Tommy’s clinic kept us safe through high-risk pregnancies

When Katey learned she was at risk of early labour due to a cervix problem, she and her wife Franziska came to our Premature Birth Clinic in Edinburgh, where specialist care from the Tommy’s team helped bring their babies into the world safely.

After our first cycle of IVF, Katey and I were thrilled to find out she was pregnant. We had chosen to go along the privately funded route and felt so incredibly lucky to be pregnant on our first attempt.

It had been enough of a challenge for us just getting pregnant, but we soon found out there were more obstacles to come. We had an early scan at 7 weeks, to check everything was okay before the clinic discharged us into NHS care.

Our excitement upon hearing that little heartbeat quickly turned to anxiety, when the doctor said it was likely that we’d lose the baby in the third trimester.

The doctor told us that Katey’s cervix had been damaged by an operation she’d had to have when she was younger, and now it probably wouldn’t be strong enough to hold onto a baby for 9 months. Hearing this terrifying news was traumatic.

Understanding pregnancy risks

We were both heartbroken, knowing that our little heartbeat was unlikely to make it. As you can imagine, we spent a lot of time on the internet, and most of what we read made us feel even more overwhelmed. However, this did lead us to the Tommy’s website, and a support group specifically for women diagnosed with Katey’s cervix problem. 

We worked hard to find out as much as possible - about the risks our family was facing, and anything we could do that might reduce them.

After a tearful phone call to the research nurse at Tommy’s Preterm Birth Clinic, we got an appointment to see Dr Kirsty Dundas, who leads the specialist team there in Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary Hospital. Our research kept leading us back to her team, and we desperately wanted their expert help.

Preterm birth treatment

We knew from our research that our best chance would be transabdominal cerclage (TAC) surgery. Premature birth can be prevented by putting a stitch in through the vagina to keep the cervix closed during pregnancy – but a new treatment pioneered by Tommy’s Research Centre in London involves placing a stitch through the abdomen, to get even higher up the cervix, and studies have shown this makes it even more effective.

TAC surgery is usually offered to mothers who have already lost babies, but when we met with Dr Dundas’ team and explained that the pregnancy was the result of IVF, they were very understanding. At 13 weeks pregnant, Katey went in for surgery, with Dr Dundas fitting the stitch while another doctor held baby safely up and out of the way. Dr Dundas had explained everything beforehand, the risks and the benefits, so we could feel as prepared as possible.

We really trusted the Tommy’s team because they didn’t sugar coat things; our concerns were always taken seriously, but they’d also tell us when we were worrying too much.

We saw a lot of the Tommy’s team, with scans every other week throughout the pregnancy to check everything looked okay. It was an incredibly anxious time but seeing Dr Dundas and her team every fortnight kept us calm. Whenever we were talking to them, we felt like everything was going to be okay. The Royal Infirmary is now my safe place! It was such an important source of support.

Having a premature baby

Our c-section was planned for 3 weeks before Katey’s due date, but her waters broke a fortnight before then. Someone just couldn’t wait to meet us! We rushed to the hospital for an emergency caesarean because the TAC stitch would rip if she went into labour naturally.

Fortunately, our little girl Lotta didn’t need to be on the Special Care Baby Unit (SBCU) but still spent 3 nights in hospital so the doctors could make sure she was okay. I stayed on the ward until 10pm, only going home to sleep; I wanted to be with Katey and Lotta as much as possible. 

When the Tommy’s team visited us on the ward, it felt like seeing old friends.

A year later we decided to try for a second baby. Pregnancy was much less stressful the second time around, because although we knew the risks, we also knew the Tommy’s team would look after us. Katey still had the stitch and we trusted it would hold.

We didn’t have such regular scans because we didn’t need the reassurance – our anxiety was lower, we knew what we were doing, it all felt strangely calm. Despite Covid-19 hitting the UK late in the pregnancy, we didn’t feel worried about how the pandemic would affect us, because we knew we were in the care of Dr Dundas and her team.

This time the c-section was scheduled even earlier, but again our little one was impatient, arriving the day before! Pandemic restrictions on the hospital meant I had to leave after our little boy Benno was born, and there were no visitors for the 3 nights that he and Katey spent on the ward. 

I hated being apart from our new-born, but we sent lots of photos back and forth. Katey actually found the lack of visitors meant healthcare staff had more time to support her with breastfeeding, which is so vital for premature babies’ growth and development.

We are so grateful for all the information and support we’ve had from Tommy’s, their research and pregnancy information, Dr Dundas and specialist nurse Morag and the whole Edinburgh clinic team. Without them, our family wouldn’t be here.