Barbara and Geoff

‘That awful feeling that instead of something alive and kicking, inside you is a lifeless creature’

Barbara’s full interview

Click on the orange timecode reference (e.g. 0.00) to skip to that part of the interview.

0.00 My son was born on August the 28th 1978. And so I was 7 months pregnant.

0.12 Can you tell me a bit about you and Geoff; where you met and when you got married?

0.18 We met through mutual friends in Windsor and got married after four years fairly long distance relationship – different places… in 1972.

0.35 And what was your attitude to starting a family?

0.41 Because we were then 28, 29, I suppose I was more than ready to start a family but I knew that he would like to wait a while. So we did wait three years before we had a baby.

0.55 And was there any problem with that difference in waiting?

1.02 No, no not at all. We were very much in love, enjoyed married life; did lots socially. So it wasn’t a problem.

1.12 Tell me about your first pregnancy.

1.15 Well, we were delighted that I was pregnant after three years of marriage and… had a fairly straightforward pregnancy. I, I… I enjoyed being pregnant – some people don’t. I enjoyed being pregnant and Claire was born a little bit late – she was a late baby; about 10 days late – but a good weight and perfectly healthy and has been a healthy daughter since.

1.43 And, And what were your feelings when you were pregnant with Claire?

1.49 I was quite proud of being pregnant I suppose. And comfortable with it – until the very last stages, I suppose. And pleased because a lot of my friends had gone ahead of me, met their husbands earlier – so I probably was bringing up the rear as regards a lot of my friends and relatives – having a baby at 31.

2.16 And then tell me how long it was until you got pregnant again.

2.22 Then we, we very much enjoyed having our daughter and her early years, and decided to leave a three–year gap, which we did. So I was pregnant again in 1978.

2.37 And tell me about that pregnancy.

2.41 That pregnancy felt different. I thought perhaps because, maybe being… if it was a different sex, I didn’t know… that every pregnancy was different. I felt a bit bloated. I felt there was a lot of – especially towards the end of things – that there was a lot of fluid around. There was still a lot of movement, but it was in a fluid way and not, not the normal… not movement I’d felt with my daughter certainly. But we weren’t checked very often then. There were very few checks during pregnancy and I suppose I wasn’t sufficiently alarmed by it to… to go along and ask anybody. It didn’t feel that bad, it just felt that I was… very bloated. I suppose, bloated was the feeling about it.

3.38 You mentioned about the antenatal care – that there weren’t many checks then. Can you just tell me what antenatal care you had?

3.47 I think in… initially going along and finding out I was pregnant obviously – so the very early stages. I think perhaps there was one other check before I went at seven months to the doctor. So that must have been a time when we were told to go. And he was very concerned and I was chided about… the fact that I didn’t have as much movement. I, I didn’t see it as a serious problem obviously.

4.21 But… he, he was able to tell that things weren’t right and I was sent then straight to the maternity hospital. Had to ring up a neighbour – because I’d driven to the surgery. Ring up a neighbour and she kindly came and fetched me to the hospital because he didn’t want me to drive. But… yes, I… it seems strange now… but I, I really didn’t think there was anything very wrong. I just thought it was a different pregnancy from Claire. Mmm.

4.53 Do you remember how, how you were told? You mentioned that he chided you, but can you tell me a little more about that?

5.02 Um. He listened – obviously didn’t hear very much. It’s a bit difficult to remember now because it’s a bit of… it’s all the shock in the situation. I think he called the midwife in and she listened and couldn’t really feel… hear very much… But there’s all these gurgling and movements going on. And… so, so then, yes, he… I don’t know he was a funny sort of doctor actually! He… he looked to put the blame on me rather the fact, than the fact that there weren’t many checks along the way, I think. Anyway he sent me to the hospital where I found out what had happened.

5.48 And, and tell me about that – going to the hospital. What happened?

5.54 Well obviously I was very concerned on the way. It was about 5 miles I suppose to the hospital where I was going to give birth – where I had given birth to the daughter. And… I can’t remember how long I waited, but a specialist came and saw me and listened and said that she thought there wasn’t any movement there and warned me. And then… I went for a scan – that’s the only scan I’ve ever had. Didn’t have one for the first… for our daughter, because I don’t think that we were generally scanned then.

6.37 So this is the first scan I saw and it was of a dead baby which has made… has stayed with me since then. And… the, the staff are very kind and said who, who should they contact? And I said, oh, my husband’s working. But don’t tell him. Don’t whatever you do tell him what’s happened because I don’t want him driving into anything in his hurry to get here. So they rang up and said I had an appointment at the hospital and wasn’t very well. Would he, would he come and pick me up?

7.18 And so he carried on doing goodness knows what – it seemed like forever before he got there – which was quite a distance anyway out of London into, into Hertfordshire. And… and of course huge shock and lots of tears at that point. Um. I was left on my own most of that time. A nurse did come in once and said was I alright and thought, well, not really but… [laughs] I was left on my own. But shortage of staff or whatever – they wouldn’t know what to say, I don’t expect.

7.56 Do you… you mentioned obviously that you were very upset. Can you remember any of the other emotions or feelings that you had at that time – especially being left alone?

8.09 Yes, that… well, as I say, the period of time seemed ages before my husband came. Um. I suppose the young nurse that came in, you know, didn’t know perhaps how to handle the situation. I felt she wasn’t very experienced at that, so she came in made sure I was ok and left. And then the… the awful feeling of… of having a dead baby inside you is, is, is awful. And especially when I was told that I – later on – that I had to go home and wait for the baby to be born. I suppose at that stage I thought, surely they can induce me so that I don’t have to endure that any longer. So it was, yes… it was not revulsion, but a, a very bad feeling that you have a dead being inside you.

9.11 Do you remember how they told you about the fact that your baby had died?

9.18 Fairly directly by looking at the scan. And the specialist that, that was there then, told me and then went – because, you know as, as with all National Health Service, everybody is in demand for a lot of the time – especially in a maternity hospital. So fairly bluntly.

