This week, we tackle a sensitive and still too often taboo subject. Losing a child, regardless of its stage of pregnancy, is a heavy ordeal for parents. Talia is a mother and faithful 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 of pregnancy.
Can you introduce yourself in a few words?
I am 33 years old, half Swiss, half Israeli. I grew up in Geneva. I studied law and with my incredible husband David, we launched, in 2015, an art startup for kids.
You have a son-in-law Liam (9 years old), two daughters Noa (3 years old), Eden (6 months old) and Ella, your little baby who flew away. Tell us about your birthstories?
When I became pregnant with Noa, I had a whole plan in mind about how, where, and what kind of birth I was going to have. Everything was clear. I didn’t know it was a girl, but she was already upside down at 6 months, perfect position, it 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 problem so severe that I couldn’t push too hard at the risk of my retina detaching and potentially losing my vision. A week later, I find myself giving birth by C-section.
It was a very difficult birth for me because I hadn’t considered it 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 had anemia, but in the end, when I was finally able to take her in my arms, I was the happiest mother and I didn’t want this very medicalized delivery to undermine my happiness as a mother.
One year after the birth of Noa I got pregnant again. This time I am preparing for a c- section, I read, I learn about how to best welcome our baby and be as active as possible in this medicalized environment. Pregnancy goes very well, I work, travel, run after the children and enjoy every moment with them. At the 5 month ultrasound, when we wanted to keep the surprise, we were mistakenly told the sex of our child: it’s a girl. Unbelievable, me who does not have a sister, I dreamed about it for Noa. It’s crazy how one projects oneself when one knows the sex, I say to myself…
On July 31, 2019, I finish my last day of work, I resigned because I decided to take 1 year off to be with my children while developing our startup. On August 2nd, I realize that I didn’t feel my baby move all day, but I tell myself that it’s normal, he probably doesn’t have room anymore and as I am taking care of my two children that are on vacation, the baby’s 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 a little in my belly, I go into the kitchen and eat something sweet in the hope that something will happen, but nothing. I call my mom who comes to babysit so I can go to the hospital with my husband. In my head, I tell myself that at worst the little one will be a little premature and I already blame myself for maybe having carried Noa a little too much these last few weeks.
We arrive at the hospital and everything happens very quickly. They put a kind of belt on me to hear the baby’s heart, they ask me a lot of questions but I don’t understand anything. Sometimes they tell me that this machine doesn’t work, they try another one and after a few seconds nothing more. The doctor looks at me and says « I’m sorry, there is no heart beat ».
The pain was so strong that I thought it was my heart that was giving out. I grabbed hold of 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 had realized before me that something bad was happening because he couldn’t see the blood flow in the picture.
I’m going to have a natural delivery, my dream, but for a baby that’s no longer with us.
I am told that I need to think about how I am going to give birth. My gynecologist is unreachable and I am strongly advised to deliver vaginally. Baby is barely 2 kg. There is 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. I collapse so much it is painful to hear. I’m going to give birth by the vaginal route, my dream, but for a baby who is no longer with us.
For the next 28 hours I don’t remember, 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 talk, he had to talk to the hospital staff, call our families and deal with all the terrible administration around what was happening to us. I felt like I was dead.
On August 4th I finally delivered a baby Ella in a vaginal delivery. I don’t remember the day or the delivery, I just remember the darkness of the delivery room and the silence. The silence that stabbed my heart. My husband and I, who didn’t need to speak, it was as if we had merged so we wouldn’t let ourselves die at that moment.
On August 4, 2019 our little baby was born and died at the same time. I take her in my arms and I can’t stop crying. I give her a kiss on the face and give her to the midwife who is leaving. I collapse in my husband’s arms. My baby, our baby is gone. The gynecologist explains to me that we’ll have to wait for the blood results and the autopsy of the placenta to understand, perhaps, what happened.
In the meantime, I have to take another bad news… Ella was A+ like her daddy, and I am A-. I learn that Ella had a hemorrhage and that her blood spilled into mine… and that our blood incompatibility means that my system is in danger of rejecting all future Rhesus + babies. My husband can only give rhesus +.
Three months of tests and blood work 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.
On November 4, 2019, the day of my last visit to the HUG with the head of the clinic, I had one of the largest doses of Rhophylac (to fight the development of antibodies in my blood) administered at the maternity hospital in Geneva over the last few years. I await this appointment with anxiety and impatience at the same time.
The head of the clinic tells me that the level of antibodies is very low and that I can consider a pregnancy, but that I will obviously be at risk, because the risk of anemia in the baby is there. She tells me that the cause of our baby’s death is the inversion of the blood flow between baby and me. A crack in the placenta. A one out of I don’t know how many thousands cases. A percentage that is more like road traffic accidents. My husband and I had nothing to do with it. It’s just the way it is. It happens.
