Personal Stories

Nurture is proud to have made a difference to the lives of many of the New Zealanders featured here, whose personal journeys through the anguish of childlessness or complicated pregnancies have been successful.  Others have bravely shared their stories in the hope that Nurture's research will, in the future, help other couples avoid the heartache they have experienced.

Brihony and Michael Recurrent Miscarriage Brihony and Michael

Michael and Brihony were both under 35 when they decided to start trying for children, and neither thought they would have any difficulties. Brihony conceived easily, but her first pregnancy didn’t last. While upset about miscarrying, Brihony coped because she thought most women have at least one miscarriage.

Brihony became pregnant easily a second time, but was a little anxious as to how things would go. At six weeks a scan showed only a faint fetal heartbeat, and a week later she had another devastating miscarriage that required hospitalization to remove the pregnancy.

It took longer to grieve for this pregnancy – the sense of loss was enormous even though Brihony only carried the baby for a short time. She felt guilty for failing twice and began to wonder if she and Michael would ever have children. Brihony lost a third pregnancy within the space of a year. Her sense of isolation was immense, even with the support of Michael, friends and family.

After the third miscarriage Brihony and Michael were referred to the Recurrent Pregnancy Loss Clinic. All their tests came back clear; there was no explanation for the miscarriages. There was no reason they couldn’t go on to have a successful pregnancy, but there was no miracle cure either.

The decision to try again was an emotional one. Brihony really wanted a baby but was scared about the chance of miscarrying and how she would cope. She became pregnant again, but every day was scared that she would lose this baby. Every little cramp or small change in her body couldn easily set off the anxiety button.  Brihony and Michael were lucky this time; their first baby was born on December 14th, 2006 - a little girl called Hannah who weighed in at 3614 grams.

The SPIN study is aimed at improving treatments for couples, like Brihony and Michael, who have unexplained recurrent miscarriage. The study will help to determine whether aspirin and heparin, in addition to intensive monitoring at a recurrent miscarriage clinic, improves the chances of a successful pregnancy.

To read about the SPIN study, please click here

Noemi and Ding Recurrent Miscarriage Noemi and Ding

Thirty year old Noemi and her husband Ding have been trying for six years to have a baby. They managed to get pregnant easily at first, but lost the baby after seven weeks. It took another full year for Noemi to become pregnant again, but this pregnancy also ended in miscarriage. Noemi then had an operation to remove fibroids and two benign cysts that might somehow have contributed to the failed pregnancies. She became pregnant for the third time – only to lose this baby as well.

By this time Noemi and Ding were really frustrated and even more desperate to have a baby. Giving up was never an option, so their GP referred them to the recurrent pregnancy loss clinic at Fertility Plus. After testing both Noemi and Ding, the clinic could find no explanation for their pregnancy losses. This meant no specific treatment could be offered, and it took them an emotional year and a half to conceive again.

Once pregnant, Noemi decided to take part in the SPIN Study, which is aimed at improving pregnancy outcomes for women suffering from recurrent miscarriage.  She was randomised for the study and took aspirin and heparin throughout her pregnancy.  Noemi and Ding's first precious baby was born on October 31st 2006 - a little girl named Isabella Sophia who weighed in at 3030 grams.  Isabella is the first baby born through the SPIN Study in New Zealand.  Noemi hopes that her involvement in the study will help other couples avoid the heartache of recurrent pregnancy loss that she and Ding have suffered.

To read about the SPIN study, please click here

Robyn and Jonathan Pregnancy Complications Robyn and Jonathan

Sitting and looking around the SANDS (Stillborn and Neo-natal Death Support) group, I was struck by the similarities we shared. Not only did most of them look like Jonathan and myself – ordinary, rational, thirty-somethings – but our stories held the same themes. The losses of our newborn children were for many different causes, but the experiences of denial, desperate hope, and shock are the same.

Our own story began when I lay on the table for our twenty-week anatomy scan. The junior sonographer looked anxious. “It all looks great,” is the only comment a first time mother wants and expects to hear, not the questions that did come, “did you have a nuchal scan? Have you had an amniocentesis?” She left and fifteen minutes later she and her supervisor rejoined me in the room. The supervisor too looked anxious, and again the questions came as to whether I’d had my baby screened for chromosomal abnormalities.

