So much has happened over the past few months, I’m struggling to know where to begin…
I’m 29 and my husband Joe is 30. Life seemed to be so perfect; we got engaged, bought a house, moved in together, both qualified as chartered accountants and then had our dream wedding two years ago. I wanted to start building our own little family, although Joe took a bit of persuading.
I had been using the contraceptive implant for a few years, so decided to have this removed in the middle of July 2015. We conceived pretty quickly, as at an emergency scan in early September 2015, I was told that I was just over 5 weeks pregnant. I had been suffering from severe abdominal cramps and had put this down to my body trying to return to a normal cycle, but wanted to get everything checked to be on the safe side. We were both over the moon, although a little shocked because we didn’t expect it to happen so quickly.
All appeared to be well; the consultant had no explanation for the cramps, I was just told to go home and rest. I was extremely nervous, I’d heard so many stories about early miscarriage that I felt I shouldn’t get too excited just yet. The weeks flew by and we made it to the 12-week-scan. Our little baby was perfect, she appeared to be very happy and healthy.
We visited our local hospital for the 20-week-scan and they thought that they had dated us incorrectly. My pregnancy dates could have been out slightly, as I didn’t have a period after the removal of the contraceptive implant. We were told not to worry and to wait for an appointment.
At 21 weeks on December 16 2015, we attended our appointment expecting to be given a revised due date. What we were told turned our world upside down
Our baby was diagnosed with intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), where for some reason, most likely because the placenta was not functioning correctly, our baby was being deprived of oxygen and nutrients which were restricting her growth and development. I could see our consultant's mouth moving, but couldn’t hear what she was saying, until she spoke the words ‘fetal demise’. How could this be? Surely she’d got it wrong, our baby looked perfect from what I could see. It felt as though my heart had been ripped out of my chest; why me? Why us? We were both healthy, I didn’t smoke, I didn’t drink, and I ate well – why? What could I have done to cause this?
I had to quickly pull myself together so that I could understand what we were dealing with, and what the next steps were. It was a race between our baby reaching a viable weight of 500g (1.1lbs) in order to receive neonatal care, conditions such as pre-eclampsia arising, and becoming a high risk to me or the flows from the placenta to baby becoming absent. We were hopeful that our baby would reach the target weight of 500g.
We were booked to see our consultant each week for an in-depth scan, and were also told about a medical trial that we may be eligible for if the flows from the placenta to baby became intermittent or absent. At 24 weeks the flows had changed, I agreed to take part in the medical trial which would hopefully improve the flows to baby, resulting in baby reaching the target weight. I may never know if I was given the real drug or a placebo, but I took the pills religiously in the hope that they would save our baby’s life.
At 26 weeks things took a turn for the worse, I was admitted into hospital with pre-eclampsia and was being monitored every 4 hours. I remember the ward doctor coming to see me, and telling me that things weren’t looking good for us, and that he would give me a dose of steroids to try and boost the baby’s development. I had a scan with my consultant the following day and our worst fears were becoming a reality. We were given the devastating news that our baby was unlikely to survive, and if by some miracle she did it was highly likely that she would be brain damaged.
Our consultant estimated that her heart would naturally stop beating within 7-10 days, and now that pre-eclampsia had reared its ugly head, the priorities had changed from saving baby to saving me
We discussed a number of different options and a C-section was considered to be far too risky now and for future pregnancies. There were so many things to consider; what if her heartbeat didn’t stop and she was delivered alive? What if she was heavier than the scans estimated. Would she be eligible for neonatal care? Would it save her life? What quality of life would she have? Would she suffer? Would she be that miracle that we were so desperately hoping for?
There were so many questions, I felt like my brain was going to explode. I wanted to wait a week. I understood all of the health risks and complications to me, but still wanted a week in the hope that our baby would naturally pass away. What kind of mother wishes for this? I felt awful and ashamed. I didn’t feel that I had the right to give the instruction to end her life; her heartbeat was so strong and beautiful and every week before I’d hoped and prayed that I’d hear it again, and now I was wishing for it to stop. It was torture knowing that she could pass away at any minute and yet I could still feel her kicking inside of me. I felt like a failure and like I’d let those closest to me down. I blamed myself, because it was my fault my body and placenta weren’t working. I was my fault everyone else was so sad; these were some of my darkest days.
