Coping with Baby Loss: Hannah and Stephen’s Story

Baby loss is a traumatic event for anyone, at any stage. For Hannah and Stephen, the experience is something they want to share, in the hope that it might help someone else in similar circumstances. In this interview, we learn more about the loss of Henry, and where Hannah and Stephen’s fertility journey has taken them since then.

Coping with baby loss Hannah and Stephen's story
Photo credit: Stephanie Hughes

How did you and Stephen meet?

Stephen and I met at Hogmanay in Edinburgh. By chance, the festivities had been cancelled due to bad weather, and we both ended up in the same bar. We were together for about five years before we got married in 2011. We always knew we wanted to have children so we started trying straight after the wedding. I’ve always had irregular periods, so we knew it was unlikely to be easy.

How did it go at the start?

When trying naturally didn’t get us anywhere, we did eight rounds of Clomid. Unfortunately that also did nothing. However, in the process to trying it we met a really wonderful NHS doctor. He told us about a trial he had heard of for people with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) like me, and recommended I put myself forward.

What did the trial involve?

It was with Imperial College London, looking into using a naturally-occurring hormone called kisspeptin to help trigger the egg release. Ordinarily in IVF, egg release is triggered by human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). However, for people with PCOS, this process carries a high risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS). The researchers wanted to see if kisspeptin might be a good alternative.

Was it successful?

It was fantastic – essentially by being part of the trial, we got that first round of IVF free. Everything went very well, and we ended up with six embryos from it. More luckily still, one of those implanted successfully – we were pregnant.

It was 2014 and we couldn’t have been happier.

Unfortunately, the pregnancy did not go smoothly. We had a series of issues, and at 15 weeks, my waters broke. Henry fought on for two more weeks, but unfortunately at 17 weeks, we lost him.

That must have been incredibly hard – how did you cope with your baby loss?

It’s so hard, if you lose a child, at any stage. It was so raw. If I’m honest, it still is raw at times. While I can now look at Henry’s short time with us in a positive light (being able to do things such as this interview, for example), it does still hit me sometimes.

Fortunately the nurse who was with us when we had Henry was wonderful. I’m actually still in touch with her now.

I’m sure everyone deals with things differently, but one of our ways of coping with baby loss was to put together memory boxes to help people going through a similar situation to ours. We’ve also kept up a tradition of donating Christmas gifts to the children’s ward at the hospital where we had all three of our boys. My mum works for the local council and they have donated presents with us for many years, so we are lucky to have donated hundreds of gifts in Henry’s memory.

When did you consider trying again for another child?

I found it really hard to make the decision to go ahead and try again after we had Henry. I felt terribly guilty, but also knew that we wanted to have a baby here with us. Four months after we lost him, we decided to try again.

Luckily we still had frozen embryos left from the trial that had given us Henry. In 2014 we used one of these to have our son, Samuel. The nurse who looked after Samuel when he was in NICU for three weeks (he was born at 33 weeks) is actually best friends with the nurse who was with us when I delivered Henry – it was amazing.

We’d always wanted to have siblings. Unfortunately by 2020, after self-funding our treatment to have Samuel, and using up the remaining frozen embryos, we needed to then look at paying for a fresh round.

How did you find out about Access Fertility?

We’d made the move to Boston Place clinic in London as it was more convenient for us, travelling in from Hertfordshire. That’s where we had the round that gave us Samuel, and it was important to me to stay with the team at Boston Place; they were so supportive throughout all of our treatment.

I’d always recalled seeing the Access Fertility poster on the many, many times I’d sat in the clinic waiting room. Then, when we were faced with having to start another fresh cycle, the clinic’s finance team recommended it.

What were your first impressions of Access Fertility’s programmes?

It seemed like a cushion – I understood that if this is something we wanted to continue with, then we’d have the security of knowing there was another cycle if it didn’t work out, and many frozen transfers as well.

Typically, due to the kind of person I am, I read all the fine print so many times, trying to see the catch. But after understanding all the detail, I was left with the feeling that it would just take the edge off things.

It’s such a stressful time, if you can park some of the worry, that really helps. It’s a lot of money, but at the rate we were going, it was less than we’d have paid direct. I remember when it was all sorted, I thought to myself ‘right, I can just focus now on the rounds themselves’.

What happened on that next stage in your journey?

Naively, because I’d become pregnant on rounds one and two, I expected everything to work really easily. Sadly, the next three rounds hadn’t worked, which is why we came to do the fresh round.

I was feeling really down about it all by that point, I wasn’t in a good place. We did a fresh cycle, which sadly didn’t work, and at that point, I said “I don’t know if I can do another one.”

We left it a while, but by this point, Covid had arrived. We decided we wanted to go ahead with another frozen cycle. Boston Place were incredible throughout, but especially that round. I wanted to throw everything at it and try anything.

During the pandemic, the last thing I wanted to do was head into central London and risk contracting Covid, which would mean the IVF couldn’t go ahead. However, the last trip to the clinic proved to be a monumental change in our luck. It was the very last day before the IVF clinics would close for another lockdown. The transfer was a success, and the seventh cycle turned out to create our little Rory.

baby loss Hannah and Stephen's story
Photo credit: Stephanie Hughes

Would you recommend Access Fertility?

Yes, I would. I think it’s such a huge investment in a number of ways when you do IVF. Emotionally it takes so much out of you, and there’s no way round it, it’s unbelievably expensive. But this takes the edge off, knowing you’ve paid up front for your treatment, outside the medication, that is.

What advice would you give to someone undergoing IVF, and who might experience baby loss?

  1. It sounds cheesy, but if you feel you’ve got it in you, don’t give up. Rory is evidence of what that can bring.
  2. Give yourself time. If you get to that point when you can’t go on any more, that’s completely understandable, but give yourself some time to know for sure. I found the break I gave myself invaluable. I was so caught up in round after round, back to back at times. Stepping away and really switching off from it as best I could was the best thing I did at the time.
  3. Henry was never with us as he should have been, but that doesn’t mean his time isn’t counted for. Mark your baby loss in whatever way makes sense for you
  4. Be honest with the people around you. We tend to push things down, but saying ‘actually, do you know what, I’m not ok’ may help so you have people around you that you can talk to, or just have near, if you don’t want to talk.
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and to request the people you feel most at ease with. You won’t be asking anything that someone else hasn’t asked before! Be clear about things you do and don’t want. I’m a naturally shy person, and find this hard but so much is at stake that it’s important to voice your thoughts and opinions.
  6. Be gentle on yourself. It’s easy to say this now I’m out the other side, but at the start of this journey I was so strict on myself, doing everything I possibly could to make it work. It was far too much pressure. Be kind to yourself – if that means a night watching telly or having a glass of wine, enjoy it. I remember family and friends seeing a real difference in my attitude to my last round. Of course I didn’t go nuts, but after being so strict about not drinking for so long, having a glass of wine with friends was a big deal at the time!

If you’ve experienced baby loss and need support, there are several organisations that may be helpful for you, including Sands, and the Fertility Network.

Access Fertility is here to support you through your fertility journey and to relieve some of the stress which it can entail with our IVF programmes. Our patient advisors are specially trained to help you during this challenging process, and would be glad to help explain what our programmes can offer you for your unique circumstances. Please contact us and we’ll get in touch at a time that suits you.

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