'I’ve two sons in my arms and one inside  my heart': One woman’s deeply moving story about losing a child  through stillbirth

  • Stirlingshire mother Jennifer Marjoribanks' son Andrew was stillborn
  • The UK has one of the highest stillbirth rates in Europe
  • According to official statistics, 17 babies are born dead every day

By Jennifer Marjoribanks

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It's a boy. These three little words, followed by a screeching cry were the most amazing sounds I have ever heard.

It was all so different from the previous year, when those same three words were delivered by a midwife with a sadness and flatness no mother should ever have to hear.

On September 11, 2011, I had gone into Forth Valley Royal Hospital in Larbert, Stirlingshire, thinking I was in labour. Instead, my husband Brian and I were told our baby didn’t have a heartbeat.

'Two in my arms': Jennifer with her sons Alexander and Fraser. Her baby son was born after a stillbirth

'Two in my arms': Jennifer with her sons Alexander and Fraser. Her baby son was born after a stillbirth

We returned to hospital the next day where I gave birth to our perfect baby, Andrew, who weighed 9lbs 2oz, stillborn only five days before he was due to make his entrance into the world.

We were given a memory box containing photos, footprints and a lock of his hair. Precious mementoes, but not what any parent expects to be taking home from hospital.

 

In the days that followed I did things I never thought I could possibly be capable of. I chose readings, flowers and music for my baby’s funeral.

I sat next to my husband with his tiny white coffin over our knees as we travelled to the crematorium, and held Brian’s hand as he carried our boy down the aisle – he said I had carried Andrew for nine months and he wanted to carry his son to his final resting place.

After we lost Andrew, we did beat ourselves up about what had caused this. After all, he was inside of me, why didn’t I manage to keep him safe? 

The results of the post mortem examination showed he had somehow bled out into me, possibly through the umbilical cord. A random and cruel occurrence, like being struck by lightning, the consultant said.

Memories: Two tiny footprints is all that Jennifer has left of her stillborn baby son Andrew

Memories: Two tiny footprints is all that Jennifer has left of her stillborn baby son Andrew

Tragic: Jennifer says she will never forget her lost baby Andrew and will always keep him in her heart

Tragic: Jennifer says she will never forget her lost baby Andrew and will always keep him in her heart

Importantly for us, though, it was no more likely to happen again than it had been the first time, and it wasn’t something which would prevent us from  having another child. 

We were very lucky to be given a cause of Andrew’s death, even if it wasn’t a reason. More than half of stillbirths are unexplained. I don’t think I could have coped with not knowing. 

Having our son Alexander, then 21 months, was a godsend. His cheeky and mischievous smile kept us going in the darkest of days, but I knew from the very beginning that the only way I would ever feel truly healed was to have another baby. 

Being pregnant again was both amazing and terrifying in equal measure. At no point did I allow myself to believe there would be a baby at the end of it.

Each kick provided comfort, but every time baby was quiet for any length of time, I would start to panic that something was wrong.

The day I found myself sitting on the couch at 8am drinking cold Irn-Bru while guzzling sugary sweets in an attempt to get baby to wake up and kick was the day I knew I had finally gone crazy!

As soon as I was pregnant again, my parents offered to pay for me to have the baby privately, but for me that was never an option.

Part of the healing process was to go back to that same hospital, but this time bring home a baby instead of a box of memories. 

The hospital staff were generally great, although early on I had a slight scare and phoned the hospital to ask if someone could check me over, just for some reassurance. 

The midwife I spoke to instead told me I should seek help for my anxiety issues, and that if she let me come in that day to hear the heartbeat, I would just end up wanting to come in every day.

I complained, to both my consultant and to the head of midwifery, and from that point onwards the care I received was exemplary.

My mum joked that they must have had a big flashing sign whenever I said my name to warn them to be nice! 

I had extra scans for reassurance, which was great until one at 36 weeks which apparently showed the baby had not grown in two weeks.

Adorable: Jennifer says her baby son Fraser is the spitting image of his big brothers
Difficult: Jennifer's third pregnancy was beset by worry thanks to her stillbirth

Cute: Baby Fraser is the spitting image of his big brothers but Jennifer's third pregnancy was beset by worry

All of a sudden the consultant was talking about giving me steroids for baby’s lungs before inducing me right away.

We had 20 minutes of complete panic before a second scan showed there were no problems and the first sonographer had simply made a huge error. 

My previous experience meant any joy in pregnancy had been cruelly snatched away from me. Overhearing excited first-time mums chatting about nursery decoration or prams in the doctor’s waiting room would make me wince. 

I was so jealous of their innocence about pregnancy and birth. On another occasion I snapped at my newly pregnant friend who was fretting about having had a few glasses of wine before she knew she was expecting.

'Look at me,' I said. 'I hardly drink, have never taken drugs or smoked and look what happened to me.'

When you are pregnant, people can’t help but chat to you, always asking excitedly what baby number this would be.

I’ve still not quite worked out the right way to answer that one – I never wanted to say this would be my second baby, but equally did the woman behind the checkout in Tesco really need to know I had a dead son?

Help: Jennifer, pictured with husband Brian, says baby Fraser has helped them overcome their loss

Help: Jennifer, pictured with husband Brian, says baby Fraser has helped them overcome their loss

Political solution: Should the Prime Minister, pictured visiting a maternity ward, do more to prevent stillbirths?

Political solution: Should the Prime Minister, pictured visiting a maternity ward, do more to prevent stillbirths?

It was only the day before I was due to be induced last year, that I finally allowed myself to believe this might actually happen. These months of worry and stress might actually have been worth it. 

