I still find it so hard to grasp that most people can just have sex and 40 weeks later walk out with a healthy baby. That feels just like a fairy-tale now. As you can tell, this isn’t that sort of story but at least it isn’t boring (sorry dark baby loss humour alert).  Like so many, the start isn’t so interesting – petite girl meets tall boy; they fall in love and do the things that couples do… travel, move in together, get a hamster (standard), get engaged and eventually married. And after all that is done, start to think about making a tiny human.

I’ve always had incredibly painful periods, and like so many I believed it when I was told that was normal (don’t buy it). Eventually the symptoms got so bad I took matters into my own hands, referred myself to a specialist and after an extensive surgery it was confirmed I had severe endometriosis. Oh and btw better start on this baby making business soon.

So we tried, and waited, and tried, did the ovulation tests and tracked what could be tracked. After 18 months of nothing, I went back to my GP. After a rake of tests, it was confirmed that our chances of falling pregnant naturally were low for someone in their early thirties (around 8%) – and IVF was our only option. Even though I had suspected this, it’s still hard to hear that you can’t have children the way you want.

In a weird way we felt lucky as our NHS trust funded two rounds. Not that it was easy – I thought myself a good little nerd, well prepared, having researched everything possible. As most people who have done IVF soon find out, I was wrong. A few aspects weren’t so bad; I didn’t become a raging hormone monster (wahoo!), but the sheer number of appointments, drugs and tests is gruelling. Especially when working full time. We did our two rounds (one fresh and one frozen) and… nothing. Round 2 was when the toll showed; I remember sobbing on the Tube with guilt and loss (as people slowly inched away from me). I felt terrible that I couldn’t give my husband a family, and so jealous that others could just have a baby so easily.

Then a big Covid shaped bump showed up. All fertility treatment across the UK stopped, and we couldn’t even speak to our Dr as she was valiantly working on the front line. Eventually clinics reopened, and we could finally look at Round 3. We threw the kitchen sink at it – more egg collection, genetic testing and experimental treatments. I was also on furlough so didn’t have the pressures of work. Who knows what made the difference, but in the autumn of 2020 we saw two pink lines for the very first time. I stared in utter shock – it felt totally surreal to finally have what we had yearned for for so long. But even then, after all the years of heartache, our happy ending didn’t come.

The pregnancy was easy – despite two different lockdowns, winter and far too much rain – I loved growing our tiny human (nicknamed Pippin). I had relatively minor nausea, managed to keep active and enjoyed all the time with John. We told our families on Christmas and friends on New Year’s. I was low risk and was able to plan the birth I wanted (in this case water birth in the local midwife led unit). We did all the right things; the NCT classes, vitamins, diet, hypnobirthing and yoga – we even fit in a very cold baby moon to Scotland. We were ready.

At 41 weeks, supremely grumpy with the world as the weather had been scorching, we gave in and booked an induction. Which was then delayed due to the ward being full, but as luck would have it, I woke up the next day having contractions! Off we trotted to the hospital, calling family to let them know, and on arrival very pleased to get a lovely large room with a birth pool.

During routine checks it was picked up I had some unusual bleeding and so I was sent to be monitored. While waiting to be seen, I felt something suddenly shift inside, and it felt wrong. I know now that was when our baby died, and it is a moment I replay over and over. I naively never thought, even when they couldn’t find a heartbeat on the doppler, that it was anything serious. It was only when the midwife brought the Dr in with an ultrasound and she said those words that too many parents hear, “I’m sorry, I can’t find a heartbeat”, that my happy reality came crashing down.

I was alone, as the space was too small for John to be there, and all I remember is the roaring sound in my ears and a crushing dread that made it hard to breathe, I was drowning. The sound of pure grief that John made when he walked in will haunt me forever.

The next three days are a blur as things continued to go wrong (if you can believe it). I developed an infection as well as pre-eclampsia, my kidneys slowly shut down (bad reaction to the Syntocinon drip) and my uterus began to tear. In the end, I was too ill to continue with labour and our daughter (a surprise until the very end) was born at 18.13 on 25thJuly 2021 via caesarean. Fiadh weighed 8lbs 6oz and had the longest legs you’ve ever seen on a baby. She was pure perfection with a button nose and the most gorgeous chubby cheeks. Holding her felt like coming home, the most natural thing.

I’m forever grateful we had a wonderful bereavement team and family who helped us make memories with our 4Louis box, and that we got to spend precious time with her – but still only hours that needed to last a lifetime.

Any loss parent will tell you, the walk from the hospital, carrying a box instead of your baby, is agony. I still don’t know how anyone does it. But that is one of many hard lessons we’ve learned, you do the impossible thing because you have no other option. Those early months were the desolate, everything was a struggle; from planning Fiadh’s funeral to simply eating a meal – it all felt bleak. You had this life right there, literally in your hand, and then someone knocked it, and it smashed on the floor. We grieved our own loss, but we grieved for the life Fiadh would never have.

I found solace online – discovering a community of loss parents on social media and through Tommy’s and Sands, and it was such a relief to find people who understood all the pain and sometimes weird thoughts – and who said, “me too”.  I’m still friends with those warriors to this day.

We also found comfort and purpose in fundraising for charities that helped us –so far we’ve raised nearly £20,000. Seven months after Fiadh’s death we welcomed a new and wiggly family member in the form of Mosi, the cocker spaniel puppy. She brought silliness and laughter back into our quiet house and gave us something to nurture while we waited to start IVF.

The prospect of going through that slog felt both terrifying and cruel – what if it didn’t work, what if it did? We knew that getting pregnant didn’t mean bringing a baby home. But we needed somewhere to pour all our love, the love that we carried for Fiadh but had nowhere to go. After waiting a long year (to give my broken body time to heal), we embarked on the IVF train again. It was just as hard as we expected, but sometimes hope wins.

As I sit there and write this, I’m 16 weeks pregnant with our little rainbow (coined Merry to be friends with our Pippin and keep the nerdy Lord of the Rings theme). We know there’s still a long way to go with no guarantees, and pregnancy after loss comes with its own griefs – I miss that happy innocence. But in the end, it will be worth every second.

For those starting on this journey, let me tell you (and you won’t believe me as I didn’t at the time), your pain will become easier to carry. Over a year after Fiadh died, we can find moments of happiness again – when I smile in a photo, I can even mean it. You’ll be able to live and not just exist.

Fiadh showed us that you can smile even through grief, to enjoy the little moments and that laughter can co-exist with tears. Life goes on, even if we don’t want it to – so we have to try to live for her. That’s not easy (or let’s face it fair) but I learned I am not alone, neither are you.

To our family and friends, thank you. And always to our long-legged baby giraffe, we love you to the moon and back.

Jo xx