This little baby had been a long time in the making, with six years of trying to conceive on our own, various invasive tests, including a laparoscopy, and finally the stress of fertility treatment. “It all looks great,” was all we wanted to hear. Jonathan had been out of town but flew home that day to an ashen wife. The next week we went together to the obstetrician at the hospital. “These measurements can’t be right,” she said looking at the results of the ultrasound. “They make no sense. We’ll rescan you.” “And what would they mean if they were correct?” I asked. “Well I’m sure they’re not, but measurements like this would indicate a chromosomal abnormality – like Trisomny 13”

Ignoring Jonathan’s wise plea not to do an internet search I foolishly looked up this cruel condition. “Please let it not be that,” we prayed. We were rescanned; the results were the same. The measurements had been correct. We had an amniocentesis. For the next five days Jonathan answered every phone call – he didn’t want me to be the one to hear bad news. The phone call finally came, our joy was unbounded - the chromosomes were normal! We were out of the woods, or so we thought.

But he still would not grow. After five weeks of bedrest I was put in hospital. We aimed to get our baby to a viable weight, so he could be delivered and cared for in the NICU unit. Blood tests were taken from me twice a day to check my blood’s ability to clot. I had pains all through my abdomen and trouble breathing, especially at night. At last I began to exhibit the classic symptoms of preeclampsia: protein leaking into the urine, high blood pressure. I was under a lot of pressure to deliver before I became too ill. “Come on little guy, I’ll hang in there if you will.”

At the end of three weeks in hospital the verdict came, my blood’s ability to clot was now in the danger zone, and our dear son Toby would never reach a viable weight. The blood supply to his placenta was just too inefficient. It was time to say goodbye and send him home.

He came without fuss and eight hours of labour. Tiny and complete with blonde hair like his dad and a big nose like his mum. We have his birth certificate and his own tiny grave in a plot for newborns. With each new grave and each new family at our SANDS group we remember that this pain is rare but not singular. The experience of birth: life’s great joy marred by death, life’s great pain, makes us feel wiser. Sadder. Changed.

The SCOPE study aims to develop a simple test that will help to identify first-time mothers at risk of developing serious pregnancy complications. This will help to prevent similar tragedies occurring in the future.

To read about the SCOPE study please click here

After the tragic loss of their first son Toby, Robyn and Jonathan bravely continued their fertility treatment and became pregnant again in May 2006.  Robyn's pregnancy was monitored carefully and she was given daily injections of clexane and aspirin until two weeks prior to her due date.  At 36 weeks Robyn was told she had "a perfectly healthy baby" and was induced just before her due date.  Arwen Sophia was born on January 19 2007.  She looks just like her little brother Toby, and has a sweet nature.  Both her parents are understandably still a little bit in disbelief.

Dani Hennessy Hysterectomy Dani Hennessy

Dani was 38 years old when her life changed forever. Fortunately she and Sean had completed their family; they have two children aged 15 and 11. Dani was initially referred to a specialist because she had become severely anaemic after battling very heavy periods for almost four weeks out of every month. She opted for an intrauterine device (LNG-IUS), as this would control the bleeding without the need for a hysterectomy – and also act as a contraceptive. The bleeding stopped immediately, iron tablets were discontinued and Dani’s blood pressure returned to normal. Now she could go out without having to check how far away the toilets were or carrying a stock of pads in her back pockets.

Life returned to normal for 18 months before Dani realised she had started bleeding again. The LNG-IUS wasn’t working, her anaemia was near transfusion point and she had heart palpitations and nausea. Ultrasound showed polyps in Dani’s uterus, which are usually harmless. However, pathology showed early stage cancer cells in the polyps and Dani now needed a hysterectomy to stop these cells developing and spreading. Fortunately Dani and Sean had no plans for more children.

In May 2006 Dani had a vaginal hysterectomy to remove her uterus and cervix. Dani is lucky; her histology results showed no other signs of cancerous cells. She is grateful for Nurture’s research on surgical approaches to hysterectomy. There were no other treatment options left for Dani, but she was able to have a vaginal hysterectomy instead of abdominal surgery, which meant fewer complications and a quicker recovery.

