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It was so long ago. 28 years ago in fact. I was a healthy 18 year old, newly married and living in London. I became pregnant soon after the wedding and, although completely unexpected, was delighted to start a family so soon. I come from a large family and love having so many relatives. Being born slightly spina bifida myself, my doctors gave me good advice on nutrition and monitored me closely. Sadly in those days there were no regular scans carried out - the technology then was far too new. The pregnancy went well and I felt so well and happy.

I went into labour on a Friday but by Sunday morning had not progressed at all. I was very weak from the pain and eventually was told I would need a caesarean section. I remember signing the surgery form with a cross as I was too ill to hold a pen. Being put under anesthetic was a huge relief.

Early Monday morning I awoke not in the theatre but alone in a small room. A nurse came in to find me awake but groggy. "Is it all over" I asked her. "Yes" was the only reply. "Did I have a boy or a girl?" She looked away and replied "Girl". The obvious question was next. "Is she all right?" The nurse fumbled around for a few seconds and said "I'll just go and fetch the doctor" and then left. I knew then something was wrong but tried not to imagine too much. The doctor came in and sat on my bed, holding my hand. "I am sorry" he said "She was too ill to live" The words did not mean anything. An awful numb feeling crept over me and I felt as if I was in some second rate melodrama and that these events were happening to someone else, not me. I asked to see her but was told that was not a good idea. She was born spina bifida, paralyzed and blind and survived for forty minutes. Years later I was informed that such infants were placed in a cold room immediately after birth to "let nature take its course". My husband had seen our daughter, Margaret, briefly but would not talk to me at all about it. He pushed it all away and changed toward me utterly. A few months later he blamed me for her death and left me. If only I had been woken to see her - even if it had just been her body. Just a glimpse, a single photograph, but I have nothing.

One of the hardest things was to be put into a post natal ward to recover. Sharing a ward with five other mothers caring for their little ones and listening to their chatter about the future was so very hard. In their turn they felt awkward and seemed suspicious if I took an interest in their newborns.

Worse was to come. My husband wanted Margaret buried with full ceremony and the cost was crippling. All the jewelry my mother left me when she died had to be sold to go toward the cost but we still fell into debt. I became very sick after the birth with pneumonia and was too ill to attend the burial.

Three years ago a scandal erupted in the UK whereby hospitals were accused of harvesting the organs and limbs of stillborns without the knowledge of their parents to aid research. I am in correspondence with the hospital where Margaret was born but have not received any satisfactory answers to my fears. The thought that she could have been buried incomplete or worse, and this has happened in some cases, buried an empty coffin is so monstrous that I can hardly bear to think of it.

One thing does comfort me. Before I left the room where I awoke after the section, I noticed an empty hospital cot beside me. A single cotton sheet covered the base and I managed to reach out and grab it before the cot was wheeled out of the room. Margaret may never have lain on the sheet but I could not take the chance that my only contact with her would be taken away. I still have the little sheet. It has never been washed and is yellowing and threadbare but I prize this treasure.

I have read other stories on this site and have gained great comfort from the warm way in which these parents were treated by their friends and partners. I wish that had happened to me but am glad that the way bereaved parents are helped these days is in as humane a way as possible.

I'm sure God had a good reason to take my little English Rose - I just wish he would let me in on the secret.

by Jenny Hudson


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