Our little shining star: A SIDS story

I guess I had better start this from the beginning...

It was the 4th of March 2006. A home pregnancy test confirmed what I already knew in my heart; I was pregnant. My partner, Nick, and I were so excited. And I was over the moon when the 20-week ultrasound showed that the baby was a little girl.  I don't quite know what it is about having a daughter, but it was something I really wanted to experience.

Ashleigh was born by caesarean section on the 24th October 2006, weighing a healthy 6lb 13oz. She was perfect in every way. After a smooth pregnancy and delivery I was thrilled to find I had a very happy and content perfect angel. In reality, I know that life had its ups and downs over the next few weeks. However, as I look back I only see happy times. It was an adjustment getting used to having two kids, but we wouldn't have traded it for anything.

On the day of the 21st December 2006, Boyd and Ashleigh were booked for their immunisations. Ashleigh didn't have hers as she had a slight snuffle. On the most part she was okay. A little bit of a temperature, but nothing drastic, and her nose was a bit bunged up. The doctor checked her out and said she was fine - just a cold. After that we did some more Christmas shopping. It was a rainy day - quite warm, but wet. That night we had tea, and a friend came around to meet Ashleigh.

Boyd went to bed as normal. At that stage, he used to start the night in his 'choo choo' bed and then come into our bed later on. At about 10.45 my friend left. We got ready for bed. As Ashleigh wasn't well, I fed her and laid her next to me in the bed. It was now midnight. Later, I believe around 1am, Boyd wandered in. He wanted to be next to me, so I slid Ashleigh over my chest and put her between Nick and me. I am almost 100% certain that she was fine at that stage. I am sure I would have noticed if something was wrong. I laid her on top of the quilt. She was wearing a nappy and a singlet as she was still a bit on the warm side.

We will always talk about Ashleigh, and celebrate her life, and give this baby (and any subsequent baby) the chance to hear all about her.

Just before 5am I woke to find Boyd trying to get to the middle of the bed. I told him to wait, as I didn't want him to hurt Ashleigh. That's when I found Ashleigh. She wasn't breathing, she was cold to the touch and I instantly knew what had happened. I screamed to Nick that she wasn't breathing and to call 000. I laid her out on the landing and started CPR. She had mucus all over her face, and when I blew into her mouth it came out her nose and so did a lot of blood. Right then, deep down I knew it was too late. Nick was frantically running up and down the stairs - making sure I was still doing CPR and checking if the ambulance was here yet. It took about 10 mins for the ambulance to get here. Until they specifically said to me 'stop we are taking over' I kept going. They pronounced her dead at 5.18am on the 22nd December 2006.

I can tell you now, that date will haunt me until the day I die.

Somehow we made it through Christmas and New Years. I really don't remember much about that time. We were both in shock and just battled each day as it came. My goals for each day were to just get out of bed, get dressed and feed Boyd. There was nothing else I could really do.

On Thursday the 11th January we got the call we had been waiting for. Ashleigh's body had been released and we were free to make her funeral arrangements. It had been three and a half weeks since she had passed away and we had been waiting for the coroner to finish tests that they were performing and to put everything back where it came from so we could have Ashleigh whole for the funeral. We were given this option, and although it made the wait longer, it helped us to know that this would be the case, and gave us time to plan a proper funeral. Later that day we went to the funeral home and made the final arrangements

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The following day the funeral notice was put into the paper stating that the funeral would be held on Tuesday the 16th January at 2.00pm.

We planned for a viewing to be held the day before at 4.30. This was for close family and friends only. There was just Nick and me, our parents, Boyd's Godparents, my brother and sisters and Nick's "aunt and uncle" (not blood, but like it). It was a small affair. We had dropped Boyd off at Yvonne's for a play on the way and we got there just after 4pm. Nick and I went in to see her first, alone. She looked beautiful. We had had a hard time working out what she was to wear that day, but we ended up deciding on a pink dress.

They had done a wonderful job making sure she looked at she had. Even to the point that she still had her gunky eye. She had had that since she was about two days old, and it just never cleared up. No matter how often I put breast milk in there I couldn't get it to clear. Nick and I both noticed it was there and were pleased they hadn't cleared it off. It was a part of her.

We went in with our respective parents and friends. When the last of them left we went back in and talked to her together. My mind played tricks on me - there were a couple of times I could have sworn I saw her breathing. I know that it isn't possible, but I honestly thought I saw it. When we left we talked about her the whole way to picking Boyd up. How beautiful she was and how much we just wanted to bring her home.

When the day of the funeral came, I had the sensation of not being within my own body. But I was also very conscious of wanting to come across dignified. My dad had taken me shopping to find a nice black dress to wear, and I did some makeup and had got my hair done the day before. I wanted to look nice for Ashleigh. Boyd was dressed in black slacks and a shirt and bow tie. I was very obsessive over the little things.

