'I heard my DEAD baby crying'
I wrote Stacey's powerful story for today's Mirror and The Sun, about how she was admitted after believing she could hear her dead baby crying. I also got her story published in Take a Break magazine.
Stacey Dukes, 31, from Manchester, was thrilled to finally become a mum. Then her mind started playing tricks on her...
“I scooped up my baby and walked to the front door, where my partner Sean was pulling on his coat. He kissed me and said: ‘Will you be alright?’
‘Yes of course,’ I said.
But as the door closed, my heart sank.
After two weeks of having Sean at home and a constant flurry of visitors, it was just me and our newborn daughter, Ava.
Despite the nerves, I was so happy to be a mum. I had miscarried a baby when I was 19, which had caused me to worry throughout my pregnancy with Ava.
The first couple of weeks were the same loop of feeding, burping, nappy-changing and napping Ava.
I also started to grow very protective over her. I refused to leave her side and thought that if I did, someone might take her. I put my worries down to having the baby blues.
One day I was sitting on the sofa when I heard crying, but Ava was asleep.
‘Who is that?’ I said.
I couldn’t work out where it was coming from, yet it seemed like the loud wailing was right next to me.
It must be the baby I lost, I thought.
It broke my heart to hear its cry. There was a longing in its voice, as though the baby was desperate for comfort.
I scrunched my face up as the sound got louder and I wondered what to do. The baby I had miscarried needed me.
I have to kill myself, I thought.
But when I looked at Ava gurgling away happily, I knew there was no way I could leave her.
After that, whenever I heard the crying I fought an impossible battle in my head, unable to decide whether I should take my own life or stay here for Ava.
When Sean got home, he gave me a hug.
‘How are you doing?’ he said.
I put on a brave face and said: ‘We’re doing great.’
I didn’t want to worry him.
When Ava was nine weeks old, I pulled out a handprint plaster casting kit a friend had bought us. I got it ready and as I went to press Ava’s hand into the clay, she scrunched it up.
‘I need to do this, just in case,’ I told her.
The worry of Ava being taken had driven me to use the kit, so I’d always have something to remind me of her.
I tried again and got a mould of her hand and foot. It was perfect.
Soon I grew even more paranoid that something would happen to Ava. During trips out with her in the buggy, I kept glancing over my shoulder to make sure no one was following us. I was sure someone was plotting to take Ava from me and I studied everyone that passed us with great suspicion.
Then I began to feel angry.
One day, I couldn’t stop Ava from crying and then my dead baby started screaming too. I paced the room, clenching my fists.
‘Stop!’ I cried.
I grabbed a bottle of ibuprofen medicine off the side and threw it against the wall. It smashed and the liquid went everywhere.
My temper often spiked when I was out too.
As I weaved Ava’s buggy around people on the pavement, I grew impatient if people didn’t move out of the way immediately.
‘Excuse me,’ I snapped.
Then I pushed past them.
I felt out of control.
Days later, I was at home with Sean when I heard the all-too-familiar wailing next to me.
‘Can you hear that crying?’ I asked.
‘It’s Ava,’ he said.
‘No, another baby crying,’ I said.
Sean looked at me and frowned.
‘Are you alright?’ he said.
I broke down in tears and in that moment, I realised something was seriously wrong.
‘I’ve been thinking of how to kill myself, to be with my dead baby,’ I said.
I told Sean everything and he phoned a doctor.
That day, I was admitted to a psychiatric unit and I was flooded with relief. I couldn’t cope anymore and I needed help.
I spoke with a psychiatrist there and told him everything that had been happening.
‘I’m not sure yet but I believe you have psychotic post-natal depression,’ he said. ‘We’ll put you on a treatment plan and give you medication.’
I couldn’t believe it. I had worked as a mental health nurse in the past but now I was the patient. I was used to treating people, not people treating me.
That night, I wasn’t allowed to have Ava with me and I sat in my hospital bedroom, fretting something terrible would happen to her.
‘One of the other mums is going to take her,’ I told a nurse.
‘No they’re not,’ she said. ‘You are clinically sleep deprived, you need to get some rest.’
I was given a sedative and soon I drifted off.
Next day, Ava was allowed to stay with me in a cot next to my bed and I watched her intently. I was still sure she would be snatched.
I was being watched too. Even when I went to the toilet, staff knocked on the door to make sure I hadn’t harmed myself.
The two double doors to the unit were locked at all times and I wasn’t allowed out unless I was with a staff member.
It felt like a prison.
The diagnosis the psychiatrist had made was confirmed and just putting a name to how I felt helped.
I tried to find joy in my days and often visited the sensory room with Ava. I lay down next to her as she gazed at the lights and colours.
She cooed and smiled at me.
‘Love you,’ I said.
I’d been in the unit a week when Mother’s Day came around. It certainly wasn’t how I’d planned my first one, but the staff surprised me with some paintings they had made of Ava’s handprints.
I welled up when I saw them.
‘Thank you,’ I said.
Weeks later, I was allowed to go outdoors alone with Ava. Before I left, a nurse wrote down my description, including what I was wearing and my hair colour. I likened it to something out of Crimewatch.
I sucked in the fresh air as I pushed Ava around the hospital grounds and visited the Costa café there. For a few moments, it felt like I was a normal mum again, simply enjoying a trip out with my baby.
Back in my bedroom, I played with Ava. I crouched down behind the bed then popped up and said: ‘Boo!’
Suddenly Ava giggled.
‘Did you just laugh?’ I said.
I jumped up again and she chuckled some more.
It was the first time she had ever laughed and I knew I would remember this moment forever. It was the happiest I’d felt in a long time.
Every day, Sean came to see me and I saw lots of my family and friends too. I always looked forward to their visits, which reminded me I had a life outside.
In time, I pushed away the shame I felt and told the other mums how I’d been a mental health nurse.
‘Really?’ one said. ‘You can get mental health problems too?’
‘Of course, no one is immune,’ I said. ‘I’m only human.’
After ten weeks in the unit I was finally discharged, and Sean and I took Ava to the zoo to celebrate.
Back home in Manchester, I was nervous. I had grown used to the unit and having people around all the time. But soon I got into a new rhythm with Ava and learnt to enjoy each day.
Now I remain on medication and though I still have my down days, I feel so much better.
Ava is now two and I feel like I’ve missed months of her life because of what happened, but it just means I relish the moments we do have even more.
When I look back now I wonder how things got so bad. Having a baby completely changes your life and there needs to be more support for new parents.
I now work training and caring for dogs, who are like a form of medication for me. But it’s Ava who really keeps me going. Just little things like hearing her sing Wheels on the Bus make my heart swell.
Becoming a mother sent me on a dark and scary path for a while, but my daughter also helped me recover.
I hate to think what I’d have done if I didn’t have her beautiful smile to keep me going. I truly believe she saved my life.”
Stacey has written a book about her experience called Phantom Cries, available from Amazon.