9.45 And… did you know anything about stillbirth before then?

9.51 No this is the odd, odd thing, I didn’t. And… I think I met one person at an antenatal class… that had had a, a stillbirth. I didn’t know her very well – but I remember her speaking about it in a group and thought, oh, that’s dreadful. But like so many things, you think that’ll never happen to me. And having had one daughter that was perfectly all right, I suppose I wasn’t, I wasn’t in any, any way warned – either myself or by anybody else at all – except that, that very day.

10.33 Tell me what happened after your husband arrived.

10.40 Well, somebody came in and explained to him, you know, what I’d been through, because I was… I went to jelly rather. And… that he would need to take me home and we would need to wait until the baby was ready to be born, Which, you know, to us seemed absolutely horrendous that you’d have to do that: so drive away from the hospital back home and somehow wait. And you didn’t know how long. They, they said maybe several days, maybe longer. And we, we felt that was a really bad part of the whole thing. Mmm.

11.24 So they didn’t induce you at all?

11.27 No. They didn’t. They didn’t at all. But… the next… whether it was the shock, whether it was the fact that they’d prodded around a little bit, to see what was going on, or whether, whether he was ready to be born by then because things were wrong… it was the next night. So, so it was one evening I was taken… I went home and the very… 24 hours later, went… was back at the hospital – because the waters had broken and… you know, I had the signs that I was going to give birth.

12.10 And it all happened pretty quickly. I was in the elevator going up to the ward and thought it was all going to happen then. So it wasn’t a difficult birth, he, he just slid out very quickly. And the, the very mature midwife… who was attending us, just one person… I had my eyes tightly closed – I didn’t want to see.  And my husband was aware of everything – was, was watching what was going on. She just said to him – and I heard her because, you know, I heard what was going on – although he looks absolutely perfect from the back and he was a good weight, his, his tummy… he had a problem with his stomach and he wouldn’t have lived.

13.05 So that’s all she said to him. And tidied me up a bit and said I’d be very tired so I was to go – he wasn’t to wait with me – I was to go to the sideward and sleep and he was to go off home. So she was, she was fairly brusque, old school. And I, I was exhausted with everything; hadn’t slept from when we knew about it. So I did go off to sleep and poor old Geoff had to drive home and went in to neighbours’ to tell them, and was given a drink or two to, to recover.

13.46 But it, it was fairly brutal really, when I’ve heard since of what happens to people. You know, how much more care they’re given. But this midwife – we’re talking 1978 – this midwife obviously had been trained, you know, you get rid of the baby, and you settle the mother down, and you send the husband home. What’s he doing there anyway, probably? But, yeah… so, so not a nice experience.

14.18 You mentioned that you had your eyes shut – you didn’t want to see anything. Can you tell me about what you were feeling?

14.28 I suppose if you have your eyes shut and… and just, I just wanted the baby to go because he was dead and that was, that was the end of it. I, I just wanted it to all go away and by closing my eyes I didn’t have to see anything horrid – like a dead baby.

14.53 And do you feel now that you – regret’s a strong word – but do you feel now that you would have liked to have seen him?

15.04 I’m not sure. I, I I suppose I’ve learned since – from so many programmes and so many articles – that it’s better for you to cope with it at the time. And certainly… from my husband’s point of view, we should have been able to, to talk about it more to help him too. But, I, I still feel at the time, I thought I’d cope with it better if it was almost unreal to me. And I’ve learned since that, that, that that’s not the case.

15.45 At the time did that feel though that you’d made the right decision?

15.49 Yes, it did. It did. And… I got back to normal – in inverted commas – reasonably quickly – after all I had a three year old to, to look after. But then six months later, I went into terrible depression and this, you know, is deemed to be because it wasn’t dealt with at the time and I was being brave, and we were both being brave and trying to put it behind us, and concentrate on Claire and… and our life. And… and therefore the depression we are told was worse because of that.

16.33 You said at the time that you… dealt with it. Can you remember how you felt about leaving hospital without a baby and what it was like being back home?

16.44 Oh yes. Yes, well… afterwards I was, I was kept overnight and… Then my husband had to come and fetch me the next day, obviously. And yes, leaving through that same doorway where we’d left, you know, euphoric with a daughter three years before, to leave without a baby through the same doorway [laughs] – you’d think there’d perhaps be a back door or something for, for people that weren’t so lucky.

17.21 To leave through that doorway – alongside mums that were leaving with babies – was very difficult. In fact, when I’d woken up in the morning and come to and realised what had happened to me, all I heard was babies crying all around me. You know… they, they can’t have soundproof rooms or separate places for… for giving birth – perhaps they do now; but they didn’t then. And so it was hard, it was very, very hard to come away without a baby. But as I say, we, we recovered reasonably well with the help of friends and my parents came up – came 200 miles up to stay with us and to help with everything including the daughter – so that was very helpful. But, as I say, it had to hit you some time and it hit me later.

18.13 Did you give your son a name?

18.17 We had a name in mind. And we’d chosen a name – and also chosen godparents, which was rather sad to have to tell them. Well, very sad to have to tell them. But… the hospital asked me if we wanted to deal with the christening and part of the pushing away of the whole situation for me and, and dealing with it – because I felt if I pushed it away, didn’t name him, didn’t look –  it would all go away like something rather nasty would go away, quicker.

18.54 We weren’t given advice on that and so the hospital said, well, they, they would bury him and they would just let me know… where they’d buried him. But, so, I – as far as I know – we haven’t ever been there. But as far as I know, there’s a little grave with just Baby Gandy on it. Um, and… I’ve, I’ve once or twice wondered whether I should go, but we haven’t. We haven’t ever been. All part of the not, not facing up to the fact at the, at the time, I suppose.

