Friday 15 February 2019

'We lost six precious little babies who will always have a place in our hearts' - Mum-of-three

Mum-of-three Jennifer Ui Dhubhgain recently co-founded the Cork Miscarriage Support Group to help women and men who are dealing with the devastating loss. Jennifer herself felt compelled to start the support group after she suffered six miscarriages in ten years. Here, she tells her story

Jennifer Ui Dhubhgain and her husband with their three children Daithí (9), Síofra (7) and Oisín (3)
Jennifer Ui Dhubhgain and her husband with their three children Daithí (9), Síofra (7) and Oisín (3)
Jennifer Ui Dhubhgain and her husband with their three children Daithí (9), Síofra (7) and Oisín (3)

I've just celebrated my 11th wedding anniversary. It's been a great 11 years and we've three wonderful children. People on the outside looking in see a perfectly "planned" family. Our oldest son, Daithí, is 9, our daughter, Síofra, is 7 and our youngest son, Oisín, just turned 3. But our perfectly "planned" little family wasn't easy to achieve. What people don't see, or what we don't show them is the heartache that we carry and will always carry. We've suffered six miscarriages over the last 10 years.

When we got married in 2007 we were both young, I was 23 and himself was 30. We were healthy and beyond happy. Once married the natural next step was babies. We got pregnant easily and we were over the moon. I read all the books and vaguely knew miscarriages happened but I never thought I'd be the one in five that you hear about. We told people early on that we were pregnant and excitedly awaited our first scan.

I went to the hospital with my big bottle of water. Sitting in the waiting room I was bursting for a pee but refused to go as I wanted a really good picture of our baby to show off. Giddy with excitement my name was called and in we went. On went the gel and the scan started. My husband held my hand as we looked at each other with anticipation and excitement at seeing our baby. The sonographer was quiet but at the time this didn't register with me. She turned the screen to show us our little baby. There he/she was, a perfect little baby shape in black and white.

But there was no little flicker of a heartbeat. It was then that the silence resonated and then came the words that tore our world apart. "There is your little baby but I'm so sorry there is no heartbeat".

''No heartbeat''. What was she talking about? She'd gotten it wrong, she had to have gotten it wrong, it was a mistake, this couldn't be happening. But another midwife confirmed it.

I cried, maybe I wailed, I'm not sure. My husband cried and we held each other. I know we went to another room. I know we met a doctor who gave us our options, none of which I wanted and none that seemed real. I know we left the hospital and I know we drove home in silence. But I can't remember any of that. It's like there is a fog or haze that is obscuring those memories.

All I really remember is the silence and those awful words "there is no heartbeat".

I miscarried our baby in hospital the next day, when I should have been 13 weeks. I stayed overnight in a ward with a lady and her newborn. She quietly asked a midwife during the night if she could take the baby to the nursery. This was for my benefit as she clearly knew I'd lost mine. I felt terribly guilty that I was robbing her of her special time with her little baby, but it broke my heart a little bit more each time I heard that little newborn cry or gurgle.

Back home, life around me went on and slowly got back to "normal". We were told it was just one of those things - bad luck - and to try again if and when we wanted to. With that in mind we decided to try again. Again we got pregnant quickly. We were of course happy and excited, but we didn't have the same innocence as we knew what could go wrong. It was no longer something we read in the books or something that happened to other people, we had already been the one in five.

We got an early appointment at 8 weeks but walking around Wilton shopping centre before our scan I told my husband I had a bad feeling, but we put it down to nerves. We'd had our bad luck and things would be fine.

But things weren't fine. They were far from fine.

Again there was the silence but there was something else, concern etched on the midwives face. She went and got a colleague while we tried to comprehend what was going on and that we really were losing our second baby. She returned with a colleague and together, in hushed whispers. They examined the scan.

