the right choices but I felt the only time it was discussed in depth was when I was completely spaced out from all the drugs and I couldn’t take anything in.
“As it happened, we got to see her straight away then they took her away and dressed her. Again, looking back, I would have liked to dress her myself. I saw her when they lifted her up but I never really saw her little body properly. When I next saw her she was all dressed up and cosy, if I could change that part, I would.
“I ended up feeling a bit stupid. I had put a few clothes in my bag for her but, if I’d been able to think things through a bit more I would have taken a blanket to wrap her in. Everything seemed so strange, I almost felt like I had to ask permission to dress her in the clothes we’d brought.”
“Lara’s arrival came with a sense of relief. Like any proud new mum, I wanted to shout from the rooftops that my baby had been born, she was our little girl. Our daughter. I don’t think David really knew what to expect until he saw her. He hadn’t realised that he would actually get a baby to hold. After her arrival, the time we then got together in the family room was so precious and so important. We were able to take photos of her with David and I and then photos with all the family. It wasn’t how it should have been of course, but we were so glad that we got that time with her.
It is something we will treasure forever
The Consultant who talked us through the results was very nice but simply said those horrible words that so many parents hear ‘it was just one of those things.’ Apparently the cord was round her neck when she was born but they couldn’t confirm that would have been the cause of her death. I had such mixed feelings after the post-mortem. In a way, I was glad she was perfect and there weren’t any problems that could affect any future pregnancies, but at the same time, I couldn’t cope with there being no reason at all. If she was perfect, how could her heart be beating one day and not the next? Of course I tortured myself. Was it because I walked too much that day? Did I do too much gardening a few weeks before? Did I eat something I shouldn’t? I was in such turmoil so I listed all my questions for the Consultant to try and find a way to put my mind at rest. It was so hard to get the thoughts out of my head. It was my body and I felt I must have done something wrong. I just wanted Lara. The pain and emptiness were unbearable.
Her funeral service was lovely and there ended up being a lot of people there. We have such lovely friends and family. You wonder how you get through things this difficult but you just do, something takes over and you do it for your baby. David had to find the strength to carry the coffin from the funeral parlour to the funeral car. I was asked to hold the cords, which I did. I was Lara’s mummy and I wanted to settle her in her final resting place. After the funeral, we got a beautiful little headstone for her grave.”
“It was only a year ago that Lara was born so it’s still very raw,” Lianne says “Sometimes I still can’t believe it’s happened. So many of my dreams and plans have been taken away. I lost my future with my firstborn.
“I remember one of the people at the hospital saying ‘we’ll see you back soon’ and I just wanted to punch her! I know she was probably right and people often go on to have another child quite quickly, but it was the last thing I wanted to hear at the time. When David went to register her death he was also told ‘don’t worry, you’ll be back soon with a birth certificate.’ I know people mean well but these are horrible things to hear when you’re in the depths of despair.”
“As it happens, I did get pregnant again quickly – only 3 months later. I was delighted but tortured at the same time! I knew the months ahead would be so hard. I no longer knew who I was. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I must be a bad person for this to happen to me. I didn’t know how I would cope when my husband went back to work. I couldn’t face the simplest of things like driving and going to the supermarket things I’d done without a second thought before. I asked the Doctor for some help but they couldn’t suggest anything and all they offered me were antidepressants. However, one of my mum’s friends had mentioned SANDS Lothians and that’s the first time I heard about them. I eventually plucked up the courage to phone and was all ready to leave a message at it was after 5pm but got the shock of my life when someone answered!
“I started going to meetings and had befriending and counselling. I got counselling through my work too as a teacher which all helped.
“When I became pregnant again, I felt that I had a bit of a future again. However, my second pregnancy was 8 months of utter hell and worry! All the joy had been taken away and it was a really difficult time. I couldn’t tell anybody apart from my mum and dad. I almost became detached and shut it out of my mind in case something happened. The nursery was still as it was in preparation for Lara but the door had remained shut. I didn’t dare look at any new baby clothes or toys.”
“All the scans throughout my second pregnancy were fine and they kept a close eye on me. I was told that I could deliver at 37 weeks so that helped too. Towards the end of my pregnancy, I was getting scans every fortnight and then for the last month, they did heart traces three times a week. The placenta wasn’t at the front this time so I could feel more movement but there were still days I phoned the Midwife in a panic. It was the same Midwife I’d had before and she was really wonderful.”