Click here to read “Surgical approaches to hysterectomy”

Karyn and Lexie Pregnancy Complications Karyn and Lexie

Karyn and Gareth had only just started antenatal classes and were beginning to relax about their pregnancy when Karyn found herself admitted to National Women’s Hospital. Like most first-time mothers, Karyn felt the most dangerous phase of pregnancy had passed once she had reached 29 weeks. Despite suffering from migraine headaches more frequently than usual during pregnancy, Karyn had felt generally well. The fact that the baby appeared to be on the small side of normal wasn’t considered a problem until a Doppler scan, which measures the placental blood flow, revealed not only was the infant small for its gestational age, but the placenta supporting it was functioning poorly.

A week later she was admitted to National Women’s and a week after that, Lexie, weighing in at 1000 grams (2lbs 3ounces), was born by emergency Caesarian. Karyn had developed a severe form of preeclampsia which had restricted blood flow to the baby and begun to affect her own organ function.

“Preeclampsia is such a frightening disease because of its stealth,” says Karyn. “Some women experience fluid retention and consistently high blood pressure which provides good indication that something is wrong – and usually this happens in the last weeks of pregnancy. I didn’t have any of the typical symptoms apart from slightly elevated blood pressure. It was a very frightening experience; one minute you’re at work thinking you really ought to start getting the baby’s room ready, the next minute you’re being told you’ll be delivering a tiny baby at any moment – and you have no idea how long the baby has been starved of oxygen and nutrients, and no idea what the outcome will be. Will I take home a normal healthy baby? Will I take home a baby at all?”

Lexie, who is now a bright two year-old, was the smallest baby ever discharged from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. “I can’t imagine now how tiny she was when we brought her home at just over three pounds,” says Karyn. “Looking back, it was an amazing time in some ways – we’re proud that we coped and we’re grateful that Lexie is with us and doing so well. But I wish that her early start could have been avoided”.

The SCOPE study aims to prevent serious pregnancy complications by developing a simple diagnostic test that will help to identify first-time mothers, like Karyn, who are at risk. “The SCOPE study gives me hope that in the future, mums and babies like us won’t have to suffer this traumatic experience because the problem will be detected early, and prevented”.

To read about the SCOPE study, please click here

Tracey and Tim Infertility Tracey and Tim

Tracey was 26 years of age when she was unexpectedly diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), a condition that prevents ovulation from occurring. The early diagnosis bought valuable time to try different fertility treatments that might help her become pregnant.

A course of Clomiphene to stimulate ovulation was prescribed, but Tracey did not respond to this treatment. And the hormones introduced by the medication didn’t help Tracey’s increasing stress levels either: feelings of desperation surfaced and Tracey felt that Tim should find a new fertile wife.

It was back to the drawing board. Tracey was referred to Nurture’s research centre, to take part in a study of women with PCOS who were resistant to Clomiphene. Tracey was randomised and selected for laparoscopic ovarian diathermy. The surgery itself was straightforward and Tracey recovered quickly. The long wait began (with more regular blood tests) to determine whether ovulation had been restored, and if Tracey would become pregnant naturally. It took five months of monitoring before Tracey’s first pregnancy was finally confirmed. Apart from some minor bleeding the pregnancy progressed without further incident and Harriet was safely delivered. Tracey was 29, Tim 31 and they had waited almost 3 years for her to arrive.

Over the next 3 years Tracey and Tim's friends began their families ... and then the next round of children started. The questions started about when Harriet would have a little brother or sister and judgements were passed about only children. Emotionally Tracey couldn't face the thought of more treatment until Harriet was over 3 - as a family they felt so lucky to have a healthy daughter.

Just as Tracey was about to consider further fertility treatment, she found herself pregnant once again. Lucy was safely delivered 8 months later; Tracey and Tim’s family was complete. Both feel incredibly lucky to have two beautiful daughters after years of stress, patience, heartache and nosey questions. 
Laparoscopic ovarian diathermy had helped to restore ovulation, and Tracey and Tim completed their family without needing to undergo any further expensive or invasive fertility treatments.

