My angel baby, Hunter James Cullen: 06.08.13
MEET: Michelle Cullen & her Family
This experience is as individual as each and every person. This is my account.
I have two children, one living, the other an angel baby. My living child, Siena Jane, is 3. She is my firstborn child. She is my love and all my hopes and dreams for both of my children now rest on her. She is what I call my calm (before the storm). The storm is Hunter, my second child, my angel baby. He would be almost 2 now. He was the storm, right from the word go. The pregnancy was a surprise, that’s for sure, but we welcomed the idea of a new baby regardless of whether he was planned or not. The pregnancy had minor complications with the umbilical cord being a two vessel supply and not three. This, I have been told is as commonplace as being left-handed; pretty common and shouldn’t be an affliction. The whole pregnancy was painful, internally, Hunter’s movements were so rough and harsh that I would sit in pain and have to be conscious of my own movements so as not to get him uncomfortable and want to move around more. Then, the biggest storm of all, I lost him. His precious little heart stopped beating, no movement, I felt the life drain out of me. That inside me was an emptiness that I would never be able to fill. The light dimmed, and left a raging hole. A place so dark, that it scares me just to think about it. The storm had begun.
On August 5, 2013, I awoke to a normal day, just like any other. It was a Monday. I had Siena, my then 1.5 year old at home, and my husband Matt, was still in bed, as we were heading off to the doctor to get some checks done on my pregnancy, that seemed relatively normal to date. I was 34 weeks, and was getting excited to meet our little boy, already named, Hunter.
After some time waking, I realised that I hadn’t felt any movements from Hunter as yet. I decided to drag myself up off the lounge and make an ice cold cup of water (as they say that to get the baby moving and kicking, cold will do it every time). After minutes of drinking my water, there was nothing. Still. In my mind the panic was setting in, but I was trying to rationalise the situation and come up with reasoning as to why he wouldn’t be kicking yet. I decided that I would try a cup of coffee instead. Still, nothing. I sat down on the lounge and began to let the reality sink in, but also trying to keep a rational mind. Shortly after, Matt rose from his sleep and came downstairs to see me in a bit of a panic state. After asking what was wrong and me explaining, he tried extremely hard to keep calm, but also hurried me up so that we could get to the doctors and get it checked out properly.
By the time we arrived to the doctors to be checked, I was frantic, my heart was panic and I was anxious to see whether my GP would be able to pick up Hunter’s heart beat on the Doppler. We walked through to the clinic room and I got onto the bed, explaining to my GP that Hunter wasn’t making movements this morning, and that I was terribly worried. He tried to stay as calm as possible, but the anxiety in the room built. He moved the Doppler over my big belly, and struggled to hear anything. Then maybe there was something. Maybe, a slight chance that there was a heartbeat, but my doctor explained that he couldn’t be sure that it was Hunter and not my own heartbeat beating like a frantic drum. He tells us we need to go to hospital, and rings the labour ward, and they tell me to hurry in and they will be waiting. The car trip from the GP to the hospital is frightening, quiet and terrifying. No one has any understanding of what is happening. Matt and I were frozen. It was surreal; the moments, the drive to the hospital. Matt will tell you that he only thing he remembers of that drive is the song that was playing on the radio “My Resolution”.
I have to say that my memory of that morning from there is a blur. All the minutes and hours after seem like a chain of events that I can’t bring myself to remember quite right. So here are the pieces that I remember.
We arrive at the hospital and I am lead into a stale room where I am greeted by midwives and doctors who promptly hook me up to machines and get the ultrasound equipment ready. I don’t remember whether this happened immediately, or if it took some time, and we had discussions with midwives prior to this. I don’t remember. It’s a blur. The next thing I recall is the doctor explaining to me that there is no heartbeat. Hunter has passed away through some time in the night, encompassed in my warm body, listening to my heart beat. I didn’t even know. I couldn’t tell you what happened next, it really is a blur of Matt being slumped over me and both of us wailing in sorrow, heartbreak and grief. We had lost our baby boy, who was due in only a matter of short weeks, instead of celebrating his arrival, we had to plan for his departure. All of our hopes and dreams for his life with us, shattered. All the love that we had grown and hoped to shower on him, was lost. We had no way of knowing what to expect, the midwives and doctors explained to us what was to happen moving forward, and it seemed so cold. So procedural. So medical. I remember asking if they could just get him out, give me caesarean and get him out, see if there was any way, any hope. They told me that it wasn’t ideal. That for me to heal, to grieve and heal properly, that a natural delivery was the best option. This was what I would have done if he were still alive, so we decided to only do what we would have done if he were to be born alive. Deliver naturally. Before going through the delivery process, I was sent to see my ob, who needed to perform some tests, an amniocentesis, to see whether there was any infection present or reason that this happened. Following that, we were told to go home. To try and rest. To have time with our family. To have time coming to terms with losing our baby. To have time grieving in privacy. The next day would be the day we would meet our angel baby. Tuesday 6th August would be Hunter’s birthday. Not the day he went to be with the angels, he was already there.
