#stillBORN Campaign - Leo's Story

Published on: 27/03/2017

October 2011 – A month after getting married I found out that our family was about to gain a much loved member. Although unexpected we were overjoyed at the news. I immediately started to look up baby books online and our minds were filled with thoughts of the future. My mum was informed of the news. The rest of the family were told at Christmas. Everyone was so happy. I completed Hypnobirthing classes, I wanted the best for my little man. He did have the best of everything, his grandparents had funded a very expensive nursery. A smooth and uncomplicated pregnancy followed. I had no complaints at all, no sickness, no aches and pains. It was an honour and a joy to carry Leo for 8 months. I played him music, read him books, and I was entertained by his jumps and kicks. I planned his life.

Monday 11th June 2012 = worst day of my life. At around 10am I was at work and I realised that I had not felt Leo move that morning. At nearly 8 months pregnant I was used to his little routines and this was not normal for our boy. The previous night, cuddled in bed, he was jumping around and I fell asleep with my hands on my belly. I went into an empty room at work, starting rolling on the floor, giving him a nudge in places that would usually provoke a reaction but he didn’t move. I panicked. I called the hospital and they told me to come straight in. I then called my husband and my mum. I remember thinking on the train journey from work to the hospital that they would tell me he was ok. Once at the hospital we waited. I remember a girl coming in and broadcasting that her friend was here and she wasn’t keeping the baby. That made me angry. I was a desperate and scared parent and there was someone throwing away their little miracle. I was taken by a midwife into a private room with a bed. I lay there whilst she used the Doppler to find Leo’s heart beat, they couldn’t. Another midwife (Sara who would go on to deliver Leo) tried and again nothing, she said he may be hiding from her. By this time I was in tears. I was taken to the scan room, where I had first seen my little angel at 12 weeks and 20 weeks. This was to be a different experience. The worst moment of my life was about to happen. By this time my mum was with us. The three of us went into the room and I lay on the bed. The midwife put the sonogram on, she said there’s baby’s head, then she moved and all I could see was a still heart. I said “where’s his heartbeat?” to which she replied “I’m sorry Vicki there isn’t one”. My life just imploded. My heart broke into a million pieces. My husband threw away my hand and I felt physically discarded by him. At the time I didn’t realise that the sound I heard was coming from me.  My whole world had just been destroyed. Knowing my wee man was gone was unbearable. How? Why? And again – How? That was all I could think. I steeled myself and asked “what happens now, just tell me”. I honestly expected to see my little baby boy on the sonogram alive and well, just worrying his mum for nothing. Looking back now, the nurses that passed me on our way to the scan all had this look – there’s that pregnant woman who has lost her baby. I just didn’t realise it at the time. When the Doctor came to see me to explain what would happen I didn’t really take it in. I was told that I would have to take a pill and come back in the next day. I took the pill there and then to start labour and then left. They let me use the back exit. I suppose so I wouldn’t see all the expectant mums and the parents taking their new borns home.  Back home I went up to Leo’s nursery. I crumpled to the floor and cried. My big heavy belly felt like a huge weight. All the hope and anticipation for my little man – gone. The rest of the night passed in a blur. I decided to sleep on the sofa, if sleep was ever going to come. I couldn’t face bed. We had only been in this house a matter of months. This was to be my wee man’s home. Everywhere I look I’m reminded of Leo and my plans for him. The kitchen cupboards full of his bottles, his steriliser on the worktop, his highchair in the corner, his pram in the hall, his nursery bursting at the seams with all of his things. I had never done anything in this house without Leo in my belly.

vicki-mcgowanThe morning of Tuesday 12th June I was ready to go to the hospital for 8am. My mum took me. We arrived 3 broken people. My midwife Gillian led us to our room. I remember sitting down in the room, Gillian took my hands in hers and together we just cried. I remember thinking how grateful I was that my midwife felt my grief. I would later realise that she would earn a place in my heart forever. Bloods were taken from me to be tested and make up part of the post mortem results. Another pill was given to me to bring on labour. I would have to take a pill every few hours until I was in full labour. The hours passed with Leo not showing much signs of wanting to come out. I would not have coped without my mum there, she was my only support. My husband wanted to leave but I pleaded with him to stay with me.

