Sometimes in life you come across people that remind you that there are real life heroes, not just confined to story books and film scripts. Rachel is one of those people for me. I can’t remember how she slipped into my consciousness, but one day recently I found myself reading her story, of how she had miscarried and was sad but determined not to let it get her down. I remember identifying because that was me, once, and being delighted for her when she found out she was pregnant again.
Rachel writes beautifully and has captions that make your breath catch in the back of the throat, so accurate is her description of her emotions sometimes. I loved her updates throughout her pregnancy, reading about how she did her best to keep the understandable anxiety thanks to her previous miscarriage at bay. I cried a little for her when she and her husband received the news that their daughter was poorly and marvelled at Rachel’s determination to stay positive. The love that both her and her husband showered on that little girl was ground shaking, you could feel it through the screen.
A little later, I found myself angry on behalf of her little family. Coming quickly on the heels of the Abortion Rights and Repeal in Ireland, Rachel’s predicament was all the more hard to bear. Living in Northern Ireland meant that Rachel would have had to travel to England to terminate for medical reasons if she had chosen to do so, and, even more horrifically, left her daughter behind once the procedure was complete. After the high of Ireland winning their campaign, it really brought home to me how lucky I am to live in a country that allows women to decide what is best for their bodies and their families. Again, Rachel and her husband showed admirable strength when it came to decision making, and they chose to give their daughter every chance at life possible.
Unfortunately, their little girl was born at 24 weeks and sadly passed away.
I have been incredibly moved by Rachel and her story. She has been so open and so candid with the feelings that her little family have been experiencing and, as silly as it sounds, I have found myself in tears for them. That is the power of her writing, and the power of motherhood. Her experience is different to mine, but Rachel is a mother just like me and her pain is our pain because we are all connected by this, the strongest of threads. I hate to sound like I’m hijacking her grief, because that’s hers and hers alone, but I fail to see how anyone can not feel a little jab of pain in the gut, or a hint of that sweet, precious moment when you first get to hold your child.
This is why I wanted Rachel to take part in the Universal Parenthood series – we all want the same thing, happy, healthy, safe children, and some of us don’t get to experience that first time, or even second time, but she can be held and supported by a group of people throughout the world that can sympathise and empathise. Because of this, with Rachel’s blessing, I didn’t change the six questions that I keep the same for every interview – I tweaked a few but she is a mother, a parent, just like the rest of the people I have interviewed, so deserves to have the same content.
Her strength and her resilience in a dark time is awesome, in the truest sense of the word, and I hope you can see it as clearly as I can while reading her interview.
1) Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your family?
My name is Rachel, I’m 30 years old and I live in Northern Ireland. My husband Michael and I have been together for 8 years and were married on a rooftop in New York on Christmas Eve 2015. We decided to start a family in August 2017 and got pregnant very quickly but unfortunately lost our first baby at 12 weeks due to a missed miscarriage. We fell pregnant again in February 2018 and found out at 18 weeks that our baby girl was very ill following the discovery of a Cystic Hygroma and Hydrops which we later found to be caused by Turner Syndrome. I went into preterm labour at 24 weeks and after an emergency C-Section baby Hallie was born on 16th July 2018 and lived for 3 hours before passing away in our arms. I am currently recovering from surgery and we have 6 months to wait before we can try to conceive again – it will be a torture to wait that long! We recently adopted a Miniature Schnauzer puppy called Maisie to bridge the gap and to add to our family of furry grey animals while we wait!
2) If you could give one piece of advice for an expectant mother what would it be?
Document it. Keep a pregnancy diary or fill a memory box with scan pictures and other momentos. Take photographs of your bump. Pregnancy is a huge, important time in your life and you’ll want to look back at it. You will be proud to look back on it. The human body is amazing and the whole process is miraculous. Even if the worst happens, you’ll be glad to have kept physical memories of the little life you created.
3) All of us parent differently and have different values. What do you imagine your most important parenting value will be?
I honestly think that the most important thing you can offer your children is your time and attention. I want to be an attentive mother, one who appreciates the little moments. One who takes time to read stories, to paint pictures, to enjoy and appreciate all stages of my children’s lives. I hope that our experiences of loss will make us incredibly grateful for the gift of children; I can’t imagine we’ll ever take the opportunity to be parents for granted.
