Zoe Clark-Coates’ Personal Story
I share my story in the hope it may make others feel less alone.
Having seen a close friend go through the horrendous experience of miscarriage and still birth I had put off having children, as I actually didn’t know how I would personally cope with such a loss. However, having been married for over 12 years to my soul mate (we married young), setting up a successful business, suddenly my biological clock started ticking…yes I too thought this was an urban myth, that one day you could be satisfied with no children, then the next you have a burning desire to reproduce, but it happened to me, I can confirm it’s real.
After a while I knew I was pregnant, but sadly it ended in an early miscarriage, and my way of coping was to almost pretend it hadn’t happened, I didn’t want to be one of those statistics, which state up to 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage, and surely if I didn’t acknowledge it, it didn’t really happen!
Within a couple of months, we were blessed to get pregnant again, and this time it felt more real. We decided to keep it a secret from the family, and tell them at Christmas, as we knew they would be surprised, as there seems to be a presumption in Britain that if you are going to have children it will happen in the first three years of a relationship, and if there aren’t signs of tiny pattering feet by then, maybe it’s just not going to happen!
We went for our first scan, and we had a heart-stopping moment when the sonographer said “Are you sure you have your dates right, as I can’t see anything”. Following our assurance that the dates were indeed correct, she suddenly announced “Oh there it is”, and on the screen we witnessed the miracle of life, our tiny little baby, wriggling around, with its little heartbeat fluttering away. We were, of course, over the moon. She did mention that she could see a pool of blood in the womb, and warned me I should expect a little blood loss at some point, but not to worry about it at all. That evening I did get a little spotting, and if I’m honest I did panic, I think any woman will tell you if you see any signs of blood while pregnant, this fear just swells from nowhere, but by the following day the spotting had stopped, so peace returned.
A few days later I caught the ‘flu, and was bed ridden for the rest of the week. Then as quickly as it had stopped, the bleeding started again, but this time it felt different. We found a clinic who agreed to scan me. After an age, we were called in to the scanning room, and the doctor immediately activated the all-telling machine, and there on the screen we saw our baby for the second time – kicking away, showing no signs of distress or concern…what a relief!
We were due to go to a party on the Saturday evening, so figuring resting may stop any further bleeding I stayed in bed, constantly doing that maternal stroke of the stomach, which somehow feels like you’re comforting and caring for your child within. But when I got up that evening I felt a sudden rush of blood, and I knew, my baby had just died. I lay on the floor begging God to save her, crying out to the only One who truly controls life and death, but I knew it was in vain, I knew she was destined to be born into heaven not onto earth. Mother’s instinct? Who knows, but I knew her little heart was no longer beating within her or me.
We rushed to A & E where I was sadly met with little concern; I was even asked if it was an IVF baby as I was so upset. “Why?” I asked,“is it not normal to cry over a naturally conceived child?” They had no answer. They didn’t examine me, I was just told “There is nothing we can do”, “let nature take its course, what will be, will be!” I was given an appointment for an emergency scan in a week’s time and told to go home to bed.
The next day, a Sunday, the bleeding slowed down, and we left messages on numerous clinic answer machines begging for an appointment as soon as possible. The following morning, before 9am, we got a call from a wonderful clinic telling us to come over and they would scan me. That was to be one of the longest journeys of my life.
We were called from the waiting area, and into a tiny room. I was told to get on the bed, and the scanner was booted up. After what seemed like an eternity of silence, I finally willed up the courage to ask “Can you see the baby? Is all ok?” I didn’t really need to ask, the baby was still, the only movement on the screen came from my body not hers. My question was met with the worst answer: “Zoe, I’m sorry to say there isn’t a heartbeat”. I literally screamed…I then pleaded for a second scan, which she did. She then went to get a consultant; he came in shaking his head saying the same words, ones that would become very familiar to us over the coming months “I’m so sorry!” We were quickly put in a tiny room, where we sobbed, wailed, and clung to each other; we ‘phoned our family, and hearing the words coming out of our own mouths, the nightmare of our reality dawned on us, our baby had died, she was still here with us, but we would never hold her hand, or rock her to sleep. “What now?” we asked? We were told we could go the surgical route or the natural route. I chose the natural route, as the thought of going to a hospital where my baby would be just extracted from me seemed wrong, it was my baby, and I wanted to keep her with me for as long as possible.
