Zoe Clark-Coates MBE’s 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 stillbirth 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 is real.
After a while, I knew I was pregnant, but very sadly it ended in a 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! I pushed all emotion down and we went into total denial. We later named this baby Cobi.
Within a couple of months, we were blessed to get pregnant again. 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 while later I caught the flu, and was bed ridden for a 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 small 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, my 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…My daughter, Darcey.
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 tragically lost my third baby (Bailey) via a miscarriage. 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, Esme Emilia Promise, 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 was nothing about being a Mum I didn’t love, so we decided to try for a brother or sister for Esme.
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 missed miscarriage a fourth time. I misguidedly thought to lose a child when you already have one would hurt less, but I was wrong, it is different but not less. You aren’t grieving the fact that you may never be a mother to a living child (as you are already), but it hurts in a lots of new ways – we were constantly asking ourselves would this baby have laughed in the same way as our little girl? Would they have talked in the same way? The grief was consuming and I felt like I had been pushed off a cliff edge with no warning. We named our baby Samuel.
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, but this was an Everest type challenge I’m not going to lie.
I opted to take the medical route this time, and within 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 ravine. 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 baby and all looked ok. 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 scan commenced and the doctor announced he could see two little lives on the screen. ‘Yes Zoe, you are having twins’…Cue me and Andy staring at him in shock and excitement in equal measure. He did warn us that one of the twins looked more developed than the other and that was not a good sign. With that information in mind we were prepared (as prepared as one can ever be that is) that we may not end this pregnancy journey with two healthy babies in our arms, but we prayed that we would.
Tragically we did indeed go on to lose one of our precious babies, and we named her Isabella. Our other twin hung on, and we felt blessed to have one baby growing safely within, 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 Bronte Jemima Hope 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.
What I have learnt through this heartbreak is this, to me every child matters however far in pregnancy a person is. I also learnt a lot about grief. I was a trained counsellor before going through loss, but I quickly realised all the training in the world can’t teach you what first-hand experience of baby loss does.
I learnt that 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 well-being 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.
To read my story in more detail read my first book – ‘Saying Goodbye’.
Zoe’s bio in brief:
Zoe Clark-Coates BCAh is an award-winning charity CEO, business leader, and TV show host. For over 20-years she has been a trailblazer within PR, events, and the media. Following the loss of five babies, she co-founded the charity ‘The Mariposa Trust’ (widely known by the name of its primary division ‘sayinggoodbye.org’) with her husband Andy, enabling her to use her training as a counsellor, as well as her business expertise. As an innovative leader, she has steered the charity to become a leading support organisation in the UK and globally, providing support that reaches over 50,000 people each week. As a gifted communicator, she has earned the respect of politicians, the government, and many high profile celebrities and influencers. Her skill as a writer, saw Arianna Huffington invite her to start writing for the Huffington Post, which created the perfect platform to reach a new audience. She has her own TV talk show called ‘Soul Tears’ where she interviews celebrities and people of note about their journeys through loss. She is also a trusted expert and media commentator for many other programmes on BBC, ITV, and Channel 5. In March 2018 she was appointed by the Sectary of State for Health as co-chair of the National Pregnancy Loss Review, this is the first government review ever conducted into the care and support provided to all people, who lose babies prior to 24-weeks gestation.
Zoe is the best-selling author of 4 books, which are captivating and essential reading for anyone who is grieving. If you are looking for support and a trusted companion to guide you through grief buy her books, and they will become friends for life. Following the success of Zoe’s best-selling debut book ‘Saying Goodbye’, Zoe signed with Hachette Publishing. Her second book ‘The Baby loss Guide’ was released in April 2019 followed by her third book ‘Beyond Goodbye’ in November 2019. Beyond Goodbye is her first general support book for anyone suffering with grief following the loss of a loved one. Within days of its release, the book became a best seller. Her fourth book ‘Pregnancy After Loss’ was released in November 2020, and immediately became a staple resource for people around the world.
In June 2021, Zoe was awarded an MBE for services to the baby loss community and improvement of bereavement care, in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, acknowledging the enormous impact she has made and continues to make on behalf of hundreds of thousands of people each year.