On December 20th, I discovered by accident that I was already 7 weeks pregnant. My ECD, on August 4, 2020, exactly one year after Ella. I am overwhelmed. My pregnancy is progressing, I don’t take pictures of myself, I can’t take them. I talk to my baby, I tell her that I love her and I’m sorry if I’m sad sometimes because I’m so happy to have her, but I’m so scared to believe it at the same time. COVID comes into our lives, but we are happy, happy to enjoy our children, to spend time with them. We spend a beautiful spring with each other. But from mid-June I start having nightmares more and more often, I get 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 do is cry. I already want to be at the birth, holding my baby in my arms in good health. The month of July has been both rich in moments of happiness that our children have given us, and at the same time full of apprehension.
At 38 weeks my gynecologist announces to me, that it will be a caesarean. I don’t really care. I will do anything for the baby to be fine. Last question, when?
As late as possible, I agree, I fight with myself as I do not want my baby to experience my trauma. Only request, before August 4th. On August 4th I have my healthy baby by my side.
I saw her, I held her against me and I said to myself « it doesn’t matter which way, as long as we are there in good health ».
Eden, our little princess, ray of sunshine, will be born by C-section on July 28, 2020. I cried with happiness, relief and sadness at the same time. I saw her, I held her against me and I said to myself, no matter which way we go, as long as we are there in good health, it was the most beautiful birth ever.
How did the elders react when they saw you back without Ella?
Liam, my stepson, was overwhelmed. We are very close. I knew him when he was 3 years old and I think he understood what was happening (at 8 years old) and was deeply affected. He was worried about me, about our baby. He still talks about it today. In fact, he’s the one who always named her by her first name. Ella. While David and I found it very difficult to pronounce it without bursting into tears. Noa she was only 18 months old. We explained to her in simple words that baby was 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 that time?
In a state of shock, we were asking ourselves a thousand questions. I had to drink 3 Coke Zero during my pregnancy, I took the plane, I put on mosquito repellent, I don’t smoke, I don’t drink. What did we do to deserve this? We’re making the movie of the whole pregnancy again and we cry all the time.
What do you remember today about Ella’s birth?
Upsetting on so many points because I dreamed of giving birth by the vaginal route to the point of being disappointed by my first cesarean section. I had experienced it as a failure, not being able to deliver my baby naturally. 1-year ½ later I give birth physiologically but for a deceased baby. So somewhere Ella offered me what I couldn’t do for my other children. That I can say today, in retrospect.
Your postpartum, because yes despite the fact that you came home without a baby there is still a postpartum, how did you experience it?
For me postpartum was a very complex period. For three weeks I did the bare minimum. Going out for the children, but no social interaction. Just my close family, my husband, our children. I didn’t want to see anyone. I think the hardest part was the first day of school. My husband and family had done their best to inform people around us, the neighbourhood pharmacy, the neighbors, the gas station next door, people we were close to, to avoid being asked questions. But when the children came back to school, I couldn’t avoid it. Being due in September, people were all convinced that I had given birth and that « I had left the baby at home ». It was a terrible experience and I overcame it for Liam and Noa.
Then it was denial. For almost six weeks all I did was work for our startup, traveling, running around and it was after severe bleeding that I was reminded of reality. You gave birth two months ago. Your body has not yet recovered.
So I decided I had to face it and go see a therapist. My husband and I did two sessions and I was pregnant. I stopped everything altogether. I didn’t want to continue to exorcise this while I was expecting a baby.
Did you see a psychologist or a perinatal loss specialist?
The fact that I experienced « this » 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 with at all. Talking to her irritated me. The only person I wanted to communicate with was my husband and my friend Zoé who unfortunately had experienced the same thing at 37 weeks of pregnancy. Only she understood me. I have a lot of close friends who have been extraordinary. Their messages, letters and testimonials helped me enormously even if I could not answer them other than with a « heart » emoji.
Was the HUG a good support?
The perinatal service at the HUG has been extraordinary. I have no words to describe the delicacy, modesty, kindness, and professionalism with which the doctors, nurses, and the 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 has been essential for acceptance. Because at the beginning we didn’t want to see her, then finally we did it in the darkness of the room 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, I advise them to talk. It doesn’t matter to whom, and to express how they feel, to do what soothes them no matter what others think. And to love and support each other very strongly. For us it was obvious, but for many couples, mourning is a very difficult thing to do separately and it’s an additional ordeal to overcome.
I would say to the mother that she had nothing to do with it. That she shouldn’t feel guilty and that she should hold on to the beautiful things in her life. Her children if she has any, her spouse, her friends, her family, a passion. One day, they will be able to think of this little star with tenderness even if the pain will always be there.
For those around her, I think that what is most relieving is to help the mom and dad not have to explain, tell the facts over and over again to different acquaintances and social circles more or less extended. You have to be careful about telling people so that they don’t ask questions and give the parents time to decide when they want to talk about it and with whom.
Talia, what’s the best we can wish you today for tomorrow?
May my family be healthy, may our children grow up happy, may my husband and I love each other just as much all our lives and may we always be as passionate in our jobs.