My journey started back in 2008, in a previous relationship. I wasn’t trying to fall pregnant, but I fell regardless. Just as I was starting to get used to the idea, at around 8 weeks, I doubled over in pain and began bleeding heavily. This began a succession of early miscarriages and the agonising realisation that I may never be able to have a baby. I went on to lose 6 pregnancies and had a termination for medical reasons due to fetal abnormalities.
“I was absolutely broken; the grief was too much. I felt that I could no longer continue trying.”
The feelings of helplessness and anger were overwhelming. I blamed myself and worse still I think my partner blamed me too – ultimately our relationship did not withstand the trauma. We broke up shortly after.
Frustration and anger
Mike and I met in 2012 and, when I realised that he was a keeper, I was very honest in telling him that I didn’t think I could have children. He was great about it and said he’d at least like us to try someday if I felt strong enough.
I thought it might be different given I was trying with a new partner but then followed a missed miscarriage at 8 weeks, despite seeing the heartbeat at 6 weeks. I found myself in hospital having medical management the week before Christmas 2013. I was so confused; I didn’t know miscarriage could happen like that.
We tried twice more and both times resulted in early loss. I was left frustrated and angry as the consultant offered no testing. I was simply told that I should just lose some weight and try again, that I was young, and it was just ‘one of those things’.
“I was desperate for answers and I’d lost hope of ever having a baby.”
It was important to us that our losses counted for something, so we made the decision to participate in a research trial. We wanted something positive to come out of our pain and anguish. By participating in research, we believed we could help find answers and prevent what had happened to us from happening to others in the future.
A leap of faith
The research trail we signed up for aimed to investigate a new drug that promoted stem cell development. The researchers wanted to see if this drug could improve the lining of the uterus, helping an embryo to implant safely during the first few weeks of pregnancy.
Embarking on the trial felt like the biggest leap of faith. In our minds, we had one last shot. We went off on holiday, complete with ovulation sticks and my cycle tracking log. I fell pregnant again very quickly. Then started the hard part. I had to inject myself every day. At this point, I wasn’t sure if I was injecting myself with the new drug being tested or a placebo.
I had a complicated first trimester with lots of spotting and every early scan brought with it my belief that we’d lost the baby. We always seemed to have medical students observing and, with my wails of relief and the river of tears, came theirs. It felt like after 10 ten lost pregnancies, every single person had our back. Their tears meant the absolute world to us both.
On 11 May 2015, after a 21-hour labour, my 11th pregnancy resulted in the birth of our healthy, and oh so beautiful, boy Aidan.
Desperately searching for answers
Skip forward 2 glorious years and Mike and I were married. Aidan was the cutest page boy ever! We decided it was time to try for another baby. We naively thought that maybe, after carrying one baby to term, we’d be able to do it again. We were wrong. We had 2 more consecutive losses.
I had been researching where we might be able to go to help us find the answers we were desperately searching for. A friend recommended the Tommy’s National Centre for Miscarriage Research. I was referred and travelled down to Warwick in December 2017.
“Arriving in the clinic and speaking to the staff was amazing. To be in an environment where we didn’t have to keep explaining ourselves time and again and everyone just got it was so refreshing.”
Professor Quenby encouraged us to apply to the research team to find out if we were in the test group who were given the new drug or if we were in the placebo group. When we discovered that we had been in the test group, she explained that my issues could be due to something called natural killer cells (NK cells).
These cells are immune cells that clear out ageing cells in the womb lining. Sometimes the levels of these cells can be too high, and this can cause recurrent early miscarriages.
We had a couple of next steps to go away and think about. We could pay for a private prescription of the drug I was given during the trial. We were warned that this might be a long and difficult process. We could also choose to pay for an NK cells test. Both options were expensive, so we decided to take some time to decide.
Giving something back
Strangely, that evening, I saw a post on my Facebook feed advertising the research trials happening at Tommy’s research centre in Birmingham. The research team at Birmingham are part of Tommy’s National Centre for Miscarriage Research and work closely with Professor Quenby’s team. The centre runs virtually all of the UK’s research trials into miscarriage.
Mike and I decided that, before we tried again, we’d both participate in various studies run by the centre. We were still unsure about whether a second pregnancy would be possible for us but were passionate about giving back to the research community.
In total, we participated in 5 research trials. Most of them involved blood tests and extensive questionnaires. One of the projects I volunteered for was a smaller-scale study led by Tommy’s clinical research fellow, Dr Laurentiu Craciunas. He was investigating the impact of a procedure called an endometrial biopsy. This involved having a small tissue sample taken from the lining of my uterus, which essentially caused a small scratch at the same time as collecting a sample for further testing. Some evidence suggests that the uterus is more receptive to pregnancy after this procedure.
After the procedure, we were told that for the next 3 months we might have a better chance of a healthy pregnancy, so if we felt up to it maybe then was a good time to try.
So, we did, and again I fell pregnant. The 14th time. Another very anxious 9 months and who knows how many hospital trips, and Sam was born on 7 February 2019. He is beautiful.
“We are so grateful to all the Tommy’s team. They gave us the strength and hope we needed to keep going. Our family feels complete. We live in a world full of sleepless nights, dirty nappies and rainbows. Lots and lots of rainbows.”
1 in 4 pregnancies end in loss – and most parents never find out why due to a shocking lack of research. It doesn't have to be this way – and Tommy’s research is finding the answers. But research into pregnancy loss is currently seriously underfunded compared to other medical conditions.
We believe that every parent deserves answers. Let us know if you agree.