When her precious baby boy Alexander passed away hours after he was born at just 24 weeks, Michelle Robinson spent the next six days in hospital with him at her side – precious days together with her only child.
Michelle had requested that she be given time together to say her goodbyes to the eagerly awaited son she’d barely had time to say hello to, and was never afforded the time together to tell him how much she loved him.
For Michelle, those initial days after the most traumatic experience of her life are the most important she has lived. She says without those days with Alexander by her side, she ‘probably wouldn’t be here today’.
But she says those days were also some of the most difficult of her life as she feels medical professionals showed ‘a complete lack empathy’ and understanding of the emotional heartache she was going through.
She says hospital staff were initially planning to place her on a post-natal ward alongside other mothers with their new-born, healthy babies before her parents complained and she was given a private room to be with Alexander.
She also claims she had to challenge midwives who ‘covered up’ her baby when he was in his cuddle cot – a specialist cot which cools babies to prolong the amount of time parents can spend with their stillborn children.
This came at a time when she was not only battling with the emotional impact of losing her first born son, but also when she was mentally trying to deal with the ‘what ifs?’ of all that had happened to her in the days before.
Nearest available specialist neo-natal bed was more than 200 miles away
When admitted to hospital after suffering from continual pains, bleeding and clots, Michelle was at one stage asked if she wanted to be transferred to a specialist neonatal unit as a precaution, should her baby boy arrive at just 24 weeks.
However, due to a lack of specialist neonatal beds at more locally based hospitals near her home in Yorkshire, she would have faced travelling more than 200 miles away from her family to Edinburgh.
Told that she was not contracting and not in labour as she felt, Michelle took the decision to remain in Yorkshire, and should any need develop for specialist care in the coming days, again seek a local bed at a specialist unit.
However, Michelle’s waters broke the very next day and she was rushed to the delivery suite.
Despite a specialist neonatal bed having by then become available in Bradford, it was too late to transfer her as her labour was too advanced.
Alexander was born by an emergency caesarean section but was not breathing.
Despite being given a glucose injection to get his heart beating again, his breathing kept dropping and the decision was taken to switch off his life support.
‘I wasn’t made aware of the risks and that labour was likely – I feel completely let down’
Michelle, 32, now has to live with the knowledge that had she been transferred to Edinburgh, it is more likely Alexander would have lived, may not have had any long term health complications, and would now be two-and-a-half years old.
It is a decision she feels she was not given the full facts and information to be able to make, and feels medical professionals let her down.
“Nobody said to me ‘you need to be in a specialist unit as soon as possible’ she said.
“It was presented to me a precaution. If they had said their advice was to go immediately I would have. I feel that if they believed there was any chance of me going into labour, they should have made it completely clear to me that I needed to go there and then.
“If someone had said that to me I would have been in the helicopter and on my way in minutes. I wouldn’t have put my baby at risk.
“As it was it was presented to me that I could stay where I was and go to a more local specialist unit at a later stage if needed.
“Looking back now, what angers me is the conflicting messages they were giving. I had been saying to the doctors that I thought I had been contracting and that I felt my waters had started to break but they dismissed it and treated me for constipation.
“They were telling me completely different to what I felt was happening and that I wasn’t going into labour, but were also talking about me travelling hundreds of miles.
“It has obviously left me feeling really angry. I felt dismissed because it was my first pregnancy.
“I feel that doctors and midwifes don’t listen at times. Nobody knows their body better than themselves.
“Patients need clarity and doctors need to listen. They should also be much clearer in terms of giving advice about the things they know about, such as the dangers and reality of situations.
“You need to know the complete reality of the situation for you and your baby.
“Of course I didn’t want to go to Edinburgh and be on my own miles away from my family if there was a chance of being placed in a local specialist unit a day or two later.”
Baby Loss Awareness Week ‘must raise awareness of better support needed for bereaved parents’
Michelle has chosen to tell her story to mark Baby Loss Awareness Week, which is now in its 16th year. It encourages those who have tragically lost babies to break the silence and share their experiences.
