Monday, April 07, 2008

How men cope with miscarriage

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John Itsagwede explains how he and his wife dealt with the pain of losing three babiesJohn Itsagwede explains how he and his wife dealt with the pain of losing three babies

Priscila and I married eight years ago. We wanted to start a family straight away, and she was soon pregnant. Priscila, who is now 40, had a smooth pregnancy and I can remember the excitement of feeling the baby kicking inside her, two days before we went in for our routine 35-week scan at Farnborough hospital, Kent.

But at that appointment, everything changed. The scan revealed that our baby was dead. Just like that. No one knew why and, despite many tests, there were no answers. We were devastated. We named our son Gabriel. We took photographs of him, took plastercasts of his hands and feet, and held an emotional funeral.

And then we were meant to get on with our lives. All around us, friends and family seemed to be moving on, but we were stuck in our grief. So we were urged to try again. It took a few years before we felt ready, but then you think, well, it can't happen again. Priscila became pregnant with twins, and we went to the same hospital at about 28 weeks because Priscila was feeling unwell. And then the same thing happened. The scans revealed that the babies had died. We couldn't believe it. No answers, despite more tests from all the doctors there.

We couldn't accept it. How could this just be bad luck? This time we couldn't bring ourselves even to have a funeral. We named the twins Emily and Sebastian, and allowed the hospital to make the arrangements. I had to register their births and then, the same day, their deaths. As a man I found it hard feeling so much sorrow, but having to be strong for Priscila, too. I would comfort her and then cry, later, on my own. But I didn't show others how I felt. That was hard. But you have to cope for you and your wife, and deal with your emotions.

I don't know how this affects other couples, but it brought us closer. We were the only two who could understand how we felt; we either stood together or fell apart completely. At that point we weren't even going to consider trying to have another child. We couldn't face it; to lose another like that would have driven anyone crazy.

Then a strange coincidence happened. I am a solicitor and a barrister friend told me of a professor at St Mary's hospital in Paddington who specialised in such cases. A few days later, Priscila came home from Goldsmith's College where she was studying European Languages & Cultural Studies. A lecturer had approached her to tell of the same woman, Lesley Regan. We arranged an appointment via our GP. As soon as we got there, Professor Regan arranged more blood tests, and then, just like that, there was an answer.

Priscila has a condition called anti-phospholipid syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes blood to clot too much, preventing the baby getting the nutrients it needs from the placenta. Without treatment there was only a 10 per cent chance that she could have carried a baby successfully to term. But there was good news. Professor Regan's team had pioneered a treatment that was having amazing results. One thousand women were being referred to the clinic every year, and 80 per cent were taking home live babies.

By the time we got home, my wife was in tears. If only we had known that before. Professor Regan told us to try again and come back, and we did. She arranged for Priscila to be scanned often in the first few weeks, and put her on a strict regimen of aspirin and daily self-administered injections of heparin to thin the blood. I tried to help with the injections, and sympathised with her when they hurt and left her body covered in bruises.

As the pregnancy matured, Professor Regan decided to bring Priscila into hospital - she was there for the final two months so that doctors could keep a close eye on her - before performing a C-section at 35 weeks in July 2005. When D-day arrived we were terrified. When Professor Regan, who was performing the operation, asked if I would like to record the moment on camera, I shook my head. “I already have photographs of my other children,” I explained to her.

But I did have a tape recorder with me. I had never heard my other babies cry, and I wanted to record that most of all. And then, minutes later, there she was: our beautiful little girl, crying for all she was worth.

I still have that tape. Sometimes my wife and I listen to it. And we cry, too. We had gone through so much before Keren was born. And then, suddenly, there she was: small, perfect, beautiful.

Now, two years later, parenthood is all that had I hoped for and more. Of course we have our ups and downs, but I wouldn't change it for the world. Keren is such a cheeky monkey. She likes to tease her daddy, patting me on the back in mock seriousness when I have done something that she has asked for. I try to spend as much time as possible with her. She has made up for everything.

Would we dare try again? Why not? By God's grace - and with Professor Regan's help - it's all possible now.

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