To read more about research into laparoscopic ovarian diathermy click here

Anita and Paul Premature Ovarian Failure Anita and Paul

With careers in place, the big OE behind them and a house almost freehold, Anita and Paul decided it was time to fulfill their next goal of starting a family. While planning their wedding, Anita was referred to a gynaecologist for medication to “kick start” her menstrual cycle so they could try for a baby. Nothing prepared her for what she was about to be told.

At age 29, Anita had premature ovarian failure. Still in shock, she was bundled up with reading material about menopause and given an appointment with a fertility specialist that same day. For Anita and Paul, the only option - apart from adoption - was in-vitro fertilisation with a donor egg. 

“I felt like I had a young spirit inside an old body. Invisible cancer of the soul. I felt cheated”, says Anita. No longer in control of her life, Anita says the worst part was realising she would never be able to reproduce “herself and Paul”. Having no sisters meant that Anita and Paul would need to find donor eggs from someone else. They put their names on the waiting list without telling friends or family, and let the wait begin.

Anita and Paul were fortunate that a donor came forward within a few months. Anita became pregnant after the first IVF cycle, but bleeding at 6 weeks and again at 8 weeks made the pregnancy extremely stressful. At 36 weeks, Anita gave birth to two little boys, Joshua and Cameron, who are now almost four years old.

Anita is taking part in a study to detect early menopause. As a result of this study, a genetic test may be developed in the future for women at risk of premature ovarian failure. This would enable women to make informed decisions about when to have their families – and to avoid the heartache and shock that Anita went through.

To read about Predicting Premature Menopause, click here

Kylie and Darren Infertility Kylie and Darren

Kylie and Darren had been married for several years when they decided to start a family. Kylie already knew she might have difficulties becoming pregnant because she suffered from Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) – a hormonal imbalance that makes ovulation (and periods) irregular. For two years Kylie and Darren tried to conceive naturally, but did not succeed. During this time Kylie often missed periods, and it became increasingly stressful each month to miss another period but discover it was due to PCOS and not because she was pregnant.

Resigned to the fact they would probably need to undergo in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), Kylie and Darren were referred to a fertility clinic. Keen to avoid this invasive treatment, Kylie and Darren were delighted to read about the PCOSMIC trial being undertaken by Nurture’s researchers at The University of Auckland. They signed up for the trial, which meant Kylie would be given either metformin or clomiphene – or a combination of both – to stimulate ovulation so that pregnancy could occur. Kylie was given metformin, but after the first month a blood test showed that she had not ovulated. Disappointment turned to joy, however, when later blood tests showed Kylie had become pregnant through late ovulation. After years of trying to conceive, Kylie and Darren finally became pregnant without needing expensive or invasive fertility treatments, and are now the proud parents of Cooper.

To read more about the PCOSMIC trial, click here

Jo and Jon Infertility Jo and Jon

Jo and Jon have been together since their early twenties. They were both rapidly approaching thirty when they finally felt ready to add to their family and bring a baby into the world. Both of them knew this would be an uphill battle, as Jo had previously been diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) as well as endometriosis.

After trying (and failing) to become pregnant for a year and a half, Jo was beginning to feel a failure as a woman, as her body seemed unable to do something that nature intended it to.

Fortunately her GP referred her to a specialist, Neil Johnson. Jo had previously been under Neil’s care for a laparoscopy for endometriosis, and he was aware of Jo’s gynaecological history. Neil suggested she and Jon consider taking part in the PCOSMIC trial, where women with PCOS are given either Metformin and/or Clomiphene to stimulate ovulation so pregnancy could occur.

After nearly two years of battling to become pregnant, Jo felt she was finally taking a positive step to overcoming their fertility problems. As an added benefit, she was also contributing to the knowledge of PCOS, its effect on fertility, and ways to combat and overcome this problem.

Two cycles into the trial, Jo became pregnant. She and Jon are now the proud and happy parents of a healthy and gorgeous boy, Alexander, who is nearly a year old. “The happiness our beautiful baby has bought us is completely indescribable”, says Jo.

