We already had three beautiful daughters and my wife's pregnancies had been straightforward. It was a Tuesday and Ella was 38 weeks. It was a routine midwives appointment, more of an inconvenience than anything else because it clashed with the school run. I was at work and my wife said she would ring me if I needed to pick the girls up. My phone rang at 2.20pm. I thought; ‘Here we go, late school dash.’ Then I heard the words; ’Dom, you've got to come, they can't find a heartbeat!’
Stillbirth...a word I had never paid any attention to before.
It was confirmed two hours later at Liverpool Women's Hospital that we had lost Ella. We were given time to reflect and my wife would be induced on the Thursday night to give birth to Ella.
Ella was born at 2.57pm on Friday 12 November 2010. She was beautiful, just like her three older sisters. I cut her cord as I have with all my children, kissed her and told her Daddy loved her. My world was broken, why did this happen to us. We spent the day holding her, kissing and cuddling her, like any parent would do with any newborn. Our daughters came to the hospital, gave her pictures they had made and kissed her and said goodbye. We felt it was very important that they met their sister and knew who she was.
I realised there was a huge taboo towards baby loss
The following days, we basically just survived. We shut out the external world and tried to look after each other. The funeral passed and we said goodbye to our beautiful little girl. Now was the time to try and move on. This wasn't easy. People react to you in strange way. Some are great and offer amazing support but some shy away and can't talk to you. I think this was the first building block to where I am now, I realised there was a huge taboo towards baby loss. I was frustrated that I felt I couldn't talk about my beautiful daughter Ella, she was a secret, never to be mentioned so as to save the embarrassment of others.
After a few destructive months I decided to try and change my life. I was a 34 year old father of three girls and I weighed nearly 24 stone. I realised I was going in the wrong direction and if I didn't change I'd possibly die and put more pain on my young family. We also wanted to set up a legacy for Ella, something she'd be remembered by. It's so important that it's noted that she existed.
I started running, training from nothing
In February 2011 we decided to set up a page on facebook called ‘Team Ella’. I made the bold move through the Facebook community to state my weight (which shocked a few) and said I would run a 5km fun run for Tommy's in memory of Ella. This was our way of creating a memory for her. The reaction we received from friends and family was immense. So many people wanted to get involved in the run and wanted to support us and help remember Ella. I started running, training from nothing. It was really hard, I persevered, lost weight and gained confidence.
By the time the run came along in August, I had lost over five stone and felt like a new man. We had 44 runners in the fun run and they had come from Ireland, London, Liverpool and Southampton. We had an amazing day and raised over £8,000 for Tommy's.
I was totally inspired and blown away
I was totally inspired and blown away, I couldn't believe the support we had got. It was great that people came for Ella. She wasn't a taboo. She wasn't forgotten. She was almost alive, bringing people together to make a difference, and she was something so positive at this time and continues to be.
My weight loss continued and I decided to try to move onto a 10km before the end of 2011. This scared the life out of me as it surpassed anything I ever thought I could do. We were gaining more support through our facebook page and my weight loss journey was getting people involved as well.
After this Team Ella made great strides (excuse the pun) we decided we would support stillbirth, baby loss and children's charities. We choose a few events and started gathering teams for them. It was so rewarding to see so many people stepping forward to wear Ella’s sunflower, it totally inspired me and drove me forward to continue my work in her memory.
From being 23 stone I was now a qualified fitness instructor!
My training continued and I stepped up to run half marathons and then thanks to Tommy’s I secured a place in the 2013 London Marathon. This was a million miles away from what I thought I could achieve. I had also now lost 10 stone in weight and was a qualified fitness instructor. It’s no exaggeration to say that Ella had actually saved my life!
Running is so important to me now, it’s my time with her. At every start line I close my eyes blow her a kiss and tell her Daddy loves her. This year, along with my brother Matt, we took on the massive challenge of running coast to coast 69 miles across Hadrian’s Wall in two days. When we run, we always get asked who Ella is, I’m always so proud to say she’s my daughter.