19.32 Can I just ask you just to explain to me a little more the, the thoughts around that: that you didn’t go at the time and you haven’t been subsequently? Do you ever feel that you’d like to or…? Tell me – if you can – about your thoughts.

19.49 I suppose I think I ought to, and perhaps even take our daughter at this late stage with us, just to go there. But we haven’t. I, I, I think perhaps it would, it would just be too sad to do that now and bring it back now. We’re not very religious. I, I gather from a Catholic friend that the baby would certainly be named and, and possibly christened or… and certainly buried and named in, in their religion – and probably other religions – but we didn’t feel that that was an important thing to us at the time. So, for good or, or bad, we haven’t done that. And I don’t know whether I, I will one day go there, but so far we haven’t and it’s a little way off from where we are now.

20.57 You mentioned that your family were very supportive and friends. How easy was it to tell people about what had happened to you?

21.06 It wasn’t easy. The hardest one to tell was our daughter. I had a very good book that showed pictures of how mummy was at every stage and she showed such a great interest in this developing baby in my tum. And so we had to tell her – she was being looked after by friends whilst all this went on – I had to ring and sort of extend the period of time that they looked after her for us. And… I came back and was in bed and we, we told her together that there wasn’t going to be a baby. That was very difficult.

21.49 And she whipped back the bedclothes to prove that there wasn’t a lump – and obviously not a big lump – there was still some tummy there, but no, no baby and was extremely cross with us. And… you know went off in a mood and my, my mum comforted her and looked after her. Um. Subsequently to that, we were on a little holiday – the first holiday we had after that – and an old lady said to her, have you got any brothers or sisters, dear? And she said, I was supposed to have a brother but my mum killed him. And… I suppose being dead and killing to her was the same. So that sort of thing was very upsetting.

23.00 Um. But generally people were very supportive. My parents and friends and cousins and… some people didn’t know what to say – you know, how to say it – so kept away. My – what I’d call – my very good chum then, in that area, didn’t come to see me for a whole fortnight. And when she came, she was talking about all sorts of mundane things – not about it. She couldn’t, she couldn’t speak about it.

23.42 I can see that she’s a person that just couldn’t face talking to us about it – now or since. But most people… we did, we did have one or two people who crossed the road when I went shopping. Um, because they thought, oh, I don’t know what to say to her, I suppose. And so you saw people crossing the road out the way, sometimes. But generally speaking we had tremendous support.

23.12 How were you affected by your best friend not being able to talk about it, and some people not being able to deal with it?

24.23 Well, it sort of amused me afterwards. At the time, I thought… she had a very big bag with her, and I thought, oh perhaps she’s going to produce some flowers out of there in a minute. She didn’t; it was, it was just her shopping! That particular friend, I suppose it slightly amused me afterwards when I told my husband and we, we were able to laugh about that one because, because of, of… sort of historical things that had gone on.

24.53 But, yes, I, I think you kind of got offended in some ways and, and… Although lots of people would send cards and, and rung up and somebody sent me a book of poetry and oh, just, just lovely things people had done; in a negative way you home in on those that haven’t contacted you and… or perhaps crossed the road or, you know… the smaller things hit home harder. You’re very sensitive to somebody that hasn’t contacted you – when really you should be very grateful and, and pleased that the majority had and, and found it difficult, but, but had done, done very well in, in the situation.

25.46 Tell me about grieving.

25.53. Um, it’s a very empty feeling. Um. You feel quite lonely, in as much as you feel you’re the only person it’s happened to at the time – you can do. We… I, I was at home all day and it seemed like a very long day, once my husband had gone back to work and my parents had gone home. It’s a long day anyway looking after a three year old, keeping them happy and… I felt he, he… he was away such a long day – it was usually about a 12 hour day and it seemed a very long day to me – and I suppose gradually, gradually, I went down hill into this trough, as I say, about six months later.

26.49 And… you want to be, I… it was a long time before I could be normal with my daughter. Geoff remembers very well the first time I actually played anything with her rather than just looked after her. I played with her. And he remembers that was some weeks later. And he’ll probably recall other things as well. But… yes, it’s an emptiness – a physical emptiness in your tummy. And it’s a, it’s an emptiness in your whole being. Although you’ve got a daughter and you should…you feel almost guilty that you’re not pleased – when other people can’t have children at all – that you’re not satisfied with just one child. But there’s something missing obviously – and difficult to be yourself for a long time.

27.43 Were you given any practical support and help in terms of suppressing breast milk or did somebody come and visit you? What kind of support did you get?

27.55 Um, immediately afterwards… no, they, they didn’t suppress breast milk. In those days, they said it had to flow. And I remember telling a nurse in great tears, you know, why can’t somebody else have this milk? Surely, surely you could use it rather than let it just go? And of course, it adds insult to injury when the milk comes through three days afterwards. That’s, that’s not good at all. But… no, it wasn’t. They didn’t suppress it then and I wasn’t given any advice at all about that. In fact, fairly unsympathetic nurse thought that I was feeling too sorry for myself [laughs] – at that time. Yes, she, she more or less said so. And when I said, oh, it’s a shame you can’t use all this milk for maybe somebody else. But, no, no, there was no, there was no help in that direction.

28.56 And did you have any counselling or help?

29.00 Ah, well, when… not straight away – none at all. But when I went into this depression… went to the, I went to the doctor and he… he, I don’t know how long ahead, but he organised that I saw a specialist – a so called specialist psychiatrist dealing with these issues. And when I went to the local hospital… we had to wait around in the clinic. I went with mum, and we waited around in the clinic. And I was called in. It was an Indian doctor and I think his culture was different from mine, as much as he said, of course, the only reason you’re really upset was that you lost a boy. It wouldn’t have been as bad as if it had been a girl. At which point I bristled and thought this man is no good to me at all. And, when I went for the second appointment, I did tell my doctor that story and he raised his eyebrows considerably.

