'Stillbirth can happen to anyone so why not me?': One mum's journey to acceptance after tragedy

·7-min read
Amy Allen with her husband Craig and their daughter Evie (Supplied, Amy Allen)
Amy Allen with her husband Craig and their daughter Evie (Supplied, Amy Allen)

Like most first-time parents, Amy Allen and her husband Craig were excitedly counting down the last few days until they could finally meet their baby daughter, Ava. 

The nursery was newly decorated, the cot was ready and tiny babygros were folded neatly in drawers waiting for the new arrival.

"We’d had a baby shower and even a little holiday as we knew it might be a while until we had another and everything was going well," says Allen, 30, a nursery assistant who lives with husband Craig, also 30, an IT worker in Kent. 

"We knew we were having a little girl and only had a week or so to go before she arrived. We were nervous but looking forward to being parents."

Just over a week before her due date however, Allen realised she hadn’t felt her baby move for several hours. 

"It was quite late in the evening and we couldn’t feel her moving, so we called the maternity unit who reassured us but asked us to come in, so they could check the heartbeat with a doppler scanner. 

"Even when they couldn’t detect a heartbeat straight away, the sonographer tried to reassure us and said she would get another doctor with another doppler scanner. 

But the couple’s world was about to fall apart. The doctor who performed a second scan confirmed there was no heartbeat. Little Ava had died in the womb.

"I remember crying out and being in denial thinking: ‘No, no, I can still feel her moving inside me, she’s fine’ but she wasn’t," says Allen. 

Read more: Mum shares heartbreaking pictures of stillborn birth to help with grief

Amy Allen during her first pregnancy (supplied, Amy Allen)
Amy Allen during her first pregnancy (supplied, Amy Allen)

"I remember seeing Craig trying to be strong for me but he was absolutely heartbroken," Allen continues. "Mum and Dad had arrived and they came up to see us and hug us. We were all so upset as she was going to be their first granddaughter too."

"We were taken into a side room and I begged for a c-section.I didn’t want any pain, I wanted a quick and easy birth but the doctor advised me to be induced to better my chances for my next pregnancy. It meant taking some tablets, to help tell my body I was not pregnant anymore and these would take two days to kick in.

"I couldn’t face going home where all the nursery was set up and all Ava’s things were waiting for us, it felt like a bad dream. I went to my mum and dad’s instead. But carrying her for two days when I knew she wasn’t alive was so hard."

According to the stillbirth charity Tommy’s, one in every 250 pregnancies ends in a stillbirth in the UK. That’s eight babies a day. 

The majority of stillbirths are unexplained – leaving parents with the pain of unanswered questions.

Read more: 12 celebrities who have opened up about miscarriage and stillbirth

"You put a lot of blame on yourself with you go through a stillbirth and I kept wondering why I hadn’t done anything the moment I hadn’t felt her kicking," says Allen. "I underwent some counselling and was reassured that there is nothing I could have done differently but new mums are often so hard on themselves. 

"One good thing that my counsellors said to me when I kept asking: ‘Why me?’ was ‘Why not you?’ And she’s right. Stillbirth can happen to anyone so why not me?"

Watch: Miscarriage and stillbirth: Everything to know

Allen was induced two days later and gave birth to Ava on 7 February, 2018. Allen says she felt a mixture of emotions during the birth. 

"I was quite dosed up on drugs and Craig, my mother and sister were all there but I’d be lying if I said it was all terrible," she says. 

"There were moments of laughter as well as tears. When Ava arrived, she was beautiful. She had really dark hair and looked like me when I was a baby. 

"We got to spend quite a lot of time with her. The hospital brought us a cold cot so she could spend time with us overnight and we got to cuddle her and take photographs. 

"The toughest moment came at midday next day when we had to leave her behind at the hospital and say goodbye and go home."

Read more: Amanda Holden turned to hypnotherapy to cope with grief after stillbirth of her son

Like so many stillbirths, the postmortem was inconclusive. Afterwards, Allen and her husband were introduced to Professor Ranjit Akolekar, founder of specialist foetal medicine centre The Pregnancy Clinic and an expert in stillbirth. 

Allen was under his care when she became pregnant with her second child in 2019, undergoing weekly scans towards the end of her pregnancy.

"Professor Akolekar was very reassuring and would look at my scans each time and put my mind at ease," she says. "When I was 36 weeks I had a scan and although the sonographer thought everything looked fine, Professor Akolekar was not happy. He said I had oligohydramnios – a low level of amniotic fluid – and said I should have a c-section straight away. 

"He was worried that the placenta might break apart and I could lose this baby too. We were happy to discuss it. We just wanted her out and safe so I went in for a c-section the next day."

Evie was born on 17 January, 2020, weighing a healthy 5lbs 6oz. 

"It was incredibly daunting because I hadn’t been expecting a c-section and I couldn’t feel a thing," says Allen. 

"It was only when the midwife said: ‘Oh she has a lot of hair!’ that I realised she was actually out. She didn’t cry straight away but when she was placed on me for some skin-to-skin contact, it was lovely. She looked a lot like her big sister too.

"It’s been such a comfort to have Evie and she has brought us so much joy. She’s so cheeky and mischievous and has helped heal the pain of losing Ava. 

"Of course, she’s too young to understand now but we will talk about Ava to Evie and it’s actually a comfort to talk about her now. 

"We have a pebble in a memorial garden made by the charity Making Miracles which is absolutely beautiful and we can visit that. 

"Evie will always know about her big sister and she will always be a part of our family."

What can you do to support a pregnancy?

Professor Akolekar says three simple measures could prevent a significant proportion of these tragic deaths. He believes that all expectant mothers should be:

*Advised to take low dose Aspirin in the first trimester if they are at high-risk of stillbirth

*Given a Doppler scan at 20 weeks to assess the blood vessels and effectively identify problems

*Offered a routine scan in the third trimester to identify pregnancies with a short and potentially weak cervix which can benefit from treatment. This can either prevent miscarriage or extreme prematurity in more than 50 per cent of pregnancies at risk.

‘Most mothers are not offered any routine assessment after their 20-week scan, presumably due to cost-effectiveness,’ says Prof Akolekar. 

‘Yet the majority of these changes are not expensive. Aspirin costs 20p, the Doppler scan costs £15 and a routine scan at 36 weeks – which is common practice in most developed European countries - costs £90. 

Even if there was any additional cost, this would surely be offset by the huge cost that is required for short and long-term fallout for managing a pregnancy with stillbirth.’

Watch: Lorraine Kelly reflects on her baby loss

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