I always knew I’d have children. I don’t mean I always hoped or dreamed. No, I knew. And do you know how? because my 13-year-old self told me I would.
It would happen on schedule. I’d get married at 25, have my first baby, a little girl, at 26 followed by a little boy at 29, and my family would be complete. I had it all planned out. But life doesn’t work out like that sometimes right?
I met Adam when I was 26, so I was already slightly behind schedule. 12 months later, early 2011, I was at my Legs, Bums and Tums class with my Mum when it suddenly dawned on me that my period was late. I picked up a test on my way home and 10 minutes later saw that magic word appear on the stick – pregnant. We were shocked, we hadn’t been trying, but we were also over the moon and naively spent the next 24 hours telling everyone who was anyone our good news. I was 6 weeks pregnant – what could go wrong?
72 hours later, after suffering a bleed, we were sat in our early pregnancy unit hearing the words we would become so used to hearing ‘I’m very sorry, there’s no heartbeat’. The next few days came and went in a blur. Sympathetic messages from friends and family poured in ‘It just wasn’t meant to be this time’, ‘There’s always next time’, ‘At least you know you can get pregnant’, ‘You’ll be a Mum one day’, all believing that was what I wanted to hear but not realising it was making it worse. I became a Mum the minute I saw the word pregnant yet I didn’t have a baby to show for it.
I suffered a further 4 miscarriages between 2011 and 2013, never getting past the 7-week mark. The NHS testing is limited and we exhausted all they had to offer; all they could throw up was that I had slightly raised clotting levels so I was prescribed baby aspirin to thin my blood which didn’t make a difference. We were left in limbo with no answers and no further help from the NHS available to us.
It was during our honeymoon in May 2013 that I suffered our fifth miscarriage. This was the shock that pushed us into looking further into the causes of our miscarriages when we returned home.
After extensive research I came across a theory that some women have a high level of Natural Killer Cells. These cells are types of white blood cells which, as part of the body’s defence mechanism, fight infections. However, if you have a higher number than normal of these NK cells, or they’re more aggressive than usual, they can attack rather than protect a pregnancy and cause a miscarriage.
Determined that there must be someone who could help us I trawled Google and found Dr Hassan Shehata (miscarriageclinic.co.uk), a private specialist in miscarriages and a firm believer of the impact NK cells have on pregnancy. I booked an appointment to see Dr Shehata at his Harley Street clinic in October 2013, hoping he could give us some answers. Sure enough, several blood tests later revealed the bomb shell that I had a very high and aggressive count of NK cells. Whilst we were devastated to learn this news, Dr Shehata reassured us that now we had finally found the cause of my miscarriages he could set up a treatment plan to help me maintain a pregnancy to term.
I was prescribed medication to calm down my immune system. This included 25mg of steroids (Prednisolone) to be taken daily, to stop the NK cells attacking a pregnancy, and Cyclogest pessaries, which balance the immune system and give hormonal support. I also had Intralipid Infusions which were scheduled to take place every 4 weeks to help calm down the NK cells and make them less aggressive, and 75mg of Aspirin daily to improve the blood supply to a growing foetus. Add in to the mix various vitamins and I was all set.
I didn’t really have any side effects from all the treatment, apart from what Adam lovingly referred to as a ‘moon face’ which was bloating in my face from the steroids. If anything, I actually felt healthier and more energised.
This pioneering work isn’t just about immune therapy, but also, crucially, around the timing of the treatment. Dr Shehata starts treatment at the time of ovulation, rather than from pregnancy, essentially gaining a head start on any developing foetus. I was instructed to wait until the start of 2014 to try to conceive, to allow the drugs to build up in my system.
Determined to not miss a window of opportunity I bought an ovulation kit and peed on it religiously from January 2014 so I could determine when I was at my most fertile. As you can imagine, this made love-making into a regimented science lesson. It did the trick though and in March 2014 I discovered I was pregnant. I upped my dose of steroids and waited nervously for my 6 week scan. The day arrived and Dr Shehata uttered the words that we’d never heard before ‘there’s the heartbeat’. We couldn’t believe it, the treatment was working. Straight after the scan I went for my first infusion and booked to return 2 weeks later for my 8 week scan.
They were the longest 2 weeks but we were so happy to return and see the foetus was growing nicely and we left the clinic with smiles on our faces and dreaming of our future.
A week later, just as I hit the 9 week mark, the all too familiar happened. I was at work and I started to feel funny. I went to the toilet and discovered I was bleeding. I called Adam who tried to reassure me that it could all be innocent enough and to try not to panic. We arranged to go to our local Early Pregnancy Unit for the following day. I have no idea how I slept that night. The sonographer scanned me and she didn’t even need to say anything, I knew from her face, we’d miscarried our sixth baby. After nature had taken course, the ‘products of conception’ (as the medical professionals call a foetus) were sent off for genetic testing. The results came back that we had been expecting a healthy baby girl. I was devastated.
We went back to see Dr Shehata to try and make sense of what had happened and to discuss next steps. Unfortunately, there were no real answers, just that sometimes the initial dose of medication isn’t quite strong enough. My treatment plan was tweaked and now also included a daily dose of Hydroxychloroquine, which is a tablet commonly used to treat Malaria, and we were advised to try again when we felt ready. We booked a last minute holiday to Florida to clear our heads and when we returned we felt ready to give it another shot. I’ve always fallen pregnant really quickly, after only 2 or so months, so I was expecting to be pregnant again fairly soon. But life was about to throw another curve ball at us…..