30.17 The second time I went I saw a different man. He was very busy at his desk with a pile of people’s notes to the side of him and he said – he didn’t look up – he said, How old is the baby now? [laughs] And I thought, why am I here? Why am I here? And so I got myself out of there pretty damn quick. And we went home. I thought that’s no good at all – absolutely no good at all. And subsequently I was put on antidepressants – which helped to a degree – but in the fullness of time took a very long time to come off.  And… I suppose they helped me over that period, but coming off of them was another story – that was so difficult.

31.13 Do you know what kind of help you would have liked?

31.16 I think the sort of counselling that one hears about now – much more empathetic, sympathetic, whatever… and… more realistic.  And hopefully with people that came, come from the same direction of, of thought, really – let’s say. And certainly to talk about it in a group. I did actually approach Sands, and I was put in touch with a young girl, she… by then, I was mid 30s, she was possibly late teens – already had about… I think she had three children – she didn’t seem phased by the fact that she’d lost one in the way I was; talked about it matter of factly. So, we had absolutely nothing in common, I, I would say. I mean, perhaps there wasn’t anybody else in the area for them to put me in touch with, but I just saw her that once and it wasn’t helpful to either of us.

32.25 And then when I rang Sands once I’d got over… when I felt brave enough that perhaps I could talk to other people about their recent bereavement, I thought with my experience, they asked me if I’d had another live birth since? And I said, no. And they said, really and truly we are looking for people that have had a live birth since. So, I felt very dismissed because I felt I could’ve offered something, as, as perhaps now hopefully this, this interview will offer people.

33.06 Can you just tell me what your life was like before you got pregnant again?

33.14 This, is this between Claire and having the baby? Well, very happy. We had great fun with Claire. We enjoyed her development. We enjoyed bringing her up. We enjoyed going on holiday with her. She had started…she’d just nursery school, which she enjoyed. And she was a very lively child; so, yes, all very happy. Very, very happy time.

33.42 After your son – after the death of your son – how did you feel about having more children?

33.49 Well, straight away obviously not… not, not that we wanted to go through… I’ll say go through that again – ‘cause that’s what did happen but – not to, not to return to being pregnant for quite a while. And it was two years before I was brave enough to think about it again, and we took a deep breath and I was pregnant again. But unfortunately with that pregnancy it never was right from the beginning. The baby didn’t develop properly and I only went five months that time before having a miscarriage and having to have an operation after it… to, to clean things up.

34.43 So again that was a long period of me being in hospital with that pregnancy and the disruption on the family again. My parents came to help and the daughter, you know, had mummy in hospital not well again and… so very disruptive again. And… so as I was approaching 40 by then, I decided that after that we wouldn’t try again; that we would be happy with Claire and, and call it a day there.

35.19 When you were pregnant, do you remember what it was like being pregnant again after having had your son?

35.28 It was difficult. It was… I suppose I was much more worried. I wasn’t carefree – as I had been with my first pregnancy – about things. It was difficult. I didn’t feel very well, so then, why wasn’t I feeling well? And, and I suppose, I feared that things might have gone wrong again. And so it was a difficult time for the whole five months actually – especially towards the end of it, when I had to go into hospital and eventually lose another child. So not good, I’m afraid.

36.15 How… what do you think the impact of stillbirth has been on your family?

36.22 I think our daughter probably tried to be daughter and son to us. She, she tried very hard to be, to be, all things and do really well and please us and… I, I think we talked to her about it afterwards. She obviously was looking forward to having a baby – as, as, as children will be. We didn’t emphasise the fact that it was a boy or talk to her much about it afterwards, but when we spoke to her about it… she said, well, in actual fact, she said, I, I get your… more of your attention – by being an only child –and I don’t have to share anything and… So she was being positive about it, which was rather, rather sweet really. Um, but um… yes, I, I think… we, we were grateful that we had one healthy child, certainly.

37.32 And did you and your husband deal with grief in the same way?

37.36 I don’t think we did. He’ll, he’ll tell you more about that, but I think he had no idea how, how long a day I found it. I had friends I could go and see, have coffee with. I took Claire to places – whenever I could – to play with other children, but often they have a younger brother or sister or somebody who’s pregnant, and everything reminds you. So I find, I find it difficult to cope with the after times. He buried himself in work, I think.

38.15 Now we would have, we don’t know why – we were talking about that recently – why on earth we didn’t pay for some proper counselling, you know, when it was… when what we were offered was, was so poor. We can’t imagine why we didn’t go for that at the time, but I think I was pretending I was better than I was to him once he came home. And… he was getting on with his job and covering up, you know for how he really felt too. So we, we didn’t do a lot of talking about it. We, we concentrated on our daughter, I suppose, and tried to be positive.

39.00 What would you like people to know about stillbirth or what would you like people to know following on from your experience?

39.12 That there is light at the end of the tunnel. At the time you think it’s all so sad and so difficult to deal with. You never, you never forget, you never… you’re often reminded about things, but… time is a healer. And obviously, if possible, be brave enough to go on and have, have another child, if you can. Because… stillbirth… often just affects one child in a family. It isn’t always the end of things.

39.58 From my point of view I’ve been very interested in Dr Heazell saying that he’s getting money together to look into the idea that thyroid might have a different… make a difference. When I was expecting my daughter, a large lump came up in my neck and I went to the doctor, sort of, rather jokingly and said, well, I know what this bump is in my tummy; what’s this bump in my neck? And he said, oh, sometimes your thyroid gland can enlarge and it’ll go down probably when you’re not pregnant.

40.39 It didn’t go down. I still had it there with the second pregnancy. And in 1981 –after the miscarriage – I had a partial thyroidectomy, which has worked for me since. I’m not on thyroxine or anything. But because there were no explanations of why this miscarriage or stillbirth happened, I did cling onto the fact that maybe it was something to do with my thyroid gland. And the doctor at the time said, no. No, it wasn’t; definitely it wasn’t.  He had thyroid patients that had had families and no problem. So my, my family doctor said, no, no, no.