To read more about the PCOSMIC trial, click here

Bi Sheng Ye Infertility Bi Sheng Ye

Bi Sheng Ye had been trying to become pregnant for more than 15 years. There was no explanation for her infertility, which added to her frustration. When her period arrived regularly every month to remind Bi Sheng that she not conceived, she would cry for 24 hours. It was a long and agonizing 15 years, during which time Bi Sheng tried various infertility treatments, all of them unsuccessful. Initially she was given Clomiphene to help her produce more eggs that might become fertilized. Intra-uterine insemination (IUI) was also tried, a procedure that places sperm directly into the uterus to aid fertilisation. Finally Bi Sheng tried in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), but this, too, was unsuccessful.

At age 41, Bi Sheng was one of the first women to undergo Lipiodol flushing once the results of Nurture’s Flush trial were available. The fallopian tubes of women participating in this study were “flushed” with Lipiodol, a poppy seed oil. Lipiodol appears to improve fertility by enhancing the environment within the uterus and helping embryos to implant. Remarkable, Bi Sheng became pregnant in the month immediately after treatment with Lipiodol, and now has a beautiful daughter.

To read more about the Lipiodol Flush trial, click here

Jane and Ian Infertility Jane and Ian

As a midwife, Jane had shared the joy of childbirth everyday at work. Her new job, running research trials in women’s health and infertility, was quite a shock. “I realised that getting pregnant wasn’t as easy as it seemed and, at 34 myself, thought Ian and I had better get started”.

Jane’s job was to coordinate research trials within the Obstetrics & Gynaecology department at The University of Auckland. One of these, the ‘Flush’ study, aimed to improve fertility by flushing the fallopian tubes with lipiodol. Whilst Jane ‘quizzed’ potential recruits, they shared their frustration and sadness at having spent years trying to conceive.

Jane felt a rising sense of dread as each month passed without falling pregnant herself. The irony of her situation was not lost on her and she empathised deeply with the women she talked with in her work. She and Ian visited their GP and had blood tests, a laporoscopy and sperm tests. “We jumped on any slight anomaly, hoping we’d found the cause. I suppose we were disappointed to be told that there was nothing wrong and no reason for us not conceiving”.

We saw a fertility naturopath and dutifully drank the powders, even after being told they worked by ‘magic’. We ate healthily, exercised and cut out alcohol and caffeine. We learned to finely-tune the timing of sex and quite enjoyed falling asleep to the self-hypnosis tape that told us to “imagine the heat travelling up through your vagina”. Still nothing happened, yet it seemed everyone we knew became pregnant by merely holding hands.

“Recruitment to the Flush trial really took off when we had some pregnancies, which seemed to prove that it worked”, says Jane. As a result of the trial, the procedure was approved and Jane arranged to be ‘flushed’ herself. One month later, she was pregnant. Six weeks on, she miscarried, and two more months later she was pregnant again. “Edward was born nine months later weighing nine pounds and may never know what we went through!”

To read more about the Lipiodol Flush trial, click here

Rachel and Shaun Pregnancy complications Rachel and Shaun

Finding out the sex of an unborn child is one of the most exciting times for expectant parents, but for Rachel and Shaun, their baby’s scan sent them on an emotional roller-coaster through the miracle of life, a medical first, and the shadow of death.

The scan revealed so much more than the sex of the baby girl growing within Rachel - it exposed a problem that had specialists urging Rachel and Shaun to terminate the pregnancy. Baby Bella was not alone in the womb – nestled beside her was a twin with no heart.

“Everything was going perfectly normally, so we thought,” explains Rachel. “The only thing was I was bigger than normal, but we put that down to it being my second pregnancy. At 19 weeks we went to find out what we were having. I was pretty sure we were having a girl, but it was exciting all the same. We took our older child Jack along to get his first glimpse ... and then they said, ‘Did you know there are two?’.” The stunned parents gaped at each other as they absorbed the news.

Within two minutes though, the radiographer said, “Something’s not right”, and during the hour-and-a half scan Shaun and Rachel realised that their two babies had only one heart beat between them.

