Ryan & Olivia – Annabel’s story

When asked about my story it’s difficult to know where to start. Without wanting to write down my life history since I was 10! Anyway, I’ve always been a bit (my mum may disagree with this) accident prone but usually through my own misdemeanours. I’ve also always been a glass half full or fully full kind of girl. After I hit my 30’s the tables seemed to turn and the medical issues seemed to not be of my own doing anymore. Things that couldn’t be solved by a bit of plaster cast or a few screws here and there, or perhaps just going a little slower on my bike.

Just 3 months after we were married, age 31, I found a lump in my breast. To cut a long story short, 1 Valentine’s Day mastectomy, 1 reconstruction, self-funded IVF to freeze embryos (50:50 chance of losing fertility so ‘just in case’) , 6 rounds of chemotherapy, 2 years of tablets and a medically inflicted delay on trying for a baby – 2 years later I found myself excitedly and naturally pregnant with my first child.

You may wonder why I’ve brushed over that story but that’s because it’s not my real story. It was just the run up to what proved to be, shall we say, a particularly challenging decade overall.

Ewan (now 11) was born after a challenging delivery eventually with forceps and a transfusion or 2, which now I think is all quite tame. At the time, swapping a birth story was fun, always thinking yours was as horrific and yet amusing as the next. Amusing because both you and baby who gurgles next to you are alive and well and healthy so it’s easy to be flippant. I’ve been that care free mum. I don’t apologise for it, it was amazing, it was in fact the happiest I’ve ever been in my whole life or I believe ever will be. Carefree, happily married and a mum of a beautiful baby who was indeed my miracle child.

I was so excited by motherhood and the women I was hanging out with were all so much younger we cracked straight on with another – it became apparent that we wouldn’t need the embryos we’d agonised over. Luke (now 10) was born 15 months and 3 weeks after Ewan. Now he really was the perfect birth. Came into the world so quick after arriving at the hospital I can’t even remember getting there.

2 happy healthy boys post cancer – a very very lucky person indeed. A very very happy person indeed.

Another care free existence and another birth story to share.

Then it all changed. I REALLY wanted 3, all close together and after some gentle persuasion (!) we fell again with Ryan, due on Ewan’s 3rd birthday. 3 boys. That would be me happy and done. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. Scans at 12 and 20 all looked great and things going well. Normal, I had no reason to think otherwise.

I was very busy, a toddler and a baby so hardly had time to sit and feel, sit and enjoy the kicks and the joy of being pregnant. One day, one very sad, very dark day, my in laws were over from Ireland and I was having a little treat, a pregnancy massage while the kids were being looked after. Just that little bit of time out and I realised that I couldn’t feel anything move anymore. I prodded and prodded, I spoke gently, I spoke firmly and I prodded some more, I tried hard to relax and watched my belly but in the end I just had to admit to myself something wasn’t right, something was very wrong. I left the spa in a real state of disarray, jumped in the car, screaming to myself in desperation, shouting ‘move move, please just move’ driving in the direction of the hospital. All the time, thinking it will be ok, no reason why it wouldn’t be, but as time went on I got more and more fraught and had to have some help. I needed to see/hear the heartbeat, I needed to be told everything would be OK. But. Well you’ll have guessed by now it wasn’t. No heartbeat found on Doppler. No heartbeat found on ultrasound. Just no heartbeat. It didn’t really sink in, the first stage of grief – denial.

Here’s where birth stories weren’t funny, they became more emotionally agonising than painful. Going through full labour with no healthy baby to nurture and care for. Going through full labour to be greeted with silence, the only sound afterwards being my own sobbing, not the cry of a little pink new-born. I held him, all 5lb 7oz of him. My 3rd born son, Ryan William. I loved him so much it made me burst with emotions I couldn’t find and didn’t have the words for. My heart broke that day. I thought it would never heal. I left the hospital without my baby, and without any hope of ever taking my baby home. My whole being was crushed. The hospital were great let us have a room and come and go as we pleased over the next few days until we felt ready to say goodbye. I was never ready but eventually I had to come out of denial and move on. I had 2 boys at home who needed me and I had to get up and get out. I can’t begin to explain how hard it was to start over again. We’d moved house 2 weeks before I had Ryan and so on my everyday new nursery run no one knew. It felt strange, 2 children no one would even think I had a 3rd.