41.33 I still hold onto that. And people have – so many people – have told me since that they’ve had thyroid problems and are either not being able to have children or they have lost children, or things have gone wrong. And there’s so much evidence. I was quite convinced that it, it could still be a possibility and I have read – not much – but I had read since, that they are looking into it and it could be. It seems very logical to me. And I’m really glad Dr Heazell – sorry, Dr Heazell is looking into this – well, hopefully looking into this if he can get funding. I would be very interested in that.

42.18 Do you think it’s also something about needing an explanation following a stillbirth?

42.25 Yes; yes, you do. You do feel you need an explanation about it. I was offered… a friend of mine had, had a specialist doctor brother, in, in Harley Street. And she said, why don’t you go and talk to somebody about it? They might be able to tell you. And I pushed that all away. I, I suppose it was sort of in the denial and pushing away sort of period. I wished I had now. I, I mean you can always wish things were different. I should have done. I should have had better counselling. I should have had better advice and… and… but you get into a bit of a hole, of despair and you can’t go through anything else again. You don’t want it all brought up again – I suppose that’s the reason.

43.23 And I was very struck when you were talking about how you were left alone with the information that your son had died. You know, you know… there was not a lot of support during or after your labour. How do you think that impacted upon you and what would have liked, once you were told that you were going to have a stillborn child?

43.48 Well it would have been nice to have an experienced person there. The little nurse was almost frightened of me, I think, that I was in floods of tears, and, and… you know, what could she say to me apart from, do you want a cup of tea? And then go away because she was probably busy. But it would have been nice to have somebody there at least until my husband came. But I suppose they left me to absorb the information. There wasn’t really much else they could say, apart from having the comfort of somebody there, I suppose. I’m just trying to rationalise why, why they would do it – apart from shortage of staff. I don’t know.

44.33 What was it like when you were sent home and just told to wait for the birth of your son? What was that period like?

44.41 That was very difficult – probably the most difficult time. The most difficult 24 hours I should imagine of our lives so far. Um, because it’s just such devastating news and, and that awful feeling that instead of something alive and kicking, inside you is, is, is a lifeless creature. It’s, it’s, it’s devastating really – and there’s nothing positive about it. We didn’t tell anybody – I think, I think we told the neighbour that had helped me by driving me to hospital but we didn’t tell anybody that – because how can you tell people that? We told them afterwards when we were ready, but… so we had to keep it to ourselves; keep it from our daughter. I think she was still staying away with that friend then, fortunately. But it’s… it is a very, very difficult time. Difficult to put into words, I suppose. It is a long time ago, but talking about it now, it’s very real.

45.56 And do you – you and your husband or your family – do you mark your son’s birth in terms of anniversaries, or do you remember him in any way particularly?

46.09 Well, of course, we didn’t, those days – as, as I explained – we didn’t have photographs, we didn’t have footprints, we didn’t have anything. I do think about it. I don’t necessarily say to my husband – but I do think about it – that it’s that date, each year. And… I, I sometimes feel down. I sometimes do actually – it does slip my mind – and I feel down and strangely, I think, I think your mind still retains a bad date. And… I sort of think, why am I feeling like this? Oh, gosh, yes; it’s that date again. So I suppose we haven’t, we haven’t done anything definite about it and I think this is all from our own idea that if we pushed it under the carpet it wouldn’t be so real to us. And this is against modern thinking and modern policy – and I can see why, too.

47.18 Is there anything you would like to add or tell me that I, I haven’t asked you?

47.28 Well, certainly I wanted to say about, about the thyroid connection. I, I would say that we were, we were a happy little threesome. Fortunately I had had a life and very healthy daughter who brought us lots of joy. We not have a twenty three year old granddaughter who also brings us lots of joy. I do have friends that have had two, three, four children that are now becoming grandparents and I do feel envious. But I get myself involved as much as possible; we have loads of photographs and I remember their birthdays and take joy in them.

48.20 But it does feel a bit sort of lonesome – just having one daughter, one granddaughter – when everybody’s producing a lot. So that’s one way it impacts – you know, even today. But we are, we, we get on well and… you know, enjoy, enjoy our daughter and granddaughter. And so… you know, and we, we are healthy. And the other thing of course – the big thing – I must say, is that my husband and I are very, very close and have been married 45 years.

48.56 And it brought us closer together – although we seemed to grieve separately. Obviously we talked about it together and, and it has kept us together. I think in some cases it pushes people apart unfortunately and they separate. But we have stayed together and faced up to things together and I think it’s made us stronger, definitely.

49.24 Finally, is there anything you’d just like to add about what you would like people to know about stillbirth or what you think is important in how you deal with people?

49.38 I, I would advise people not to do what we did afterwards or, or from our experience of me being… becoming very depressed twice – from after the stillbirth and after the miscarriage – knowing that that was the last time I would be pregnant, because we made a decision not to try again.

50.06 I would say to people definitely seek help; seek counselling… Definitely interact – if you want to – interact with your dead baby. Keep, keep an account. Definitely talk about it to other members of the family. I think a lot of people, by, by doing that would make that child more real to them and perhaps count for more than, than we did. We thought that because we had a stillbirth that it’s best to try to forget about it and that’s probably not good advice nowadays. I’d strongly advise against that nowadays – if that’s helpful?

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Geoff’s full interview

Click on the orange timecode reference (e.g. 0.00) to skip to that part of the interview.

0.00 We met in 1968 and we were married in ‘72. Um, what sort of detail would you like to know?

0.11 Oh, just really, just an introduction to you as a couple.

0.16 Ah, okay! Well, we were introduced by Barbara’s cousin at… when they were flat sharing in Windsor. And… we made a second dat… and it developed from there really. I suppose we sort of became an item probably within a couple of years and married a couple of years after that.