My midwives Gillian & Sara were in this with me too, they shared my grief with me. The end of Gillian’s shift came at 7pm, she was to pass my care over to Sara who I had met the previous day. I later discovered that Sara asked to look after Leo & I during her shift. Gillian would be back at 7am the next day and would take over my care then so I knew I would see her again and she would get to meet my Leo. She said a tearful goodbye. As the night went on, labour advanced. I remember feeling grateful for the pain, I needed to feel something because since finding out Leo was gone I had only felt numb. Although, Leo was still not for coming out. In the early hours of the morning we were told that we might have to give up and start trying again the next day. Sara said that she would ask if I could have a drip to speed things up. She then examined me and I was told “your baby’s head is there”. Finally. With my Mum by my side, my little Leo came into the world silently at 3:40am on Wednesday 13th June weighing 5lb 5.5oz and measuring 47cm. I will never forget Leo being lifted onto my chest, he was so so big. I had no idea such a big boy was in my tiny bump. I don’t know what I expected, no-one can prepare you. I think I expected a little fragile tiny version of a baby but he was so big. This made it harder to accept that he had gone. He looked so big and healthy. Looking at Leo’s face was like looking in the mirror. My nose, my eyes, my little boy, my son. I had spent so long wondering what he would look like, who he would take after, finally I could see his face. I didn’t shed a single tear when he was born because I had such an overwhelming feeling of pride. I turned to my mum and said “he looks like me”. The similarity was striking and it was so overwhelming. I had just delivered a beautiful big boy, my son, and so began my time with Leo.

My family were told of Leo’s arrival and by 5am his his great granny Ree and his Granny Karen  had arrived to see him, followed by his uncle Sean. I remember that I kept apologising to everyone. 8 just kept saying I’m sorry. Every face I saw that day was etched with grief and I kept saying sorry. I took lots of pictures of Leo and I’m so glad that I did. It was emotional but also a time I will treasure forever. Leo touched all of our lives, he’ll have an impact on us all forever.

vicki-mcgowan2Leo was dressed in a yellow suit that I was given for mothers day. Other clothes I brought for him were too small. He had impressively big feet and hands. I had to go to surgery to remove the placenta, this left me exhausted. Our family left to let us have time with Leo. I fell asleep with Leo beside me. When I woke up it was to see both midwives, Sara and Gillian, standing at my bedside looking at Leo. It’s an image that will stay with me forever. My mum returned and we spent the rest of our time in our little cocoon with our Leo. The chaplain came to bless Leo, he too cried with us. I felt safe in that room with Leo.

Leo’s skin was so soft, he was so beautiful. I spent my time admiring this amazing little person who I had created but would not get to see have a life. It was hard but still the most precious time in my life. I will forever remember and treasure my time with Leo. By 4pm that day I had braced myself to let Leo go. I think the only reason I managed that was because i was leaving him with Gillian. She would look after him for me. Gillian cried as she said goodbye to us. We left the hospital with a box of Leo’s things. His name bracelet, his footprints and handprints and a lock of his hair. Other parents were leaving with their babies in a car seat but all I had was a box and my memories. By the time I arrived home Leo’s nursery was empty. It was a shock. It was so hard to see his room empty. I felt empty. Empty belly, empty arms but a full heart.

Waking up in the morning is like being hit by train, the loss is unbearable. The tears come immediately, sometimes I wake to find I’ve been crying in my sleep. It’s the hardest thing in the world to lose a child. Nothing can take away the pain. Knowing that my baby will never know what pain is is a comfort. Getting through 1 hour is an accomplishment, then you focus on getting through the next hour, this eventually leads to getting through a day, then the next day you start over again, one minute at a time, 1 hour at a time. Living in a world without Leo is just impossible. I cope, that’s all I can do.

People naturally want to know what happened, why did Leo die. People don’t want to ask but they want to know, and that’s ok. After Leo’s post-mortem I was as told that he died of acute Hypoxia which means that his oxygen supply was very suddenly cut off, but they cannot find a reason for this. Leo was a perfectly healthy boy, and no issues were discovered with the placenta or the cord. Doctors cannot give me a reason as to why this happened. One theory is that maybe there was a spasm in the cord, long enough to cut off Leo’s oxygen supply but that is just an educated guess. One of the hardest things is not knowing. So the official reason for Leo’s death is no known cause. I hate that sentence. A Doctor who works closely with SANDS said, there is no such thing as no known cause, it is not enough research. That is why I created Team Leo, I have made a lifelong commitment to fundraise and direct all of the fundraising monies to research. Maybe in a few years, or 20 years or just some day there will be a breakthrough in research and maybe, just maybe, I might get a little closer to understanding why Leo is not here.

Vicky McGowan