Last week. as I was getting dinner ready, a niggling thought popped into my head. When did I last feel the baby move? I stopped, spaghetti-laden pan in hand, and willed myself to remember.
It must’ve been this afternoon, when we went out for a walk?
Or maybe when I was sat reading stories; the nursery-rhyme lyricism of Julia Donaldson usually gets a kick or two.
Surely I can’t have got to 4:52pm without feeling anything…I would have noticed sooner – right?
With that, I could feel panic rising from the pit of my stomach. My hand started to tremble as I attempted, unsuccessfully, to spoon the tangle of pasta and sauce onto a plate whilst my toddler watched eagerly from the kitchen table, demonstrating his patience and general laid-back attitude by re-enacting a scene from Stomp with his cutlery. I could hear the thud of my heart drumming in my head as all rational thought abandoned me.
What if I haven’t felt anything? What if this baby is dead?
In that moment, I knew exactly what I needed to do. I calmly placed the plate in front of Leo and reached for my maternity notes. The luminous orange contact sheet was easy to find as I simultaneously grabbed my phone. Within seconds of dialling, a bright voice sang in my ear, asking how they could help. I explained the situation: I was 25 weeks pregnant and I didn’t know when I last felt my baby move.
The midwife took a few more details. ‘Is this your first baby?’ No, third. ‘Were there any complications with either of your first two pregnancies?’ My eldest was stillborn and I was induced at 37 weeks with my second due to reduced fetal movements and growth concerns. ‘Ok, don’t panic, but I think someone needs to come and listen into baby.’
Less than 10 minutes after that initial worrying thought popped into my head, I was awaiting a visit from the on-call community midwife. Where we live, the protocol is that you will be seen in the community up to 28 weeks, either at clinic or at home – depending on the day and time. From 28 weeks onwards, expectant mothers are asked to go to Delivery Suite so that they can have a CTG to monitor baby. This may vary from region to region, but whatever system is in place, you will always be seen by a midwife if you have any issues or concerns about your baby.
It took less than two hours for the community midwife to come and out see me – long enough for me to get Leo bathed and in bed, all the while trying everything I could think of to encourage baby to move (hot drink, cold drink, fizzy drink, lying down, prodding…the works.) Two hours may sound like a long time, but there were many occasions during Leo’s pregnancy when we would have to sit even longer than that in the busy Delivery Suite waiting room. At least at home I had things to occupy my mind – namely an overexcited, sleep refusing toddler!
When Joanne (the midwife) arrived, she quickly got the doppler set up and listened in. Without any hesitation, she found the heartbeat and I broke down in tears. There is nothing quite like the sense of relief you get from hearing that little heartbeat, and knowing that the dark and terrifying place which your mind wandered is not your reality. At least not today.
Joanne listened in for several minutes until she was completely happy that everything sounded fine. She checked my blood pressure, filled in my notes then asked if I had any questions or concerns. In total, she was with me for half an hour tops, and I felt a momentary flicker of guilt that she had travelled 45 minutes to see me.
‘That’s what we do,’ she told me. ‘Our job is to look after you and your baby; we will see you every day between now and when they are born safely if we need to. You must call, any time, any day.’
Of course, I know this. And having faced the devastation of walking out of hospital clutching a memory box instead of a baby, I am not one to hold off making that call. But it seems that a lot of people do.
If you type ‘reduced fetal movement’ into Dr Google you will be met with thousands of forum posts from anxious mothers asking whether or not it’s ‘normal’ for their movements to change, or if they need to ‘bother’ their midwife.
Perhaps it’s because in this digital age, where we’re so used to being able to find out everything we need to know with the click of a button, it feels unnecessarily to seek out advice from an actual human being. Maybe it’s down to our British stoicism which means we are programmed to not want to make a fuss; out of fear that we won’t be taken seriously, or might be wasting our (ever stretched & depleting) NHS resources. It might be that we just don’t think it will happen to us. Pregnancy and child birth are perfectly normal, natural, every day occurrences – what could possibly go wrong?
Except sometimes, things do wrong – and your baby’s movements can be the first indication that something isn’t quite right.
Fortunately, in most cases (like mine last week) baby is absolutely fine, and the change in movement isn’t a sign of any problems at all. But sometimes they can. With Leo, I was seen in triage weekly from 33 weeks with reduced movements, and that increased to almost every other day by 36 weeks. No doubt that was partly due to my hyper-vigilance and increased anxiety, but the consultants agreed that the best course of action was to bring my induction date forward.
When he was born, alive and well, Leo was significantly smaller than any of my growth scans had anticipated, suggesting that there may have been an issue with the placenta. We’ll never know if we would have made it to term – perhaps there would have been no issues at all – but none of us were prepared to take that chance.
This post is not intended to frighten anyone, or guilt you in to feeling that you are in any way responsible for the death of your baby, or that you didn’t do enough to protect them. Tragically, in many cases a mother responds immediately to changes in her baby’s movements but it is still too late. Until we know more about what causes stillbirth there will always be babies who die, no matter how attentive a woman is.
But I hope that by sharing my experience last week, I’ve shown how easy it is to call your midwife if you have ANY concerns about baby. Before you brush off any worries as ‘just being silly’ or spend an hour trawling the internet for advice, just pick up the phone. It will silence your anxiety far more efficiently than any Mumsnet forum; it’s what your midwife wants you to do; and it may just save your baby’s life.
How can anyone argue with that?
For more information about monitoring your baby’s movements, check out the following sites:
*** Please do NOT use a home doppler to monitor your baby’s movements yourself. These devices ca provide false reassurance and ma mean mothers delay in seeking medical assistance which could be potentially life-threatening for baby. To find out more, head to Kicks Count to read about their campaign to ban the sale of home dopplers. ***