The night was filled with so much pain and heartbreak, we barely slept, and I can recall wondering for hours, how did this happen, why my boy? How did we get here?
The next day we dropped our darling daughter, Siena, off at Matt’s parents’ house. With broken hearts, we left our little girl who was only 1.5 at the time, so we could bring our angel baby into the world, quietly.
Arriving at the hospital was morbid. There’s no other word for it. Matt and I had no idea what to expect. I felt so awful, and unforgivingly guilty. I can’t express a mothers grief and guilt; all wrapped into a horrid bundle of messiness. We walked through the halls into a very quiet delivery suite. The induction was moments away from beginning and I was terrified. I had no idea was to come, how long the delivery would be, whether I could ask for assistance with an epidural, or how being induced worked. We sat down with the midwife, and began a long and unsettling discussion. Again, procedural. I can tell you that the beginning of this whole delivery wasn’t great. However, a few hours in, and we were blessed by a staff change over, and the most amazing midwives that I could ever meet. One who was younger than I, but somehow so much older, the other so encouraging and willing to help and be with us emotionally as much as she could. These women. They deliver babies every day, and have the joy of listening to those little babies crying and gasping for their breath. This day it would be silent. A delivery room with my husband and I in despair, hoping against hope that somehow we would be blessed with a miracle, our boy alive. But it was a dream. And I’m sure that every parent going through this would’ve hoped for the same outcome; that somehow the doctors got it wrong. That somehow our baby would come out screaming and a beautiful glowing colour.
I remember saying to Matt through the delivery that he needed to go out and get air, he was exhausted and I wanted to cry and scream, but not while he was there, I didn’t want to make the experience of bringing Hunter into the world one that was any more traumatic for him. So a few times, he was able to go out for a walk, and I wept uncontrollably in the comfort of beautiful strangers.
Hours later, we greeted our little angel baby. He was perfect. He was still, but he was perfect, and so I got to see my angel baby’s face, touch his lips, feel his body on mine, and hold his little fingers in my hand.
Matt chose to play ‘My resolution’ at Hunter’s funeral and I chose to play ‘Time after time’. Both songs that now in my heart belong to my angel baby.
I live with this every day. My heartbreak is not as raw today as it was yesterday, and yesterday it was not as raw as the day previous. Still, every day, my heart has a hole where my baby angel’s memories are. I cry a lot. I still grieve a lot. I visit the cemetery often. I talk to my son a lot. I talk to Siena about her baby brother. We celebrate his short lived life in my womb. Every single day, as if he was here. Most days I am good. Some days I am not. Sometimes people forget that I have a son. Sometimes they remember. The days that people forget are hard. The days where a stranger asks me whether I’ll have more children break me down. I want to say I have one more. I want to tell them my story. But if I do, will they be apologetic, sympathetic or feel guilty for asking. All responses that I know make me cringe as much as they do for asking.
It is now more than two years on. I will continue to raise awareness of stillbirths, and help The Stillbirth Foundation to create interest and generate much needed funding so that research can be conducted into why stillbirths occur. I will fight for us and all the other families who have lost a baby or who will lose a baby unjustly. I will fight to find solutions to this problem, so other families don’t have to suffer this pain and heartbreak. I will be strong. I will do this in my son’s name, because I never want anyone to hurt as much as we have.
This Story is one families story of their loss. Every story will be different and every story will touch those involved and their support network differently.
The Stillbirth Foundation Australia is the first and only organisation of its kind solely devoted to the research into the causes, risk factors and possible preventions of stillbirth in Australia.
I Amy Goller, believe this research is vital in uncovering the risk factors and developing prevention measures such as counting the kicks of your baby and monitoring it’s movements; sleeping on your left side to maximise blood flow to the baby and knowing the subtleties of your own pregnancy to help women reduce their risk of becoming that statistic. However, sadly, the stigma surrounding stillbirth makes it very difficult to help get this vital knowledge out there. Every day I speak to yet another parent who without fail says “I wish I had have known that this could have happened. Why didn’t anyone tell me?” 2,190 families each year tragically utter the words “If only I’d known it could happen”