They both agreed what we were looking at was a Molar Pregnancy. A Molar Pregnancy is a rare complication that happens when the tissue inside the uterus becomes a mass or tumour. I had to have surgery and then had to have bloods taken every second day until levels regulated. All this follow-up meant it was difficult to grieve our second loss.

Months later I was given the all clear and we decided to try again. We were pregnant before long.  It was a nerve wracking time and every ache and pain caused panic and worry. But this time things went smoothly, other than bad morning sickness, and our son Daithi was born in 2009.

We knew we wanted to have a brother or sister for Daithi and started trying again soon enough. But again it was fraught with sadness. We had our third miscarriage in August 2010 followed by our fourth miscarriage in October 2010. I had been pregnant 5 times but had lost 4 of our babies.

I was angry, heartbroken and was starting to think it wasn't meant to be. Thankfully, one year later in October 2011 our daughter Siofra was born. It really is true that a year can change so much.

Our story didn't end there. We went on to suffer more heartache when we had our 5th and 6th miscarriages in February and November 2013. Of our eight pregnancies we'd lost six babies. After our fourth loss we found out through genetic testing that I carry a balanced robertsonian translocation which is a form of chromosomal rearrangement. While there were no known health implications for me, it did mean we were at a higher risk of miscarriage.

After a lot of thinking, worrying, talking and more thinking it was with a heavy heart we decided we would try one last time and then call a day on this stage of our lives. Once again, getting pregnant wasn't an issue, I had very bad morning sickness and was in hospital on drips a number of times but I was never so happy to be sick. Our little boy Oisin made his entrance into the world happy and healthy on the 23rd of October 2015.

And with the birth of Oisin our family is complete. We are blessed with three wonderful children. Over the 10 years we were on this journey it was an extremely difficult road. We lost six precious little babies who will always have a place in our hearts. We experienced sadness over and over that no one should have to endure, but in reality, one in five will experience the same devastation and heartache.

October is fast approaching and with it Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Each year in Ireland sadly approximately 14,000 women suffer a miscarriage. But miscarriage and pregnancy loss is still a taboo subject I feel.

Recently I set up the Cork Miscarriage Support Group with the help of a friend and with the support of the Miscarriage Association Of Ireland. The problem is that miscarriage is not talked about. This means that at a time when women and men, the moms and dads, that have lost a baby need support more than ever, it is difficult to find. Often people don't know how to react or what to say, they may say nothing at all, leaving you to wonder if you actually spoke those words aloud or if you just said it in your head. They may make a well-meaning comment such as 'you can always try again', 'at least you know you can get pregnant' or 'at least it happened before you were too far gone' which can cut like a knife. All they need to say is that they are sorry for your loss, and that they are there for you if you need them.

Just knowing someone is there can make a devastating and heartbreaking time a little less isolating, a little less scary, and a little less lonely. This is why I feel it is so important to have a peer-to-peer support group in the Cork area, similar to that which already exists in Dublin, Galway and Mayo. Thankfully, the Miscarriage Association Of Ireland were so supportive of what I was looking to achieve, and they provided and still provide hugely valuable support and advice.

Unfortunately, my motivation behind setting up the Cork Miscarriage Support Group comes from my own personal experience of miscarriage where I felt isolated, lonely, lost and didn't know where to turn for the support I needed and craved. This is how I came to know the Miscarriage Association of Ireland and the support that they offer and why I feel so strongly that this support is of vital importance in the Cork area.

We now have a public Facebook Page (Cork Miscarriage Support Page) where people can get updates on meetings. We also have a confidential Facebook support group that people seeking support can join by emailing 'loss' to corkpregnancyloss@gmail.com. Along with the online peer-to-peer support, we also hold monthly support meetings on the 3rd Tuesday of every month in the SMA Centre in Wilton in Cork from 8pm to 9:30pm approximately. These meetings givee people a safe place to talk, in confidence, about the loss of their baby. Whilst we are not medical professionals, what we offer is a safe place to share experiences among peers and to be met with compassion, empathy and understanding.

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