Coping with life’s challenges

PAUL STANLEY, 33, a fire safety instructor from Donaghmeade, Co Dublin, describes his grief at the stillbirth of his first child, a son, Oisín.

“We had been so excited, so happy. We were expecting to go into the hospital and come out with a baby. The moment the nurse told us she could not find a heartbeat was the most devastating news I have ever had.

“That moment will never, ever go away. It was like 50% of my body was taken away that day and I still haven’t got it back.

“It is eight months now since Oisin died and nothing can prepare you for something like that. Every plan you have been making for the next 40 to 50 years are all gone. Just taken away in one heartbeat.

“My wife, Orla, 31, had the most difficult pregnancy ever. Every single day she was so sick, but she never complained. She has type 1 diabetes and was monitored very carefully. She would have scans every two to three weeks and her blood sugar levels were checked regularly.

“Everything was fine with the baby, even though Orla was so sick, there was never a problem with the baby. His growth was right, the heartbeat was strong and he was kicking a lot. He was a really active baby.

“At 35 weeks he was 7lb and at the 36 week scan everything was just perfect. We asked could Orla have a C-section now as he was such a healthy size. But the doctors insisted there was no need, Orla could have one at 38½ weeks. On July 19, 2011, Orla was 37½ weeks and we had a scheduled hospital appointment. It was the first morning of the whole pregnancy that she hadn’t been sick and she said she felt so well.

“The nurse took us into a room for a routine scan, and tried to find his heartbeat, but couldn’t. So we went up in the lift to the ultrasound room, the two of us were looking at each other but not saying anything. We both knew something was wrong.

“Our consultant told us Oisin’s heart had just stopped beating and that Orla would have to give birth naturally. Three days later she was induced and Oisin was born at noon on Friday July 22.

“It was the proudest day of my life, to see him come out. He was 9lb, so tall and slim with long arms and legs. I was just so to proud to see him. I thought he looked like Orla and she thought he was like me.

“The postmortem results said Oisin’s death was unexplained. There was nothing we could have done, it was like a cot death.

“For the first couple of months after it happened, I found everywhere I went people would ask if I had any children. I couldn’t say ‘No,’ because that felt like I was letting Oisin down. So there were a lot of awkward moments. But now I say: ‘I have none living with me but I have a little angel up there.’

“I would love to have someone to blame, but there is no-one. It was going to happen and could not have been avoided. Everybody did what they were suppose to do. I couldn’t praise the hospital staff more highly.

“But I just feel so helpless. When I look into Orla’s eyes now and see the emptiness, the sadness, it absolutely breaks my heart because I can’t do anything to make it better.

“She is the love of my life, she carried our baby and suffered so much. And there was nothing I could do to protect her. It is just a feeling of complete helplessness, like you have your arms tied around your back.

“Obviously people are going to be more sympathetic towards Orla and I would hope with all my heart that they continue to be. I didn’t carry him or give birth. But he was part of me and men do have feelings too.

“I find a lot of people want to avoid the subject and all I want to do is talk about him. I am hurting inside in a major, major way. When I go to the grave on my own, I break down and cry every time and I am not ashamed to say that.

“If I see a person on television, a father calling his son, that word, ‘son’ makes me cry. All these plans and dreams I had are gone. Just to think that I am never going to be able to take him to football, teach him self-defence or just have the craic with him on a Saturday morning.

“When Orla was pregnant, people used to day: “Get all the sleep you can before the baby is born.’ Well, I wish I was having sleepless nights now. I would give anything to be getting up tired. I’d love not to have the time to do things now, because I was too busy playing with Oisin.”

Stillbirths in Ireland

¦ Every year approximately 500 babies will die at birth in Ireland.

¦ Stillbirths are classified as the loss of a pregnancy after 24 weeks.

¦ The exact cause of around 30 % of stillbirths are unknown.

¦ Counselling and support is provided by specially trained nurses and every effort will be made to discover the cause.

¦ Couples are advised to give themselves time to heal, both physically and mentally, before trying to conceive again.

¦ Any future pregnancies will be closely monitored and babies should be scanned regularly.

¦ A foetal heart monitor will help monitor the baby’s health at home. It helps to count the number of kicks every day. If there are less than 10, make an appointment to see your consultant.

¦ Irish stillbirth websites that offer support and help are: www.feileacain.ie and www.islands.ie - Rachel Borrill


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