'The grief is unbearable': devastated mum's heartbreak after listeria infection kills unborn baby

I'll never hear him giggle.
I'll never hear him giggle.  Photo: Facebook/Brigitte Purcell

Brigitte Purcell was five-and-a-half months pregnant and on her way home to New Zealand after a trip to Europe when she fell seriously ill, resulting in the heart-breaking loss of her unborn baby boy Jude as well as her own near death. Here she shares her story. 

The night before we flew home I started to feel some muscle aches and felt a bit cold, but I put it down to the emotions of getting home after a long trip. By the time I landed I was ready to leave my bags at customs and walk out of the door.

I went straight home to bed to rest but progressively got worse. I was having extreme chills and up and down fevers, every muscle pain crippled me, I couldn't move from the feotal position and could barely open my eyes. I managed to get myself to the after-hours doctor and was told I had influenza. They sent me home to bed with Tamiflu.

The next day my health had deteriorated further so my mother-in-law called the ambulance and they took me to the hospital. I was having difficulty breathing so the doctor checked my lungs with an ultrasound to make sure everything was okay. From there he asked if we wanted to see our baby boy. We elatedly said yes, but our excitement quickly turned to terror as we saw our baby boy motionless on the screen. It was quickly confirmed by a sonographer that Jude's heartbeat had stopped.

Things moved quickly from there. I was taken to a maternity ward and my family began to fly in for support. The next day I had a team of dedicated doctors and nurses and tests started taking place to find out why I was so sick and what killed my baby. 

Around 3pm we were visited by the infectious diseases team. They had detected a possible source of the infection. Listeria monocytogenes were found in my blood. The bacteria are deadly for those with weakened immune systems such as the elderly and pregnant women. Once it enters the blood, it has devastating effects on babies in utero. Mostly resulting in death or severe disabilities.

Once the cause of the sickness was known, the doctors decided I needed to birth the baby quickly due to sepsis infection risk. I was given misoprostol to induce labour around 4.30pm and this is when I nearly lost my life.

After ten minutes of taking the medication I started to shake uncontrollably, I could hardly breathe, I felt freezing cold, and my body was starting to shut down. About one minute later my hospital bed was surrounded by 15 doctors, I would find out later this was the adult resuscitation team from ICU, preparing for the worst as my body went into a spiral. They could not be certain if I was having a septic shock, an allergic reaction or the listeriosis had reached breaking point.

I could barely breathe. Every time I closed my eyes I saw Zeus staring back me and every time I opened my eyes all I could see was my family praying in the lounge connected to my room. 

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It was a miracle I survived and I still can't quite comprehend that moment in time. My nurse and midwife would later tell me they believed I was going to die. But this hurdle seemed small compared to what was about to come.

About an hour after nearly losing my life my uterus started contracting, preparing to deliver my son Jude. I had about 30 minutes to lie down to regain some strength before an emotional birth.

My contractions came in very strong and for about two hours they were back to back. Before I knew it, my darling boy had been delivered. His eyes closed, a tiny little nose and mouth, sweet little nails at the end of his tiny fingers.

Perfect in every way possible. He was the boy I had grown in my body for nearly six months and loved his entire life. But his feet are never going to walk this earth, my arms are never going to get to hold him tight, I'll never be able to read him bedtime stories and I'll never hear him giggle.

The grief is unbearable and utterly consuming. I have so many questions and so many "what ifs". How did this happen? Why us? 

It is highly likely I was infected in Spain. They are in the midst of their largest outbreak ever, one we weren't aware of, as they put out the warning in the midst of our travel. A food hygiene crisis originating from a roast pork factory in Seville. Spanish authorities have charged multiple people with manslaughter. It will be very difficult to determine whether this was the cause, however seven other women with stillborn children have been directly linked to this outbreak and my story is an extension of their loss and grief.

We hope for justice for the families in Spain and we hope we find answers to the cause of our infection.

For now, we are all trying to conceive what has happened and grieve the loss of a son, brother, nephew, and grandson. This is going to take a lot of time and some wounds will never heal. But the support of our friends and family has been so crucial in moving forward.

Hold your loved ones close as you never know where life may take you or them. Always be kind and walk this earth spreading love and joy everywhere you go.

Please take a moment to send your thoughts and prayers to our darling Jude. A boy who I know has a beautiful energy that's probably too powerful for earth. Maybe one day he will join us on this earth but for now his precious soul is needed elsewhere.

We will love you always, sweetheart xxx Mum and Dad xxx

Brigitte Purcell is a journalist and presenter. She posted about the loss of her son Jude on Facebook, you can read the full post here.  The edited version was republished here with permission.