0.43 And what was your attitude to starting a family?

0.48 Um, I was a little bit reluctant initially. Um, I think I felt that we were very comfortable as we were. We had a great life and were really enjoying ourselves – lots of travel. Were we really ready? Barbara was quite keen and I came round to the idea.

1.09 So how long were you together until you had your first child.

1.13 Well ‘72 to ’75 so three years.

1.18 And what was the first pregnancy like, do you remember?

1.21 Oh yes it was wonderful – it really was, it really was great. Barbara was healthy, blooming. Everything was straightforward and it was perfect.

1.37 And what was your second pregnancy like?

1.42 Things seemed to be going along okay. The baby wasn’t as active as Claire had been, but we didn’t attach any great importance to that until she had a checkup at, at… well, it must have been nearly 7 months.

2.01 And can you tell me a bit about what happened?

2.06 Um, well she went to the GP for a checkup. He… said he was concerned and wanted her to go down to the local hospital. He didn’t want her to drive. A neighbour came and fetched her and took her down. Um, the scan showed that there was no fetal heartbeat. Barbara obviously wanted me there as quickly as possible. The staff at the hospital, as I recall – not wanting to alarm me – said that she’d been in for a checkup and was feeling poorly, would I come and fetch her? Which was fair enough – good… it was good thinking on their part really, not to unduly alarm me straight away.

2.50 Um, I finished what I was doing in the office – Barbara says I took a long time. I guess I didn’t come quite as quickly as I might have done if I’d known exactly what was happening, but… I don’t think I delayed too long. Went to the hospital and that’s when the, the news was broken, that the baby had died and we would… need to take Barbara home and wait for a spontaneous abortion – not abortion, a spontaneous delivery.

3.22 And do you remember the manner in which you were told?

3.27 No, I can’t say I do. No, I can’t remember that bit. I remember being devastated, but I can’t remember how I was told. I can’t really remember if Barbara told me or if it was a nurse that told me.

3.46 Do you remember at all, whether you felt that you were given information or you were dealt with kindness and… or was it very matter of fact?

3.54 It was pretty matter of fact – both at the time of the delivery – the next day. And also when I went to record the death. I particularly… I particularly remember… I particularly… excuse me, I particularly remember recording the death. I was naturally upset and I was sort of expecting a slightly more empathetic attitude from the registrar. She had a difficult job, I guess, perhaps… perhaps she had to… steel herself and make sure that she was unemotional on these occasions. But it was so matter of fact and none, no… and I felt a word of kindness might have helped me a little bit.

4.53 Can I just take you back to the time of finding out the news? Can you tell me what happened after you, you’d been told? You said that you were devastated. Tell me what happened then.

5.09 Um, we just got ourselves together and I took Barbara home. And then, then we waited for the, the next stage which was for, for Barbara to go into labour to deliver the dead baby. It was a very unpleasant period of waiting, as you can imagine. It’s a… it’s a very… not a nice feeling to know that – well, particularly from Barbara’s point of view – to know that she was carrying a dead baby. Fortunately we didn’t have to wait too long. And we went back into hospital the next day… for the baby to be born.

5.54 And do you remember what you did in that time? It must have be so strange and as you say so upsetting.

6.01 No, I can’t remember at all, what we did. Just did our best to comfort each other I’m sure, but I honestly can’t remember.

6.11 So tell me once Barbara went into labour, tell me what happened from them on.

6.20 I can’t remember too much detail, except that we went to the delivery room. I was present when, when he was born. I remember the nurse’s words very clearly, whilst he was born. I didn’t… I didn’t see him properly – I just saw the back of his head and his upper back – and she said, he wouldn’t have been any good, because his tummy wasn’t properly formed.

6.55 Barbara didn’t want to see the baby initially and before we’d… I’m not sure we would have changed our minds, but the baby was, was whisked away very, very, very quickly. I, I had a glance of his back view and then he was gone. And… we didn’t know any other than to accept that. I understand that today it’s appreciated that it’s important to focus grief… but at the time, at the time we just accepted that that’s the… that was the way it was. That was, that was what happened; that was the… that was the practice. And we didn’t know any better than to accept, what was… what we took to be the normal procedure.

8.01 Do you think it would have made a difference for you if you’d been able to see your son or hold him and have that memory of him?

8.09 Um…Yes, it would. I’m sure it would. Well, particularly having heard other people’s experience. We sort of learn as we go along don’t we? But… based, based on our knowledge of other people’s experiences, then I’m, I’m sure it would have helped. And that… Barbara might have avoided becoming seriously depressed a few months later.

8.47 Can you remember what happened once the baby had been born? Were you able to stay with Barbara? What happened?

8.55 Yes, I did. I stayed with Barbara. Again I can’t remember too much detail, but I stayed with Barbara. The baby was, was away out of the room and I stayed with Barbara.

9.09 And what was it like leaving hospital without a baby?

9.13 It was quite traumatic really, because we left the, the same entrance as everybody else and there were some happy mums and families… taking their, taking their baby home. And we didn’t have one… and now that, that was quite emotional.

9.41 And what was it like when you got back home?

9.46 I’m not sure I can remember that really… No, I can’t… I honestly can’t remember really. I think quite a bit of it I’ve blanked it out from my mind really because it was such an unhappy episode.

10.04 Do you remember the care or – you mentioned the comment that was made when your son was born – but do you remember the quality of any of the other care or feelings about how you were being treated?

10.18 No, I can’t say I do. Something that was, was hard to take was attitude of some friends. Barbara’s very, very good friend didn’t, didn’t come, didn’t come near us or didn’t make contact for a couple of weeks. I didn’t experience this myself, but I know Barbara told me that she thought that she saw people, sort of, crossing the street to avoid her because they didn’t know what to say. Didn’t, didn’t want to or didn’t want to meet her. That was… so we just had to say, oh well, people just sometimes don’t know how to handle things. That’s, that’s the way it is. But it, it was disappointing.