The induction process was long but once labour started, all of a sudden everything was in fast  forward.

Barely 40 minutes after my waters had broken and in just three pushes, our third son Fraser arrived safe and sound, on August 24, weighing 6lbs 14oz. His arrival was so quick the midwife barely had time to get her gloves on before he burst into the world. 

I can’t describe how it felt holding him in my arms that first night. Fraser was the spitting image of both his big brothers.

The sheer ecstasy of finally having him here will stay with me forever, just as the aching sadness for the boy we couldn’t bring home will never go away. 


 'The thought that some of the 17 stillbirths in Britain each day could be prevented is shocking.'

Women need to know they are receiving the best of care and attention at all times and the thought that some of the 17 stillbirths in Britain each day could be prevented is shocking. 

When I was pregnant with Andrew I had various niggles and issues along the way – nothing major, but I did spend a few nights in hospital with pains and tightenings at around 36 weeks.

During the ward round in the morning, a doctor told me: 'We’re not going to do something to make your baby come early. If your baby comes now, it will have tubes and wires and be in special care. Is that what you want?'

Mother's instinct: Jennifer feels more attention needs to be paid to pregnant mothers' concerns

Mother's instinct: Jennifer feels more attention needs to be paid to pregnant mothers' concerns

In fact, in all likelihood, had Andrew been born then he would have been perfectly healthy. 

I mentioned this to my consultant after we lost Andrew and asked what would have happened if I had stamped my feet and demanded something be done at that point.

He said they would probably have given me an extra scan, which in  my case would not have shown  anything untoward and I would have been left thinking everything was fine.


'Trusting mother’s instinct and encouraging women to pay close attention to their baby’s movements is, in my opinion, probably a better course of action.'

With hindsight the consultant was able to say the monitoring printouts of the early contractions I was having could have indicated the baby was showing some distress, but without knowing the eventual outcome, they looked like perfectly normal tracings. 

I don’t know what the answer is – more scans or monitoring? Perhaps. But as my consultant told me, a scan is only a snapshot of one moment, and in the past when more regular monitoring was carried out in later stages of pregnancy, people were left falsely reassured as a result.

Trusting mother’s instinct and encouraging women to pay close attention to their baby’s movements is, in my opinion, probably a better course of action. 

Since Fraser arrived it is suddenly like everything is just a bit more right in the world. We were supposed to be a family of four, and now we are.

Bereaved parents often talk about things getting back to a 'new kind of normal' and that is precisely how I feel. Fraser isn’t a replacement for Andrew but his arrival has helped to fill the gaping hole left by his death. 

And as for how many children I have? I’ve settled on an answer. I have two in my arms and one always in my heart.

The comments below have been moderated in advance.

Our baby was born asleep in March. I was scanned twice a week so I couldn't have been monitored any better. The post mortem didn't find any conclusive reason. I think other people's perception of guilt is half the problem. If you carry on living and get through each day as best you can then people think you are heartless and you're not grieving. One of the hardest things for us is that our baby was conceived through IVF so we have to go through everything all over again but hopefully we will go on to have another baby. Lets hope our little Megan will send us a gift of a baby brother or sister for her.

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I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your baby Andrew. My first born was a stillborn. He died on 22/02/13 and was born on 23/02/13. It is so hard & the pain is unimaginable. I am led to believe that the death of my son could have been avoided - but thats a whole other story. I still get flashbacks of the funeral & everyone in black (with 1 colourful item). It happens more often than people realise - and tbh in this day and age it just shouldnt be happening - let alone UK being the highest stat for stillbirths. I havent had anymore kids yet - I want one so badly but the time just isnt right. R.I.P all babies in heaven.

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My older sister Beverley, was born sleeping in 1969 as a result of anencephaly. She had been alive throughout labour, but sadly didn't survive the last part of the journey into the world due to her condition. In those days stillborns were taken away without the parents being allowed to even see the babies, let along hold, cuddle or bury them. I still celebrate her birthday by lighting a candle, and also have a tattoo in tribute to her. No matter how long ago it happened, they are still in your heart and thoughts, and although I never knew her, I still consider her very much my big sister.

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'should the PM do more to prevent stillbirths?' Erm....how?! He's not God you know!

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My heart goes out to you both and thank you for sharing your experience in the hope that it might help someone else avoid a similar tragedy. You have two beautiful boys and I was your family peace and happiness. I can't believe the red arrows to some of the comments above, some people really need help.

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we lost a child to stillbirth in 1973. No explanation as to why and arranging with the undertaker was the worse thing for thew husband(me) because what ever I said or did was of little help and I had to leave my then employment because my fellow workers did know how to also deal with it.We did have a daughter in 1978 which helped to make up for it but then the wife became ill and whilst we are still married something else died which can never be healed and bonfire day is never the same for us.Even our daughter feels the loss of being an only living child in our family group. The loss never goes away.

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i am sorry for the loss, but please think about the people who cannot have children at all. Be thankful for what you do have!

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No parent should ever have to experience losing a child no matter what stage of life, My little boy Matthew was born sleeping in 2003 and my angel baby came along in 2011 and it was then that I truly felt I started to heal, like you I always say I have 4 children but only 3 are here with me.

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Very sad - but this world does love to over share - some things should be private

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I'm crying reading your story. My daughter stillborn this April, no explanation what caused. Was very sick throughout my pregnancy. Perviously had 6 miscarriages. This time I reached full term, but sadly lost her. I'm still not coping well. Desperately trying all my best, stopped all depression and sleeping tablets which my doctor prescribed, because cannot see any help. Today Just had my first acupuncture treatment. Thank you for sharing your story, it gave me a hope that I can go through this. All the best to your family.

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