Seventeen to nineteen weeks pregnant: inspired by the courage of mothers

I was very touched by three fundraising stories I came across in the past fortnight – stories which show the courage of mothers, with and without children; stories which demonstrate the infinite power of the human spirit.

I am moved by the courage of these three women. Their determination to resolve their quest inspires me, despite all the difficulties they have faced. I can empathise deeply with their stories because I recognise the formidable drive to be a parent, the instinctive need to nurture and raise and love a child.

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Anna Clancy is doing a year of fundraising in memory of her daughter, Erin Susan Clancy. Erin died when she was 22 days old. On 9th November 2016, Erin should have celebrated her fifth birthday. From that date onwards, Anna is aiming to raise £1000 in one year for Saying Goodbye, a charity which supports bereaved families. Anna’s Twitter is @ErinsGift if you want to cheer her on.

Samantha Siebold is raising funds to adopt a little girl, “Roxy”, from Eastern Europe. Roxy is 2 years old and has Down’s Syndrome. If Roxy is not adopted, she may be transferred to a mental institution at a later stage. Samantha is determined to stop this happening, by providing a home for Roxy in the US. Samantha has paid the initial fees and started on the home study process. Roxy is currently on hold in her country for the Siebolds to pursue her adoption and they are going all out with creative fundraising initiatives – including T-shirt and flower bulb sales, as well as their GoFundMe page. To find out more, Samantha’s Twitter is @inevitablysam.

Amelia Abby is fundraising for fertility treatment and egg donation for Saskia. Now in her twelfth year of trying for a baby, Saskia lost her first son in 2005, when he was born prematurely at 23 weeks. She suffered a further two stillbirths in 2006 and 2007, a beloved son and daughter. Saskia went on to have three ectopic pregnancies, losing both of her fallopian tubes. Two recent attempts at IVF – one using egg donation – did not work. However, Saskia still has the courage and energy to continue with her quest and Amelia is helping to raise the funds for her treatment. Say hi to Amelia on Twitter @eggdonor29.

I wish these women so well. Their stories capture the boundless love and energy that I have come to recognise in the hearts of many great people whom I have the pleasure to know in our community.

Seventeen to nineteen weeks pregnant: grateful for every flutter and kick

I believe the desire to have a child is a force completely beyond my control. I was aware of this desire in my teens and twenties, but it really took hold of me six years ago, aged 34. I became a mother in 2011 but it has taken six years to achieve a healthy pregnancy. I wasn’t trying to conceive for all of that time, but still the powerful instinct was there all the way, fully awakened in me, beating at my core. Aged 34, I was a mother, yet to meet her child.

Today, February 7th 2017, I am 19 weeks and 3 days pregnant – yes, I still count the days 🙂 .  I am grateful for every single day that passes without incident. I’ve been feeling flutters and mini ‘kicklets’ for the last three weeks. They are the most wonderful and reassuring signs of life. Each time they come, I’ve pressed Dad 100’s hand to my belly, hoping he can feel a little kick. For the past three weeks, he hasn’t been able to feel the movement.

Until yesterday, that is. We decided to talk to our baby, very early on Monday morning, to see if we could encourage a response. We know the baby can hear us now, so we took turns to speak. After a few minutes of ‘good morning’ and ‘hello in there’ and ‘we love you’ and ‘earth calling baby’ and ‘come on, give your mum a kick!’, Dad 100 caught four little thuds, right in the middle of his palm, one following swiftly from the other. He was utterly delighted with his catch!

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Two goodbyes

mum100-ivf-blog-two-goodbyesIt’s been a month since I last wrote, the longest gap since I started this blog. That’s because August was a month of goodbyes: one easy, one hard.

The easy goodbye

We parted with our first IVF hospital. When we started out with them in February 2015, we were bright-eyed newbies to assisted reproduction. We knew nothing about IVF, other than to expect needles and waiting rooms. I believed we’d complete treatment by the end of the year, with a baby bump and our scan pics to show for it. Come December, however, we still hadn’t done our embryo transfer. I felt dreadful between Christmas and New Year, we both did. I knew I needed more support, so I started to connect with people who understood my hopes and fears. Thank god for this loving community.

This July, we made our decision to change hospital. It took fifteen months to do IVF1 (one frozen embryo transfer which resulted in ectopic pregnancy). We just don’t have that much time for IVF2, as the NHS will only fund our treatment up until my 40th birthday in January. So, we went back to our GP, who swiftly referred us to a new hospital in central London. At their open evening, they told us they had no waiting list for NHS patients – a miracle! We set about transferring our IVF funding.

