Ten little fingers, ten little toes, chubby cheeks and rosebud lips; Sophie Mules was perfect in every way.
But, at 40 weeks and six days, sweet Sophie was born still.
Stillborn babes are sometimes referred to as ‘born sleeping’, but do these words make the reality harder to bear? Is it a softer, fragile phrase that contradicts the desperation parents must feel when willing with every fibre of their being for there to have been a terrible mistake?
One can only imagine the physical ache that must exist while wishing for baby blue eyes to open, breaths to be taken, or a cry to be heard. For a ‘sleeping’ baby to wake.
For Sophie’s parents Heidi, 38, and Ned, 36, there was no mistake. Despite her heart strongly beating on the obstetrician’s monitor at 40 weeks and 5 days, Sophie died as labour started the following day.
The reason? An accidental placenta abruption – a rare complication whereby the placenta comes away from the uterine wall prematurely and may cut off a baby’s life supply. In some instances, there are known risk factors. In Heidi and Ned’s case, there were none.
On Wednesday 7 December 2011 at 6.44pm, Sophie was born after a textbook pregnancy and labour – and a mere four hours after her parents learned she had died.
Earlier that morning, Heidi had period-like pain that gradually intensified. The contractions were irregular and not unbearable and, considering second labours are often faster than the first, Heidi called the hospital three times to check when to be admitted, and the midwives asked if she’d felt the baby moving.
“…I hadn’t, but wasn’t alarmed as it was normal for me not to feel much movement in the mornings,” Heidi said. “After the third phone call, they suggested I come in for an assessment given I’d called several times; not because there was any great concern.
“Ned came home from work and we went straight to the hospital and into an assessment room. The midwife couldn’t find the baby’s heartbeat. My own heart did skip a beat, but in the way it does when you think you’ve lost your phone or wallet, and then it’s found a few minutes later and all’s well.”
However, that soon changed when a doctor carried out an ultrasound and failed to find a heartbeat. Two words – “I’m sorry” – told Heidi and Ned all they needed to know.
Having decided not to find out their baby’s gender, it was a bittersweet surprise as they held their second daughter after she was born, weighing 3.6kg and 53cm long.
“She looked exactly like her big sister Amelie [then 17 months old],” Heidi said. “We have newborn photos of the two of them and the resemblance is uncanny – they could have been identical twins. And, like most stillborn babies, she looked perfectly normal and healthy, just as if she were sleeping.”