What I wasn’t prepared for was that the ordeal would go on for a week. A scan after a few days showed the baby had grown further which is apparently totally normal, as the blood supply is still making the baby grow, but her heart remained still, no spark of life was seen….and “No Zoe, sadly your baby hasn’t miraculously come back to life. Yes we know you had hoped it would happen”.
Was I wrong to hope this may be the case? That if I prayed non-stop, if I kept rubbing my stomach night and day somehow her heart would just start up again…I had been told by a nurse that there was one case of it somewhere in the world once…so was I misguided to believe I could be the second?
We returned home and the days passed, long and slow. Someone asked me how I could allow a dead baby to stay inside me. “Because it’s my baby”, I said. Why one would presume that her death made her any less precious or me any less loving, I’m not sure, but for some carrying a dead baby within is creepy, morbid and wrong, but to me I was being her mother, keeping her safe in the place that had become her haven. I felt she was entitled to remain there until she decided to leave, it wasn’t my place to suddenly evict her, and I was prepared to wait as long as needed for her to dictate the timing of our meeting.
A week to the day after her heartbeat stopped, labour started, and within 24 hours I had delivered my child.
For the next 6 weeks, my body raged with pregnancy hormones as it wrongly assumed I was still carrying a child, so all day and night sickness continued, along with the indigestion and headaches. What were once reassuring symbols of pregnancy, were now horrendous reminders of what was no more. The oddest thing then started to occur, almost on a daily basis, complete strangers would randomly ask me if I had children. Each time it was like I was being thumped in the stomach. I instantly faced a dilemma of whether to protect the person’s feelings who had just asked me this very innocent question, and just say “no I haven’t”, but by doing so, I would be denying my child’s existence, or bravely say “I have actually, but they died.” I tried both, and both felt wrong, and I quickly learnt I was in a lose-lose situation, and I should just do whatever felt right at the time.
I was met with lots of well meaning statements like “Well, at least it proves you can conceive”, and “sometimes the womb just needs practice”, thankfully the less sensitive statements were a minority, as I was blessed to have my husband – my hero – by my side, not always knowing what to say, but being wise enough to know that words often aren’t needed, and that just to hold me would often be enough. And then there were my parents, who sat with us and filled endless buckets with their own tears, whilst helping empty ours. The rest of our family and friends were amazing, their support was tangible, and though most had no comprehension of what we were experiencing, they just made it clear to us that they were there, and that meant the world to us.
Some may think surely this extinguished the biological clock, but it didn’t, it just increased the desire to have a baby, but the fear that I would never become a Mum was overwhelming.
Two months later I lost my third baby via a miscarriage, but we kept this to ourselves, as we felt the family had gone through enough, and they were under the assumption we had only ever lost one baby, and to tell them about this loss, would lead us to admitting to them, and to ourselves, that this in fact was our third child to grace the heavenly gates.
Then we got pregnant again, and following a scary pregnancy, where we had fortnightly scans, we were finally handed our beautiful daughter, weighing 6lb 15 oz. The relief was profound, and there are no words to explain the elation of finally getting to hold and protect my tiny little girl.
We loved being parents so much; the thought of having another child was mentioned when she was one and a half, even though we had declared to all and sundry, we would be stopping at one! Nothing had prepared us for the amount of joy a little one can add to your life, there is nothing about being a Mum I don’t love, so we decided to try for a brother or sister for our daughter.
Naively, having born a healthy, thriving child which went to full term, we believed our dealings with miscarriage and loss were in the past, and any further pregnancies would resemble that of our last one, rather than our first three. We were wrong.
We got pregnant, and all the initial scans were perfect, then on one of our appointments the scan showed our baby’s heartbeat had simply stopped (again). Time went in slow motion when we were told, I literally couldn’t speak, I wasn’t prepared to tumble through that hidden trap door, from expectant mother to miscarriage a fourth time. I misguidedly thought to lose a child when you already have one would hurt less, and in a way I was right, as you are not also grieving the fact that you may never be a mother to a living child (as you are already), but it hurts in a different way, as you can’t help asking yourself would this baby have laughed in the same way as our little girl? Would they talk in the same way? It’s hard to explain, but for me it was definitely a different type of grief, but of course it was truly terrible.
