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“My second son lived for only one minute”

By Connie Koch 6 min read
Sunday, April 26, 2020

One mother’s heartbreaking journey through miscarriages and stillbirth, and why she still finds reasons to be thankful.

From a very young age I knew I wanted to be a mother. I even invented my ideal family of a dozen children and named them all.

In my twenties, I moved to Papua New Guinea (PNG) to be a missionary teacher. After five years in PNG, I got married, in 1986. I suffered a miscarriage when I was four months pregnant and when I became pregnant again, I intended to give birth in PNG, but he was a breech baby.

The doctor in PNG tried to turn the baby three times before he said I would have to give birth in Australia in case there were complications. So I flew to Australia at seven months pregnant, which was the latest pregnant women could fly in those days. 

On a routine examination two weeks before my baby’s due date, doctors ordered x-rays of my pelvis and wrists. They decided I was too small to give birth to a breech baby naturally and that I had to have a caesarean the next day. My husband was on a flight from PNG and missed the birth. I was so scared I couldn't stop shaking, but opted to stay awake for the caesarean. I had watched many birth videos but nothing had prepared me for this. It was incredibly miraculous!

As a first-time mum, I was petrified and weaned my son at 10 weeks on my mother's advice. A girlfriend invited me to stay with her when my son was 13 weeks old and put us to bed for 72 hours, over which time I was able to successfully relactate. I moved back to PNG and breastfed my son till he was nearly 15 months old.

A few years later, our little family moved back to Australia where I tried to conceive again for the next three years, but was constantly disappointed. One day, I optimistically went to the doctor but was told I simply had the flu. At home, while doing the laundry, the nurse rang to say my test was actually positive! We then had our first daughter naturally.

However, she was much bigger than my son and caused me extensive internal damage. This impacted the next time I fell pregnant. My husband didn’t want any more children but I wasn’t able to take the contraceptive pill. It made me violently ill and while I also wanted more children, I was still very surprised I fell pregnant when my daughter was just 15 months old.

From conception, this tiny baby's life was precarious due to placenta praevia, caused by my daughter's traumatic birth. The pregnancy was also harder because I now had two children under five to care for. But I was so thankful that I was finally achieving the family I had always wanted.

One day, I began to bleed. Having experienced a miscarriage before, I was worried this was what was happening again. I prayed on a minute-by-minute basis as the bleeding continued and I became steadily weaker. Sadly, on the day of my son's fifth birthday party and nine weeks pregnant, I was admitted to our local hospital. 

When I revealed I had been bleeding for the past 11 days, I was transferred by ambulance to the Mater Mothers’ Hospital in Brisbane. It was there where the two-month fight began to save not only my son's life, but eventually, my own.

I remained bedridden for nearly 14 weeks in the special needs ward for mothers and babies at risk. It was a depressing place because of its “clientele”. Despite the kind, caring nurses' best efforts, mothers were depressed and fearful, and some were mentally disturbed at the thought of yet more inevitable miscarriages and stillbirths. 

I was in there for so long the nurses got to know me and would stop in for chats. I had a constant stream of visitors but nights were lonely and dark and my thoughts ran wild between bargaining with God and accepting my fate.

My body was rejecting my baby and the bleeding continued non-stop, even intensifying the entire time I was in hospital. I had many daily blood tests, check-ups, a few ultrasounds and two blood transfusions. I had an allergic reaction to the second one and I believe my body's rigours brought on a dreaded early labour. I was two days shy of 23 weeks.

These days, medical advancements mean doctors can delay early labour and prolong pregnancy, but not then. I was never told why I had actually gone into early labour and never told that they had nearly lost me. I was literally and figuratively kept in the dark as I gave birth alone and unattended in a darkened labour room because my husband had been sent home a few hours earlier. My second son was born alive, but because his tiny lungs had not fully developed, he lived for only one minute. 

Then I heard a rushing sound and everything went black. I heard a voice say they were losing me and a woman declaring it wouldn't be on her watch. It seemed so easy to give up the fight, but something grotesque tasting was forced between my lips and I heard voices from far away calling my name and shaking my shoulders. I had been rushed into theatre to have the placenta removed under general anaesthetic. As I regained consciousness, I realised I had to unwillingly face the reality that my son had died.

My husband was supportive through the funeral but felt that I was taking too long to get over my grief—many years earlier, his own mother had lost a baby at a couple of weeks and carried on. I questioned God as my son was buried and my faith was tested, but for some reason I still trusted Him to know what was best for me.

Straight after the funeral, my husband left me for nearly six months due to stress. He moved in with his mother and I stayed with our five and two-year-old at home, receiving support from my mother. Many of my friends from church were also extremely helpful and kind in practical ways with housework, cooking and the children. 

For financial reasons, I went straight back to work doing relief teaching. I buried our son on Friday and was back at work the following Monday. I realise now that was way too soon and that I should have received counselling for my grief, but I was a single mum with two small children and their welfare was a priority over my own.

When my husband returned, I begged him to have more children. He was initially reluctant but gave in to my pleadings. Pregnant again, I was once more hospitalised with placenta praevia. After many hospital stays, I gave birth to a baby girl who knows she is our special blessing from God. She was born just before our son would have turned one had he been full-term.

Only when my daughter was five did my GP discover the extent of my internal damage and sent me for surgery. I suffered more miscarriages after her and never gave birth again, but I was granted my boy, girl, boy, girl and for that I am truly grateful.

Connie's three children

When people ask how many children I have I say four and I tell them about Dominic. Otherwise I just let them think I am mum to Jameson, TaliaRose and Tamsin Louise. I count it a privilege that I can empathise with mums who have experienced a miscarriage as well as those who have suffered through the funeral of a baby who was born alive. But I thank God every day for my surviving children and consider myself to be immensely blessed. I see myself as a woman of strong faith.

Jameson is now 31 and dad to two beautiful daughters, eight and two. TaliaRose is 28 and has a gorgeous five-year-old son. Our last daughter, Tamsin Louise, is 25. Our son Dominic would have turned 26 this year.

Through my journey, I continue to see God as my loving Father and beloved Friend. I find myself praying constantly about anything and everything and engage in conversations on a constant basis with God. I am blessed with a rock solid faith in which I truly believe that whatever happens is meant to be. That doesn't mean I don't grieve or hurt when things don't turn out my way, but instead it means I don't grieve alone, that whenever I am going through difficult times, God is watching me and going through it with me.

When you are grieving, it's lovely to have someone who has “been there, done that” by your side but it is better to have anybody who is willing to just sit with you and let you voice your deepest fears, sorrow and anger. It is true that a sorrow shared is a sorrow minimised—not gone but made smaller.


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Cornella Koch is a Christian mother and grandmother who has been a teacher for nearly 40 years in Papua New Guinea and Australia. She loves to read, write and travel.