Jenni O’Donovan and her huge team of 20 will be taking on the challenge of the scenic Royal Parks Half Marathon on Sunday 14th October. This is her story and reason for running:
By Jenni O'Donovan
“When Kevin and I decided we wanted to start a family we felt fortunate that I fell pregnant straight away. I was classified as a low-risk pregnancy, so we nervously ticked off the milestones as they arose, and found out at our 20 week scan that we were having a little girl. I worked until 38 weeks, and the only indication I ever had that we might not bring our daughter home was a rising sense of anxiety approaching my due date, which at the time we dismissed as normal.
I went a week overdue, and on the day of my 41 week check-up, we went in to the hospital for a routine midwife appointment and to book in for an induction. The midwife asked me when I had last felt my baby moving, and I said the night before, but felt a rising fear that perhaps my baby had not been as active as usual that morning. Shortly afterwards we were taken to triage where an ultrasound confirmed that our baby had no heartbeat. When you hear those words you immediately realise that you will never be the same again. Over the course of the next 48 hours I laboured and birthed our baby, Aisling Autumn. She weighed 7 lbs 7 and had a head of jet black hair. Her eyes were closed as though she were just peacefully sleeping. To us, she was perfect and the love we felt for her stronger than I had ever understood possible. In spite of our grief, we would never change our experience of knowing and loving Aisling.
This experience has given us an insight into the alarmingly high stillbirth statistics in the UK. Nine babies are stillborn everyday in the UK, and roughly a third of those cases happen at full term. In 50% of cases no medical reason is found. We decided to have a full post-mortem which uncovered the fact that my placenta had become less efficient at the very end of my pregnancy, meaning our baby had stopped getting the level of nutrients that she needed. There is currently no way of identifying that this is happening during pregnancy since it can't be detected on an ultrasound, the changes only visible under a microscope. However, there is equipment in research phase to test the efficiency of the placenta late in pregnancy. Tommy's is funding this kind of research in order to understand in more depth the causes behind fetal mortality and save more babies' lives.
Tommy's is an organisation which offers a voice to a subject which is still taboo in our society. The first resource that my husband and I relied on for advice in the weeks following our loss was Tommy's website. It helped us to know that we are not alone and to read others' stories. I had additional medical complications after giving birth since I required surgery to remove retained placenta, and the care I received at Queen Charlotte & Chelsea's hospital in London was incredible. I remember my aftercare consultant who I visited regularly for check-ups wore a Tommy's lanyard and specialised in understanding pregnancy loss. We felt lucky to have access to such a high level of care on the NHS, and it is our desire and belief that this should be replicated across the country. Bereavement midwives and private family rooms make every bit of difference when you are experiencing the trauma of stillbirth.
We felt that in the midst of our grief it was important to take on a challenge in the name of our daughter, and to talk openly about our experience in order to help break down taboos. The race is in October, almost a year exactly after my due date, and so it felt like a timely celebration of her life and an opportunity to create value from our sadness. I have never been a runner, so this feels like a particularly impossible challenge to set myself. Although I'm finding training challenging, I am very conscious at how beneficial regular exercise is becoming for my mental health and well-being at a time where everyday life can feel like a struggle.
It has also helped us enormously to have an outlet for our friends and family to openly support us, and we've been astounded at how many have actually signed up to run with us. So far there are 20 of us on Team Aisling and our numbers are still increasing. It will be wonderful to see everyone come together knowing that this is something we never would have accomplished otherwise and I feel that this is one of Aisling’s many gifts to us.”
To sponsor Jenni and Team Aisling please click here.
To join Jenni at the Royal Parks Half Marathon sign up now here.