On 13 October 2019 Francesca took part in the Royal Parks Half Marathon to honour the memory of her first child. This is her story and reason for running.
On the 21st December 2018, I got my two pink lines.
In most cases, mine included, the woman will find out that they are pregnant by un-graciously peeing on a stick, waiting for what seems like the longest few minutes of their life and getting their answer, one way or the other.
As it was our first child, I wanted to make a real ‘thing’ of it, so ordered a baby grow with ‘Baby Orchard’ emblazoned on the front (thank goodness for Amazon Prime) and walked into town to buy a Christmas card from ‘Bump’.
Along came the morning of Christmas Eve, my then partner (now fiancée) was still none the wiser and I could not wait any longer. He came into the living room to see if I was ok as I had been up much earlier than usual, unable to sleep, when out of the corner of a drowsy eye, he noticed a little present waiting for him on the coffee table.
It was a challenge, keeping the news to myself for three days, but it allowed me to construct a beautiful moment for the two of us to share- opening the baby grow, seeing the test and reading the card.
It also gave me a chance to adjust. Having been diagnosed with PCOS (poly cystic ovary syndrome) in my late teens, we anticipated an arduous journey to starting our family.
However, low and behold on month two we fell pregnant. For me there was a seismic shift as soon as I found out. I had instantly become fiercely protective of this little life, albeit a small bundle of cells at the time. I never understood when women used to say ‘a woman becomes a mother as soon as she finds out she is pregnant’, now I do.
I did what any first-time expectant mother would, I Googled. I googled everything from tiredness to teething rings, cramping to cribs and bloating to buggies. A lot of my searches lead me to Tommy's.
I quickly became acutely aware that having PCOS increased my risk of miscarriage and pregnancy complications. Some cramping during week six led me to my local EPU (Early Pregnancy Unit) where they scanned me.
An abdominal scan showed that everything was in the right place, excluding the possibility of an ectopic pregnancy, and the gestational and yolk sacs where exactly what they expected for my gestation. All I was told was that I should come back in two weeks just to just make sure that the baby was still developing correctly.
Two weeks came, after a bit more Googling, and everything was just perfect. By this stage, we were about nine weeks along and we were thrilled to see our baby on the screen with a little heart thumping away. With this, we were discharged from the EPU and told that we would be seeing our baby again at our dating scan, booked for the 14th February, Valentine’s Day.
We left on a cloud, blissfully unaware of what was to come. Google again, ‘chance of miscarriage at nine weeks, after seeing heartbeat’, result: 1.6%. 1.6%. 1.6%. The statistic that kept my paranoid first time mother brain calm and allowed me to enjoy my pregnancy (despite the fatigue, headaches, bloating, tearfulness, cravings and constipation).
Fast-forward another two weeks, I was covering reception for a colleague who was off ill and I popped to the toilet mid-afternoon. I was bleeding. Lightly. It was dark, but it was blood.
My old friend Google was called upon and led me to Tommy’s, once again. ‘Bleeding in pregnancy should always be investigated, even though in many cases it is not unusual’. A bit of hope: ‘it is not unusual’. I stayed at work, went home, cooked dinner, put a wash on, had a shower and went to bed.
The bleeding was increasing, slightly but noticeably. ‘It is not unusual’. After all, I was almost twelve weeks, that is the ‘safe zone’, right? I went to work that morning, but by lunchtime, I decided enough was enough. It was time to go to the hospital.
My EPU wasn’t open so I was instructed to go to A&E where we were told that we would have to wait until the following day for a scan but that they could check all of my hormone levels. All came back just as you’d expect of a woman in her eleventh week of pregnancy, so we went home with an appointment back at the EPU the following morning and instructions that if I began to soak through pads every hour or less to come back immediately.
Despite the seemingly positive test results, I just knew that things were not right. Both feeling deflated we went home and spent the evening listening to music. Call it what you will, gut instinct, mothers’ instinct or just a feeling, I told my partner that I wanted to just sit and ‘enjoy my last night of being pregnant’.