We had so much time to plan this day, much longer than most families. I had so much help from my online friends in preparing the handouts for the day, and the montage of photos. For some people this was the only opportunity they had to see her and I wanted the montage to show her life. We chose songs and asked people from each side to come and say some words about her. My dad told a wonderful story about her life; starting at conception (without detail) to the day he got the call to say she was gone.

My mum read a poem about a mother whose child is in heaven and for Nick's side a family friend read a poem his mother wrote. I also got up and spoke. With Nick standing beside me, I stood in front of over 100 people and read a letter I had written to her in the days after she died. I spoke about my dreams and plans about the times I would miss sharing with her. How much my whole body ached for her. I really don't know how I got through reading that out aloud. But I think that I had some special angel lift me up and carry me through that moment.

For the next couple of months we plodded through life the best we could. In February I decided I needed to get out to work again, and Nick had some very unexpected changes with his own working life. I fell again pregnant in early March 2007, which brought a sense of optimism to our family.

At six weeks pregnancy, I lost the baby. Nick and I were shattered. Although we both knew it was too soon, it was a very hard blow. For me it opened up a lot of 'old' wounds. I have been pregnant three times now and only have one child here with me to hug and kiss. I just hoped that the next pregnancy would stick and be... as I am sure all mothers do.

Six months after Ashleigh died I had a dream. I dreamt it wasn't her who had died. I dreamt that another mother had switched her the day before, accidentally. I am not sure how it was realised but I got a call and when I saw her I was so happy.

I saw her, as she would have been. A six-month-old baby, who laughed and smiled. I laid her on her stomach and she tried to get on all fours. I realised I needed all these clothes for her, as I only have such tiny ones. And I realised I could have her dedication day - and it would be soon, I didn't want to waste another day. Every day would be so precious. I had lost her once, never again.

I started to feed her again (it's a dream, no relactation necessary) and I was just sooooo pleased to see her. I wanted to shout it off the rooftops - She's home! My baby is home! I can remember her face from this dream; she was older than when I last saw her. Compared to that last pic I saw of her she had grown, matured.

When I woke I was hit with reality, and I lost her all over again. I desperately wanted the dream to be real. I was, however, so happy to see her. To know that she is, ok, and still maturing.

Next thing to happen was my first counselling session. It was a horrid experience and I hope that I never have to talk that woman again about how I am. I wrote a letter of complaint to her boss and to the national office. I am appalled that I was made to feel as if my co-sleeping with Ashleigh in any way was a factor in her death.
I did nothing but love my baby - and do what I needed to do to get through each day. I made an informed choice to sleep with my child, and I would do it again. BECAUSE I know it wasn't a factor in her death.

Then in May 2007 I found I was expecting again! This time I knew it would stick. It had to... how much more bad luck could we take?  But as we all know my life is never that easy.

In the early hours one Monday night I woke to find I was bleeding. I went to hospital, and they sent me home reassuring me it was doubtful something was wrong and told me to get in to the Threatened Miscarriage Clinic (TMC) as soon as I could, and to try to move my scan date forward.

With all of this happening, I received a call and a letter from the State Coroners office informing me (us) that Ashleigh's cause of death is "undetermined" (so it really is SIDS) I knew that this would be the case, but it doesn't make it any easier to swallow.

I left work on a Monday afternoon to go for my ultrasound. Nick was working and couldn't come. He asked me not to get someone else to come, and assured me things would be fine. They weren't. The baby had stopped growing a week before. There was no heartbeat. Just this tiny still baby. I was alone, in this sterile horrid place with no one to talk to and a nurse who could have used some lessons in bedside manner.

I asked for another scan and Nick came with me this time. It really hit him hard seeing his little baby on the screen.

A week later, I was driving to my dad's house. My dad was going to mind my son Boyd, so that Nick and I could get a much-needed night out at the movies. Before I got halfway there, I had an excruciating contraction. I got to dads and ran to the door.  When someone (finally) answered I fell in the door in agony. Dad went and got Boyd from the car and got me to lie on his bed. The contractions were coming at about 4 mins apart. After laying on his bed for about 15 mins I went and sat on the toilet for about 20mins. I was screaming in pain.

Dad rushed me off to hospital. I was given a codeine tablet and a maxalon tablet, as I was feeling extremely ill. I wanted to vomit so badly! So I took the tablets and then vomited in the toilet. I asked for more painkillers (I hadn't had any in over 5 hours by that stage) and was told all the docs were in an emergency c-sec and I would have to wait.

Nick arrived before 5pm. My dad had taken Boyd home by this stage. I went back to the toilet when the contractions were 10 seconds apart. I was sitting there with my head on Nick's lap when he needed to go get some air. I felt a huge gush. When Nick returned, he asked the nurses to come and look in on me. The nurses came, and they put something under me to absorb the blood. I felt another push of what I though clots and out came my baby. Another push, a couple of clots and then the placenta.

