I still sometimes can’t believe he’s here

Rachael had a miscarriage at 22, before giving birth to her daughter Charlotte 13 years later. Devastatingly, after spending a year trying to get pregnant, she had another miscarriage in 2021.

Rachael went on to have IVF and received specialist care during pregnancy from the START clinic at the Tommy’s Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre in Manchester. She welcomed baby Leo into the world in November 2022.

My first 2 pregnancies

I first got pregnant at 22. I was at university, it was a surprise and I didn’t realise I was pregnant until the day I miscarried. It was all very traumatic, but I wasn’t ready to have children so I tried to move on.

I met my husband when I was in my 30s but when we decided to start a family, I struggled to get pregnant and was hit by anxiety. At 35, I finally became pregnant, but I started bleeding heavily at 6 weeks. I bled on and off until 14 weeks, had kidney infection after kidney infection, and then at 20 weeks I developed sepsis.  

We’d only just found out our baby was a girl and I thought I was going to deliver her right then at 20 weeks. I was a mess, thinking that she wouldn’t survive.

Thankfully, we discovered that my waters hadn’t broken and I wasn’t in labour. In fact, I didn’t go into labour until after my due date. The birth was traumatic – my baby’s heart rate dipped during delivery, meaning there were lots of people in the room, but eventually Charlotte arrived weighing 7lb 10oz. She is now nearly 6 and she is just wonderful.

Losing a baby

It took a while for me to be ready to start trying for another baby – I was terrified about going through pregnancy again. And then when we did start trying, it took a year for me to get pregnant. We had a private scan at 6 weeks and decided to tell Charlotte, who was 3, about the baby. She was so excited. At the scan, we were told that the baby had a slow heartbeat but we didn’t really worry about it. I felt very sick, which I thought was a good sign.  

At 7 weeks, I started spotting, but my local Early Pregnancy Unit weren’t too worried and neither was I. But that night I went to bed and started cramping. The next morning I woke up to lots of blood so I went back to the EPU. By this point, the blood was gushing. The scan found no heartbeat, but the nurse asked me to come back in 2 weeks to confirm the miscarriage. I got back in the car and screamed.

The aftermath of our loss

I knew there’d been a heartbeat 2 weeks ago. I knew our baby had died. I bled heavily until I felt dizzy. I went back to EPU and nearly fainted on the way in. I passed what I realised was our baby in the toilet while waiting to be seen. When the nurse confirmed that I’d miscarried, my husband sat in the corner sobbing – I’ve never seen him like that before.  

The worst part was telling Charlotte. We had to explain that the baby had died and gone to the stars. She asked if the baby would be able to come down in a starship. She named the baby Annabel – she’d really wanted a baby sister.  

Afterwards, I took lots of time off work. I was very angry and thought it was my fault. I really wanted to get pregnant again but was told I wouldn’t get any support until I’d had another miscarriage. Instead, I sorted my nutrition, I cut out caffeine and alcohol, and we tried to get pregnant naturally. When it didn’t happen, I was referred to a fertility clinic who found I had an underactive thyroid and low egg reserves. They offered me IVF but said it only had a 20% chance of working.  

Getting pregnant again

On 19 February 2022, on what would have been Annabel’s due date, I had a healthy embryo transferred into my womb. I didn’t expect it to work out. I did a pregnancy test soon after and had a really faint line, but I didn’t know whether to believe it. A few days later, I tested positive again and my pregnancy was confirmed at the clinic. I had private scans at 5, 6 and 7 weeks, just to make sure that everything was ok.

Physically, I felt fine, but mentally I was really struggling, living from scan to scan.

When I went for my 12-week scan, I saw a poster for the START clinic at the Tommy’s Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre in Manchester. The clinic looks after women who have conceived through IVF, providing them with specialist care throughout pregnancy – I thought it looked fantastic. I felt so lost after being discharged from the fertility clinic, so I spoke to my midwife and got myself signed up. It was just what I needed. 

Kate and Lucy at the clinic were phenomenal. They were always there for me and I could also have a giggle with them too. I was referred to the mental health midwives for support during my pregnancy, but the continuity of care I received at the START clinic helped more. I had a scan at every appointment and we got pictures of our baby’s face – that really helped with bonding. There was someone there to go through our options at every scan and the team were so supportive when discussing birth options. I really struggled to accept that I’d get to that point with a healthy baby, but I was gently guided through my options. It was so streamlined. Where else do you get that kind of care?

Welcoming baby Leo

Finally, on 9 November 2022, when I was very overdue, baby Leo was born by planned c-section, weighing 7lb 13oz. It was an incredible experience. He was out so quickly – I heard crying and they put him straight on my chest.

I felt like I could breathe for the first time in 9 months.

After Leo’s birth, my placenta and cord blood were sent off for research. After such a hard journey, it was great to be able to give something back. Research is the only way we can move things forward.

My friend once told me that every child, whether on earth or in the stars, teaches us something as parents. So my first miscarriage – who I named Jack – taught me to love life, Charlotte taught me intuition and Annabel taught me courage. We named our baby boy Leo because it means strong and courageous, like a lion. To go through IVF and pregnancy after loss certainly did take courage but I wouldn’t change anything about it.