Then we received a letter in August. Our new hospital wrote to tell us we had one NHS cycle left. There must be a mistake, we said, we have two rounds left because originally we were funded for three cycles. It turns out, however, that two of our three rounds of funding were used on one attempt at pregnancy. This came as a total surprise.

If in doubt, write a letter! We asked our first hospital why one frozen embryo transfer has used up two rounds of IVF funding; we also asked why no-one informed us at the time. We do know we are still very lucky to have one more NHS funded cycle. In England, depending on where you live, clinical commissioning groups fund anywhere between zero and three IVF cycles. The postcode lottery in England is clearly a divisive system, where many people are not offered three cycles (as recommended by NICE). That said, we did have important questions about our funding and treatment – we should receive a reply this month.

The hard goodbye

After writing our letter, we both needed a break from all things IVF. Dad 100 wanted some fresh air. He said he was going for a walk to the High Street. I took up my favourite position on the sofa and picked up a chunky Harry Potter book. I’m twenty years late to the Potter party but it’s still a delight to discover JK Rowling’s plot mastery. Her magical tales erase all thoughts of IVF from my mind, which is clear evidence of her wizardry. I dived into Hogwarts. I drank Butterbeers at The Three Broomsticks. I attended a Care of Magical Creatures lessons with Hagrid, learning about Blast-Ended Skrewts.

This is the moment I want to press stop. I want to go back in time like Harry Potter can. Have you ever had that feeling, in your stomach or your heart? – that feeling when you know, before the fact, that something is wrong? It’s like a snapshot of the future, but it’s not a premonition of a precise event. Instead, it’s a tight ball of fear, scrunched up in your gut. When Dad 100 returned from the shops, I had that feeling when he walked into our living room. He had a shiny steel frying pan in one hand (a fertility-friendly replacement for our knackered non-stick pan). His mobile phone was in his left hand, hanging by his side. His face was in shadow with window light behind him.
‘My Dad’s died,’ he said.
‘Oh no,’ I said. ‘Please no.’
I reached out for him. He sat on the sofa next to me. He put down the frying pan and I wrapped my arms around him. I kissed his face and put my hand on his cheek and held him there.

He relayed the phone conversation with his brother. His Mum and Dad are called Win and Leo. They were getting ready for a weekend trip to Blackpool, to celebrate Win’s birthday. Leo went out to the garage to clean the car windscreen. Next thing Win knew, Leo was back inside the house, calling her name. She dashed through to the kitchen and there he was, passed out at the kitchen table. Win dialled 999. She ran for a neighbour, who volunteers with St John’s Ambulance. The neighbour came quickly. He felt for Leo’s pulse. He found a faint beat. The paramedics arrived and they lifted Leo off the chair on to the kitchen floor. They tried so hard to revive him with heart compression and artificial respiration.
‘Pumping at him for ages, they were,’ Win later told us, distressed at her husband’s suffering.
The paramedics took Leo to hospital but he died on the way – a cardiac arrest, they said, brought on by angina. Win thinks the attack happened while Leo was cleaning the car windscreen, ready for her birthday trip.

I hugged Dad 100 tight. I wanted to squeeze love into every muscle and cell. I stroked his head and kissed him.
‘I’m so sorry,’ I said. ‘I love you.’
‘I can’t believe I’m never going to see my Dad again.’
I felt a twist in my stomach. We cried at the loss of his father, such a kind and jovial man. Though he had his health problems, no-one expected this abrupt end. Only days before, I’d suggested that we go up north to see his Mum and Dad. We wanted to see them before IVF2 kicked off.
‘Put your feet up on the sofa,’ I said. ‘I’ll do dinner. Do you want some tea? Please let me take care of you.’
I wanted to show him the same level of support that he’d shown me during the ectopic pregnancy – and he did let me look after him. When the fish stew was simmering, I went to buy him some wine. Over dinner, we talked.
‘My Dad always had time for me and he loved to crack a joke. He had a great bullshit detector and he would do absolutely anything for our family.’

Before bed, I replayed the events of spring and summer 2016, going through our embryo transfer. Then came the confusion of the ectopic pregnancy, lost inside me until 9 weeks pregnant. We cancelled our holiday to the Balearics. For weeks, we didn’t venture much further than our postcode boundaries – alternating between home and hospital. It ended with emergency surgery at the end of June and recovery in July. When we got back to normality, Dad 100’s work tipped into his hectic summer season. During that time, there was never a clear three days for a trip up north. Could we have found the time? I felt guilty in light of Dad 100’s loss. Had IVF and pregnancy complications prevented his last visit to his father?