“It sounds awful, but we were okay with that because we went in expecting one baby, we just wanted to know what was going on and what we had to do.”  They didn’t click that Bella was in danger until a specialist told them to consider terminating the pregnancy, warning she could be severely brain damaged or die.

Their nightmare was caused by “twin reversed arterial perfusion” or TRAP, which affects about one in 35,000 births and caused Bella’s twin, named Rose, to lack a heart – putting huge strain on Bella as she pumped blood for both of them.

Rachel and Shaun went home, shed a few tears then hit the internet, arming themselves with information for their coming ordeal. After reading about a risky foetal surgery commonly performed overseas but never done in New Zealand before, Rachel and Shaun rejected advice to “wait and see”, and asked for surgery to sever Rose’s umbilical cord and save Bella.

The surgery was available to New Zealanders willing to travel to Brisbane, but a week after Rachel’s devastating scan, Auckland University head of maternal foetal medicine, Professor Peter Stone, agreed to operate at National Woman’s the following week.   The operation was a success and, as planned, Rachel’s pregnancy continued with Rose still inside: removing her would have disrupted the entire pregnancy.

Then, at 23 weeks Rachel’s waters suddenly broke. Says Rachel: “The surgery had weakened the membrane that the babies were held in. I sat in National Women’s until I had her at 31 weeks - I lasted eight weeks with my waters broken!”

Baby Bella was born a healthy and beautiful 1.9kg, while her twin had shrunk to a tiny 75 grams - but Rachel and Shaun had long since put the twin’s presence to the back of their minds. Shaun explains, “Our philosophy was to forget about the other twin. We had to treat it like a normal pregnancy even though it wasn’t. We focused on making sure Bella was okay and pushed everything else to the back.”

“Every now and then though,” admits Rachel, “I still have days when I see her smiling and think, ‘Oh my God, there would have been two of you’, which would have been lovely.”

Rachel and Shaun hope that further research into conditions such as TRAP and twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS) will help to save the lives of more babies like Bella in the future.

Tania and Dan Stillbirth Tania and Dan

‘Normal’ is a really common word during pregnancy. But all pregnancies are different and differences are often explained as normal.

During the first trimester we had been nervous, aware of the risk of miscarriage. Once we’d passed that point we were convinced everything was plain sailing from here, all down hill, past the danger zone.

At the anatomy scan we held our breath and were reassured that our baby daughter was healthy, perfectly formed and within the size range of her dates. From there on in we confidently prepared for the arrival of our daughter. We had no idea that anything could go wrong from this point. We were blissfully unaware that there were any risks. It’s just not something that is talked about, nor covered in antenatal classes, plus this pregnancy was progressing ‘normally’.

When Tania went alone for the regular midwife checkup at 31 weeks, we were completely unprepared for things to be ‘not normal’.

At first the midwife had difficulty finding a heartbeat, so organized an immediate scan. The scan was completed in silence. Within a minute of being on the table, the scan confirmed the unthinkable, that there was no heartbeat.

I was in shock, “Is this possible? Has this ever happened to anyone else? Healthy babies don’t just die in the womb! How did this happen? Was it somehow my fault?” Next I had to make the hardest call of my life, to tell Dan.

The next few days were a painful and scary time. Trying to deal with the grief of losing our baby daughter, we also had to face the sudden prospect of going to hospital, being induced, giving birth and organising a funeral.

The next day we visited the hospital, and were admitted. A blood pressure check showed what was ‘normal’ previously, was now high and a first sign of pre-eclampsia. The next day we were induced, and in a short 3 hours our beautiful angel, Mia Rose, arrived silently. She was perfect and beautiful; she had her Dad’s nose and Mum’s delicate fingers.

This tragic time was devastating but made somewhat easier by the wonderful and compassionate team and counseling at the hospital, and the great work carried out by Sands (Stillbirth and Newborn Death Support). The Sands pack encouraged us to make memories of our daughter, things we would not otherwise have thought of through our shock. Because of this we have our cherished photos, a memory box and were able to appreciate the short time we had, and share her with family.

