Since losing Otis I could not count on two hands the number of people who have asked if I had to still deliver him even though he had died …
Yes. I did.
Otis was a fully formed, viable human being. I was over 35 weeks pregnant when his heart stopped beating. He wasn’t just going to be absorbed back in to my body, or expel himself from my womb. I had to be induced, I had to go through labour, and I had to push that little boy out just like I would have if he was alive.
It was completely terrifying.
Childbirth is difficult enough in itself without the added terror of giving birth to your sleeping baby. Knowing that every single agonising contraction was leading to our first hello with our little boy was too hard to comprehend, then knowing that once we had met him we were going to be counting down to our last good bye; it was simply soul destroying..
Just a prior warning that from here on out, it’s going to be pretty raw.
I was induced properly at 11am on the Thursday. They inserted a gel into my cervix in the hope that over the course of 24 hours it would gently soften my cervix and slowly induce labour. This didn’t happen for me! Within seconds of having that gel inserted I started contracting, and I stared contracting thick and fast. Contractions were coming every 3 minutes from the word go, lasting over 1 minute each time. I grin and bared the pain for around 5 hours with no pain relief in the bereavement suite of the hospital – I was too scared to ask for pain relief because I knew if I had any that I’d have to be moved in to a normal delivery room, due to my medical history. Come 4(ish)pm, the pain was just getting too much. This wasn’t necessarily in a physical way, but I couldn’t hack it mentally. I remember saying to Chris that I wanted gas and air, because when I laboured with the twins it made my mind go elsewhere, and I didn’t want to be where I was anymore. He called the midwife in for me and asked them if I could have the gas and air, they agreed because no pain relief is off limits when your child has no heartbeat.
They told me they’d return in a few minutes once they had prepped the delivery room next door. I kept thinking to myself ‘what is there to prep? They’re always ready’ … On walking in the room, I understood. They had removed any equipment that would be used in a live delivery for the baby. They took out the rescusotation incubator, they removed suction equipment, they even took out the stethoscope … As thankful as I was that they were taken out of the room, it just made it that little more real that my baby wasn’t going to be born alive.
Devastatingly, I still didn’t even believe them at this point that he had died. I still insisted to myself that he was going to be born alive, that they had made a horrible mistake.
I started with the gas and air and it was great, it didn’t ease the physical pain of the contractions at all, but it took my mind elsewhere which is what I needed. I sent Chris out at this point to get some food for him and my dad, who was waiting in the bereavement suite next door to us for Otis to arrive.
He returned about 30 minutes later, and after he had finished scoffing his kebab he came and sat in a chair next to me and grabbed my hand, where he remained for the rest of my labour, grabbed hand and all.
My mind was all over the place during this stage of my labour: one minute I was excited, forgetting that he was sleeping and the next minute I was terrified. There were so many conflicting emotions running through my mind and I was really starting to struggle with coping. I remember repeatedly shouting to the midwife that I simply couldn’t do it. “I can’t do it, I just can’t.”
I couldn’t bare to see Otis sleeping, when he had been growing and living and kicking me just days before. When I had heard his heartbeat just days before..
Not much happened between then and 8pm, when the midwives did a shift swap. This is when I met Nicola, the woman who later delivered our baby. She was lovely. She became my rock throughout my labour and I genuinely don’t think I would have got through it without her. I remember Nicola examining me around 8:30pm, but I can’t remember how dilated I was. I was getting really sleepy at this point and asked for more pain relief. I was offered morphine.
“I didn’t think you were allowed morphine during labour? Are you sure I’m allowed that?” … I was told yes. I was allowed anything I liked because no pain relief is off limit when your baby doesn’t have a heartbeat. Initially, I turned it down. Admittedly, I know a massive part of me was punishing myself. I felt like I deserved the pain. I felt like I deserved to be in agony. I failed my son. I didn’t grow him “right.” I deserved to feel every last agonising second of every last contraction.
