When I found myself unexpectedly pregnant at the age of 36 I was totally shocked. I’d never been broody, never wanted a baby, and never planned to have children.
My relationship was a holiday romance which continued too long, and when I told my boyfriend I was pregnant he wasn’t interested. We finished almost immediately but I decided to go ahead with the pregnancy. I’m not entirely sure why I changed my mind, but I had a good job, had always been independent and my family and friends were very supportive.
I was just over my due date when, one morning, I realised I couldn’t feel my baby moving. I drove to the hospital where the midwife did a scan. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Your baby’s dead. I’ll get the doctor.”
I kept telling myself it was a mistake and my baby would be born alive.
I was in shock – I didn’t believe her. The doctor said I’d be admitted and induced the next morning. I begged for a Caesarian section but was told I had to give birth naturally unless there were complications.
I phoned friends and family to let them know but told them not to come to the hospital. I kept telling myself it was a mistake and my baby would be born alive. I asked for an epidural when the labour pains kicked in, but the anaesthetist was busy elsewhere.
I was so alone. And then my mum arrived, despite me telling her not to come – I’d never been so happy to see her. She held my hand and cried with me for the next three hours until my daughter, Helena, was born. Her beautiful little face was purple as she’d been strangled by the umbilical cord, and my hopes she might survive were shattered.
Leaving her behind was the hardest thing I have ever had to do.
I’m not religious but I had the hospital chaplain bless her. The nurses took hand and foot prints and a lock of her hair, and left her with me. I held her until she was as cold as marble, praying and praying for her to take a breath. Then I put her in the bassinet beside me and just watched her all night. I kept thinking I could see her chest move.
The next morning, when I was discharged, leaving her behind was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. The funeral was arranged by the hospital and all my friends and family came. Everyone cried as I carried the tiny coffin into the crematorium, numb with disbelief.
I returned the pram and nursery furniture and, five weeks later went back to the hospital for the post-mortem results. I had to go through the maternity ward, past the balloons and flowers, to meet the consultant. I was told the “good news” was there had been nothing wrong with Helena. Her death was “just a tragedy”.
I went back to work but had a mini breakdown six weeks later. I was crying constantly and unable to face anyone. I was prescribed antidepressants and had two counselling sessions before I realised I wasn’t depressed.
I wanted a child, but certainly wasn’t in the right frame of mind for a new relationship.
I was simply heartbroken and grieving and Helena’s death had left a gaping hole. I tried to fill it with holidays and a new car but they didn’t help. I wanted a child, but certainly wasn’t in the right frame of mind for a new relationship. Well-meaning but insensitive friends suggested I got pregnant via a one night stand but that didn’t interest me. Instead, I started enquiring about artificial insemination with a sperm donor.
Private hospitals in Glasgow wouldn’t consider me because I wasn’t in a relationship, so I went to the Lister Hospital in London. I explained my history and had the counselling to ensure I was planning this for the right reasons.
My parents were so supportive and knew I was doing the right thing, though one or two other people were very negative and quite critical. I couldn’t let it bother me. I was sure I was doing what was right for me and, ultimately, my baby. Two years later, having spent almost £25,000 on three artificial inseminations and one round of IVF, I still wasn’t pregnant.
I’d run out of money, but my closest friend Tracey had recently had her own baby and could see how much I was hurting. She gave me the £5000 I needed to try again, ignoring my protests and saying I could pay her back when I had my own child. I didn’t tell anyone and, this time, incredibly, it worked.
When my beautiful Naomi arrived safely, I was so scared she would die too that I couldn’t sleep.
My pregnancy was terrifying as I developed placenta previa – where the placenta lies low and either totally or partially covers the cervix. I had to spend the last few weeks in hospital, receiving painful injections to help mature the baby’s lungs.
I was petrified, but everyone close to me was brilliant. My cousin, Laura, was with me for the birth. When my beautiful Naomi arrived safely, I was so scared she would die too that I couldn’t sleep. Laura – who is Naomi’s godmother – stayed with me. I was so terrified of the responsibility of being alone with the baby.
I look back at that decision to go it alone without a moment’s regret.
It was a big moment when I started to enjoy Naomi more than I worried about her. She’s ten years old now, and being a mother is everything to me – especially as both my parents died within seven months of each other a couple of years ago.
I look back at that decision to go it alone without a moment’s regret. Motherhood is better than anything I could have imagined – even when I realise Naomi is as determined as I am and much more of a tomboy than a ‘pink princess’.
It was worth all the money, despite the anguish of four unsuccessful attempts, the worry that was with me all through my pregnancy, and the constant fear I would also lose Naomi. I’ll never forget Tracey’s kindness or my parents’ joy over their granddaughter. I’m so glad they knew her and loved her and the joy she brought to them will stay with me forever.
Karen Nicholson was speaking to Joan McFadden