I had an amazing support network though, family, friends and some very amazing new friends online who had been through the same as I had. I’ll never know why we lost Ryan. I chose not to have a post mortem. Seeing his little white coffin lower into the ground was the single most hardest thing I have ever done in my life at that point. Devastation is the only word that even comes close to what was in my heart.

I spent my time in the shower grieving, I didn’t want to be a sad mum so I did it on my own. It was lonely because although I had support no one truly knows how it feels unless they have been through it and I wouldn’t put that on anyone. People struggle to know what to say to you so they find themselves avoiding you without meaning to. I realised then that it was up to me to be the strong one and bring the subject into the conversation and make it easier to talk about it without being the one who always goes on about her lost baby. What a learning curve. But it’s made me stronger, it has helped me understand that everyone’s mountains are different and you can’t judge what people say especially if it’s well meant. I became very forgiving of people and their lack of knowledge about how I was feeling after all, I was once that carefree mum living the best most exciting bit of my life so would never want to take it away from anyone.

So, after a tense time we decided to try again and soon found ourselves pregnant again. Everything seemed fine once again although I didn’t think I’d ever relax fully but at the 20 week scan our world fell apart again. Olivia was very poorly. So very poorly. We faced an agonising time and had many fraught discussions, we travelled to Sheffield to be part of a research project and had an MRI scan but things looked worse. Olivia was born sleeping at 23 weeks. I was in a serious mess. Both physically as this time I nearly lost my womb and had 6 transfusions and emergency surgery whilst Nigel was left in a room with our 1lb baby girl. My crying had almost run dry, I couldn’t find any more in me. OliviaOnce I realised I had survived the ordeal and was released from intensive care carrying my baby in a lift to the ward with all the nice healthy happy babies on it – they even let a man and his little boy into the lift with me – he shielded his boy and I shielded my girl – it was so very very awful. I sobbed so hard I can’t explain it. I was left with posters around me saying ‘don’t leave your baby alone’ – my baby was next to me, not breathing. I ripped the posters off the wall and walked out to find a phone – I couldn’t be left alone I didn’t know if I would survive the night.

I did. And a few days later another baby white coffin and another irreparable tear in my heart.

Our relationship suffered, Nigel had been through so much. I had been through so much. We both nearly packed our bags on many occasions. But somehow with help we made it through. Somehow we worked out how to move on for the sake of our living children. They deserved us and we needed them.

Minx, Genesis Research Trust and challenges
There was no medical reason why we couldn’t try again. 2 babies lost but for 2 very different reasons. But we were very divided. Nige was pretty adamant that was it. 2 healthy boys – let’s stop. But I was pretty adamant too. I wasn’t just adamant, I was also desperate. I had such a huge whole filled with grief and I needed so badly to fill it with love. I signed up for Cycle China in December 2010 and started to raise funds for that and also for a stillbirth and neonatal death charity that specialises in bereavement support and a local cancer charity with a friend. We worked very hard and it helped to heal some wounds. Eventually after much persuasion we decided to try again and I fell pregnant with Amelia. She was due in Dec 2010 and it clashed with Cycle China. I didn’t tell anyone I was pregnant and didn’t even cancel the ride until late September!! I couldn’t believe she might actually be alive at the end of it all. I was barely functioning towards the latter stages of pregnancy!! I am though extremely happy to report that she came kicking and screaming into the world and is now a feisty little 6 year old also known as the Minx.

It took a while for me to want to give up my time with her and the boys in order to train for another ride but when my good friend Ali suggested Cuba, 2017 the timing seemed perfect.

Who knows as more and more research is done, more knowledge and more training. Perhaps one or both my babies might have survived. I’ll never know. What I do know is that if research and timely information can help just one family avoid losing a baby then it has all been worthwhile and if more women can live in blissful ignorance then I’m willing to forgive them. I now smile when someone says something stupid to me because it means they don’t know the hurt and angst that goes with losing a baby and that can only be a good thing.

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