I broke down. Nicola comforted me and told me that none of this was my fault, that I didn’t have to punish myself and didn’t have to be uncomfortable. I looked at Chris, and he looked back at me as if to say “please, Nat, just have the morphine” … I knew at this point that he was struggling too. Not only was he waiting for his first son to arrive, sleeping, he was having to watch me go through labouring him too. I squeezed his hand the hardest I ever have as if to tell him “it’s okay, we can do this”, and I agreed to a have a morphine pump. It was administered around 10pm.
There was no letting up. It didn’t matter how many times I pushed the button to activate the pump, nothing happened. The pain didn’t ease, if anything it got worse. I looked at my arm and saw it was swollen to twice its size. The IV had tissued, the morphine wasn’t even getting in to my system. It made me cry, I felt like someone else was punishing me now. I felt like they, too, thought I was worthy of feeling this horrible pain. I was reassured that it wasn’t the case, and an anaesthetist came to fit a new cannula. I had 4 at this point, 2 in each arm.
I was examined. It was 11pm, and I was 9cm dilated.
That meant I was close. No. I wasn’t ready.
“Please, please can I have an epidural. I can’t do this. I’m not ready to meet him yet.”
They agreed. Otis didn’t have a heartbeat, so I didn’t have a timescale providing I was coping okay. I thought having an epidural would allow me to put off pushing once I was fully dilated. It definitely did.
The epidural was administered immediately, and I rested. I say rested – I spent the whole time until his birth repeatedly saying “no” to myself. Crying to Chris that I didn’t want to do it anymore. Shouting at him whenever he so much as moved – “no! Please don’t leave me! Please don’t go anywhere” – he wasn’t even leaving the room, just getting comfortable in the chair he had been sat in all day and evening.
I could feel pressure to push, an immense pressure, for over 4 hours and I forced myself to ignore it. I forced myself to feel that pain because it was the last time I could fool myself into believing my little boy was still living.
04:02am. “Natalie. We need you to push.”
Chris came to sit beside me (he was led on a bed they had brought in for him for 30 minutes beforehand).
He grabbed my hand and looked at me. “You can do this.”
This part was strangely peaceful. Because of the length of time Otis had been sat ready to be born, it was quite straight forward. He was right there. I pushed for 17 minutes – 6 pushes and he was born. He didn’t cry. They were right. My son was dead.
Otis was born at 04:19am. He came in to the world just as the sun was rising outside, in to silence. There was no rushing around, there was no shouting from any midwives that he needed rescusotation, there was no doctors running in to save my boy .. WHY WERE THERE NO DOCTORS RUNNING IN TO SAVE HIM?! Did they not care!?
‘No, Natalie. Your son is dead and he isn’t coming back.’ I had to keep reminding myself.
Chris squeezed my hand so hard, hid under the hood of his hoodie, scared to look. Nicola asked me if I wanted to see Otis. Of course, I said yes. I had waited 35 long weeks to see his beautiful face. To see if he looked like either of his big sisters or if he looked like his daddy. Nicola wrapped our lifeless, silent baby in a towel and placed him on my chest.
My heart exploded with love for this little being. He was perfect. My perfect piece of me. Chris’ perfect piece of him.
Chris stood up and came to the side of the bed where he could see Otis’ face. He broke down. For the first time on our whole journey, since finding out Otis was poorly, he broke down.
I knew from the second he was placed in to my arms that I’d never want to let him go, knowing every cuddle was leading to the last cuddle I’d ever give his physical body broke me. I looked over at Chris, who had gone to the other side of the room at this point in shock, and it was then that it hit me. Our little boy was dead. I had lost my son, Chris had lost his first son, his first child. He was never going to cry, he was never going to laugh, he was never going to return home, he was never going to play with his big sisters, he would never even meet his uncle Max or his cousins, he would never grow up.
I would give the world to turn back to this day. It was the single most painful experience of my life and I don’t ever expect anything to come close to it. But I would do it again in a heart beat, without hesitation, just to give him one more cuddle.
Otis Dominic Anthony Cullen; we miss you, we love you, we will do both eternally.