Only the weekend before, we had decorated our previously grey room to a soft cream and rearranged the bedroom, leaving space for a crib when it came. We had even gone as far as to changing sides of the bed, so when our bundle arrived, I would be on the right side for those middle of the night feeds. In retrospect, it was so unnecessary at that stage, but it just felt right - almost a premature nesting season.
I went to sleep that evening, in my newly decorated room, staring at the space that our baby was meant to be one day, knowing that this baby would probably never sleep there.
When the scan came, our worst fears were realised.
The abdominal scan (which had been done on the two previous occasions) didn’t show what it should. The ultrasound tech decided to do an internal scan, just to check. Stillness. No baby bobbing in the amniotic fluid, no thump where there had previously been one.
Honestly, I can’t really remember the words that she used. All I can recall is an instant wave of grief. Soul crushing grief. I lay there and wept, holding the hand of my partner, this baby’s father, and wept. The rest of our experience at the hospital was horrendous and doesn’t bear going in to.
By the time we got home, we had decided that as I was already bleeding I did not want a D&C or induction medication unless I really had to. In the days leading up I had no cramping alongside the bleeding and on reflection perhaps that was because my body was not truly ready to let go of the life that was now lifeless.
The bleeding was continuing but not getting any worse and our families rallied around us, bringing flowers, meals and so much love. Work were brilliant, we both work for the same school and were told to take all the time that we needed.
The following day, the day after the world fell down around our ears.
My partner encouraged me to take a walk into town for some fresh air. While in a shop, I was hit by a wave of pain, a contraction. I hadn’t expected to experience contractions, but there I was, leaning on a chest freezer in a well-known shop (the ones where ‘mums go’- ironically), contracting.
We walked home slowly, stopping when the pain was too great and waited for the worst. We had been told that ‘I would know when I had passed the products. Products'. They were not ‘products’, that was my baby.
It did not seem to come, and then the pain eased. I went to bed early, drained both physically and emotionally only to be woken at around midnight by severe pain, worse than it had been before.
By this time the bleeding had ramped up and I was writhing in pain, unable to sit, lay down, stand up, move, stay still, function. My partner decided that it was time to call an ambulance as the amount of blood I was losing was alarming, only to be told that there was a four hour wait and it was better if we could get there ourselves.
This resulted in my parents being called. While they were on their way to collect me, my body let our baby go. The A&E department were brilliant, giving me an injection to decrease the bleeding and a big dose of pain relief as well as words of comfort.
The days after are a blur. The world kept spinning. Our world stood still.
I have since reached out and joined a Tommy’s support group on Facebook. It is like a club - your membership fee is a price too high to pay but if you have to make that payment, you are in.
The women in the group have provided me with a constant stream of support. Amazingly, nobody that I am close to has experienced pregnancy loss, so these ladies have been my go to when I am feeling alone.
Even if I don’t feel like sharing or commenting or even ‘reacting’ to what is on there on any given day, reading the posts and the comments, knowing that you are not alone can bring so much comfort.
One Sunday afternoon I decided that, with no running experience, I was going to sign up for the Royal Parks Half Marathon. I needed to get some head space and I’m not the type to sit and meditate.
I’ve always looked at runners and thought ‘I wish I could do that’, never thinking that it could be a good way to have some time to think, process and organise my mind. Before I had even signed up, I had decided that I would be running for Tommy’s.
They had been there through the pregnancy (for the good and the bad) and are now providing me with an outlet in the form of the support group. Not only do Tommy’s provide information and support, they also fund pioneering research that saves babies lives.
While I am apprehensive about the task of running 13.1 miles at the Royal Parks Half Marathon (approximately 13.05 miles more than I had ever run before signing up) I can’t wait to meet others who are sadly ‘part of the club’ to, run #togetherforchange, raising money for such a worthy cause.
We will never know why we lost our first child, but we will honour him. I will be running, not only for Tommy’s but in his memory and in his honour.
'As long as I'm living, my baby you'll be" - Roger Knapp