Losing your baby at 34 weeks: Talia & David's ordeal

This week, we take a look at a sensitive and often taboo subject. Losing a child, regardless of the stage of pregnancy, is a heavy ordeal for parents. Talia is a mother and loyal member of the community who today found the courage to share her story and put words to the indescribable: the loss of a baby at 34 weeks' gestation.

Can you introduce yourself in a few words?
I'm 33 and half Swiss and half Israeli. I grew up in Geneva. I'm a lawyer by training and with my amazing husband David, we launched a children's art startup in 2018.

You have a son-in-law Liam (9), two little girls Noa (3), Eden (6 months) and Ella, your little baby who has flown away. Tell us about your birthstories?

Noa

When I got pregnant with Noa, I had a whole program in my head about how, where and what I was going to give birth to. It was all very clear. I didn't know it was a girl, but she was already upside down at 6 months, a perfect position, she was a small weight and I was in great shape. I could see myself giving birth in yoga mode, without an epidural and in 3 hours. Unfortunately, at 38 weeks of pregnancy, I discovered that I had a retinal fissure so severe that I couldn't push too hard at the risk of detaching my retina and potentially losing my sight. A week later, I had to give birth by Caesarean section.

It was a birth I didn't plan for, and I couldn't keep my little Noa close to me because the operating room was too cold for her. I had to wait almost 4 hours in the recovery room because I was anaemic, but in the end, when I was finally able to take her in my arms, I was the happiest of mothers and I didn't want this highly medicalized birth to undermine my happiness at being a mother.

Ella 

Exactly one year after Noa's birth, I became pregnant. This time I was preparing for a Caesarean delivery, reading and finding out all I could to welcome our baby and be as active as possible in this highly medicalized environment. The pregnancy is going very well, I'm working, I'm travelling, I'm running after the children and I'm enjoying every moment with them. At the 5-month ultrasound, although we wanted to keep it a surprise, we were mistakenly told the sex of our child: it was a girl. Incredible, as someone who doesn't have a sister, I was dreaming of this for Noa. It's amazing how you can project yourself when you know the sex, I tell myself...

On July 31, 2019, I finish my last day of work because I've decided to take 1 year off to be with my children while developing our startup. On August 2, I realize I haven't felt my baby move all day, but I tell myself it's normal, he's probably out of room and with two kids on vacation his movements must go unnoticed. I'm 34 weeks pregnant.

The next morning, I wake up with a strange feeling, like a silence, an emptiness inside me. I tell myself that baby should react, I move him around a bit in my belly, go into the kitchen and eat some sweets in the hope that something will happen, but nothing. I call my mom who's coming to look after the children so I can leave for the hospital with my husband. In the back of my mind, I tell myself that at worst the little one will be a little premature, and I'm already angry with myself for having perhaps carried Noa a little too much these last few weeks.

We arrive at the hospital and everything happens very quickly. They put a sort of belt on me to hear the baby's heart, they ask me lots of questions but I don't understand a thing. They tell me that sometimes this machine doesn't work, so we try another one, and after a few seconds nothing happens. The doctor looks at me and says "I'm sorry, there's no heart". 

The pain was so great that I thought it was my heart giving out. I clung to my husband and cried, I don't think I screamed, I don't think I even had the strength to breathe. My husband collapsed. He knew before I did that something serious was happening because he couldn't see the blood flow in the picture.

I'm going to have a vaginal delivery, my dream, but for a baby who's no longer here.

I'm told I need to think about how I'm going to give birth. My gynecologist is unreachable and I'm urged to give birth vaginally. Baby is barely 2 kg. There's no risk to my retina, because we can take all the time we need, since we don't have to think about preserving the baby. It's so painful to hear. I'm going to have a vaginal delivery, my dream, but for a baby who's no longer here.

I don't remember the next 28 hours, I just see my husband on the floor next to my bed, he didn't leave me, didn't leave me for a second. I couldn't speak, he had to talk to the hospital staff, call our families and deal with all the terrible administration surrounding what was happening to us. I felt like I was dead.