They put the baby and placenta in a specimen jar and I took a peek - not too closely. Nick came back and I told him what had happened. He went with the nurse to see the baby, and came back heartbroken. For me it's always been real. As soon as I saw two lines on the pregnancy test it was real. For him it became more real when he saw the scan, but completely real as he saw out baby. Only 3-4 cms long and so perfectly formed.

He came back to sit with me and then asked the nurse if maybe he could take a photo. They went back out of the room and laid the baby on a white cloth and Nick took two photos on his phone. They then knew for sure we had just given birth to a baby boy.

The doctors advised us we could test the baby if we wanted to. They talked about what I needed to do (I have to go on the pill until the end of the year) to make sure I take folate three months before trying again and to know that all three losses (Ashleigh and the two miscarriages) are unrelated.

We decided not to have testing on our baby done as the likelihood of them finding anything was tiny. We had waiting almost 8 months to know what happened to Ashleigh and got a "we don't know" I cant do that again.

So we brought our son home. I know that may sound odd to you, but I couldn't not. My mother had her "son" incarcerated with the other harmful hospital waste and I couldn't leave knowing they would dispose of him. So took him home and planted a nice plant in a pot. The plant is 'Baby Tears' and is growing nicely.
We also decided we would name him - Cayden Hackett.
 
The next day I felt physically and emotionally better. I actually feel like I gave birth. I know that there wasn't a healthy six pound baby at the end, but it was damn hard work and very painful. With every contraction my heart broke just that one more bit. I would never say that someone who has given birth naturally has had it easy, but I am sure that would have been easier with the endorphins of knowing a healthy baby is at the end. Every time I contracted I knew my body was getting rid of my baby, and that really really hurt.

I feel proud that I did it. My nurse told me had the docs not been in theatre I would have been taken for a D&C as I was in so much physical and emotional pain. But if that was the case, I would still be in hospital, not home at 9.45 like I was. I wouldn't have been able to see my son and bring him home and I wouldn't have the sense of pride in myself that I do. I am so proud of Nick too. He was able to display his emotion there. That he was hurting too. That he had lost a part of him too. He now understands why I feel that attachment so early on, why it hurt so much losing the last one.

Nick and I were sitting on the couch last night watching television and he said to me " Two hours ago you gave birth, and nothing's changed" Then he thought for a moment and said, "No things have changed, we are different because of this."

It's so strange knowing that I have another son. Ashleigh has a brother up there to play with. So on the 4/8/07 at 7.55pm I gave birth to a tiny still baby boy.

I felt guilty for not saving my baby girl, and for losing two more babies in utero since. What was I doing wrong? What did I do to deserve to have three babies taken from me over eight months?

I got to a point where I missed my daughter more than I can ever tell anyone. Words could not describe just how much it killed me not to be holding her. I stopped liking babies and it broke my heart to see a family with a baby girl. I hated that pregnant people would upset me. I hated that I have had to tear myself from my friends because it hurt too much to see or hear about babies. It hurt when my sister announced her pregnancy, three days after my D&C, which was very hard to swallow and I was extremely angry with her for a long time. Watching my niece grow and hearing all about the nursery and names made my arms ache for my own babies. Now my niece is here I love her to bits.

Losing Ashleigh has changed me. I no longer parent like I used to, I am a pushover when it comes to Boyd. I feel as if I am to blame for her death in some way, although I do know I am not. My relationship has suffered since then. Losing Ashleigh was the start of a downward trend in our lives. Although Nick and I are together, and plan to stay that way, things are very different.

People seem to forget that losing a baby hits the Dad just as much as the Mum, and Nick has suffered through this on his own in more ways than I have. It is not my place to share what he has been through, but letting dads 'tough it out' really isn't any way to help them grieve the loss of their child. Our relationship has undergone some massive strain, and I do know we are meant to be together, but that every relationship must go through a time where you really assess if you are to stay or to go, and we have been, or are going through that, now.

Boyd misses his sister very much. We have told him that she, along with other lost family members, is a star now. He goes outside at night at least once a week and says goodnight. He chats to her about his day and any big things that have happened. He asks us some questions that are tricky, but we are learning slowly how to answer these.

As I write this I am pregnant once more. I am terrified at the thought of losing this baby. Baby number four should be arriving the week before Ashleigh's second birthday.

I am going back to the hospital where Ashleigh was born, and where I had the last miscarriage. The hospital has already seen to it that I am well taken care of, and will be looking after me mentally through this pregnancy and beyond. They will also see to it we can speak to a paediatrician about monitoring when the baby comes home.
I know that the birth of our new baby will bring more tricky questions from Boyd, and bring up emotions in him (not to mention in Nick and me) that we have not yet faced. However, one thing I will never do is lie to Boyd about what happened, nor let him forget her. We have photos of him and her all over the house.

Editor's note: Since writing this article, Michelle has given birth to a healthy baby girl, Bianca Charlotte, on the 9th October 2008.