10.56 And how about for you? How did people react to you?

11.03 I don’t remember any adverse reaction actually. It seemed to be Barbara that felt this. I think it’s… I think it’s usual in these situations that the, the, the lady of the house has more contact with people roundabout. My contacts were largely business people and the, the issue didn’t really arise.

11.29 Were you able to talk about it at all to your business colleagues or did anybody talk to you?

11.38 I think I probably chose not to. I don’t remember discussing it with a, with a business colleague. No, I don’t think I did.

11.51 Can you tell me how you did grieve?

11.55 Um, well, we’re a good team. To a degree we, we looked to handle it as a team. But I think we, we both made a probably, a little bit of a mistake, in as much as we tried not to let each other know quite how bad we felt. I was heavily involved in, in business, because it’s the sort of stage in your career when there are business pressures and stuff, and I don’t think I was as aware as I might have been as to how poorly Barbara felt and how depressed she became a little bit later on.

12.39 My main grieving time was – in a way – was when I was mowing the lawn. I thought about, I thought about him lots, but always when I was mowing the lawn. I think it’s a case of if you’re just walking up and down behind a mower – it doesn’t involve any particular concentration, your, your, your mind can, can go to wherever it will – and my mind always went to our little chap… And even today… I think about him from… I think about him from time to time, but always when I’m mowing the lawn.

13.27 And do you have a name for your son?

13.31 Oh, he was, he was going to be Ross – after one of Barbara’s uncles who we were very fond of.

13.46 And can you tell me about the decision not to name him?

13.56 Um… I suppose we’re, we’re, we’re not… believers in Christ. We’re not religious-minded, therefore it didn’t seem important from that point of view. And I think we just accepted what was… no, that’s not true actually, we were, we were given the choice. I think we felt at the time we wanted to close the chapter as quickly as possible. I don’t think we were given any particular advice – now I come to think back – either way. But we want, we wanted to, we, we wanted closure and we just accepted that he would be buried in consecrated ground and, and, and that was the end of the chapter.

14.48 And do you regret now at all not naming him or…?

14.56 Not so much, not naming him, I, I think, but it probably would have been good to visit… the cemetery where he’s buried. Again it’s a, it’s this focus question. I think although we, we weren’t allowed to focus our grief – or didn’t have the opportunity to focus our grief at the hospital. I think… I think we, we perhaps could have done so at the cemetery, where he was born, where he was buried.

15.27 Can you just explain that a bit more to me about the… you use the word ‘focusing’ your grief?

15.35 Well, I think we’ve, we’ve learned afterwards that it does help to, to be able to, to grieve fully and to… um, and, but we didn’t appreciate the importance at the time – we didn’t appreciate at the time that it would have been valuable in helping us to come to terms with the situation and, and, and move on.

16.05 It sounds very much that there wasn’t very much support, advice or help for you at the time; can you tell me about that?

16.15 I suppose we had a nurse visit after the, after the birth – but I can’t recall. I know when Barbara came depressed some months later, we sought, she sought psychiatric help and she wasn’t very, wasn’t very happy with the, the, the psychiatrist that she met. Again we were very accepting at the time of, of the help that was on offer. Today we would be much more assertive and we would just go privately and find, and find some, some, some kind of support that… that was likely to be more helpful. But at the time, we just went, went with, with what was on offer – and it wasn’t very good.

17.08 So how did you deal with your grief? Where did you put it?

17.15 I guess we just buried it really. We, we felt confident enough to – or comfortable enough – to, to try again a couple of years later. We lost Ross in ‘78 and we, we tried again in ’80, but unfortunately that… that pregnancy didn’t mature. We, we, we lost, we lost that one at 5 months. And after that we thought well, perhaps it’s not meant to be? Perhaps, perhaps we’ll call it a day and we didn’t try again.

17.53 Can I just take you back to the time after Ross was born? You mentioned about… registering his death. Can you tell me about some of the practical things that you had to do?

18.12 It was, it was just take a piece of paper to the local registrar… and, and have them, have them make their notes and then they… wherever, wherever they note these things.

18.30 And what was that like for you?

18.36 It was very, very, very sad. It’s… I suppose in a way, the, the, the registration of the, of the… of his death sort of emphasised the, the finality, that he was, was no more.

19.02 And did it feel like that for you? Were you able to feel that it was final and move on?

19.12 Not straight away, no. No, the, the… the grieving and moving on was a, was a sort of a gradual process. Although I must confess, I can’t remember too much detail. Just, just that we, we tried again a couple years later.

19.37 And, and tell me about what that was like – getting pregnant again?

19.41 Um… worrying. Um, I guess that’s bound to be the case if you’ve had one stillbirth, you, you wonder what the next one is, is going to be like. Um… so it wasn’t, we didn’t feel, we didn’t feel as happy about it as we were when, when Barbara was expecting Claire. But we, we sort of… fingers crossed and, and… just got on with life.

20.12 And did you have different care in the subsequent pregnancy?

20.17 I really can’t remember… Um… I honestly can’t remember that. Don’t know.

20.27 And tell me about your daughter? Did you talk to your daughter about having had a stillborn son?

20.35 Er, yes, we did… She was only three. So she understood death. And we…. we explained that unfortunately there wasn’t going to be a baby – which was a difficult period in itself because you, you, you build them up towards this, this, this great event. And she’s going to have, going to have a little, little, a little brother – and then we had to tell her that she wasn’t going to have a little brother. So, so, so that was hard. I say she understood death, but it was… a little bit of a shock came when she… we heard her tell somebody that we’d killed the baby. So her, in her mind I think she got a bit confused between, between dying and killed – and that, that jarred a bit.

