Stillbirth: Life after loss

Their first baby, Jake, was stillborn. Now Andrew and Rachel Canter want to prevent other parents from suffering the same agonising grief. Esther Walker reports

'It's the most horrific experience ever to lose a child," says Rachel Canter. "It happened two years ago, but it's affected our lives so much." In 2005, Andrew and Rachel's son, Jake, was stillborn. For them, the pain has been unendurable; but what made it worse is the feeling that their son need not have died.

Rachel, a fitness instructor, had had a healthy pregnancy and chose a birthing centre in Edgware, north London, rather than a hospital maternity unit. The Canters were assured that should anything go wrong, they were only seven minutes' drive from Barnet hospital in an ambulance.

Rachel was 10 days overdue by the time her waters broke and it was while she was in the birthing pool that the midwives noticed Jake's heart rate had slowed down. Rachel needed to be transferred to a maternity unit, but the one at Barnet had been closed to new admissions. "My heart sank," says Andrew. "The alternative unit, Chase Farm, was 25 minutes away and that just seemed a million miles away to us."

"I was in a lot of pain," says Rachel. "In the ambulance, there was no one holding my hand or telling me what was going on. They were just filling out forms. I know it sounds dramatic now, but I did think I was going to die. All it would have taken was for someone to tell me what was happening."

"It was pandemonium when we got to Chase Farm," says Andrew. "We thought we'd go straight to theatre and have an emergency caesarean, but we went to the delivery room instead." Staff had found a heartbeat but it transpired that the staff were monitoring Rachel's heartbeat, not the baby's. "It was the first time that Chase Farm had taken a transfer and it showed. We really didn't feel like anyone knew what was going on."

"In the delivery room, they put a drip in my hand, which slipped out after about half an hour," says Rachel. "I was put in stirrups and told to push and then was told that I wasn't doing it properly. I had to say, 'Look, I'm trying to do all I can, perhaps I need some help?' After I said that, they used forceps. He crowned after 45 minutes and it was another 45 until he was born. I knew there was something wrong then. A birth it supposed to be one push and then a twist and then another push and out. He came out and was rushed to the back of the room. They tried to resuscitate him for 45 minutes and we were shouting for him and willing him to live."

Staff told the Canters that Jake had been dead for "some time". A coroner's report concluded that the umbilical cord had been wrapped around Jake's neck twice and that he had suffocated.

"It has been a terrible experience," says Rachel. "It has put back my pregnancy with Ruby, during which I was then full of doubt because, in our experience, a healthy pregnancy didn't mean a healthy baby. We've lost our firstborn, Ruby's lost her brother and what it all comes down to is government cuts. We were never told that the maternity unit at Barnet might close. If we had known, then we might have made a different decision about where to give birth."

Andrew and Rachel lobbied the Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals Trust for answers after Jake's death. A precise time and cause of Jake's death couldn't be established, leading to disagreements over responsibility with the Trust.

"It was part of the grieving process for me for us," says Andrew. "I was campaigning a lot, writing letters to Tony Blair, to Patricia Hewitt, dealing with the chief of the Trust, the head of nursing, of midwifery. We were having endless meetings but not really getting the answers we wanted."

"They tried to fob us off all the time," adds Rachel. "There were times when it was so rude. We'd be prepared for a meeting and they'd ring up and say it was cancelled. That was our hope, and they were trying to get rid of us."

The Canters decided that there was not much left to do but sue the Trust. "We were in touch with Grant Shapps, our MP," says Andrew. "He told us that the Healthcare Commission Ombudsman had a backlog of 3,000 cases and it would take the best part of three years to get to us. The chief executive of the Trust was quite surprised that we decided to sue."

The case lasted 18 months; the Canters were awarded a five-figure sum in damages. "It wasn't about the money it was never about the money," says Rachel. "It was about getting some answers."

On 29 October last year, when Jake would have been two, the Canters unveiled their new charity, the National Maternity Support Foundation. "Our aim is to keep maternity services accessible and safe, and to keep maternity units open," says Andrew. "We also want to make sure that prospective parents are empowered with the right information to make the right choices."

Shapps, a supporter of the charity, says: "There have been shortages of key personnel in the past and the Government's solution has been to close down maternity units. The ones that are left have to deal with a lot more births. In France, the maximum size of a good maternity unit is 2,500 births per year, but in the UK that is the minimum size. I think it's essential to get to a position where the issue is further up the political agenda and that's what the foundation will do. If no one is there flag-waving, the issue just sinks to the bottom of the pile."

"We want the charity become a resource," says Andrew. "We want to take a proactive approach to maternity care. With a new Prime Minister and Health Secretary, we feel it's a good time to stop talking about the problems with the services and take action. What was really important to us was getting the backing of the Royal College of Midwives, because we feel it lends real weight to what we are doing. We presented to the professional policy committee of the RCM and now Dame Karlene Davies, the general secretary, is our patron. It was so important for us to do this. If we can prevent one other baby from dying unnecessarily, it leaves a positive legacy for Jake. It means he didn't die in vain."



To find out more visit: http://www.jakescharity.org

ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

    £35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

    Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

    Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

    £35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

    Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

    £45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'