Content warning: This post discusses stillbirth. – “I’m going to be Lily Rose Cooper and I’m going to live in a house with roses over the door and dogs on the sofa and a roast in the oven and I’m gonna have plenty of healthy babies and Sam and I are going to live happily ever after.”
“The baby was moving around happily”
That was the plan when a pregnant Lily and her boyfriend Sam bought a house in the Cotswolds, in England’s idyllic countryside back in 2010. But six months into a pretty textbook pregnancy, things started to go awry and culminated in her baby boy George dying during labour. This week she told BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour she feels she will never recover.
“I noticed I was spotting and bleeding a bit,” Lily writes in the chapter of her just-released memoir, My Thoughts Exactly, that documents this pregnancy. Her doctor said there was no cause for alarm, but advised her to come in for a scan, to check on the baby. Lily was 28 weeks and 2 days into her pregnancy.
“I drove to London the next day … I had an external scan and everything looked fine. The baby was moving around happily,” Lily writes.
“The specialist who was doing the scan asked if he could do a quick internal examination. ‘Oh’, he said, looking at me, somewhat surprised. ‘Your cervix has already dilated. You may not have had any contractions but technically if you’re dilated, you’re in labour’.”
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@lilyallen’s first book ‘My Thoughts Exactly’ is out in September. To celebrate the release, Lily will be doing a live Q&A with @guardian Laura Snapes, follow the link in our bio for more information as to how you can attend / pre-order the book, plus your chance to win tickets to see Lily perform live in December ??
“This isn’t gonna end right”
Medical staff told her they would “do all they could to prevent the baby being born this early” and that “every day he was inside me would give me a stronger chance of delivering a perfectly healthy baby.”
“There were lots of positives to the situation,” Lily recalled, “and yet I remember sitting next to Sam and holding his hand and thinking, ‘This isn’t gonna end right’. It was a secret thought, tiny and dark, and I pushed it aside. I’d just seen my baby on the monitor kicking about, alive and well.”
Lily was transferred to the maternity ward and doctors began to make arrangements to ensure her pregnancy progressed for as long as possible, that she didn’t go into labour and that her waters didn’t break.
“I felt it go ‘ping'”
After much back and forth, it was eventually decided that Lily should be moved to a better-equipped hospital.
“I was put in a bed that was tilted downwards, so that my head was below my navel and my feet above. This was to help defy gravity and prevent the baby pressing down on my cervix.”
She was then taken into surgery to have “a stitch” put in, in the hopes of keeping her cervix together.
“I was told point blank that there was no way I was leaving the hospital until I had the baby. I had three months left until I reached full term,” she remembers. “The stitch held. It held for a week and a half. It held until one night Sam made me laugh and I felt it go ‘ping’. That’s when the fluid started leaking out of me. My waters hadn’t broken, but they were bulging and I was now in labour proper.”
“I was now in labour proper”
Doctors theorised that the terrible toothache Lily had a couple of weeks earlier had sparked an infection, which got into her bloodstream, which then got into her amniotic fluid and was causing her waters to break. The outlook remained positive, however, with doctors insisting everything would be fine in the end.
Sam toured the neonatal ward. Lily was told what would happen once her very early baby was whisked away to special care after the delivery. They were ready to meet their baby.
“I was in labor all night. In the morning, the midwife said ‘You’re crowning'” Lily writes. “‘We can see the baby’s head. Not long now’.”
“Then sometime later. I don’t know how long. Maybe it was five minutes, but it could have been five hours, she said – ‘The cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck. There was a pulse. Now there isn’t. There is no pulse now.'”
“That meant the baby was dead. He wasn’t out of my body yet, but they knew. They called it. He was dead. I could feel his little head between my legs, but my contractions weren’t strong enough to push him all the way out.”
image via Lily Allen/Instagram
“I couldn’t deliver him”
Lily and Sam’s baby was too tiny and fragile to be pulled out with forceps, so drugs were administered to spark stronger contractions and help Lily push her baby out.
“My baby was dead. I couldn’t escape the enormity of that,” Lily writes. “He was physically stuck, not quite outside me, not safe inside either. I was physically stuck too. I hadn’t been able to keep him inside me. Now I couldn’t deliver him.”
