Tommy’s kept me hopeful through pregnancy after loss

After a textbook pregnancy with her daughter Amber, Hayley was devastated to lose her son Gabriel at 15 weeks. When her third pregnancy ended in another miscarriage, Hayley came to our specialist clinic in London for an operation that helped bring rainbow baby Ezra into the world.

We moved to Poole in 2018 to have more space and a beach on the doorstep for our daughter, Amber. When she was about three and a half, and I was just turning 30, we felt ready to try for another baby. Unfortunately, 18 disappointing months later, we were still waiting.

Struggling to get pregnant

I remember saying that, despite the disappointment, I was grateful we hadn’t had any losses. I had no idea how many families experienced baby loss, and believed you were in the safe zone after 12 weeks – so I was quite naïve, at the time. 

After having such an easy first pregnancy, it didn’t really cross my mind that something might go wrong.

Shortly after Amber’s fifth birthday in October 2019, we were over the moon to finally see that positive pregnancy test. We kept the news from virtually everyone, including our daughter and our mums, planning to do a big reveal on Christmas Day after our 12-week scan.

Despite a few trips to the Early Pregnancy Unit when I was concerned about bleeding, the 12-week scan confirmed baby was looking good and the pregnancy was going well. After Amber was born, I’d had an operation called a LLETZ treatment, so I was told I’d need extra checks after 16 weeks but reassured it shouldn’t be an issue.

Going into labour at 15 weeks

Everything was ready for the big reveal on Christmas morning, big sister t-shirt wrapped under the tree, but everything started going wrong in the early hours of Christmas Eve. I had stomach cramps in the night, which got so intense I was pacing back and forth when suddenly I felt my waters break. From the amount of blood, I immediately feared we were losing our baby.

My partner got my maternity notes so we could phone the hospital, and his brother came round to stay with Amber while we went in. Both in shock, we were taken straight to the Spring Suite at Poole Maternity Hospital – which I now know is a special area for parents going through loss

When the scan found our baby’s heart had stopped beating, we were both devastated.

After the consultant talked us through the options, I wanted surgery, but there were too many risks involved because of the size of the baby so I was given medication to induce labour instead. It took all day, and I was conscious of not being with our daughter on Christmas Eve, so I sent my partner home to get her ready for bed and do the traditions like leaving a mince pie out for Father Christmas. Whilst he was at home with our first baby, our second baby was born at 18:30.

Commemorating our baby

My partner came back to hospital that night, where we spent precious time with our baby – and although we were unsure at first, I’m glad we did. At only 15 weeks, we were shocked to see he was a recognisable baby who just needed to grow. We hadn’t named him but after seeing him it felt wrong not to; as it was Christmas Eve, and he was now our angel, Gabriel seemed perfect. 

We got home a few minutes before midnight, both exhausted, and managed a few hours’ sleep before putting on brave faces to host Christmas and make it magical for Amber. We’d told our family whilst in hospital and they offered to rearrange but we decided to carry on. It was hard but being brave for Amber got us through the day, and the weeks that followed.

Our mums were devastated for us, and their grandchild who they would never get to meet. Our family were very sympathetic but other people often said ‘it wasn’t meant to be’ or ‘at least you have a child already’… not meant to be hurtful, but anyone who has experienced loss will know these comments don’t help.

Seeking answers and specialist care

In the New Year, Gabriel’s post-mortem and tests showed he was a healthy baby. There was an infection, but they didn’t know if it had been in the womb during pregnancy or happened at birth. This made me think about my cervix surgery – could that have caused a problem? 

As you can imagine, I spent a lot of time researching online, and found a Facebook support group and the Tommy’s site with lots of helpful information. Both pages mentioned Professor Andrew Shennan, who runs Tommy’s Preterm Birth Surveillance Clinic at St Thomas’ Hospital, so I decided to get in touch with him as soon as I got pregnant again.

By May 2020, I had another positive test, but sadly the pregnancy ended in miscarriage at just 6 weeks. There was no investigation, and I was told it was certainly unrelated to losing Gabriel, but I felt desperate. 

I couldn’t risk it happening again; I wanted to see Professor Shennan and get specialist help as soon as possible.

Determined to advocate for myself and any future baby, I got my records from the hospital that did my LLETZ procedure, which showed a significant amount of cervix had been removed. I referred myself to the Tommy’s clinic, where they found my cervix was incredibly short: just 1cm! I was so angry it hadn’t been investigated before and my initial concerns had been overlooked.

Pregnancy and parenting after baby loss

I fell pregnant straight after my second miscarriage, so I was actually 5 weeks pregnant when I got to my appointment at the Tommy’s clinic. Because my cervix was so short, the team decided to place a very high cervical stitch, to help it hold onto the baby for longer. This would usually be done after 12 weeks of pregnancy, but I didn’t want to leave it that late because I’d lost Gabriel at 15; they listened to my concerns and I had the operation 3 weeks later.

When I first met Professor Shennan, I was in theatre, legs in stirrups with a spinal block – but he put me at ease. We heard a baby crying in the theatre next door and he said, ‘don’t worry about that, you’ll have your baby soon’. His words stayed with me throughout my pregnancy and filled me with hope in those moments of uncertainty.

I was tense for my entire pregnancy. I didn’t want to buy anything, get excited, even hope.

Regular checks at my local hospital helped reassure me – but only for a moment, and soon I’d be back to panicking about every little thing. We showed Amber the scan picture at 10 weeks and her joy was so refreshing, but we’d also told her about Gabriel so had to remind her what could happen even if we hope and pray not to lose another baby.

I tried to rest, but I felt bad always saying ‘mummy can’t do that because of the baby’; I couldn’t lift Amber or take her swimming. I also felt guilty for being happy or excited, like I was replacing Gabriel, or he didn’t matter now another baby was on the way. I’m so pleased Amber finally has a sibling to share Christmas with, but will people think I’ve forgotten about Christmas Eve 2019? 

When I look at my rainbow baby, I always think perhaps his big brother would have looked like this too.

When I held Ezra for the first time in February 2021, he was worth every appointment, every worry. I felt happy, relieved and sad all at once – sad for my Gabriel but happy to finally have my baby to take home. Ezra has helped to heal me, but he hasn’t replaced Gabriel or taken away the pain. I owe my beautiful rainbow boy to the team at Tommy’s research clinic, so thank you from the bottom of my heart, for making this possible.