AS NEWSREADER and journalist Emma Crosby celebrated her daughter Mary’s first birthday a few weeks ago, she felt an incredible mixture of pride and relief.

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Because, after almost losing her precious little girl in the final hours before her birth, she realised just how incredibly lucky she had been. 

After what had been a textbook first pregnancy, former Five News anchor Emma, 39, was six days overdue when she noticed her unborn daughter’s movements had slowed down. 

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She asked partner Jeremy, 43, to take her to hospital to be checked out – a decision that probably saved their baby’s life. Mary was delivered by emergency caesarean last November after her heart rate dropped suddenly. 

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“There were eight midwives in theatre, as nobody knew whether she would make it or not,” says Emma. 

“It was the most terrifying experience of my life.” Fortunately Mary survived the ordeal but not all families are as lucky. 

According to Kicks Count, a charity that Emma now works closely with to encourage prospective mothers to monitor their babies’ movement in the womb, there are 10 stillbirths a day in this country. Rather shockingly, the UK has the second worst stillbirth rate in the developed world. 

Figures from The Lancet in 2014 revealed that one in every 219 births was a stillbirth. They account for more than half of all deaths in infants under the age of one and more babies die in the womb or in the first week of life than from cot death, meningitis and accidents added together.

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Kicks Count believes that at least one third of all stillbirths – about 1,000 babies a year – could be saved if pregnant women were taught to pay more attention to foetal movements. 

"There were eight midwives in theatre, as nobody knew whether she would make it or not"

-Emma Crosby

“This wasn’t a topic that was covered in any of my antenatal classes and people don’t seem to talk about it much,” says Emma. 

“Yet I was rather lucky, as a friend of Jeremy’s is a neonatal nurse and in the early days of my pregnancy she posted a link to Kicks Count on Facebook, so I was always very aware of Mary’s movements.” 

On the night before Mary’s birth, Emma couldn’t sleep. Lying in the dark, she suddenly realised that she hadn’t felt her daughter move for a couple of hours. 

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She says: “That was unusual for her as she was normally very active at night and I began to worry.” 

Not wanting to wake up Jeremy, a photographer, she got a fizzy drink to try to get the baby moving. 

However after another hour there was no change and although it was the middle of the night, she decided to call the maternity unit at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, where she was due to give birth. A midwife told her to come in. She and Jeremy arrived at the unit at 6am and Emma was attached to a heart monitor. 

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“We were both so relieved when we heard a heartbeat,” she recalls. However the couple’s joy didn’t last long, as half an hour later Mary’s heartbeat plunged and a midwife broke Emma’s waters, only to discover that there was thick meconium (a baby’s fi rst waste) in the fluid. 

Fearing that the baby might have inhaled the substance, Emma was rushed into theatre where Mary was delivered. Instead of a hearty cry, the only noise she made was the tiniest mew. Her lungs were so full of meconium that three doctors had to work on her before she was taken to intensive care with Jeremy in tow. 

“I’d had a spinal block and couldn’t move but all I wanted to do was to hold my baby,” says Emma, who kept her eyes glued to the door of the recovery ward, convinced that a doctor would approach her with bad news. Luckily, Mary pulled through and four hours after the birth she was moved to the high dependency unit where Emma was allowed to see her. 

“Mary was covered in wires and it wasn’t exactly the moment I had dreamt of,” she says. 

“But all that mattered was that she was okay.” Mary had to spend a week in hospital where she was treated with antibiotics. Now a lively tot, she hasn’t had any long-term health problems as a result of her traumatic birth. Yet Emma is aware that things could have turned out very differently if she hadn’t got immediate medical help. 

Acting quickly, as Emma did, is absolutely essential, says Elizabeth Hutton of Kicks Count, whose second child Toby died in the womb at 20 weeks in 2010. “We know a change in movement is a sign of foetal distress, so it is crucial to get examined straightaway,” says Elizabeth. 

“There is this belief that it is quite normal for babies to slow down later into pregnancy but that is a dangerous myth. It also isn’t true that stillbirths only occur in high-risk pregnancies. 

Sadly they can happen to anyone.” Expectant mothers used to be told to count a certain amount of kicks per hour but the movement of babies in the womb is so varied that pregnant women are now advised simply to know what is normal for their child.

“We don’t advise parents to rely on portable heart monitors or to try to shock their babies into movement,” Elizabeth says. “Even if there is a heart rate or the baby moves, it might still be in distress and need urgent attention.” 

Kicks Count is working with the NHS to try to raise awareness of foetal health. “We’re so aware of cot death – and that is fantastic – but we need to learn how to keep babies safe before they are born too,” stresses Elizabeth. 

Emma agrees and is urging other women to listen closely to their instincts. “If I’d waited any longer to see a midwife, I don’t know what would have happened and that’s something I really don’t like to think about,” she says. 

“If you’re concerned, get checked.”