I can’t wait to tell my little boy why he’s called Tommy

Charley, 35, from Edinburgh was amazed when she found out she was pregnant in 2018. She’d been warned that pregnancy might be difficult for her as, a few years before, she’d had 3 procedures to remove abnormal cells from her cervix. After a worrying bleed at 10 weeks, Charley was referred to Tommy’s Lothian Preterm Birth Clinic at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. With access to specialist care and monitoring, Charley’s pregnancy progressed, and baby Tommy was born in May 2019.

I’ve always wanted to be a mum. As I approached my mid-thirties, my desire for a baby became stronger. I’d just moved to Edinburgh to be closer to my family and I knew it was the right time. However, I didn’t know if pregnancy was an option for me as I’d had some of my cervix removed after repeated abnormal smear tests in 2015.

The procedure is called a ‘LLETZ and involves removing pre-cancerous cells from the cervix. I had 3 operations altogether and a large section of my cervix was removed. I remember a doctor warning me that the likelihood of carrying a baby to full term without an intervention might not be possible. At the time, I felt like I had plenty of time and pushed the worry to the back of my mind.

Wonderful news

When I became pregnant in 2018, I was completely surprised but absolutely delighted. I’d spent so long worrying I wouldn’t even be able to get pregnant; I couldn’t quite believe it. I told my midwife about my cervix during my booking in appointment and she told me not to worry as it was such early days.

Indescribable fear

At 14 weeks pregnant, I started to bleed heavily. It was absolutely terrifying. I had no idea what to do as I was alone at home. I decided to call for an ambulance but, as I headed down the stairs, I fell. I’d lost so much blood I was lightheaded. I remember the operator on the phone casually asking if I’d "passed a fetus" yet. This thought hadn’t crossed my mind and I became totally hysterical. I still suffer with PTSD from this experience - I was certain I’d lost my baby and I cannot describe how awful this felt.

When I arrived at the hospital, I was scanned and saw my baby, alive and wriggling around. I was so relieved but anxious things would go wrong again. I had another bleed the following week, but it looked like my baby was holding up okay. My mental health was becoming increasingly fragile and I started to have panic attacks. It was such a difficult time. 

Seeking support

I was referred to Tommy’s Lothian Preterm Birth Clinic after my first bleed. At the first appointment, I met with Dr Sarah Stock and Morag Dalton, a Tommy’s research midwife.

The staff at the clinic were beyond amazing. They explained things to me in a way that kept me calm. Dr Stock gave me the information I needed and made sure I was referred to the correct medical professionals. She took her time with me and, for the first time in my pregnancy, I felt like I was getting the support I needed.

I started attending weekly scans at the clinic. Dr Stock and Morag kept a very close eye on my cervix as it was showing signs of getting weaker. I felt reassured, and I knew I was in safe hands. 

Bad news

At 21 weeks, a scan showed that my cervix had started to open. This meant I was at high risk of going into premature labour. I’m normally able to control my emotions and keep my cool under pressure but, at that point, I crumbled. My baby had become the most important thing in my life, and I’d become so protective over the little life growing within me. I would have done anything to keep it safe.

Dr Stock explained that the best option for me at that point was having a stitch inserted into my cervix known as a transvaginal cerclage (TVC). She explained that the stitch would be inserted vaginally under a spinal anaesthetic.

As I am a single mum, I didn’t have anyone to come with me on the day of the procedure. Morag kindly offered to come with me to hold my hand. I was so frightened that my baby wouldn’t make it – having a midwife at my side helped me to cope with the fear.

Reaching full term

The procedure was successful, and I entered my third trimester. Throughout the rest of my pregnancy, I visited the clinic for regular check-ups and reassurance scans. As I have a high BMI, I was also referred to the Tommy’s Metabolic Clinic for regular checks and specialist support. My anxiety was overwhelming, and I don’t know if I’d have coped without the support I received from Tommy’s.

At 36 weeks and 6 days, my waters broke. I asked my cousin to be my birth partner and she met me at the hospital. The stitch was promptly removed, and my labour began to progress, albeit slowly. My baby was born the following day at 5.36am via emergency c-section. I’ll never forget the surgeon saying the words “Happy Birthday”. It was a magical moment. After I’d been stitched up, my son was handed to me. Holding him in my arms felt like a miracle; my own wonderful miracle.

I named him Tommy because, quite frankly, he wouldn’t be here without Tommy’s. I know I’m one of the lucky ones and I’m so grateful to the team at the Tommy’s research centre in Edinburgh.