The campaign aims to raise awareness of support needed for bereaved parents, and to encourage improvements in the NHS.
Given her own experience, Michelle feels the after support provided in hospital settings to parents who lose their babies, needs addressing.
“Those initial days after losing a baby at birth are so traumatic it is almost impossible to describe, and I felt the whole situation was badly handled,” said Michelle.
“After Alexander had passed they were going to put me on the post-natal ward in hospital on my own alongside all the other mums with their newborn babies, which would have been absolutely awful. My parents were furious that it was even being considered and complained.
“I was then put in a private room with Alexander, but I could still hear the newborns crying and I was aware of visitors coming to see other mums and celebrate with them. My dad was fuming as there was a complete lack of empathy and understanding.
“I was then moved to the bereavement room, but on the way a midwife tried to put a blanket over Alexander’s cot as we went down the corridor. She said that other mums would not want to see a dead baby, which was obviously very insensitive.
“Even when I was in the bereavement suite they would try and cover him up, and at one point someone said to me that it was not nice for the cleaners to see him. When I look back now I feel really angry and upset about that.
“Those days with Alexander were so important to me, but it didn’t feel like the medical profession understood that. It was almost like it was something shameful, something which should not be seen, not a life which was so precious.
“I can say now that if I’d not had that time with Alexander I probably wouldn’t be here today, but I do feel that the hospital just wanted me to go home.”
Michelle says it took more than a month to have a consultation with the hospital to discuss what had happened and the impact on her.
However, she says being told that her son was now ‘in a better place’ and that she now had ‘closure’ angered her further.
“I really think that there needs to be major investment and training into the bereavement care to parents who lose babies, and it is why I think Baby Loss Awareness Week is really positive.
“It makes people aware that this happens to so many people, and the more people talk about it, the more people will become aware that there is no such thing as closure when you lose a baby. It stays with you forever. There is no better place.
“Hopefully that will make people more open to talk, both people who lose a baby and those who they know.
“I didn’t find it easy to talk to friends and colleagues afterwards. I didn’t want to talk about it initially, bit it was only when I started talking that I began to question my care and whether things could have been different. I did a lot of fundraising for cuddle cots because I wanted to help people like me to be able to spend more time with their babies.”
Legal investigations launched to examine whether Alexander should have survived
Michelle is currently being supported by Hudgell Solicitors, who are investigating the care provided to her, and whether Alexander’s death could and should have been avoided.
Solicitor Tasmin White said: “This is a heart-breaking case and one which has understandably left Michelle asking a number of questions with regards to her treatment and the advice she received.
“Certainly, we feel that if doctors were considering whether she should be transferred to a specialist unit as a precaution, there needs to be questions asked, particularly given the tragic outcome just 24 hours later, as to why that was not an action taken in the best interests of Michelle and her baby.
“There is also a question of whether earlier opportunities to transfer Michelle to a specialist neo-natal unit, where Alexander would have had a better chance of surviving if born, were missed and whether Michelle was advised of all her options, and the possible outcomes, so that she could have made an informed decision about her treatment.
“If traveling to a specialist neo-natal unit, wherever that may be, could have saved Alexander’s life should his unexpected delivery happen, we feel that Michelle should have known this so she could have made the decision to travel and given Alexander the best chance.”
‘Alexander is a part of my new family, and always will be’
As part of Baby Loss Awareness Week, families across the world are encouraged to light a candle at 7pm on Monday, October 15, leaving it burning for at least one hour to remember all babies that have died too soon.
Michelle has since gone on to marry, and become a stepmother to her husband Christopher’s two girls Keira, 12 and Chloe, eight.
She says that as a family, Alexander remains at the heart of their lives.
“We always include Alexander in any family occasion, whether it be birthdays, Christmas or anniversaries. He is part of my new family and always will be.”