On August 4, I finally gave birth to little Ella by vaginal delivery. I don't remember the day, or the birth, just the darkness of the delivery room and the silence. A silence that stabbed me in the heart. My husband and I didn't need to speak, it was as if we had fused together to avoid letting each other die at that moment.

This August 4, 2019 our little baby is born and dead at the same time. I hold her in my arms and can't stop crying. I kiss her face and hand her to the midwife, who leaves. I collapse into my husband's arms. My baby, our baby, is gone. The gynecologist explains that we'll have to wait for the blood results and the placenta autopsy to understand, perhaps, what happened.

Ella was A+ like her daddy, and I'm A-. I learn that Ella has had a hemorrhage and that her blood has spilled into mine... and that our blood incompatibility means that my system is likely to reject all future Rhesus + babies. My husband can only give Rhesus +.

Three months of tests and blood tests will follow, during which I won't know if I can consider getting pregnant again.

On August 4, 2019, our little baby was born and died at the same time.

November 4, 2019 is the day of my last consultation at the HUG with the head of the clinic. I've had one of the largest doses of Rhophylac (to combat the development of antibodies in my blood) administered at the Geneva maternity hospital in recent years. I'm looking forward to this appointment with both anxiety and impatience.

The head of the clinic tells me that the antibody level is very low and that I can envisage a pregnancy, but that it will obviously be risky, as there is a risk of anaemia in the baby. She tells me that the cause of our baby's death is the reversal of flow between the baby and me. A fissure in the placenta. One case in I don't know how many thousands. More like a road accident. My husband and I had nothing to do with it. It just happens. It just happens.

EDEN

On December 20, I discovered by chance that I was already 7 weeks pregnant. My due date is August 4, 2020, exactly one year after Ella. I'm overwhelmed. I don't take any photos of myself, I just can't manage it. I talk to my baby, I tell her I love her and that I'm sorry if I'm sometimes sad because I'm so happy to have her, but I'm also so afraid to believe it. Corona is invading our lives, but we're happy, happy to enjoy our children, to spend time with them. We're having a wonderful spring with each other. But from mid-June onwards, I start having nightmares more and more frequently, I wake up sweating, I'm afraid of losing my baby, I need to feel him moving all the time. Week 34 is approaching and all I can do is cry. I already want to be at the birth, holding my healthy baby in my arms. The month of July has been both rich in the happy moments our children have given us, and at the same time full of apprehension.

At 38 weeks, my gynecologist tells me it's going to be a C-section. I couldn't care less. Anything for baby's sake. Last question, when?

As late as possible, I agree, I fight with myself baby must not live my trauma. Only request, before August 4. On August 4 I have my healthy baby by my side.

I saw her, held her against me and said to myself, "It doesn't matter which way we go, as long as we're here in good health".

Eden, our little princess and ray of sunshine, will be born by Caesarean section on July 28, 2020. I cried with happiness, relief and sadness all at once. I saw her, I held her against me and I told myself that it didn't matter which way, as long as we were there in good health, it was the most beautiful birth ever.

How did the older generation react when they saw you back without Ella?
Liam, my son-in-law, was overwhelmed. We're very close. I knew him when he was three and I think he understood what was going on (at 8) and was deeply affected. He was worried for me, for our baby. He still talks about it today. In fact, he's always called her by her first name. Ella. While David and I could hardly pronounce it without bursting into tears. Noa was only 18 months old. We explained to her in simple words that the baby had gone and that we were sad. I think she felt our sadness without experiencing it the way Liam did.

What state of mind were you in at the time?
We were in a state of shock, asking ourselves a thousand questions. I must have drunk 3 Coke Zeros during my pregnancy, I flew, I used mosquito repellent, I don't smoke or drink. What have we done to deserve this? We replay the whole pregnancy and cry all the time.

How do you remember Ella's birth today?
Shocking in so many ways, because I'd dreamed of giving birth vaginally, to the extent that I'd been so disappointed by my first caesarean delivery. I had experienced it as a failure, not having been able to deliver my baby naturally. 1 ½ years later, I gave birth physiologically but to a deceased baby. So in a way, Ella offered me what I couldn't do for my other children. I can say that today, with hindsight.


