After 4 Miscarriages, Along came Alfie
Charlie Barker and I met when I was pregnant with my first son. I'd signed up for a 1:1 training session with Bumps & Burpees, her pre and postnatal PT company, and she gently put me through my paces. She's a luminescent woman - upbeat, fun and kind. Little did I know that she was struggling to conceive her own child. Now - I'm thrilled to say - she is a new mum to Alfie, who was born in August. Her Insta post after the birth said it all: "Oh how we wished and waited for you Alfie, but you were worth every single second because you are here now and you are just perfect". Charlie shares with Storytellhers her and her husband's struggle to become a family of three, and how patience and hope can pay off after heartache.
2019 was a really tough year for us. We suffered 4 miscarriages last year, so I basically spent more than half the year pregnant and the rest of it recovering from miscarriages.
I never once lost hope of us having a baby, but I found myself getting very tired of staying so positive. With each miscarriage, the words “it is so common” felt less relevant to me. I really started to feel that something was happening in my body every time I got pregnant like my body was set on attacking it.
I did a lot of research into immune systems and natural killer cells. I was also recommended to go and see a specialist in this area by Emma Cannon who helped me so much all of last year with acupuncture and keeping me sane through all of the ups and downs - she knew my body so well. He was a private specialist as the NHS do not have the funds to test for natural killer cells, so we decided that it was worth digging into our savings for.
A few days before our appointment, we found out that I was pregnant again. It wasn’t the plan as they had said in the brief to refrain from becoming pregnant before the tests. So we were told off a little bit during our first appointment and warned that it was likely that this baby would miscarry too given my history. He set me on a course of steroids (prednisone) whilst we waited for the NKC test results to come back. We left feeling a little numb: hearing that I was likely to miscarry again was hard but we had been there before and knew we could do it again. We tried to not get too attached to the pregnancy but no matter how many times we said it out loud, we both knew that was impossible.
We went back in two weeks later to get the results which showed that I actually have a normal number of natural killer cells (we all have them in our bodies for fighting infections etc) however the activity levels were high and a little aggressive when it came to pregnancy. So basically my body was attacking the pregnancies as if it were an illness or unwanted foreign body. We then nervously went into the ultrasound room next to the doctor's office and he said “Let's just see if there is anything in there” which didn’t fill us with confidence. But to our delight (and his) there was a little heartbeat flickering away and a foetus measuring just under 7 weeks!
This was the furthest we had ever got on a scan. With our missed miscarriage we didn’t get a scan until it was too late so we never saw the heartbeat. All the others ended within a matter of weeks so we also didn’t get to see the heartbeat with them either. We couldn’t stop smiling, and even though we left with significantly less money in our bank account and a huge bag of medication to take, we felt confident that maybe this one could work!
I was instructed to take Omeprazol (to help my stomach cope with the steroids), 25mg Prenisone, 75mg aspirin, 400mg cyclogest (a progesterone suppository) and vitamin D every day on top of my prenatal vitamins. Then once every 4 weeks I would go into the clinic for an intralipid drip that is essentially fat (made up of soy, egg and other strange things) and it showed in my results that this would help to suppress my natural killer cells. The drip lasts an hour and tended to give me a big headache that night but apart from that no other side effects. The steroids made me absolutely starving all the time, but the progesterone made me get very full quickly, so it was a bizarre mix of trying to find the correct balance. I was initially worried about the impending weight gain that is notorious with steroids, but I soon decided that if it was going to help me stay pregnant then I didn’t mind putting on some extra weight. In the grand scheme of things, it didn’t feel important.
The steroids, I was told, would mask all or most of the normal pregnancy symptoms. Now it sounds strange, but all I wanted was a bit of morning sickness to show me that all was going well but no. I felt fine, other than a bit of tiredness and stomach cramps. I spent every day worrying and wondering what was going on in my tummy but we had lots of scans lined up. We went back in every two weeks for a scan and so our anxieties were kept at bay as we were always counting down to the next scan. I only really felt fully confident that everything was ok when I was actually in the scan seeing it on the big screen.
We had a scan on Christmas Eve. I wound myself up so much - I was absolutely convinced it had all gone wrong, so when the sonographer showed us the heartbeat I couldn’t quite believe our luck. The best Christmas present we could have ever asked for! That’s when it started to resemble something more like a baby and less like a blob and it all started to feel more real. The doctors were all seeming pretty confident at this point and we could begin to accept it a little more each time we saw it.
We kept the news to immediate family and one or two very close friends and that was all we could bring ourselves to do until we got to that 12-week mark. January 20th was a huge bookmark in our calendars and we were both excited and nervous to get to it. I wore a blue jumper that I had worn to every single scan; George bought it for me at the start of this whole process and after wearing it to one positive scan I decided it was good luck so on the blue jumper went and off we drove to the hospital. This was our NHS scan. As soon as the scan started we saw the baby wriggling around loads and I squeezed George’s hand so tight - we had made it! This was such a huge milestone. I was so tired of booking and cancelling 12-week scans that I was over the moon watching that little wriggler on the screen. The scan took ages as she couldn’t get a good measurement due to all the wriggling, but we didn’t mind. The longer we got to see it on the screen the better we thought! We were on cloud nine!
We left the hospital with the scan photos I had dreamed of having for so long! I couldn’t stop looking at them. With the job I do, I have seen hundreds and hundreds of these scans. I just couldn’t believe this was ours, and it was in my tummy doing roll polys! It was after this appointment that we started to accept it, and began telling our close friends and family the good news. The anxiety decreased and I let myself relax into things for the rest of the pregnancy.
I was so grateful to be pregnant, that every unpleasant symptom made me happy. I waited so long to feel nauseous and tired and was happy to finally experience it. I never thought I would be happy to feel sick, but it was so reassuring!
If you are reading this and are struggling with fertility or miscarriage, please please don’t give up hope. Yes, it is incredibly common for it to take a long time to fall pregnant, or to miscarry, but if you feel like something else is going on do your own research. Take control of your body, because sometimes there is a reason behind it and it may be that you need a little help as I did. Or maybe patience is all you need! You will have your baby, one way or another you will have your turn, don’t lose hope!!