Chrissie’s first son Ethan was born prematurely at 21 weeks. Here she reflects on pregnancy after loss and how Ethan’s birth supported her and her partner Jonny through the births of their children Evie and Finn.
In 2018 our world turned upside down as I gave birth to our beautiful son Ethan at 21 weeks, 3days. When he was born I asked the nurses to pass him to me. His chest was still moving as the blood continued to flow through his body, but he was gone and there was nothing they could do. He was born too soon.
Ethan was the absolute double of his daddy, Jonny. We were so in love with him. We bathed him, weighed him (430g, 27cm long), dressed him, made some hand and foot prints, played music to him. But then we then had to kiss him goodbye. A week later it was his funeral and our son Ethan was buried in a very special baby garden. After years of fertility issues and IVF, we were given hope before we kissed him goodbye, our hearts were broken.
Ten months later, we found out we were pregnant again. It was, of course, what we wanted and we were very happy. But we were scared of what could go wrong. We couldn’t help but think ‘how can we go through losing another baby?’, ‘how are we going through the next nine months?’, ‘will we even make it that far?’.
Anxious but promising
Along with the anxiety of losing Ethan, I also had a very difficult pregnancy. We had an early scan and everything looked very promising but I was suffering from bleeding. My consultant reassured me that the bleeding was nothing to worry about. He explained that it was a cervical polyp. Despite the reassurances, the bleeding just added to our anxiety.
Due to my history with Ethan, I had a plan to get a cervical stitch. I was taken into theatre by myself as Jonny sat outside. The midwife asked why I was shaking and why I looked so scared. I was so emotional and couldn’t get the words out to explain how much it meant to be in that theatre, but I was so very scared that things would go wrong. Thankfully everything went smoothly, my consultant was happy and I was sent home to rest.
Over the coming weeks, I threw myself into work and kept busy. Jonny and I knew from our experience with Ethan that 22weeks was the earliest they would do anything to save a baby, so we said to each other that we just need to get past Christmas. At 16weeks I had a cervical scan. Things weren’t looking great as my cervix already started to open, but my consultant explained that was why I’d had the stitch. We were told to take each week at a time. The weeks went slow and the closer we got to 21weeks the more anxious we became.
My waters broke early again
When I hit 21+3, the same point we lost Ethan, I was so emotional. I worried that something would go wrong on that day. It was 17th December, I rushed around having a busy day at work and went back to the office to meet colleagues for lunch. It was only then I realised I was heavily bleeding, but feeling okay to drive I took myself to hospital with tears rolling down my face. Thankfully the bleeding stopped and nothing was causing the doctors concern, but they kept me in overnight and for the next day because of my history.
On 19th December my waters broke at 21 weeks +5 days. My friend had arrived to visit me at the exact moment my waters broke, and that helped me remain calm, knowing Jonny was already on his way. When Jonny arrived, they started to prepare me for delivery and we were told that my stitch would need to be removed, but we knew that would mean instant delivery. They told us they wouldn’t do anything to save our baby.
My calmness disappeared and I remember shouting to Jonny, I can’t, I just can’t lose another baby. He reassured me that we would fight through this together and have no regrets. I knew what he meant as after losing Ethan we had so many thoughts about what we would do differently. We were taken down the same corridor to delivery, and so many horrible memories came flooding back. We asked the midwife not to take us to the same room where Ethan was born and ended up in the room next door. The room had the same layout, which was a trigger for us both.
There was an incubator ready
That evening into the early hours we had lengthy discussions with both delivery and NICU consultants and they agreed if the baby showed signs of life, they’d be there. This helped us stay positive and we spent the next few days trying to keep that positivity and remain calm as I stayed in on hospital bed rest. At 22+2, I went into labour with the stitch still in place.
We were taken to delivery for a second time and I have never been so calm in my life, focusing fully on my breathing. Taken down that same corridor, we were taken to a rainbow room (for bereaved parents) while the delivery room was being prepared. I didn’t think about where I was as I was in my own zone, remaining calm and focusing on my breathing. We were then taken to the delivery room, but there was something different this time as in the corner there was an incubator ready with the light on ready for our baby.
Within 30 minutes of my stitch being removed our baby was born with just one push. She landed smoothly on the bed wriggling like crazy, but there was no sound. We were both so emotional and relieved that she was breathing. Quickly our daughter was taken from the bed to the incubator, before the room filled with medical support to support her and rush her off to NICU.
We called our daughter Evie, meaning to live
When we first arrived in NICU, so happy to finally meet our little girl, we were asked if this was our first child. No, we said as we proudly talked about how Ethan had brought us to this moment. We called our daughter Evie, meaning to live.
