During Baby Loss Awareness Week, Zoe Clark-Coates tells her own story of facing the loss of five babies. Today she offers support to thousands of grieving parents and relatives each week through her charity The Mariposa Trust.
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 suddenly my biological clock started ticking.
After a while I knew I was pregnant, but sadly it ended in a miscarriage, and my way of coping was to almost pretend it hadn’t happened.
Within a couple of months, we were blessed to get pregnant again, and this time it felt more real. 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. That evening I did get a little spotting, and if I’m honest I did panic, 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. 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 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. “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.
An ongoing ordeal
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.
We returned home and the days passed, long and slow. A week to the day after her heartbeat stopped, labour started, and within 24 hours I had delivered my child.
For the next six 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.
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.
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. Then we got pregnant again, and, following a scary pregnancy, where we had fortnightly scans, we were finally handed our beautiful daughter, weighing 6lb 15oz. 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! 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.
Dealing with more loss
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 misguidedly thought to lose a child when you already have one would hurt less. 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?
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?
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. 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 5th January, 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.
Worth it all?
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.
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.
Since experiencing such loss, we saw a need for a new support agency, and built our charity The Mariposa Trust.
Zoe Clark-Coates is an award-winning charity CEO and business leader. She co-founded The Mariposa Trust, and has also written Saying Goodbye.
Hear Zoe's story on Premier Christian Radio's 'Woman to Woman' program on Friday 13th October at 10:30am. Or listen again online
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