Couple in stillbirth agony left facing ‘living hell’

IN common with many modern couples, John and Marianne Steel delayed starting a family to concentrate on their careers.

They met through work in London and married in 1988.

Marianne became marketing manager within Volkswagen Group UK while her husband worked in senior roles for car dealerships.

“We were still very young and establishing ourselves and that took precedence over family life,” said John.

“Then the clock starts ticking,” his wife said. “It’s a typical story of people today.”

In 2000, they decided the time was right but luck was not with them. They paid £5,000 for IVF but it was unsuccessful.

The couple moved from Milton Keynes to Kirk Smeaton near Pontefract in 2006 but, resigned that they might not have their own children, they decided to adopt. In March 2007 they were invited by Doncaster Council to a meeting as potential adoptive parents.

But to their joy on the same day, Marianne, then 42, found she was pregnant. “You don’t even think that it could be happening. I did a test and couldn’t believe it when it came up positive and so I did another.”

Despite her age, the pregnancy was trouble-free. “There was no drinking, I ate all the right food, I did absolutely everything properly. It was my one and only time and I wanted to get it right,” she said.

The couple discovered they were having a boy and were very organised – even buying a two-year supply of nappies.

On October 30, five days after her due date, they went to hospital in Pontefract where a consultant recommended inducing labour. Checks were periodically made on Marianne and the baby as she lay in a labour ward, having abandoned hopes of a water birth.

A succession of staff were involved in her care but they were all busy and the couple did not feel they were getting much information although they said they were never told there was a problem.

Marianne said: “I am a very calm person and I wasn’t raising the roof and I guess because of that I was ignored.”

Joseph’s heartbeat was monitored and there was talk of a blood test to check if he was in distress but it was never carried out. Marianne said: “If they had done that, they would have got him out. Nobody was in control of managing the situation.”

They said a junior doctor kept going back and forth to speak to the consultant in charge, Catherine Reiss, who came on duty at 1pm. John said she was across a corridor in another room at one stage sitting apparently training two junior doctors.

Marianne was told to keep pushing but the labour did not progress. Dr Reiss once put her head around the door but did not examine her.

Finally the medical team agreed they would deliver Joseph using instruments in theatre.

Then her husband listened as people ran up the corridor and began to panic.

He was told by a member of staff: “I think Marianne is OK but Joseph is in a bit of distress.”

In fact, Joseph had already died.

A doctor told him their son was not breathing when he was born by emergency caesarian and efforts to resuscitate him failed.

His wife’s life had also been in danger owing to a ruptured womb.

The couple were shattered. “It was like a living hell,” said Marianne. She left hospital in a wheelchair and in the following weeks left home only once for Joseph’s funeral. He is buried in the village churchyard under a tree they can see from their back garden.

Dissatisfied about what they were told of the tragedy, they demanded a further investigation but it was a year before they discovered what had happened.

“They had missed the fact that Joseph had been in distress for so long,” Marianne said. “They should have got him out earlier but they mucked about so much.”

Her husband said: “It still haunts me. I suffer from flashbacks a lot. It’s not just the sights and sounds but having to tell Marianne what had happened and what hadn’t happened.

“Marianne is not the same person she was on October 30 2007 – she’s completely different.”

He returned to work at the Jaguar dealership in Leeds but struggled to deal with what had happened and decided to move on. His wife tried to return to work but could not deal with confrontation or stress.

“It’s difficult to remember the first year or two afterwards – it was just like survival. I was just going through the motions, getting up in the morning, doing the very basics, forgetting to do other things,” she said. “I’m just very sad all the time. John forces me to go out but we don’t do as much as we used to do.”

They were helped at a group for bereaved parents run by the charity Sands and were also grateful for support from friends and neighbours in their village. They also wanted to thank John’s former boss at Jaguar, Garry Clayton, and Rachelle Mahapatra, of personal injury specialists Irwin Mitchell.

Marianne said: “Every day I look around. This is a lovely place to live. We just wish our son was here with us – he would have been doing half a day at school now.”

The anniversary of Joseph’s birth and death is among the hardest to bear, made worse by falling on Halloween. They put notices up asking people not to knock.

“We cannot have another child. I’m not the fit and healthy person, the live person that I was when I was 42. I have probably aged 10 years in the last four,” she said.

They received a pay-out for their ordeal but say it can never compensate for the tragedy.

“We didn’t want money, we wanted our baby,” she said.