When I heard this morning that Cheshire police had launched an investigation into the deaths of eight babies at The Countess of Chester Hospital, I could not have been more shocked. Like many people in our area, The Countess has been part of my life forever.
It’s the place I was born, where my mum worked, where she was later diagnosed with brain cancer, where my dad had lifesaving intestinal surgery, and most recently, where I had my first child - in July last year.
In my early weeks of pregnancy I remember being asked where I wanted to have the baby - and straight away I said the Countess, because for me there was no other option.
I had a relatively straight forward pregnancy but towards the end I had agonising backache. I could just about manage to drive myself from work to the hospital, breathlessly uttering the words ‘give me painkillers’ to the midwives who took me seriously straight away.
They tried tablet after tablet to ease my pain and would not let me leave until I felt better. They also encouraged me to call them with any concerns I might have, no matter how trivial they may have been.
A month later when my waters suddenly broke all over my bedroom floor, six days before my due date, there was a kind and sympathetic voice on the other end of the phone, telling me to come in, where I was monitored for hours.
Thirty-six hours of labour is nothing compared to what many women have to go through. But it still felt like 36 years. Four midwives came and went off duty during mine - each one kind, helpful and reassuring, always with a smile.
I pushed for three hours with positive encouragement from midwife Lesley before my baby decided to stubbornly turn her head and a group of surgeons told me that it had gone on so long the baby needed to come out ASAP and I’d need to go into theatre right then and there.
Everything moved at super speed then. I was terrified and the pain was so excruciating, I was incredibly rude to the doctors and uttered more than a few obscenities. But once the spinal block was in, I was on cloud 9.
The surgeon chatted and joked to put me at ease and next thing I knew, my baby daughter was out.
It was then I realised that Lesley had been holding my hand the whole time. I was so touched by that when I thought of it later that I sobbed. She had stayed with me during the entire process, pushing the hair out of my face and telling me everything would be fine.
And thank God, it was. They stitched me up so skilfully I can barely even see my scar now.
It wasn’t until I read my notes later that I learned I had lost two litres of blood (which explained why I had turned completely grey) and that that was probably why they ushered my husband outside while they worked at top speed to sort me out.
I hated staying in hospital because all I wanted was my own bed and it was impossible to sleep. But the nurses who looked after me were angels. They tended to my every whim, tried to make a lighthearted experience of injecting me with daily fragmin injections, patiently showed me time and time again how I should be breastfeeding and didn’t roll their eyes once every time I rang the alarm for their attention.
Every single person has a different experience when they give birth, even when it is in the same hospital. Some are lucky and have straight-forward labours and births, and are out of the hospital the very same day. Others may have a longer recovery process or their baby may have to be monitored for whatever reason.
Then there are those who are not so lucky and have to leave without their child. I cannot for one second even begin to imagine how utterly horrifying that must be and if you have had a bad experience at the Countess, my heart goes out to you.
I can only speak from my own personal experience. I owe the Countess a lot.
However, conducting this police investigation is the right thing to do because the parents of all those precious lost babies deserve answers.