Here are a few words in memory of our son Benjamin, who never actually reached full-term. You may think it is silly, and useless, and sentimental to be writing about him now (he died in 1977), but Robin and I have been thinking that (a) he should be remembered, as he is still very much a part of our family, and (b) what I write may help other parents who went through a similar experience. It will also show how the health service has definitely improved in sensitivity in certain areas.
We had recently moved from Bristol (where I did my physiotherapy training, and where Robin had done further research at the University of Bristol), and were now living in Reading. Nick was two years old. I went for the routine obstetric ultrasound scan (I think it was at about 22 weeks of my pregnancy) at the hospital in Reading, where we learned that (a) it was a boy, and (b) that there was a serious problem, in that he was anencephalic. (This is a condition where a large chunk of the brain, skull and scalp are missing, due to faulty development of the neural tube, the part which eventually becomes the baby's brain and spinal cord.) This was shattering news. I was unable to think straight, and I just went along with the hospital's instructions, which were that I should return to hospital in three days' time for a termination of the pregnancy.
I remember being in a room on my own. I had had an injection of oxytocin (to initiate contractions), but it was so strong that my stomach muscles just went into a painful spasm for what seemed like hours. Eventually someone came and said 'Oh you poor thing!' and gave me something to reduce the strength, and normal contractures began. I was all on my own, in great pain, and filled with distress at what was happening, losing a beloved son who had been part of me for so many weeks. Finally I 'gave birth', still all on my own. (I cry now when I think of it.) At last somebody came and took Benjamin away, and I was left with the extreme guilt that I had not been brave enough to turn and look at him - and with the sorrow of losing him. (I still wish that they had maybe wrapped him up in a towel and brought him to me to hold and to cuddle. They did nothing. All I could do was to ask for the hospital chaplain, and to ask him to find my baby and say a prayer over him.)
For a long I felt deep guilt that I had permitted the hospital to terminate our baby, without protest. It was many years later when I mentioned this to a doctor, and she said "Did they not tell you that he would not have survived full term?" That knowledge would have helped me enormously.
I believe that this would not happen today. I am sure that there would be lots more support for any mother in such a situation. And I am sure that nowadays she would always be given her baby to hold and to love and to say goodbye to.
Benjamin is still part of our family.