4) what motto do you try and live by?
Not really a “motto” as such, but I believe that “whatever is meant for you won’t pass you by”. This little saying often helps me deal with life’s setbacks and disappointments – I tell myself that those things just weren’t meant for me at that time. It’s a thought process that often helps me accept the situation and encourages me to move on. It works 99% of the time anyway!!
5) Your daughter, Hallie, was born at 24 weeks. She lived for three whole hours. Do you want to tell us about her?
I could absolutely wax lyrical about Hallie (and do, in my blog!) She was the bravest, most impressive little girl and her Daddy and I are incredibly proud of her. When she was diagnosed, we were told that Hallie’s heart would stop beating at any moment and she would be stillborn. We spent weeks 18-24 preparing for a stillbirth but Hallie fought on and gave us those three (very unexpected but absolutely perfect) hours with her before she passed away. She was perfectly formed and absolutely beautiful – the perfect blend of both of us and her little fighting spirit will forever inspire us and give us strength!
6) You have shown incredible strength, first through your previous miscarriage, then after Hallie’s diagnosis of Turner Syndrome and now, after her death. Can you tell us how you are coping?
That’s a question I’m asked a lot and it’s one I’m not 100% sure on how to answer! You just don’t know how strong you are until you have to be – until you’re faced with something as awful as losing a baby. I definitely find that I draw my current strength from my daughter. Hallie was a fighter; she was strong in the face of adversity and never gave up and I want to reflect and honour that fighting spirit in dealing with her loss. Sure, I have incredibly dark and sad days but my pride in Hallie pushes me on and keeps me afloat. I find comfort in telling her story and talking to other women who have been through losses too. I feel a great amount of solidarity in the loss community, my grief feels shared and that in itself is a huge weight off. I just take each day as it comes, I guess.
7) You touched on the termination laws of your home in Northern Ireland in your Instagram feed. Did you feel strongly about abortion rights before your current situation and have your feelings changed now? Do you think enough is known about them? For example, I was horrified to read that you wouldn’t be allowed to bring your daughter home with you if you chose to terminate and travel to England.
I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t really give them much thought – it’s a subject I didn’t ever think would be relevant to my life so I selfishly didn’t think too much about it. It’s a hotly debated topic here – our laws in Northern Ireland are very outdated. Our country is run by staunch religious groups who outright refuse to consider changing the abortion laws, despite strong protests. I have always considered myself to be pro-choice and I do feel very strongly that our laws are in breach of human rights, particularly in the cases of fetal abnormalities like Hallie’s. When Hallie was diagnosed we were never offered an abortion – it’s illegal here so Doctors can’t even bring the subject up. I would have had to privately arrange to travel to England to have the procedure. I discovered that the procedure would be surgical, I wouldn’t meet or hold my baby and I wouldn’t be able to bring her home to Northern Ireland. Something that made an already impossible decision, even more impossible! We made the decision to continue on with our pregnancy.
The most shocking discovery was the difference between early pregnancy care in Northern Ireland compared to the rest of the UK. In England, for example, the 12 week scan is much more thorough than the scan we are given at this stage. Here, the 12 week scan is basically just to confirm a heartbeat. The nuchal translucency is measured at 12 weeks in England but it isn’t measured in Northern Ireland until 20+ weeks. This means that Hallie’s condition was missed at the early scans because it wasn’t checked. The reason they don’t perform these checks is because of the abortion laws – abortion is illegal here, so even if an abnormality is spotted at 12 weeks there is nothing that can be done. The theory is that most babies with serious abnormalities will naturally miscarry before 20 weeks, thus the “problem” taking care of itself. Had we lived in England, Hallie’s condition would have been spotted much earlier and a termination would have been offered. Thanks to our abortion laws here, Hallie’s problems weren’t spotted until 18 weeks (thanks to me booking a private gender scan, otherwise I would have found out at my 20 week scan two weeks later) and weren’t diagnosed until 20 weeks, after 20 weeks of bonding with our pregnancy and telling all our friends and family about it. Women in Northern Ireland faced with a fetal abnormality diagnosis at 20+ weeks have no option but to “wait and see” what the outcome of the pregnancy will be, or travel to England for an abortion in the circumstances outlined above. Quite often women here source abortion pills online but if they are discovered, they’ll face serious jail time. These laws need to be changed but we have a long, long way to go.