In a bid to try and protect our little girl from seeing any upset, I only allowed myself to cry in private and forced myself to keep things as normal as possible for her. I opted to take the medical route this time, and within a couple of days I found myself in a hospital bed, filling in paperwork, sobbing after two questions were asked by the nurse; “Would you like a post-mortem, and would you like the remains back?” Can any mother ever be prepared to answer such questions?
In medical terms those who die in utero within the first 24 weeks of life are termed as retained products of conception, so perhaps you should expect to be asked these questions whilst filling in a form, I am one of millions however that feel not. I know for some people these aren’t babies they are just a group of cells, and I respect that this is their opinion, but to me and my husband, it was our child, not just a potential person, but a person, and he deserved to be acknowledged as such.
We were blessed to get pregnant for a sixth time, and after telling the family around the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, I went upstairs to find I had started to bleed. The bleeding continued for days, and when I finally managed to speak to a GP I was told I had definitely miscarried, and there was no need for a scan. That crushing sadness overtook me again, and those who have experienced this first hand will know you literally have to remind yourself to breathe; human functions just seem to disappear, as you feel you’re free-falling over a cliff. I held onto the knowledge that to have my daughter would of course be enough, and that if we were never blessed with another child, we were one of the lucky couples who at least had the opportunity to raise one little girl. So we painted a smile on our faces and gave our daughter an amazing Christmas.
However by January 5th, I was feeling so ill I decided to go for a scan, in case I needed another operation, and to our surprise they could still see a sign of life. I was told this by no means meant all would be fine, but it was a good sign, and I should book another scan in a couple of weeks. During this time my sickness increased, and by the time I went for my next scan I was sicker than I had ever been whilst pregnant. The Doctor could see two little lives on the screen, but one was much more developed than the other. We were told to be prepared to lose one twin, but the other seemed strong and healthy. Tragically we did indeed go on to lose one of the babies, but the other hung on, and we felt blessed to have one baby, but heartbroken for the baby we lost.
What followed was a minefield of a pregnancy; I had to have my gallbladder removed, I had liver problems, placenta previa, PSD, my placenta was stuck to the old C-section scar, then the final blow came when I developed obstetric cholestasis, but our little warrior braved it all! When she finally appeared in all her glory in August 2011 she was declared a miracle baby, and I don’t think we have stopped smiling since.
“Was it all worth it?” some may ask. Of course! “Do you wish you had detonated your biological clock as it caused you so much pain?” Absolutely not, I have two adorable little girls, whom I simply adore, they have made every single tear worth shedding. I’m so proud to be a mother, and I hope the trauma I have gone through makes me a better wife, mother and friend. My passion is to now raise my girls to love life and embrace every opportunity life hands to them; I also want to help others who have lost children.
What I have learnt through this heartbreak is this, to me every child matters however far in pregnancy a person is. I have also learnt a lot about grief. Everyone is entitled to grieve differently, some may not even feel a need to shed a tear, some may sob endlessly, and both are fine. For the heartbroken however, acknowledging the loss is essential and it’s imperative to both physical health and mental wellbeing to grieve. Life may never be normal again when you have been to such depths of darkness, but we can move forward, with as little scar tissue on the soul as possible, and saying goodbye was the key for me.
I will never forget the thousands of couples who are so desperate to have a child, and are still searching for the solution to their recurrent losses, or for some why that miracle of conception just doesn’t happen. Whatever losses we have endured we know we are truly, truly blessed to have two wonderful girls to raise and hold, for some people they are still waiting for their miracle to arrive.
What now? Well following experiencing such loss, and seeing a need for a new support agency, we built a charity called the Mariposa Trust. Within the trust we have two separate divisions GrowingYou (which offers support to those who are pregnant following the loss of a baby) and Saying Goodbye (which offers International support to all who have lost a baby, and Remembrance Services at Cathedrals and Minsters).
The Mariposa Trust is a registered charity. It offers International Support to people who have suffered the loss of a baby in pregnancy (however early or late), at birth or in early years.
The Charity Ambassadors are: Prof. Lord Robert Winston, Prof. Lesley Regan, Nigella Lawson, Julie Etchingham, Killy & J John, Prof Cary Cooper OBE, Jo Elvin, Denise Robertson MBE, Ruby Hammer MBE, Dr John Sentamu Archbishop of York & Margaret Sentamu, Gabby Logan and Jools Oliver.
Saying Goodbye is delighted to be supported by the Association of Early Pregnancy Units, and is working in partnership with Tommy’s, Bliss and World Vision.