I was being very closely monitored until our next scan at week 27. The day arrived and we went into the room, it was quieter than normal, for once I had no questions, nothing to say. Her heart was still beating, but she had gained less than 5g in weight; her life was coming to an end.
We asked if it was possible to know the sex of our baby. We’d originally said that we’d wait until she arrived as we wanted a surprise. Our consultant was 95% sure that she was a baby girl. I cried and cried, my heart was broken. I’d previously told family and friends that I felt that we were going to have a girl, based on nothing but the feelings I had. All I could think about was how pretty her eyes and smile would have been.
Making the decision was painful, but we completely trusted our consultant and the medical team, so agreed to go ahead with the procedure in line with their recommendations
Our consultant assured me that she would feel no pain and that she would gently go to sleep. I asked for one final scan while her heart was still beating.
The procedure was carried out, it was awful, and at that moment I’d wished that they would have injected the needle through my heart instead. I lay there while they waited a few minutes to confirm that the anaesthetic had been administered correctly. My heart felt empty, my body was numb – my baby was dead and nothing would ever bring her back.
Joe and I were taken into a private room where we both held each other and I sobbed uncontrollably. It felt like it was the end of my world and I didn’t know how I would survive the days ahead. I was given a drug to prepare my body for labour and was sent home to rest for 48 hours. I was so scared, I’d never been to an antenatal class, they weren’t due to start until the following week, so I had no idea what would happen. My baby was dead and still inside of me, I could feel her moving when I moved, not kicking almost like a swaying feeling. It made me physically sick, how was I going to survive this ordeal?
48 hours passed, it was time to go to the hospital to be induced. I was terrified. I couldn’t even walk over to the main desk in the delivery suite; Joe had to go over to explain why we were there. We were taken to a side room where I went through so much pain, so much heartache and finally 10 hours of labour later there she was, perfect and beautiful. My empty heart was full of love again. I felt incredibly blessed that I was able to see her and know what she looked like, I was able to hold her and know what she felt like. Joe and I couldn’t take our eyes off her, we were so proud.
We named her Zara, which means blooming flower and princess
Losing Zara has changed my life, she has left me many gifts. I know how strong I am, how strong Joe and I are together, and now have a different outlook on what is important in life. It has been just over 5 weeks since I gave birth to my beautiful angel, and so far, there are no answers for what caused this condition to occur. A number of things have been ruled out, and we now expect to hear that there will be no answers and unfortunately she was just not meant to be here with us.
I wanted to share my story because I feel it is important that we break the silence. We as women have nothing to be ashamed of or to feel guilty about. Our babies were real people with life inside of them, they are just as precious as babies who are born happy and healthy. I hope this story gives other women and families the strength to get through the darkest days, even when things feel unbearable.
I accept that this is what was meant for me, that doesn’t mean I understand why it has happened, but I choose to celebrate Zara’s short life. I am lucky she was chosen to be part of me, and for that I will always be thankful.
An angel opened the book of life and wrote down baby Zara's birth, then she whispered as she closed the book: "Too beautiful for earth.”
I know this is going to be a journey full of emotions, but I also know this is something I need to do. Not only for myself but my partner, my son and to show Tilly that she had a huge impact on the world in the short time she was here.
My world had crashed. My baby could not have died. I was still pregnant, they must be wrong. Nobody is available to help me. What will I tell my Mum? What have I done wrong?
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.
What kept me going was the thought that I was doing this for my daughter Sophie, that I was doing this in her memory.
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Here at Tommy's we are fortunate to have a number of supporters who go above and beyond to help us continue our lifesaving research. One of these such individuals is Fran and this is her story.
"I truly feel without the support of the EPU and the peace of mind given to us through the Tommy's study we would not be where we are today."
Little Anderson was born under the care of the Tommy's Early Miscarriage Research Centre at London Imperial.
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