Lianne goes on “This time, I finished work early. When I was quiet and calm, I could feel the baby moving but if I’d had a hectic day at work and was tired, I couldn’t feel anything. I had to take a break to concentrate on the baby. Literally, I did nothing. When I’d been pregnant with Lara, I’d gone to yoga classes. I made friends with lots of other people that were expecting babies too. Then, of course, they went on to have healthy babies and I didn’t. I lost all those friends as it was just far too hard for me to stay in touch with them. I remember on one occasion, I’d had managed to go to one of the baby’s first birthday parties and all I could think of was Lara should be here. She was never mentioned and in a way, that was worse. She may not have been alive but she was still my baby. I just couldn’t risk putting myself through anything like that again with the new baby, so I did my best to avoid putting myself in similar situations.
“All through my pregnancy with Eilidh, I was worried about her getting here safely, now I worry about anything happening to her now that she’s here! She was supposed to be delivered at 37 weeks but that would have taken us to about two days before Lara had been born, so it was agreed I could go at 36 weeks. Luckily she was born on the 1st of June. It would almost have been unbearable for Eilidh to be born a year to the day that Lara died and I didn’t want to still be pregnant at Lara’s first anniversary. I opted for a caesarean section, another labour would have brought back too many memories.”
Looking back Lianne says “Sometimes, during my second pregnancy, when I’d had to go back to the hospital for check ups, I had to walk past the family room again. It was heartbreaking. I was so worried that it would be occupied and I would see the light on. One day it did say ‘occupied.’ I felt sick. I knew exactly what they were going through. I just wanted to go in and offer them some words of comfort, but I was pretty certain the last thing they’d want to see was a pregnant woman. I felt so desperately sad for them.
“I really hope that through SANDS work and sharing my experience with other bereaved parents, we’ve all made it a little easier for others that may suffer or have suffered the same terrible loss. It’s the little things that make a difference and the mistakes that need to be avoided….
“A month or so after we lost Lara, I got a phonecall asking why she hadn’t been for her hearing test yet. I was driving along the M6 at the time, so luckily David took the call. I heard him saying ‘she was stillborn in June’ and I burst into tears. This incident and how it could have happened was looked into and we received an apology but it was a terrible experience and not one I would want anyone else to go through.
“The joy of pregnancy has been taken away from me completely. Even if I go on to have 20 successful pregnancies they will never be without fear. I still find it hard to look at anyone else who is pregnant but at least now, I can do it without bursting into tears. However, it’s still something I find really difficult.”
“I also found understanding my husbands grieving process difficult,” says Lianne “there is no doubt men and women handle things like this so differently. I just couldn’t understand how he could go and play sport or watch the television or cheer on his football team, as he had done before but counselling helped me understand my feelings and emotions. It helped me understand that people grieve so differently and men and women react in diverse ways. It was harder for my husband to talk about his feelings but he dealt with his grief in a way that was right for him.
“Men can also be more delayed with their grief as they try to stay strong for us. There were certainly times when I wished he would have just broken down and cried, showing me he was feeling the pain too. My feelings were so raw and every day, I wore my heart on my sleeve, yet his way of coping seemed poles apart from mine. Then I remember one day he’d been watched Harry Potter and one of the little characters in it ‘Dobby’ had died and the way it was held and cradled, reminded him of holding Lara. He got so upset that he just wanted cuddles with Eilidh and just to see that, to see he was feeling what I was feeling, helped me a lot. He did confide in me later, telling me that he had his bad days, but kept then to himself. It’s almost as if they wait until we’re stronger and then they let go.”
Lianne continues “David and I knew each other about 3 years before we were married. Lara’s original due date was on our first wedding anniversary. We went through so much in our first year of marriage. I look back at my wedding photos and know I’ll never be as happy as I was on that day. Having said that and now that Eilidh is here, I’m happier than I ever thought I’d be again, but I know I’m a different person now. I’ll never again be the person I was on my wedding day. Everything I ever wanted all came together and then my life fell apart.
Asked what advice she would give to others Lianne says “during the early stages of grief, talk to people who have a shared experience, who understand and who can genuinely say ‘I know how you feel’ and you know they mean it. Go to SANDS Lothians group meetings, you’ll never be judged and you can talk when you’re ready. You can talk to people who are further on than you are and who can help you with difficult milestones like anniversaries and Christmas. When you’re having one of those days where no-one else understands, you know you can pick up the phone to one of your SANDS friends and simply talk through the difficult times. I have two daughters and I wish more than anything they were both here, but we’ll never forget Lara.
“We made a lovely area in the garden with a rose bush and windmills to remember her. Everything changes when you lose a baby but going on to help others is such a comfort and a good way to process your grief. I am gradually moving forward and finding my new ‘normal’. It’s a different normal but it’s a normal I am slowly coming to terms with.”