You can imagine how difficult it is for a mother to go through this. What about the father?
For my husband David, it was just as violent as for me. He didn't carry Ella, but he waited for her. He projected and imagined her. I think that beyond the pain of losing our baby, he suffered from seeing me suffer and not being able to take my pain. Not being able to protect me and prevent that suffering. For his part, he managed all the administrative side of things, which was unimaginably violent. The funeral home, the burial, the declaration of death and the announcement to those around us to spare me from any explanations, which exhausted me terribly. He was strong and courageous, and I know that without him I wouldn't have been able to get through it.

Your post-partum, because yes, despite the fact that you're going home without a baby, there's always a post-partum, how did you experience it?
For me, post-partum was a very complex period. For three weeks I did the bare minimum. Going out for the kids, but no social interaction. Just my immediate family, my husband and our children. I didn't want to see anyone. I think the hardest part was back-to-school day. My husband and family had done their utmost to inform the people around us, the local pharmacy, the neighbors, the gas station next door, the people we knew from near and far, so that I wouldn't be asked any questions. But when the kids went back to school, I couldn't avoid it. Being full-term in September, people were all convinced that I'd given birth and "left the baby at home". It was a terrible ordeal, but I overcame it for Liam and Noa.

Then came denial. For almost six weeks, all I did was work for our start-up, travel and run around, and it was only after severe bleeding that I was brought back to reality. You gave birth two months ago. Your body hasn't recovered yet.

So I decided I had to face up to it and see a therapist. My husband and I had two sessions and I was pregnant. I stopped everything cold. I didn't want to keep exorcising it while I was expecting a baby.

Were you followed by a psychologist or a specialist in perinatal bereavement?
The fact that it happened on August 4th meant that many doctors were away on vacation. We had a visit from a young psychiatrist with whom I didn't connect at all. Talking to her irritated me. The only people I wanted to communicate with were my husband and my friend Zoé, who had unfortunately gone through the same thing at 37 weeks of pregnancy. She was the only one who understood me. I have many close friends who have been extraordinary. Their messages, letters and testimonials have helped me enormously, even if I couldn't answer them with anything other than a "heart" emoji.

How supportive were the HUG?
The perinatal service at the HUG was extraordinary. I have no words to describe the delicacy, modesty, kindness and professionalism with which the doctors, nurses and hospital service acted. We are extremely grateful to them.

What would you say to a mother who is going through this? And for the people around her?
I would say to the mom and dad who are going through it that for us, seeing our baby was essential to accepting. At first we didn't want to see her, but in the end we did in the darkness of our bedroom, and we don't regret it. It allowed us to accept that she existed, even if she left too soon.

For parents who have experienced it, my advice is to talk. No matter to whom, and to express what they feel, to do what soothes them no matter what others think. And to love and support each other very much. For us, this was a no-brainer, but for many couples, mourning is done separately, and that's an additional ordeal to overcome.

I'd tell the mother that it's not her fault. That she shouldn't feel guilty and that she should hold on to the good things in her life. Her children, if she has any, her partner, her friends, her family, a passion. One day, they'll be able to think of this little being with tenderness, even if the pain will always be there.

For the people around them, I think the biggest relief is to help mom and dad avoid having to explain and recount the facts over and over again to different acquaintances and social circles of varying sizes. It's important to break the news to people gently, to avoid questions being asked and to give the parents time to decide when they want to talk about it and with whom.

Talia, what's the best thing we can wish you today for tomorrow?
May my family be in good health, may our children grow up happily, may my husband and I love each other as much as we have all our lives, and may we always be as passionate in our professions.

Talia, thank you so much for your confidence and courage. Thanks to your story, we hope, little by little, to break the taboo surrounding the loss of a baby and, in our small way, to offer our support to all those who have or are going through this ordeal. Your story shows us that only love and resilience can help overcome the insurmountable.

Find on the blog a complementary article to this heartbreaking testimony, that of Rebeca,Perinatal Bereavement Companion: How to get through perinatal bereavement?