Why do I do these challenges? I get to tell a complete stranger about Ella.
I’m not afraid of anything now. Nothing can hurt me like losing Ella did. It drives me on, pushes me harder and I try to help people who are struggling with the devastation of stillbirth. I’ve stood on nearly 40 start lines in my Team Ella t-shirt and have been joined by over 300 Team Ella runners, they are affectionately known as the ‘Sunflower Army’. We have raised nearly £50,000 for over 15 charities. This is Ella’s legacy, this is her living. Her spirit is so strong. I know someday somewhere a proud mum and dad will be holding their beautiful newborn baby not knowing that their baby was born safely thanks to Team Ella, Tommy’s and all the others working to make pregnancy safer.
My next challenge is to run the Royal Parks 30 mile Ultra Marathon for Tommy’s. Someone asked me why. Firstly because I can and secondly I’ll get to tell a complete stranger about Ella
Stillbirth took enough from me, it will not take anymore.
It’s nearly four years since we lost Ella. They say time is a healer! I don’t really agree with that, I think you just get used to the loss. Something died inside me that day, it changed me and I lost the innocence to the cruel things that can happen to you in life. It made me a slightly more serious person and I view people differently now and also appreciate the good things in life. Stillbirth took enough from me, it will not take anymore.
Some days are harder than others but you just need to push through it, get on with your life. One thing for sure is that I am a very lucky man. I’m married to an amazing strong woman and we’ve both got through this together, I have amazing funny beautiful children and Ella now has a little sister. She lights up all our lives and is slowly healing us. I was asked during my Hadrian Wall challenge, why do I put myself through this and what does it mean to me. The answer was simple – When I draw my final breath, I know that like with all my daughters I will have done everything possible for Ella. Her name will be remembered and we will have done it with sweat on our brows and a smile on our faces.
If you want to know more about Team Ella and the work we do, you can find us facebook or twitter @teamella1 or our website www.teamella.co.uk
I’m not Team Ella, we’re Team Ella. As a single voice you’ll never be heard. As a group we can shout louder.
The Lupus in Pregnancy (LIPS) Clinic is part of the Tommy's Research Centre at St Mary's Hospital. This specialist antenatal clinic is for pregnant women with Lupus Spectrum disorders and connective tissue disorders.
The Manchester VELOCITY Clinic is part of the Tommy's Research Centre at St Mary's Hospital. The clinic provides multidisciplinary care for women who have type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
The Manchester Antenatal Vascular Service (MAViS) is part of the Tommy's Research Centre at St Mary's Hospital. The clinic supports women who have a high risk of hypertension in pregnancy, by monitoring women closely, giving them extra scans and specialist support.
The Rainbow Clinic is part of the Tommy's Research Centre at St Mary's Hospital in Manchester. It provides specialist care for women who have suffered a previous stillbirth or neonatal death.
Deborah is 37 and lives in Borehamwood with her caring and supportive husband Ben. Their baby Yaeli was sadly stillborn at 40 weeks + 1 day after Deborah noticed reduced movements.
Gaynor and Ben from Yorkshire were devastated when their daughter Kallipateira was stillborn in 2018. Sadly, their second pregnancy ended in miscarriage in 2019. Gaynor self-referred to Tommy’s Rainbow Clinic in Manchester later that year and was supported by Professor Heazell through her third pregnancy. Their healthy rainbow baby Apollon was born during lockdown in 2020.
Frankie's first pregnancy was low risk, largely problem free. At 38 weeks and 2 days, Frankie experienced reduced movements and sadly baby Esme was stillborn. With small children in her wider family, Frankie turned to books to try and explain the tragic loss of Esme - but couldn't find anything suitable. It was then that she created the beautifully illustrated book 'These Precious Little People', for families affected by the death of a baby.
Sharon Manatsa from Bedfordshire was delighted when she found out she was pregnant in 2016. Devastatingly, her baby Melkiah was stillborn. Sharon is now determined to break the stigma around baby loss, particularly within Black and minority ethnic communities. This is Sharon’s story.