A mother has told how she was left terrified she had killed her baby after having sex while pregnant.
A few hours after Karen Smith had sex with her husband Mark while 31 weeks pregnant, she suffered a bleed and cramps.
Doctors initially dismissed her symptoms as normal, but hours later, she woke from emergency surgery to be told her baby had died and her womb had been removed during a hysterectomy to save her life.
Her son, Robert, weighed 4lb 8oz when he died on 4th September 2008.
The mother-of-three tortured herself with the thought that having sex had ended her baby’s life.
In fact, she had suffered a placental abruption, which experts have finally concluded should have been spotted earlier.
Mrs Smith, 30, from Plymouth, has recently accepted an undisclosed settlement from the hospital after it was proven her son could have survived if she’d been operated on sooner.
She now wants to raise awareness of placental abruption to save other parents the heartbreak of a loss.
She said: 'I tormented myself with the thought that making love had ended my baby’s life.
‘When I got to hospital bleeding they assured me all was well and it was normal to bleed after love making.
'The next thing I knew I woke to be told my son was dead and our lives torn apart. Of course I blamed myself. My husband and I were utterly distraught.
‘My friends said I'd feel better after the funeral, but I didn’t. Yes, life carried on, Mark went back to work and I took the kids to school, but then I’d spent the rest of the day just staring into space.'
Mrs Smith underwent counselling, but it failed to help.
'I couldn’t get closure. I couldn’t stop blaming myself. I tortured myself with the thought our love making had ended Robert’s life.
'Everything had been fine until then. Why hadn’t we just abstained?'
She then began wondering why staff hadn't investigated the pain she had been suffering.
'I thought if the staff hadn’t been so quick to put my pain down to sex, more tests would have been carried out and perhaps both Robert and my womb would have been saved.'
It was only when she received her Robert's medical notes that she discovered he had been killed by a placental haemorrhage.
The notes confirmed he had died due to lack of oxygen and placental abruption, but when Karen looked the symptoms up online she realised she had been showing all the signs when she was first admitted to hospital.
‘I started to get angry that it hadn’t been spotted sooner. Everyone had been too quick to blame sex and missed the symptoms of something much more serious.
‘I felt if they hadn’t been preoccupied with me having had sex, my son might have been saved.’
She was also relieved to learn that placental abruption was not caused by sex.
‘I’d been blaming myself but now I realised actually it hadn’t been my fault. Making love in pregnancy is perfectly safe and most couples do it.
'I’d been torturing myself with the idea that we had caused our baby’s death and I felt I needed to prove to myself that I was not responsible at all to be able to grieve.'
Mrs Smith, who has three other children - Jessica, 14, Jordan, 11 and Chelsea, 7, contacted a solicitor that dealt with mishandled births and began a case.
The expert who examined the evidence concluded that staff should have recognised the signs of a placental abruption earlier and delivered her baby sooner.
Mrs Smith added: ‘To know he may have survived if they had acted quicker was heartbreaking. But I knew I would keep blaming myself until I got justice.’
The hospital offered a settlement for the loss of her son and her womb, which she initially rejected.
But after a four-year battle they made another offer without liability, which she accepted. She said: ‘I wanted a day in court to finally prove that I was not responsible for my son’s death.
‘But the battle was taking it’s toll on the family and in the last September I decided to accept their offer to move on.
‘I needed to see in black and white that it wasn’t my fault and making love had not harmed my baby.’
Mrs Smith now wants to raise awareness of placental abruption so parents know the signs to look for.
She also wants to assure mothers there is nothing wrong with having sex while pregnant.
I spent a long time blaming myself. Of course I regretted it because soon after my son died. But I know through my research the placental abruption would have happened anyway.
‘It was an awful coincidence and tragic that the signs were not detected when I first got to hospital.'