Later, the postmortem confirmed placental complications. The placenta did not implant properly restricting its function and resulted in the pre-eclampsia. Sadly, we’re left with ‘what-ifs’; had things been less ‘normal’, had the sign’s of pre-eclampsia shown earlier, would intervention have been possible? We have slowly accepted that it was not our fault, but the guilt is the hardest part to let go of, as parents you feel responsible for your children.

Through the Sands support meetings we have learnt we are not alone. This tragic event does sadly occur in other families. It can often be hard convincing the outside world how painful it is to have lost Mia, that she is a real person, our daughter, and that it is a pain that does not diminish or something that you ‘get over’. Sands have given us friends, support and surrounded us with people who understand how we feel.

Through this we have changed, we have grown; we have learnt that life and children are so special and precious. We are determined to honour Mia’s memory, to be good parents and to make her proud.

Tania and Dan have taken part in The Auckland Stillbirth Study (TASS), a research project that aims to identify the environmental and lifestyle factors that might increase the risk of late stillbirth.  They hope their participation in this study will help other families avoid the tragedy of losing a baby.

  • To read about The Auckland Stillbirth Study, please click here.

Lorna and Paul Recurrent Miscarriage Lorna and Paul

Most expectant couples are over the moon in anticipation of their bundle of joy, but for Lorna and Paul Lapsley, the situation was bittersweet.  The Scottish-born couple, now parents to five-month old Kaitlyn, barely spoke to each other about Lorna's growing baby bump.  Having had two miscarriages, the early stages of the pregnancy were fraught with doubt and anxiety.

"The first time we told everybody, the second time we told one or two people and when Kaitlyn came along we didn't tell anybody", says Paul.  "We were waiting with bated breath", Lorna adds.  "We were too scared to talk about it in case it was jinxed".

When Lorna and Paul began dating in their early 20s, they never imagined having a family would be so difficult.  Lorna suffered her first miscarriage in March 2007, roughly nine weeks into her pregnancy.  After the jubilation of falling pregnant a second time, she lost that baby after just six weeks, on Christmas Day of the same year.  After a series of assessments, doctors were unable to give the Lapsleys an explanation.  Both were relatively healthy, fit people, so not having anything to fix or any answers was hard to understand.

A despondent Paul and Lorna, who admits she had all but given up her dream, turned to Intra-Uterine Insemination in a bid to fall pregnant for the third time.  On their second cycle Kaitlyn was conceived, but Lorna and Paul instantly feared the worst.  Desperate for their fortune to change, Lorna applied and was accepted to take part in the SPIN Study.  It involved injections of the blood-thinning drug heparin and a low dose daily aspirin, along with regular monitoring.   Despite risks associated with unproven research, the couple was willing to try anything.

However, the day before she was due to begin the intervention, Lorna began experiencing severe cramps and spot bleeding - the same symptoms she suffered with her miscarriages.  'I went into a blind panic' she says.  'But we went for the scan that afternoon and saw the heartbeat, and they told me they couldn't see a reason why it was happening'.

Lorna received her first injection the next day, and by the following morning the symptoms had disappeared.  'Whether it was the drugs kicking in or just Lorna feeling positive, we don't know, but we're both convinced that if we hadn't got involved then Kaitlyn wouldn't be here' Paul says.  Despite their struggle, the couple agrees the journey was all worth it, with Lorna's only regret being that she gave up hope.  'Even now, sometimes when I look at her, it's hard to believe she's ours' Lorna beams.  'She's our little darling'.

This story appeared in New Idea, May 9 2009 and has been reprinted with the permission of Pacific Magazines.

Photo by:  Fiona Tomlinson/courtesy of New Idea Magazine

For more information about the SPIN Study click here

Megan and Phil Stillbirth Megan and Phil

I often wonder how I could love someone I've never met so very much. Someone so tiny and perfect whose eyes I've never seen open. Someone I've never shared a cuddle or a conversation with. Someone that I won't be able to see all grown up as a man with a wife and children. When I became pregnant with Crispin I imagined I would have all of these experiences, but sadly it was never meant to be.

When you first become pregnant the thought that something might happen to your baby never even crosses your mind. You live in blissful ignorance and you think that once you get past the crucial 12 week stage everything is going to be ok. You hear of the occasional story of someone who has something awful happen to them but you would never expect that you could become one of those people and it would be your baby that did not survive.

