real life

"We lost 7 babies in five years before our miracle was born. We'd never felt so alone."

Today, October 15, is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. There is a campaign to have it officially recognised nationally.

In 2006, after trying for three years to get pregnant, my wife Kate and I were referred to an IVF clinic. As part of the initial process we underwent genetic counselling. The results showed that Kate had a genetic translocation (this is where part of 1 chromosome swaps places with part of another chromosome). As a result we were told that the chances of us getting pregnant were less than 0.2 per cent and the chances of a successful pregnancy were zero.

Regardless we decided that we would still give IVF a try and in 2007 we began our first cycle.

Learn about Never Forgotten: Mamamia’s Pregnancy Loss Awareness Week.

As you can well imagine we were overjoyed when we were told that we were pregnant on our very first try. Despite the fact that we had originally decided not to tell anyone until at least 12 weeks into the pregnancy, our excitement got the better of us and we were unable to restrain ourselves from telling all of our family and friends.

"My wife Kate and I were referred to an IVF clinic" (Image via iStock.)

They were 12 very exciting and happy weeks, but all of that was about to come to an end. In May 2007 we went for our first ultrasound scan. We were very excited and couldn’t wait to get a glimpse of our first baby. As we waited nervously we had no inkling of how our lives were about to be dramatically changed.

As Kate lay on the bed in her hospital gown, we held hands with each other and I hugged her close. We were excited, nervous and anxious all at the same time and I remember saying to her, “here we go, we’re about to see the little boy or girl we’ve wanted for so long". The probe was applied and suddenly there was our baby on the screen. We both started to cry with tears of joy.

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Then it all started to go horribly wrong. The ultrasound operator kept moving the probe around and then stopped and got the doctor to come in. At this point we were a little anxious but not really concerned. He took the probe and moved it around for a bit and then said the words that destroyed us, words I will never forget as long as I live, “I’m sorry but your baby has no heart beat”.

John, Kate and their daughter. (Image supplied.)

“What? What do you mean?”, I replied

“I can see a baby but there is no heart beat. I’m sorry but your baby is dead”

I remember Kate saying, “no you must be wrong” and bursting into tears. I remember asking them to check again, but the result was the same. All we could do was cry and hold each other. I distinctly remember thinking to myself that we had done everything right and that we wanted a baby in our lives so much, that it was unfair.

We were then taken back to the IVF clinic and left alone in a windowless room for about 45 minutes where all we could do was hold each other and cry and then cry some more.

After about 45 minutes a nurse came in and say, “I’m sorry there’s nothing we can do".

I asked what we were supposed to do now and the nurse replied “you can go home”.

Mary Coustas knows the feeling of pregnancy loss all to well. Listen to her talk about giving birth to her stillborn daughter Stevie on the No Filter podcast. 

As we left the clinic, we had no idea what to do, where to go, who we could even speak to about what had just happened. We ended up wandering around Perth. I remember we ended up at the Church where we were married where we cried a lot and prayed

For the next 10 days we barely left the house. I don’t think Kate said more than two dozen words in that time. We felt lost, we felt alone. We didn’t know where to turn, who to talk to, where to get support from. We went from despair and tears to anger and frustration, to loneliness and despair. It became a terrible cycle that took us a long time to break out of.

But over time, by supporting each other and sharing our love we managed to get through it. We soon discovered that the loss of a baby is not something that you never get over. However, you do managed to integrate it into your life.

In the next few months, once the rawness had settled down Kate and I spent a lot of time talking about how we felt on that day and if it wasn’t for our love for each other and the fact that we were willing to talk to each other about how we felt, I’m not sure how we would have made it through the trauma and grief.

I’m not sure how we would have made it through the trauma and grief. (Image via iStock.)
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One of the things that we both felt was the feeling of being so totally alone, of not feeling supported by anyone and not knowing who to talk to. About seven months after our loss we both made a promise to each other. The promise was that we were going to do whatever we could to make sure that no one who lost a baby was ever going to feel as alone and as unsupported as we did on that day in May 2007.

We still wanted to have a child in our lives so we continued to chase that dream. However things were not to run too smoothly for us over the next 5 years. We underwent 15 IVF cycles and unfortunately we lost another 6 babies. But we never forgot the promise that we made to each other in 2007.

After losing our first baby, Kate discovered that there were a number of countries in the Northern Hemisphere to observed a day where all the babies that were lost during pregnancy and shortly after birth were remembered. That day is October 15 and is known as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.

Rebecca Sparrow talks to Mia Freedman about her stillborn baby Georgie...

Together we decided that we wanted October 15 to be officially recognised in Australia so that anyone who had lost a baby would know that they were not alone in their loss and also to raise awareness of the issue so that everyone would feel comfortable talking about the loss of a little one.

Together in 2012, Kate and I began a campaign to get October 15 officially recognised in Western Australia. In late 2013 Kate wrote a letter to the Premier outlining that 1 in 4 pregnancies ends in a loss and that 1 in 6 births results in a stillbirth and that given these figures, there would not be a family in WA that had not been touched by the loss of a baby.

On October 15 2014, in a bipartisan motion, the State Parliament officially proclaimed October 15 as Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day.

Western Australia joined the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Italy and New South Wales.

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The happy ending to our own personal journey.

In mid 2012, shortly after the loss of our 7th baby, Kate and I realised that a baby through IVF was never going to happen for us. We both agreed that she could not go through the physical demanding routine of IVF again and that neither of us could face the mental anguish and trauma of another loss. So we decided that we need to look at other options.

At the time surrogacy was not an option in Western Australia so we decided that our only choice was to seek an egg donor so that we could have a child.

I placed a simple 2 line advert in the Public Notices section of the Western Australian Newspaper - “Happily married loving couple seeks egg donor for IVF”. Little did we know what was about to happen.

The media picked up on our advertisement and it went national. In the end we had 50 offers from egg donors all across Australia. With one offer from the United States and one from New Caledonia. An Adelaide couple even offered us an embryo. We had no idea that there were some any generous and selfless people out there.

In the end we narrowed the offers down to an amazing women here in Western Australia.

Because we wanted to maximise our chance of success we decided that during the ‘cooling off’ period in the process we would give IVF one more try using the frozen embryos that we had stored.

And so Kate started the blood testing regime. Then what can only be called a miracle happened. Kate got a phone call from the IVF clinic telling her that she was pregnant. We were shocked as the IVF process had not even started.

Kate, John and their daughter. (Image supplied.)

Unbelievable Kate was naturally pregnant. It was the only natural pregnancy that we have ever had and it was something that was not supposed to happen due to her genetic condition. Incredibly Kate carried the baby to term and we now have a beautiful little girl who is the centre of our universe. Our very own miracle baby.

But having our baby has not changed our focus. We still recall the promise that we made to each other in 2007 and we are still working to make sure that no one who has lost a baby ever feels as alone and as unsupported as we did.

The loss of a baby is something that happens all too often. Those that have suffered miscarriage or stillbirth need to know that it is okay to talk about it and those around them need to understand that the loss of a child, any child at any stage of pregnancy is something that will stay with the bereaved parents forever.

Please support our national campaign to have October 15 officially recognised by the Parliament of Australia as Pregnancy & Infant Loss remembrance Day by signing our online petition which can be found at Change.org by searching ‘October 15 Pregnancy’.

If you need support for miscarriage, still birth or newborn loss, Sands Australia have a 24 hour help line you can call 1300 072 637.

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