A little information on the charity…
The primary division of the Mariposa Trust is ‘Saying Goodbye’, which offers international support to all who have lost a baby in pregnancy, at birth or in infancy, whether the loss be recent or 80-years ago. It also runs the international ‘Saying Goodbye’ remembrance services at Cathedrals and Minsters. The second division, ‘GrowingYou’ offers support to those who are pregnant following the loss of a baby. As anyone will tell you, pregnancy following the loss of a baby can be filled with fear. ‘GrowingYou’ offers pregnancy support, advice and a listening ear from those that have been there. The final four divisions are ‘Holding Hope’, which supports people who are considering or receiving fertility treatment, ‘Waiting For You’, which journeys with people who have chosen to pursue adoption, ‘Love In Every Tear’, which supports family and friends who are supporting a loved one through grief, and ‘So Cherished’ which supports families who have tragically been given the news that their baby has a terminal diagnosis.
Key Charity Information
The Charity Ambassadors are: Prof. Robert Winston, Prof. Lesley Page, Nigella Lawson, Kate Beckinsale, Mary Nightingale, Kym Marsh, Sally Phillips, Julie Etchingham, Kathryn Gutteridge, Ruby Hammer MBE, Lord Dr John Sentamu Former Archbishop of York & Margaret Sentamu, Gabby Logan, Jools Oliver, Baroness Floella Benjamin, Dr Jacque Gerrard, Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, Caroline Quentin and Sam and Nicola Chapman (Pixiwoo).
The charity receives 650,000 hits per month on its Saying Goodbye Website.
It has over 13,000 followers on the Saying Goodbye Twitter feed, over 115,000 followers on the charities various Facebook pages, receives over 1,000,000 unique viewers on Pinterest each month and over 74,000 followers on Zoe and the charities Instagram accounts. The charities support reaches over 50,000 people each week across the UK and Globally. Additionally Zoe also writes for the Huffington Post and other publications.
Awards and Nominations
- Shell Business Award
- 2013 Zoe was a finalist for ‘Tesco Mum of the Year’
- 2014 Finalist for the ‘Inspirational Women’ awards
- 2014 Independent Newspaper ‘Happy List’ winner
- 2014 Member of the ‘Women of the Year’ Luncheon
- 2014 ‘Influencer of the Year’ at the highly prestigious Directory of Social Change Awards
- 2015 Prime Ministers ‘Points of Light’ award winner
- 2016 Awarded the prestigious British Citizen Award for services to Healthcare. BCAh
As part of the expansion of the charity, a new US charity called ‘Mariposa International’ was set up in December 2014. This will spearhead the growth of the charity across North America.
Zoe’s first book ‘Saying Goodbye’
On the 15th September 2017, Zoe first book dealing with baby loss was released. This is available to order through Amazon, who say this about the book – ‘Losing a baby, whether through miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death, leaves so many parents lost in grief and full of unanswered questions. Zoe Clark-Coates, and her husband Andy, have personally faced the loss of five babies. Out of their experiences came the charity The Mariposa Trust (more often known by its leading division Saying Goodbye), offering support to thousands of grieving parents and relatives around the world each week. Zoe writes a moving account of their experiences and how they found a way through to provide help and support for others. Alongside this are 90 days of daily support for those who are grieving, offering comfort and hope during the difficult days, weeks and months.’
Zoe’s second book ‘The Baby Loss Guide’ was released in April 2019 and guides people through their wider experience of baby loss. It answers big questions, tackles common misconceptions, and provides crucial information and support for anyone who has experienced baby loss, or is supporting someone who has. This can be purchased through Amazon at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Baby-Loss-Guide-day-day/dp/1409185435 and from all good bookshops.
Zoe’s third book ‘Beyond Goodbye’ explores all aspects of grief and the grieving process. It explores personal stories of loss, answers the deep and complex issues of loss and guides people through a 60-day journaling and support guide. The book, which was released just before Christmas 2019 has already become a best-seller and been featured widely in the media including on ITV’s Lorraine, and multiple BBC Radio shows. This can be purchased through Amazon at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Beyond-Goodbye-support-through-grief/dp/1409185397 as well as from all good bookshops.
Zoe’s fourth book ‘Pregnancy After Loss’, seeks to guide readers day-by-day through the complexity of pregnancy after experiencing baby loss. Pregnancy should be a time of joyous anticipation, but those 40-weeks can feel very different if you are one of the many women who has previously lost a baby. In ‘Pregnancy After Loss’, Zoe has created a compassionate ad essential guide to lead you through your pregnancy. Addressing such issues as facing fear, coping with scans and pregnancy milestones, building relationships with your medical team, and processing your ongoing grief whilst pregnant, this is the comforting companion every woman needs by her side.
More information can be found at www.zoeadelle.co.uk