“Busy and strong”

We drove north to see Win. We camped out in her living room on a blow up bed. Usually we stay in a B&B in the village but we really wanted to be with her at night time. For the first time in 62 years of marriage, she was on her own.

Win likes to keep busy. She’s always up on her feet, offering cups of tea and beef sandwiches, handing round the well-stocked biscuit tin. She likes her soaps and Strictly Come Dancing. She grew up in a time of post-war rationing. Her parents didn’t have enough money for the ice cream van that came by but Win didn’t mind. There is hardship in her story but no sorrow. Her Dad died when she was nine. She remembers dunking bread in Oxo beef tea for her dinner. She played out in the streets with her siblings and friends. She took on the local bully boy, Michael, who terrified the other kids on her street. Win stood up to him when no-one else would. The same spirit was shining in her now – she was standing tall, she was fighting.
‘I’ve got to be strong,’ Win kept saying to us. ‘I promised Leo. We always said to each other, “if you pop off before me, I promise I’ll be strong.” ’
‘You don’t have to be brave with us,’ I said.
But Win insisted. This was her way. They’d just had a new carpet fitted and Win brushed it at least a dozen times while we were there, to remove the scuff marks from all the feet coming and going. She showed me the muscle in her right arm – it was like Popeye’s bicep, the result of all the housework and gardening she does.
‘It’s come right up this year,’ Win said, ‘since Leo’s angina took hold.’

Win has three sons and five grandchildren. We all went to the crematorium to help her pick the right spot for Leo. It was a hot and bright day. As we walked around the petal garden, I read the headstones, so many ‘treasured memories’ of husbands, wives, mothers and fathers. It’s always relational in death. That is how we mark our losses, with our name and dates and to whom we related in life. There was a baby’s grave with a teddy bear. The birth and death dates were within a year. It was a sharp reminder of the brutality of nature, how we are not in control of life and death. Win wanted a sunny spot for Leo. She was adamant that the digits of the plot number must not add up to 13 (which ruled out plot 1066). She joked about not putting Leo between two women.
‘They’ll be trying it on with him,’ she said, and we all laughed. ‘Such a good lad, he was, my Leo. Gave me anything I wanted. They’ll all be after him down there.’

The hardest goodbye

The following day, we took Win out for a birthday meal. She was dressed in a pale blue suit with matching handbag. She had sweet potato and ginger soup for starter and cottage pie for main, with a pile of vegetables. We took photo evidence of the feast to show her granddaughter, who had given us instructions to make sure Win ate enough during our stay.

After lunch, we met up with the family to visit Leo in the chapel of rest. The three brothers went in first with their Mum. I waited in the small waiting area with the partners and one of the grandkids. Through the open door, I heard their heartbreak. It was an impossible thought, that my lovely man was seeing his father’s body.

After ten minutes, Win called the rest of us through. The room was clean and cool with lilac lighting. I reached out for my partner, put my arms around him. I hugged him tight.
‘I’m so proud of you for supporting your Mum,’ I whispered. ‘I’m so sorry for your loss.’
Over his shoulder, I saw Leo. He was lying on the bed beneath a dark blue cover. I could see the collar of his smart white shirt. His white hair was brushed back over his head. His eyes were closed and his glasses were missing. Win smoothed back Leo’s hair, stroked his face. She leaned over the bed to kiss him.
‘I love you Leo,’ she said. ‘What am I going to do without you?’
The brothers reached out for their Mum, pulled her into a hug.

My partner and I went towards the bed. I stroked Leo’s white hair and his cool cheek. There was that childish belief in me, that wish for Leo to open his eyes. I can’t help but hope for the impossible at these times.

That evening, we stayed close to Win. We looked through photo albums – their tanned faces on cruise ship holidays, their sparkling eyes in black and white wedding photos. Win said she felt a bit better, seeing Leo at peace in the chapel of rest – especially after the shocking scenes when the paramedics attempted to save Leo’s life. Despite our protests, Win insisted on making cheese and pickle sandwiches.
‘We’ll do it,’ I said.
‘I want to keep busy,’ she said.