21.33 And do you think that the stillbirth had an impact upon her and you as a family?

21.43 I would think Barbara’s depression probably had… possibly had more of an impact than the fact that there, that there was going to be no little brother. Barbara certainly feels this – that something was, was lost by way of the development of the bond between Claire and… and us – but her particularly. Don’t know that for sure, but she wasn’t… she was… she wasn’t able to be quite herself with Claire, the way she had been before. She was, she was, she was struggling to cope, quite honestly, with, with her depression. And… she was caring for Claire, but… not in quite the same loving way that she had been before.

22.36 And how was that for you as the father?

22.44 Difficult really. Felt rather helpless to, to know how to help things… um… Depression is, is a, a very, a very difficult illness to, to know how, how best to help.

23.02 Can you tell me – as a father – how you felt that you were involved in the, the process? Do, do you feel that you were included at all or do you feel, that you were very much there just to support Barbara?

23.19 I was just there to support Barbra really. I don’t feel I was involved in any way in the process really. I was present at the birth, registered the death, but I wasn’t… involved in any other way.

23.41 And what impact does that have on you?

23.45 I hadn’t thought about it really… um… I just accepted that that’s the way it was… Any, any help that was going to be given was for the mother and my job was to support her also.

24.03 And can you tell me what then that does towards your feelings and your hopes and feelings of loss?

24.11 Sorry say that again?

24.13 I just wondered if there’s no space where that… where you put your feelings and your sense of loss?

24.22 Oh, I think just, just buried them really, submerged them. Just, just looked to… put it all behind me.

24.32 And do you ever remember his birthday? Do you mark anniversaries?

24.41 Um, no, we don’t… No, no – no, we don’t.

24.49 And can you tell me about that decision?

24.53 Again, I think, it was a part of… of putting it behind us: a continuation of the decision not to… not to see where he was buried. Just… just close that chapter and sort of on with the next one. Not, not sure that was necessarily a good idea, but that, that’s, that was our approach.

25.19 And has your attitude to stillbirth changed from back then to now?

25.28 Oh, I don’t know about that… I, as a result of our experience, we appreciate how hard it is. And we appreciate that the – and are pleased – that the, the standard of care and understanding is, is much greater now – and the approach seems to be totally different. So we’re, we’re, we’re pleased about that for… for other people, who go through a similar experience.

25.59 And if you were to offer some advice from your experience to other people-  or offer an insight – what would you want to let people know?

26.23 That’s a difficult one, because I, I, I suspect that people wouldn’t be… would get a lot more support these days, but… um, I think I would advise people to… to hold the baby, to focus on him, to grieve over him… to… be involved in his burial. And to… not to do what we did. Not to look to close a chapter as quickly as possible, but to… but to remember him in more detail… um, for him to be – obviously not a, not a member of the family – but, but for him to be part of our, part of our experience, as opposed to try and close the chapter.

27.21 And do you feel that you have had a double loss? That you lost your son and, because you weren’t supported and maybe helped enough, that you sort of lost the opportunity to do the things that you would have liked to have done?  Like to have seen him and held him, marked him, and have him as a more real part of your family?

27.43 Yes, we don’t know… it’s hard to say just how that’s… marked us really and what, what the affect has been. But I certainly wish that we had had more, more support – and thereby more involvement. But having said all that, we’re, we’re very happy together all these years later. I think we’re, we’re stronger and closer as a result of lots of experiences we’ve had – including that one – so, I can’t complain too much really.

28.16 Are there any triggers that bring back your experience of your stillborn son or the time around that period?

28.24 The only one that really comes to mind is when I’m mowing the lawn. I always remember him then. But all sorts of things can trigger the memory. But I can’t think of any, any specifics that do so on a regular or, or frequent basis. Articles in magazines of course, bring it back. I’m always interested to, to read people’s experience and, and compare it with ours. And if it’s a recent experience it’s usually a good one, and if it’s an older experience – around about the time of ours – it’s often a bad one.

29.04 And how does that make you feel?

29.07 Um… I suppose I feel we’re a little bit unlucky in the timing, but the timing is timing: that was the right time for us to, to start a family. But I’m sure if it were, if it were now, chances are our experience would, would have been much better.

29.37 And finally, is there anything you’d like to add or you feel hasn’t been asked?

29.45 No, I don’t think so really. I suppose my over all advice would be… don’t necessarily accept what the system appears to be offering. Think really about what is, what is best for you and… be, be, be – pleasantly – but be, be assertive in terms of what you want to happen, what you think should happen. We were very, we were very accepting at the time of just, just… we went with what we were offered and more appropriately what we were not offered.


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Barbara and Geoff’s Baby

Barbara and Geoff ’s second child – a son – was stillborn on August 28th 1978 at seven months. The couple decided not to name their son; had he lived he would have been called Ross. When he was born they were told that there was a problem with the development of their baby’s stomach.

Barbara and Geoff’s story

Barbara (73) and Geoff (73) met in Windsor in 1968 and they were married four years later. They had their first child, Claire, in 1975.

They wanted to wait three years before trying for another child. As planned, Barbara became pregnant again in 1978. She says that this second pregnancy ‘felt different’; she recalls that she felt ‘a bit bloated’.

Antenatal care was very different in the 1970s with very few check-ups or scans to help monitor the pregnancy. When Barbara was seven months pregnant she voiced some of her concerns at a check-up with her GP. She recalls that ‘he looked to put the blame on me’. He referred Barbara to hospital immediately where she had the only scan of her pregnancy. This scan revealed that their baby had died. Barbara and Geoff were sent home to await spontaneous delivery.  Geoff recalls this as ‘a very unpleasant period of waiting.’ The couple returned to hospital the following day and their son was stillborn on 28th August 1978.

Barbara says that it was two years after the birth of their stillborn son before she felt ‘brave’ enough to consider a subsequent pregnancy. This pregnancy ended in miscarriage at five months. The couple did not go on to have any other children.

At the time of interview Barbara and Geoff had been married for 45 years and have one granddaughter.