photo(2)Fara Ali

Mom to Alvan

October 23, 2012

Male, Maldives

“I am so sorry, there is no heartbeat.”
These were the words that changed my whole life.

I don’t know if it is a taboo topic or not, but I have never heard of any statistics or any awareness news regarding stillbirth in the Maldives. Of course I know about people having miscarriages and people giving birth to stillborn babies randomly in Maldives, but no one I know ever experienced this. So when I had to go through the experience of my baby dying inside my womb, I did not know what to do. I was dumbstruck, keeping aside the sadness.

When you experience certain difficult situations in life, you are somewhat prepared to a certain extent, but in a country where your monthly prenatal visits are just checking your BPS, weight and doppler scans for fetal heartbeat without any other information from your doctor, you are just stuck in an abyss when they tell you the baby you have been carrying for 9 months has just died! This was what happened to me. I did not know how to react. I did not even remember to call my husband. I guess the radiologist would be somewhat relieved that all the emotional drama she would have expected did not happen from my side. My brain was in denial. It took around 5 minutes for me to get over the shock and for the full impact of what was going to happen to hit me.

I am trying to put into words one of the most difficult experiences of my life. It was a life-changing experience for me and I would never want any mother to go through with it, ever. More than this, I want to honour my son by writing about the beautiful and cute baby boy I gave birth to. Though he was born sleeping and silent, he was perfect, and he had the same features as his 2-year-old brother. We named him Ismail Alvan Ahmed.

“Vu” had been his name ever since I began to look like I was pregnant. “Vu” was the name my 2-year-old son, Alaan, gave to the baby bump. Everyone started calling the new baby about to come, “Vu”. The 8 and a half months that followed were exciting. Preparations were made for the new one’s arrival, all his clothes were bought by my sister from Australia. We even took measurements to get his cot made and the bedding was already bought. My eldest son would give a kiss to my belly every morning saying “kokko,” meaning little brother. It was almost nine months of planning, preparations, doctor visits, scans, eagerness and waiting.

One day, when I was 34 weeks pregnant, I felt less movements compared to other days. Vu was always less active than Alaan when I compared both pregnancies. But, my doctor eased my worry away saying all pregnancies are different and I was having a “textbook” pregnancy. Everything was normal and I was asked to do the routine scans, one at the first trimester and the second one at 6 months. I was supposed to do the third scan around 34 weeks and since my pregnancy was not considered a high risk one, my doctor felt there was no need for frequent scans.

At 34 weeks my doctor was away on leave, and on the day I felt fewer movements was a Friday. I went to a clinic instead of the emergency room since I wanted to see a specialist doctor. This gynecologist at the private clinic checked for the heartbeat and told me baby was ok. I also heard the heartbeat but she did not recommend a non-stress test for me and asked me to get a scan. I got the appointment the following day and that changed everything. I can still hear the radiologist’s voice; it did not take a second for her to tell me that there was no heartbeat. When I was being prepared for the scan, I told her about less movement and that there was fetal heartbeat when I went to the doctor the previous night. Later on, she asked me who the doctor was who told me there was a heartbeat, but I don’t think blaming the doctor would have brought my baby back.

I was not prepared for what would happen next. When I was getting out of the scan room, all I could think about was what was going to happen next. I kept looking at my huge belly and thought, how could someone even expect me to go through labour and childbirth? At that point in time, I knew I had to give birth to this baby and I had made up my mind that I would be having an elective c-section to avoid the pain of labour, but deep down inside I knew the normal protocol in a Maldivian hospital would be labour.

I was the one who carried this baby for 34 weeks and I had my bonding with this baby already and I never expected even my husband to be as devastated as I was, but he also requested a c-section. The emergency room doctors told us about the hospital policy or something and told us that we would be getting a place for labour room after 2 days. I heard this with absolute disbelief and sometimes I wonder if I had been paranoid or if I really heard it. my husband told me they did say it and that was when we demanded to speak with our doctor. Then, the ER people asked us if we had an appointment for the doctor for that day. OMG. I was so saddened to mind much but now when I recall that day, I keep getting so mad. By our luck, the doctor was on duty and we went straight to his room.

I told the doctor that I could not cope with labour and I did not want a sleeping baby after the pain of delivery. With the doctor’s support and encouraging words, I slowly adjusted to the idea of going through labour. I would forever be grateful to this doctor who told me that giving birth to my baby would be something I would never regret and something I would cherish forever, and it would be the last honour as a mother I could give him. Of course he also did tell me all the drawbacks of having an unnecessary surgery and with his encouragement, I changed my mind and was ready to go through labour. They did offer me to go home and get induced the next day, but I wanted to get started with the birth.

After 12 hours of labour, I gave birth to my beautiful baby boy on the 23rd of October at 1 a.m. We so wished that I would deliver on  the22nd since I gave birth to my eldest son on the 23rd of October two years prior. As God willed, I gave birth to my sons on the same day and I still do now know how I am going to cope with celebrating one son’s birthday without feeling guilty and sad about the loss of the other son.

I knew I could not keep on holding my baby forever and I would have to hand him over for the funeral. When I was in labour, my husband and I had agreed that we would not take any photographs. I was so wishing for a moment alone with my baby for me to take a snap, but my husband was with me the whole time. Had I been left alone, I am sure I would have taken a snap.

I can still feel the utter grief and pain that consumed me at that point when he was to be taken to the funeral home and I demanded them to give me the baby once again. It was so devastating to say goodbye to part of me after almost 9 months. My eldest son has a dimple on his left cheek and I keep wondering if Vu would have the dimple or not.  As I write this, it still doesn’t seem real. No parent should outlive a child and no parent should ever have to give birth to a sleeping angel, which is the ultimate pain.

Upon delivery, I had learned that my baby died due to Inter Uterine Growth Restriction (IUGR) and placental insufficiency. The saddest thing for me is when I read about IUGR babies, I came to know that 95% of IUGR babies have a survival rate if detected early. I keep blaming myself for not demanding for a scan at my 7 and 8 month check-ups. My doctor kept telling me they had no reason to suspect IUGR since everything was normal with me and I had a previous normal pregnancy. It seems my baby had stopped growing at 28 weeks and I kept thinking about the “ifs” and such things and I became my worst enemy. I kept blaming myself for what had happened. That was when my sister told me that I should stop reading internet forums since reading was making my condition worse and should read about stillborn babies in Islam. That was a turning point for me. I wish Maldivian doctors or health ministry would release statistics on stillbirths in Maldives and spread awareness on kick counts and kick charts. I have read from SANDS that 50% of stillbirths could have been avoided!

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