Three weeks after Fr Ray Blake wrote this post on Thursday 3 September, we discovered that our unborn baby Raphael had died in utero at my 12 week scan, at around 11 weeks gestation.
Raphael was provisionally scheduled to be born tomorrow, 25 March 2014 via elective c-section. It felt like a fortuitous date, not only being the feast of the Annunciation, but it’s also the tenth birthday of my eldest daughter. Our Lady has manifested herself in one way or another in all of my pregnancies – for example, I discovered that I was expecting another of my daughters on the Feast of the Assumption.
No doubt I shall find tonight’s Channel 4, Despatches, difficult viewing, both in terms of content and timing.
As I have written about previously, we were given the remains of our baby to take home and store in the fridge, following medical management of miscarriage. Their body was fully and perfectly formed, only in miniature, which can be verified by a simple internet image search of what a foetus of 11 weeks gestation might look like.
Earlier on this year, I did an interview with the national press as to the horrific circumstances surrounding our miscarriage. Robin had worked in the funeral industry and therefore knew that the hospital could store the baby’s remains, prior to the funeral directors picking them up for burial or cremation. He had done this previously for clients, reputable funeral directors will not charge for the basic cost of children’s funerals (obviously flowers and other disbursements such as a headstone are chargeable) and thought that this would be the normal procedure.
According to a leaflet that can be downloaded here issued by the Royal Sussex County Hospital you need to sign a P2 form in order for the mortuary to keep the remains. We therefore asked for this option when I was presented with a P1 form to sign which gives consent for mass cremation, prior to the procedure to induce delivery. Although we were not aware of the disgusting abuses which will be highlighted in tonight’s programme, that babies’ remains could be used to generate heat for hospitals, we knew that there was the possibility for error and that they could potentially be disposed of as clinical waste. Hospital procedure seems to be to shepherd parents into signing the P1 form for mass cremation if they have suffered an early loss.
It was important for us to mark the loss of our baby correctly for a number of reasons; to acknowledge their humanity, to grieve for him or her, mark his/her brief existence here on earth, accord him/her the dignity and respect s/he deserved as a human being and to pray for Raphael. We felt it was our duty as parents, the one thing we could do to mark our love. Robin in particular felt that it was his duty – it was the one thing that he could do for his baby, ensure that he or she had a proper, dignified and holy funeral and he wanted to accompany the baby to their final resting place.
As the experience bore similarity to the medical abortion I had undergone back in 1997, albeit at an earlier stage, as can be imagined, things had a particular and awful resonance, bringing home in painfully sharp and vivid detail, the lack of respect, dignity and love that had been shown to a previous child who deserved so much more. This dreadful issue of how babies’ bodies have been mistreated throws what happens in abortion clinics and what they do with their remains, into sharp and terrible relief.
When we told the staff of our wish to make private arrangements for our baby they seemed nonplussed, this was obviously an unusual request, but said that they would sort it out. The nurse later returned to us and told us that it wasn’t possible for them to store the remains and we would have to organise matters ourselves, which would mean taking them home with us.
Thus it was, that on the morning of 3 October 2013, I was discharged from the gynaecology ward, clinging to Robin for dear life, following a horrific night in which the process of miscarrying the baby brought about a terrific blood loss, requiring some ad-hoc surgery at 1am on the ward as no theatre was available and for a few hours of IV fluids. Therefore as they gave me the form to sign from the previous day which they had amended to state that we wanted to take the remains home, I didn’t think to quibble or query. I was exhausted, could barely stand, emotionally overwrought and just wanted to go home to my own bed and sleep.
It didn’t occur to me to say “Hang on, can I have the P2 form, you’ve just crossed out the details on the P1” or “why can’t you look after my baby”? I was tired, vulnerable and was doing as I was told. The hospital said that they wouldn’t store the remains, I wasn’t in the mood to fight with them over it, or ask why not. Maybe it’s a uniquely British trait, a class thing or a mixture of the two but like so many, meekly accepted what I was told and fell in line with procedure.
I’ve blurred out my personal identity details, but here is the form I signed. You can see it is a modified P1, not the P2 specified on the leaflet. How many women dealing with the aftermath of a miscarriage, really think to quibble over paperwork. Robin thought it odd that the hospital wouldn’t help us by keeping the baby – but I was too tired to quibble over this wording which they had written in – “couple has requested to take remains home” and just signed what was put in front of me.
So it was, we found ourselves leaving the ward, taking the cramped tiny lift down from level 11 of the Thomas Kemp tower, so familiar to us and any families or women who have had a baby in Brighton. It was one of the most painful experiences of our married life. The lift had so many previous happy associations with pregnancy, maternity and newborns, we had carried three of our newborn children down to the car, their tiny bodies bundled in a blanket and strapped into the carseat, ready to face the world, and this time there was nothing to show for the familiar trek, aside from a tiny body in a jar in Robin’s pocket. As we were leaving the ward they apologised that they had nothing more appropriate than a sample jar, to which a generic printed label was affixed advising that the remains ought to be refrigerated.
Just as we’d stepped in the lift, another couple with their beautiful newborn in a carseat sprouting a full head of hair and a healthy pink bloom joined us. The air was heavy with anticipation and excitement. They were wearing the exhausted but happy look, intermingled with a pinch of panic and disbelief, which is the exclusive preserve of parents. We were probably the first strangers they had met since leaving the ward. What a lovely baby you have, I said, trying not to let the words catch in my throat or let on any hint of tragedy lest I should cast any hint of sadness on their special day, or spoil their big moment, trying not to think of the lifeless pallid corpse in my husband’s pocket.
So we got home, I went to bed and Robin did what the label told him to and placed the baby in the spare inbuilt fridge we use for beakers of drinks and snacks, where they remained for the next week, before we obtained a casket and buried the baby in the grounds of our parish church. Looking back on it, I can’t quite believe that we actually did that, we put our baby in our drinks fridge! I guess we were in a state of shock and so it was easier just to mindlessly follow instructions. We stopped the children from going into the kitchen and helping themselves during that period for obvious reasons, but every time I open the fridge door, I have to rid myself of the image in my head.
The press pulled the story for legal reasons as the Royal Sussex County hospital denied that they would ever treat anyone in such a way and that we must have definitely requested to take the remains home ourselves. When you compare our story with Fr Ray’s parishioner and other testimonies about the Royal Sussex, it definitely raises questions about their attitude, especially when one sees the disrespect with which the bodies of other babies were treated around the country. Both of us have been left angered by the implication by the Royal Sussex that we are lying. No grieving parents would wish to have to take home their baby’s remains.
At least we have the comfort of knowing that we did the right thing by our baby. Our mistrust that they may not treat the remains with the respect they deserve was not unmerited. How awful for any parent who miscarried at those particular hospitals, knowing what may have happened to their babies.
This is what happens in a society with such a disrespect for the life of the unborn. I wonder what those who advocate for abortion up until birth, or at a much later stage would make of this? It takes the concept of green energy to a new level.