8) You have chosen to share your story and Hallie’s story on social media. Why have you done that? How have people, including your family and friends, reacted to your story?
I’m a natural over-sharer in all honesty! I started my Instagram page as a way of reaching out to other women with similar experiences with miscarriage and it escalated from there. I started my blog to keep track of our journey with Hallie following her diagnosis. Naturally, the first thing I did was Google Hallie’s symptoms and I read every article on Cystic Hygroma, Hydrops and Turner Syndrome that I could find, however, the information I most valued came from personal blogs. People who had been through the journey before us. Some were stories of hope, some were stories of babies that didn’t make it but each story was inspiring and filled with genuine, real emotion and helpful information – not just statistics and medical jargon. These blogs were few and far between so I wanted to add Hallie’s story to the list in the hope that others would stumble upon it and find it useful or inspiring in some way. Everyone has been really supportive of me sharing our story, particularly my Husband who has started his own Instagram page (@Halliesdad18) in the hopes of reaching out to other Dads who have lost babies too. Sharing stories like ours and talking openly about such issues helps to normalise them a little and I hope that others will be encouraged to share their story too. Talking about it is therapeutic and I believe our openness and willingness to discuss our experiences has really helped us to cope with it all. A problem shared is a problem halved after all!
9) What sort of support are you receiving from professionals? Do you feel like it’s enough?
While in hospital having Hallie we were visited a few times by a Bereavement Midwife who spent time with us at the hospital and left her contact details with us should we wish to speak to her at any time. We haven’t felt the need to just yet, but it feels good to have that place to go to if we need professional, impartial emotional support. Physically, I’ve found recovering from the C-Section quite difficult but I have had lots of home visits and phone calls from the Community Midwives. They recently discharged me from their care, happy with how I am recovering physically but again have left me with contact details if I feel I need to speak to them. Our Consultant Midwife gave me her mobile phone number the day that Hallie was officially diagnosed and told me to text or call her any time – she’s been a fab support and reaches out to me often to check on how I am. For me, I have found this to be more than enough so far – I know I’m lucky in this regard as there are many women struggling with loss that aren’t offered as much support so I really appreciate it.
10) Parenting is tough and beautiful all at the same time. You’ve experienced something that no parent should have to by saying goodbye to your daughter. Are you able to tell us about a positive experience you’ve had?
To be honest, I found Hallie’s entire birth experience to be mostly positive. I went into preterm labour and because Hallie was breech I had to have an emergency C-Section. Adrenaline took over and the medical staff took such good care of me, I don’t have any bad memories of that night at all. The surgery was a success and Hallie was born with a heartbeat and while her lungs were undeveloped she was taking small breaths. We never expected to get to meet her alive, let alone spend 3 wonderful hours with her so we feel privileged and incredibly lucky to have had that time with her. Hallie was born just before Midnight so her birthday is a different date than the day of her death which we find to be such a blessing. We love that we have so many photos and videos of her when she was alive and breathing – we never thought we would have that. We had the most amazing care while we were in hospital, I can’t sing the praises of the Ulster Hospital Maternity Staff enough and look forward to doing some fundraising for them when I have fully recovered. Our experience of the Bereavement Suite in the Ulster Hospital was incredibly positive and thanks to the generosity of the charity 4Louis we were given a beautiful memory box to keep and we had use of their cold cot which enabled us to spend 2 days with Hallie once she had passed. The most positive aspect of it all has been the love shown to us and our baby girl. The support has been unbelievable from family, friends and strangers alike and we’ll never forget it!
I’m sure you will feel the same way as I do about Rachel now you have finished reading her interview. The love she feels and the pride she has for her daughter are almost tangible, aren’t they?
You can find more of her beautiful words here –
Instagram – completingourstory
Blog – completingourstory
Rachel has also asked if I can put a link to the charity that gave her and Michael the memory box and cold cot for Hallie, so here it is – 4Louis
I also asked if she would mind me linking to an abortion rights charity, so here is one that I thought might be useful/informative. The Abortion Support Network provide information and advice as well as financial help for travel and accommodation for women from Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man so they can access safe and legal abortions.