Former NZME reporter Brigitte Purcell lost her son five and a half months into her pregnancy. She shares her and partner Daniel's grief at never getting to hug their baby boy.
This is the hardest post I have ever had to write.
It's a post that was meant to be one of joy and happiness when Danny and I welcomed our baby boy Jude into the world in February 2020. A lot of you will actually not be aware we were expecting, I was keeping my wee boy a surprise until his arrival but unfortunately that arrival came at 5 ½ months and in the most unfortunate of circumstances that nearly took my life as well.
We were in Europe for seven weeks for a friend's wedding in France. I wanted to go for a long time as I have been learning French so Delilah can speak two languages. We spent most of our time in France but travelled to Spain for four nights and stayed in a small beach town called Tamariu just across the border that was filled with many other families and pregnant women. This was the only place on our trip where we were unable to cook for ourselves. After this we slowly made our way back to Paris before flying home.
The night before we flew home I started to feel some muscle aches and felt a bit cold, but I put it down to the emotions of getting home after a long trip. However, on the flights my health very quickly started to deteriorate. By the time I landed I was ready to leave my bags at customs and walk out of the door. I went straight home to bed to rest but progressively got worse. I was having extreme chills and up and down fevers, every muscle pain crippled me, I couldn't move from the fetal position and could barely open my eyes. I managed to get myself to the after-hours and was told I had influenza. They sent me home to bed with Tamiflu, and a referral to get blood tests I didn't have the energy to complete.
The next day my health had deteriorated further so my mother in law called the ambulance, they took me to the hospital where the doctor checked me over. At this stage I was having difficulty breathing so he checked my lungs with an ultrasound to make sure everything was ok. From there he asked if we wanted to see our baby boy. We elatedly said yes but our excitement quickly turned to terror as we saw our 5 and a 1/2 month old baby boy motionless on the screen. It was quickly confirmed by a sonographer that Jude's heartbeat had stopped…
Things moved quickly from there. I was taken to a maternity ward and my family began to fly in for support. The next day I had a team of dedicated doctors and nurses and tests started taking place to find out why I was so sick and what killed my baby. Over the day information slowly began to trickle in. I was visited by multiple teams in the hospital who tried to isolate the infection. As a precaution I was given four types of IV antibiotics.
Around 3pm we were visited by the infectious diseases team. They had detected a possible source of the infection. Listeria monocytogenes were found in my blood. It would take another 36 hours until this was confirmed conclusively. The bacteria are deadly for those with weakened immune systems such as the elderly and pregnant women. Once it enters the blood, it has devastating effects on babies in utero. Mostly resulting in death or severe disabilities.
Once the cause of the sickness was narrowed down to listeria, the doctors decided I needed to birth the baby quickly due to sepsis infection risk. I was given misoprostol to induce labour around 4.30pm and this is when I nearly lost my life.
After 10 minutes of taking the medication I started to shake uncontrollably, I could hardly breathe, I felt freezing cold, and my body was starting to shut down. About 1 minute later my hospital bed was surrounded by 15+ doctors, I would find out later this was the adult resuscitation team from ICU, preparing for the worst as my body went into a spiral. They could not be certain if I was having a septic shock, an allergic reaction or the listeriosis had reached breaking point. I could barely breathe, leading to my heart rate peaking at 230bpm, my blood oxygen levels dropping to 65%, my blood pressure plummeting to a level that was immeasurable and my temperature soared from 38 to 40.7degrees C. Every time I closed my eyes I saw Zeus staring back me and every time I opened my eyes all I could see was my family praying in the lounge connected to my room. I began to freak out as they recited something you only see in movies "this is Brigitte Purcell, she is 29 years old, she was administered last night, she is five and a half months pregnant with a still born and she has suspected listeriosis …."
It was a miracle I survived and I still can't quite comprehend that moment in time. My nurse and midwife would later tell me they believed I was going to die. But this hurdle seemed small compared to what was about to come. About an hour after nearly losing my life my uterus started contracting, preparing to deliver my son, Jude. I had about 30 minutes to lie down to regain some strength before an emotional birth. My contractions came in very strong and for about two hours they were back to back with about 5 seconds to breathe between each one. Before I knew it, my darling boy had been delivered. His eyes closed, a tiny little nose and mouth, sweet little nails at the end of his tiny fingers. Perfect in every way possible. He was the boy I had grown in my body for nearly six months and longingly loved his entire life. But his feet are never going to walk this earth, my arms are never going to get to hold him tight, I'll never be able read him bedtime stories and I'll never hear him giggle.
The grief is unbearable and utterly consuming. I have so many questions and so many "what if's".
How did this happen? Why us? Questions are slowly being answered, but many we will never find the answer to.
A bacteria, listeria monocytogenes, which was found in my blood caused listeriosis. This ruthless killer is to blame. The odds of infection are 1-million-to-one. Unthinkable that this could happen to us. Listeria infection usually comes from processed meat and cheese, foods I don't eat. Not to mention I am a clean freak and am so careful when it comes to preparing food. Making the odds even greater. Cross contamination and poor restaurant hygiene likely to blame.
It is highly likely I was infected in Spain three weeks ago, they are in the midst of their largest outbreak ever, one we weren't aware of as they put out the warning in the midst of our travel. A food hygiene crisis originating from a roast pork factory in Seville. Spanish authorities have charged multiple people with manslaughter and are making homicide inquiries regarding the public health crises. It will be very difficult to determine whether this was the cause, genetic testing of the bacteria needs to be completed, however, seven other women with stillborn children have been directly linked to this outbreak and my story is an extension of their loss and grief.
It will be a while before we get any answers, a lot of tests and reports are yet to be written. An autopsy will be carried out on our baby.
We hope for justice for the families in Spain and we hope we find answers to the cause of our infection.
For now, we are all trying to conceive what has happened and grieve through losing a son, brother, nephew, and grandson. This is going to take a lot of time and some wounds will never heal. But the support of our friends and family has been so crucial in moving forward.
Hold your loved ones close as you never know where life may take you or them. Always be kind and walk this earth spreading love and joy everywhere you go.
Please take a moment to send your thoughts and prayers to our darling Jude. A boy who I know has a beautiful energy that's probably too powerful for earth. Maybe one day he will join us on this earth but for now his precious soul is needed elsewhere.
We will love you always, sweetheart xxx Mum and Dad xxx
My deepest thanks are owed to the medical teams at Northshore Hospital. They kept me alive and were incredible during a very difficult situation. I would guess that over 100 people were involved in our journey. From the Ambulance Staff, Emergency Department, Nurses, Midwives, Registrars, Fellows, Consultants, Obstetricians, Sonographers, Radiographers, Anaesthetists, Adult Resuss, ICU, Infectious Diseases, Microbiology, Counsellors, Laboratory, Pathologists, and likely more in the background I am unaware of.
Specifically, I want to thank my midwife Victoria, our nurse Laura, Shona for calling the ambulance, the doctor I screamed at to be quiet during Labour, my family who have been incredible and my friends whose kind words have been wonderful to read.