Monday 23 September 2019

'Life with her is so great' - woman (38) who suffered three miscarriages finally experiences the joy of motherhood

Karen Smyth and her baby Cleo, who used a baby box for the first few months of her life.
Karen Smyth and her baby Cleo, who used a baby box for the first few months of her life.
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

For one in six couples in Ireland, the possibility of conceiving a baby may not be as easy as they’d hoped.

For Karen Smyth and her partner Marian Riordan, the road that would eventually lead them to their beautiful little baby Cleo, was long.

Karen (38) suffered three miscarriages before Cleo was born.

And even after she passed 14 weeks in her pregnancy with Cleo, serious complications arose. So serious that, under doctors’ orders, she had to spend four months confined to bed.

Even trips to the toilet or shower were out of the question.

“It was a long, long road. We had loads of IVF and we got there. It was four years in all,” she tells

“In my situation, there weren’t any issues with my fertility. It worked everytime.”

“We started when I was 34, I did three IUIs (Intrauterine Insemination); they never happened. Then I started with IVF.”

“I was told that I didn’t have many eggs left. I was raging I didn’t start years previously. My mother had her last baby at 50, but I was the opposite, I couldn’t seem to keep them in.”

“I did four IVFs. I miscarried at eight or nine weeks which I know is early, but I had all these ideas about the future. You’re thinking about this baby and the life you’re going to have.”

“You hold yourself responsible [for the miscarriage]: 'If I ate this? If I didn’t drink that coffee.' You get a bit insanely obsessed with what you eat and how to hold on to the baby.”

“You invest so much emotion into IVF that that can be difficult too and there’s the financial end of things which can be very difficult for people too.”

Each time she miscarried, Karen remembers giving herself time to mourn.

“I really missed that person. I wanted to meet that person and I planted cherry blossom trees in my garden… two at the front and two out the back. Eventually there’ll be two beautiful pink cherry blossom arches going into our house.”

“I used to give myself a week of grief and then move on and think when can we book in [for IVF] again?”

“I’d wish [the baby] well and think maybe it wasn’t meant to be born. Now I think we wouldn’t have met Cleo if everything had worked out… Everything does happen when it’s supposed to happen.”

Karen, a tattooist, and Marian, a professional golfer, chose to use donor sperm from a known donor in Denmark. They attended the Waterstone’s Clinic in Ireland for treatment.

Once Karen’s pregnancy with Cleo passed 14 weeks, the couple decided they couldn’t hold in their news any longer. But shortly after celebrating their news with their families, complications arose.

“We were going to tell people at 12 weeks, but because I lost all the other babies quite close to 12 weeks, we had told people that we were pregnant and then we would lose them, so this time I said ‘I’m not telling anyone now, I want to get the scan at 12 weeks and then we’ll tell them in a few weeks'.”

“We ended up telling people at 14 weeks and then three days later we ended up in the maternity hospital which was a bit of a nightmare. I thought, ‘here we go’.”

“It was 6am in the morning, and I remember just waking up and I felt a whole load of water.”

Karen's waters had broke at just 14 weeks. They rushed to University Maternity Hospital, Limerick.

“At that stage there was a lot of bleeding, so I thought this was the end.”

Doctors informed Karen that two clots had formed – one on the cervix and one on the amniotic sac.

“We were all worried about when the clot came away, what was going to happen. But it turned out that the clot never came away and my body just absorbed it and everything was sealed.”

Relieved, they went home again. But a few days later, Karen’s waters went again. At this stage, doctors told her that she had to remain on 24/7 bed rest.

Karen decorated her hospital room with paintings, tanka poems, and chants, and meditated every morning and evening. She took up painting, and worked on keeping her mind healthy and positive.

“I don’t think I let myself cry. I just had to be positive and think positive. Even the midwives in the University Maternity Hospital, Limerick were more than just doctors and midwives, they were angels in disguise.”

“Even when your doctor might say it’s not going to happen, it’s amazing that some things do happen, and it will happen.”

“We delivered at 36 weeks... I bled for about 12 weeks but thankfully everything was OK.”

“You can’t put a price on it. Motherhood is just amazing and I just love being a mother, watching her grow, teaching her our values. Life with her is so great, she just opens so many different things for me.”

“Your dreams can come true you know. A lot of people give up. I was thinking this is all over when I was going into hospital that morning.”

Karen has shared her story in the hope that any other couples who are experiencing fertility issues can take solace.

“If it’s helping other women to have some hope. I know women are thinking ‘oh she’s had her baby, she’s OK’. But I just believe in the universe and I meditated every day. It helped me to be positive and to get through the day by day situation.”

Life is now all about wellies and fairies and adventures for Cleo, Karen and Marian.

“She always wants to be out in wellies. She loves her wellies and her overalls."

“Hopefully she’ll grow into a beautiful woman, and she’ll be kind and to treat everyone with respect and treat everyone like how you want to be treated.”

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