Northern Ireland news

Parents tell of joy and heartbreak over newborn son who died due to fatal foetal abnormality

Dylan Stewart-McGovern and Catriona Smith pictured in their east Belfast home. Photo by Hugh Russell
Marie Louise McConville

THE parents of a newborn baby, who lived for just over four hours, have told of their joy at being able to meet their son, despite knowing he would not survive due to a fatal foetal abnormality.

Dylan-Joseph Stewart-McGovern was born just before 1am on Tuesday at Belfast's Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital, and passed away in his mother, Catriona's arms just before 5.30am.

His parents, Dylan Stewart-McGovern and Catriona Smith said while they had been left "numb", no price could be put on the happy memories they made, meeting their son and holding him.

The couple, who are both 23 and parents to two-and-a-half year-old Cáragh, said they were "over the moon" last August when they found out they were expecting another baby.

However, at the 12-week scan in October, the midwife was unable to get a clear image of their baby's head.

Read More: Helping break the silence around stillbirth 

A specialist scan a week later revealed the baby had a condition called anencephaly, which mean the baby's brain had not developed properly in the womb. A type of neural tube defect, the condition is said to affect around one in 2,000 pregnancies.

Infants born with the condition do not survive longer than a few hours or in rare cases, a few days.

At the appointment, the couple were told the condition was fatal and were given a leaflet on how to plan a funeral.

Ms Smith, who works as a hairdresser, was later told she had the option of terminating the pregnancy, however, she said it "was never an option".

"I would never have been able to end it," she said.

Read More: How to cope with life after losing a baby – a bereaved mum gives her advice

"I wanted to hold him and meet him".

She said continuing with the pregnancy, knowing her baby would not survive was "really hard" and she chose to wear baggy clothes to work in order to avoid pregnancy-related questions but in the end had to leave as the strain was too much.

Ms Smith was later advised that delivering her baby at around 30/31 weeks would give him the best chance of surviving for a time, and would also be best for her, both mentally and physically.

She was taken into hospital on February 11 so her labour could be induced and after a difficult nine days, baby Dylan-Joseph was born, just before 1am on Tuesday.

The child was born still inside his amniotic sac and initially, it was believed he was stillborn however as his aunt blessed him with Holy Water, he let out a gasp, much to the joy of his parents.

His father said the situation was "emotional".

"Catriona kissed him and said `My baby boy'," he said.

"She was very tired. I just sat and held him for one-and-half hours. I gave him back to Catriona and at 5.25am, he passed away".

Mr Stewart-McGovern, who works as a fire and security engineer, described seeing his newborn son, born and then pass away as "an absolute kick in the teeth".

"You kind of forget what the final outcome will be, in labour," he said.

The couple spent time taking photographs of Dylan-Joseph and their daughter, Cáragh was able to meet her brother.

Speaking yesterday at their home in east Belfast, where Dylan-Joseph is being waked in a tiny white coffin, alongside teddy bears and other keepsakes, his parents, though heartbroken, said they do not regret their decision to carry on with the pregnancy.

Mr Stewart-McGovern said he would advise other couples in the same position to "carry out because it is worth it" if it is the right choice for them.

"It's a a lot of strain but worth it to see him," he said.

Ms Smith said it was "love that made me carry on".

"It was very hard, mentally too. I was protecting him, this encouraged me to carry on and keep him safe.

"This was the right decision for us. We don't regret it. I would do it all again tomorrow".

The couple revealed they also plan to raise more awareness of anencephaly and organise fundraisers so as to buy more information leaflets for parents to be given in hospital.

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