My pregnancy went very smoothly initially. I was obsessed with finding the perfect white cot, with matching bedding, and was getting used to the idea of stopping work and becoming a mum. We found out we were having a little boy at the 13 week scan and everything was tracking along nicely. At our 19 week scan we were told that the baby was not growing as much as he should be. He was only in the third percentile for my dates. From that point on we had scans and doppler tests every two weeks to check the rate of growth. Each time we went to the specialist I would hope that somehow, miraculously, our baby would suddenly have had a growth spurt and returned to normal size – but from that 19 week scan he really didn't grow much at all. It was a very stressful six weeks for my husband and I and our families – and looking back I'm really not sure how I coped with it all. I used to read the chat rooms on baby websites and was angry that at the time I should be joining in a discussion about what sort of buggy I was going to buy, I was having to face up to the fact that my baby was not going to make it. Our baby was soon diagnosed with severe IUGR (Intra Uterine Growth Restriction) due to a fault in my placenta, and the chance of him surviving was getting smaller and smaller. The doctor likened it to trying to drink through a pinched straw, and slowly that straw became more and more blocked until the baby had no hope of survival. 

On 18 January 2008 my son died. I had to wait two long, sad, and completely stressful days before I could be admitted into hospital to be induced. I was just over 26 weeks and my body simply wasn't ready to give birth – after a traumatic and extremely painful labour our son Crispin was stillborn on 21 January; he weighed a tiny 450 grams. Due to the fact that we had had to wait for so long to find out what was going to happen to him I had sort of detached myself from him somewhat. So when he was born I did not look at him or hold him and that is something I regret terribly and still think about every day. We do have a photo of him but I will never forgive myself for not wanting to spend a few precious moments with him. I do know that at the time it was the best thing for me to do it was the only way I knew how to cope with the situation.

The days, weeks, and months following Crispin's death are somewhat of a blur to me. I do not recall much of 2008 - I was simply existing day by day. The reactions from some family and friends really surprised me. Some could not cope, they didn't know what to do or say when they were around me so they just chose to ignore me, ignore Crispin or the fact that he'd even existed. On the flip side other friends were amazing and I had so much love and support from them, my family and my husband - without it I don't know how I would have coped. 

Eight weeks after Crispin's birth I became pregnant again. I desperately wanted a baby and was so thankful that I was able to become pregnant so quickly. I was terrified that something was going to happen to this baby but I had a fantastic Obstetrician who, along with my GP, assembled an army of people who helped me through. My placenta had clotted in my pregnancy with Crispin (as well as the IUGR) so I began injecting myself in the stomach daily with an anti-clotting medicine. My Obstetrician scanned the baby on every visit to check that it was ok - and at 13 weeks I again found out I was having another little boy. Apart from the stress of worrying about this second baby dying, my pregnancy went very well. And on 9 December 2008, after a short labour, our gorgeous son Miller Jarvis was born. I was in complete shock. After 64 weeks of pregnancy I hadn't really expected to ever come home with a live baby! 

I have learnt so much from Crispin – my outlook on life has completely changed and this whole experience has made me re-evaluate what is important to me. I have also met some of the most wonderful and understanding people who have helped me deal with his death and have made a lifelong friend who shares a similar story to mine. I don't think I will ever get over losing Crispin but with each day, and the love of my husband, family and Miller, I know that I will get used to not having him around.

I have so much love for both my boys and miss Crispin so much. I do know that without Crispin's death I would not have had Miller so it is really a bittersweet situation. I often wonder what Crispin's personality would have been like and if he would have been much like his little brother. I try to talk about Crispin as much as possible – I know it makes some people feel uncomfortable but to me when I talk about him it keeps his memory alive. I want Miller to know he has a brother who watches over him and I have the footprints of both of my boys on my bedroom wall which I will show Miller once he is old enough to understand.

Megan and Phil hope the findings from the Auckland Stillbirth Study and the Scope Study will help other families avoid the devastating grief of losing a baby.

  • To read about the Auckland Stillbirth Study please click here.
  • To read about the Scope Study please click here.