One of the things I most admired about Leo and Win was that they still went dancing together. They danced a lifetime of rumbas and quicksteps and foxtrots. In recent months, Leo had to sit out of the sequences but he still went along with Win because he knew how much she loved it. For Leo’s headstone, Win has decided on a pair of dancers – the symbol of their joyful partnership throughout life. Leo was buried in a brand new suit, made to measure, and his dancing shoes. Win said she wants the same when she goes, so they can dance together again. We told her she’s not going anywhere for a long time. I am inspired by the energy and stamina of this brave lady. I marvel at her long and loyal relationship. Rest in peace Leo.

 

Ten steps to goodbye in Southwold

  1. We buy ice cream microphones, chocolate and mint. They sing a song of holiday, our caramel cones. We are welcomed in Southwold by sun and blue sky. We walk beside beach huts, peering inside. There are hatted old folk with foldaway chairs. They have tin cups of tea and radios for company. They nibble sandwiches and snooze in their seaside sheds.

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2. As a child, I believed that doing a handstand proved my immortality. As long as I could stand upside down, I would live forever. On Southwold pier, I scissor kick the sky. My shadow leaps with delight, challenging my adult doubt.

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3. There are thousands of bronze plaques, permanent fixtures on the pier railings. Messages of love and remembrance, odd little quotes. Each one is a short story, a marker which states, ‘I lived and loved well on this piece of Earth’. They say, ‘read me, so I am remembered’.

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4. We play coin-operated machines, handmade by a Great British eccentric called Tim Hunkin.

  • There is Whack a Banker, a fabulous game for shifting anger. Thirty seconds to bash as many bankers as possible.
  • In The Booth of Truth, we receive dodgy readings of our character, based on Barnum statements that could apply to anyone.
  • In Mobility Masterclass, we practise walking across a motorway with a Zimmer frame. The aim is to get safely to the dance hall the other side – there are three settings for this game, aged 80 (easy), aged 90 (hard) and aged 100 (extreme)!
  • I win big on Pirate Practice, one billion dollars my prize, for steering my pirate ship past rocks to raid a yacht.
  • I have a consultation with The Doctor, half man half mummy. I put his stethoscope to my chest, then he scribbles an illegible prescription. Does it say ‘margaritas’? I think it does!


5. We devour fabulous food at Sutherland House fish restaurant – three courses for the two little piglets in the corner.


6. At twilight, we have the town to ourselves. We are like kids in an abandoned playground. There are so many grand houses with no lights on inside – empty palaces that come alive only at weekends, when Londoners unlock their second homes. There is the occasional house, still inhabited by local people. We look out for the yellow glow in windows. We see a pair of feet up on a living room table – there is life! – but mainly, Southwold on a Thursday night belongs to gulls in the black sky, shy rabbits that hop between poppies and long grass. As we approach on the coast road, they dart for cover, their white tails disappearing down holes.

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7. The beach is ours for the night. We own this stretch of the east coast. As the sky darkens, lights come on in the water – big ships sheltering from the harsh North sea. The Liquid Giant spits salt on the sand. Diagonal waves race to shore. Under the pier, we look between sea-beaten legs. The noise doubles, trebles, we are part of the sea under here. Out the other side, we climb over slippery rocks, to see red Mars above.

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8. Back in town, the lighthouse beams safety warnings to ships at sea. A crescent moon joins the display. Gulls loop between light shafts.

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9. In the morning, the sky is grey. We walk the length of the beach again. We watch the water crash into the sea wall. In winter, the waves smash over the top of the beach huts. They take the exposed huts away, to stop the North Sea breaking them to pieces.


10. And then we know how to say goodbye to the two tiny lives we lost. At Party Pants on Southwold High Street, the shopkeeper inflates purple and pink helium balloons. She goes to another shop for us, to get some tags. We write our messages and fix them to the ribbons. We walk through Southwold town, then up the pier.

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The wind is strong on the pier. Our balloons bounce against each other. They are like toddlers play-fighting. We try to take a photo with our messages showing, but soon we surrender to nature’s force. When we let the balloons go, I feel the drop in my stomach, the sting at their loss. They climb in the grey sky, floating north west. We find a bench, Dad 100 puts his arm around me. Tears come. We watch them rise, impossibly high. They are visible for much longer than I think they will be. Then there is peace beyond sadness – seeing them tied together, still climbing. They are a speck in the clouds now. I blink and they are gone.

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A big thank you to Dad 100, who took all the brilliant pictures for this post – you’re very lovely x x x