As the weeks and months passed, we talked about Ethan a lot and how he helped us save Evie’s life. So happy to have made it to NICU, we were prepared for this with Evie.
On New Year’s Eve, we registered Evie’s birth. This meant so much to us as it was one thing we weren’t able to do for Ethan as he was born sleeping before 24weeks. Here we were registering our miracle daughter who was born at just 22weeks.
As the months in NICU passed we remained positive, but we did have those difficult days. As COVID-19 took over the world, Jonny and I had to split visits and it became even more difficult as we were hardly seeing each other during that time. Jonny missed Evie’s first bath and her first bottle, but we were just grateful Evie was here. I look back now at my amazing, strong little girl, who is now two and has already overcome so much in her short life. I just wish we could have saved Ethan too.
After years of fertility issues, we were pregnant again
Not long after Evie’s first birthday, we found out we were pregnant again. After years of fertility issues, we thought we had got lucky with Evie, but here we were again with our third pregnancy in three years. This was overwhelming news given everything we had been through. I was due to go back to work in the April but I decided that I needed to put Evie and the pregnancy first.
Very early in to the pregnancy I was given support from the lovely preterm clinic midwife and my consultant. There was a plan put in place for me to have a higher stitch placed by a specialist in Leeds. With extremely high risks of premature labour, this specialist was my best chance of making it to term and we were happy about this decision.
We were given an early scan but with Covid rules, it meant that I had to attend on my own. We’d always got through these things together so it was an extremely anxious time doing it alone. Everything was looking good though and off to Leeds I went at 12weeks, this time it was an overnight stay and due to covid rules I had to do it alone. The night in Leeds was tough as my only experiences of staying in hospital were traumatic. I couldn’t help but sit and think of Ethan and Evie and hope we could get through this.
Getting through the risks of premature birth was just the start
Thankfully everything went smoothly but recovery was tough for a few weeks. It would be easy to think that surely a third pregnancy would be easier this time and in a way it was because I had Evie as a huge distraction. But it was far from easy. In those three years, we had seen so much. Getting through the risks of premature birth was just the start of getting our baby home.
I remember sitting in the car one day, looking at Evie in the back, trying to picture another baby next to her, but my thoughts of how it should be Ethan next to her was overwhelming and I struggled to think about it again. As the weeks went by, I had weekly scans and everything looked amazing. I wasn’t having any of the issues like I had with Evie. Could this all really go smoothly? As I approached 21 weeks, it was a very emotional time and went slowly but I packed my hospital bag and was ready early this time.
Thankfully we didn’t need it and the weeks continued to pass. I was discharged from the preterm clinic and started to attend Tommy’s rainbow clinic at 24weeks.
Setting milestones we’d never had to think about
We were setting milestones that we never had to think about before. The baby started to measure quite big, which was good but our fear of something going wrong continued throughout. We knew we were having a boy, which was so lovely but also brought out other emotions especially when trying to pick another boy’s name, as we revisited the names we looked at when pregnant with Ethan.
As I reached the 3rd trimester I knew I had to be careful with Covid so I had to isolate. I missed both of my sister’s weddings and countless family events. It was extremely difficult but it’s what I had to do to keep my baby safe. As I reached term, it was an amazing feeling but until the baby was here safe, I wasn’t able to relax.
At 39weeks, due to the baby’s large size and my history, we opted for an induction which all went smoothly at first. In early labour, I was looking down on the front foyer of the hospital, watching new parents coming and going with their babies. For years we had walked through those front doors, time after time, wishing for that day to come where we could walk out with a baby but instead it was always empty arms (Evie was transferred by ambulance out the back door) I said to Jonny we’ll do it this time.
Our first baby born crying
After 30 hours of labour, followed by an emergency c-section, our son Finn was born. That moment he was born crying was very surreal, our third baby but first born crying. I just wanted to hold him but had to wait until I was out of theatre. He was so perfect and a healthy 9lb 2oz. The next day as we headed home, the corridors we had travelled down so many times brought so many memories of hope, heartache and joy. We walked through that foyer and those double doors with lots of emotions. We had our healthy little boy. Why couldn’t it have been so easy first time?
Evie and Finn have brought so much joy into our world. We know how very lucky we are to have two very healthy children. They’ll never replace the love we have for Ethan. They will grow up knowing about him and how his loss allowed them to survive.
The pain of losing Ethan will never go away but we have learnt to live with that pain. We’ll continue to be the best parents we can to Evie and Finn.
Our family will never fully be complete but our hearts sure are full.
I’ll always be a mum of 3 💙💕💙
If this article on pregnancy after loss has brought up any difficult feelings for you, please visit Tommy’s Baby Loss support resources or get mental health support from PANDAS