“For ten hours between my baby dying and getting him out, I entered a realm I’d never been to before. It’s a realm I cannot describe or revisit, even if I wanted to. The sickness I was experiencing was consuming. I felt knocked out. I felt not human.”
“The saddest and most surreal hours of my life”
After labouring all night, learning she’d lost her baby and then spending a full day battling contractions, grief and the side-effect from drugs, her baby was born.
“George was born that evening. He was cleaned up and wrapped in a blanket and a little hat. Sam and I held him for a long time. We took photographs. We had our little baby and he was in our arms … it’s just that he wasn’t alive.”
“Then the doctors put me to sleep. In the morning we were discharged. The hospital needed the bed. For me, the journey home without my baby was the saddest most surreal hours of my life.”
“I got ill, really ill”
At home, as Lily tried to come to terms with what had happened to her family, things went from bad to worse.
“I got ill, really ill,” Lily says. “Because I couldn’t differentiate between physical pain and emotional pain at that point, I didn’t notice I was running a high fever.”
Despite not “wanting to see a doctor ever again” Lily was eventually rushed to hospital with septicaemia. What followed was the grieving and very unwell mum being pushed through the baby-filled maternity ward for a scan of her uterus – and a diagnosis of infection caused by a retained placenta.
“There was me, on a wheely bed, waiting beside [expectant couples] only I wasn’t pregnant. I’d been holding my dead child in my arms only days before.”
“I remember feeling numb”
A D&C was performed under a general anaesthetic, with an already traumatised Lily warned that her uterus might not hold up to the stress of the procedure so soon after childbirth, and that she might face a hysterectomy if things turned even more pear-shaped. Thankfully they didn’t and she recovered from the D&C and was allowed to go home.
“I don’t remember how we got through the days,” Lily writes. “I remember feeling numb. So numb and doing whatever that version of crying is when you don’t make a sound but become sodden with constant tears. That was my routine for months.”
“I remember one day in particular Sam was working, it was raining. Torrential, biblical rain. I went outside, took my clothes off and just lay there. I don’t know how long I stayed there, nor can I explain why I did it or even if it helped. I felt like I was in total darkness. I felt like my life was black, pure black.”
“It is a mystery, losing a baby”
Trying to reconcile her experience proved pretty impossible.
“I remember thinking when George died, ‘maybe this is God’s plan. Maybe I’m meant to go through all this pain. Maybe I’m meant to write about it. Maybe it will make me a better artist,” she writes.
“I tried to rationalise it, because if you can make even a semblance of sense of something, you hope that the pain and the mystery of it will become more manageable.”
“Because it is a mystery, losing a baby. You’re pregnant for so long and then just as you’re experiencing the miracle of new life ‘pooof!’ Your child is gone. Utterly vanished. Leaving behind only the faintest of imprints on the world, and it’s all over. It feels like your life is over.”
“This beautiful, negative space”
“But you can’t rationalise losing a child, and your life isn’t over. You just keep going. Very slowly. You piece yourself somewhat back together and get on with stacking the dishwasher and loading the laundry and making the dinner and yes, working or writing or tending to your marriage or eventually embarking again on family life,” Lily says. “Your lost child is there with you. Always. This beautiful, negative space inside you forever.”
Lily Allen went on to have two more children, daughters six-year-old Ethel and five-year-old Marnie. She is now amicably divorced from her children’s’ father, Sam Cooper.
Lily has just released a new album, called No Shame, and her first book, a brilliant memoir called My Thoughts Exactly (which contains the full story of George’s birth and lots more about Lily’s family, her experience of being stalked, coping with substance abuse, the rigours of creative life, grasping at healthy relationships, tackling modern motherhood – much, much more.)
My Thoughts Exactly is published by Blink Publishing and is available right now in all good bookstores or online.
In Australia, six babies die as a result of stillbirth every day. If you’re struggling with the loss of a baby, please don’t go it alone. SANDS counsellors are ready to support you and provide practical advice about living with loss.
Read more about baby loss:
- Doctors discover a cause of stillbirth – and a blood test may soon prevent it
- 9 thoughts mums struggle with when they’re pregnant again after a miscarriage
- Placenta complications in pregnancy – what you need to know