I’d say Martin and I felt ready to start trying for a family of our own after we got married in 2015. At that point we had been together for 8 years, had relocated to Leeds, we had bought and renovated our first home, and had both worked hard to achieve success in our respective careers. However we were unable to just start casually trying in the way that I assume most people do, and that’s because of my mam’s illness.
Mam has a very rare form of MND (Motor neurone disease), but it took a number of years for doctors to reach this diagnosis. In 2015, the year we got married, doctors had still not figured out what was wrong with Mam, but they seemed pretty convinced that her illness had a genetic cause. Mam was included as part of a study that aimed to sequence her genome and find the genetic mutation that would explain her illness. By 2015 they were already 3 years into the study, but it would take another 3 years before we finally got the results in 2018. These results showed that there were in fact no identifiable genetic factors to explain Mam’s illness. This wasn’t life changing news for Mam unfortunately, however it did mean that Martin and I could finally start trying to conceive, as the study suggested it was unlikely that I had inherited any faulty genes that might be passed on to our baby.
Due to the fact that Martin and I had patiently waited so many years for Mam’s genetics results, and that I had reached my thirties, I was keen to fall pregnant quickly. I was thrilled therefore when I got my positive pregnancy test in February 2019, not long after we started trying. In this respect, we were incredibly fortunate.
Although I was ecstatic about being pregnant, I am also a natural worrier, and I knew about the ‘1 in 4’ statistic. I spent a lot of energy stressing about miscarriage in my first trimester. When that didn’t happen, and we saw that our baby was doing well on the 12 week scan, I felt a little relieved. Then later came the 20 week scan, and when we sailed through that too, I finally accepted that things were going well for us. We found out we were having a boy, and started thinking about names and buying some items for when the baby came.
One evening in my 26th week of pregnancy, I began to feel some stomach cramps. By the next morning I had a small amount of bleeding too, and so I went to my local hospital just to get checked out. Although I am a worrier, my symptoms weren’t severe and by this point we felt we were in ‘the safe zone’ having been to the standard scan appointments with no problems. I hadn’t heard of anyone losing their babies so late into a low risk pregnancy.
When I got to the hospital, on my own because Martin was at work that day and I told him not to worry, two different midwives struggled to find our son’s heartbeat with a Doppler scanner. A doctor was called and performed an ultrasound scan. It was then that I was told our son had quietly and unexpectedly died. I was completely shocked.
3 days later I gave birth to my son, who was stillborn. We named him Ike. Then two weeks later we held his funeral. We were, and continue to be, completely heartbroken.
We opted for a full post mortem, we wanted answers. How could I have been 6 months into a textbook pregnancy, and suddenly find out that our son had died, with few symptoms to show for it? Unfortunately, when we received Ike’s post mortem results 16 weeks later, they were very much inconclusive.
Almost immediately after Ike was born I vowed to run my first marathon in his memory. Why a marathon? Well if I was to psychoanalyse myself I’d say that I felt that my body had failed Ike, and so running a marathon would help me feel as if I’d made up for that failure. I had done some running in the past but had never ran even close to that distance before. Another factor was giving myself and Martin time to heal before thinking about a future pregnancy. I did feel an urge to fill the Ike shaped hole in our lives with another baby, but I knew we weren’t ready mentally. So signing up to do a marathon would mean we would be forced not to rush into anything, and I could instead focus on my mental and physical health whilst honouring Ike. A third reason was that I thought the training would help give me some structure to my week during those lonely months of maternity leave without my baby boy.
Looking up the dates of some marathons in 2020, I saw that the London marathon was in late April. Ike was born in August, so this would give me around 7-8 months to train. Because we had some support from Sands in the early days after losing Ike, I decided to apply to the charity for one of their London marathon places. I was disappointed when after weeks of waiting, and having already started my training, they told me I had been unsuccessful. Instead, I ended up accepting a place in the Manchester marathon running for Tommy’s. I’m now glad that it worked out this way. Tommy’s means so much to us due to the fact that several months after receiving Ike’s inconclusive post mortem results, one of their doctors was able to give us a lot more insight into the likely causes of Ike’s death. The date of the Manchester marathon was also significant – 5th April 2020 – this would have been Ike’s 8 month milestone.
With a marathon place secured, I continued my running through the Autumn and Winter months, battling not only the grief but various storms, a lower calf injury and horrendous blisters. To help me keep going, both myself and Martin joined our local running club, and I made several new runner friends who were very encouraging. For a while I chose not to tell anyone at running club about Ike, and so I felt that at running club I was no longer the ‘lady whose baby died,’ I felt less like a freak! It definitely did wonders for my motivation and mental wellbeing.
One aspect of marathon training which I really enjoyed was the closeness I felt to Ike. Over time, I felt as if with each training run I gained a sense of freedom, and I felt that our son was somehow with me, willing me to keep going. If I was having a hard run or going uphill I would imagine his little hands and feet pushing me and cheering me on. My sister in law’s family gave me a gift of a little bag of painted stones, each one with Ike’s name on with a small picture, and I decided that on each of my weekly long training runs I would take one with me and leave it somewhere special. There are no doubt lots of these little Ike stones now in the West Yorkshire area! I would leave them on park swings, in trees and I even left one in a graveyard with all the other babies. My training was going well, and by late February I was able to run 20 miles without stopping.
Just a few weeks before the marathon, it became clear that the news about the coronavirus was not going away. Then finally, I received an email from the organisers of the Manchester marathon to say that the event would be postponed. I was surprisingly accepting of this news. It was disappointing, but I think losing your baby forces you to adopt a different perspective about things you can’t control. I didn’t want to wait
another 6 months though, so I decided that I would run the 26.2 miles anyway. Alone. From my house. Still every time I say or write that it sounds bonkers.
So at 6am on Sunday 5th April I set off to run my marathon on the deserted lockdown streets. There was something very satisfying about doing it alone, with an Ike stone in my pocket, running for my baby, for Tommy’s, for Martin, and for myself. And as the morning wore on and the miles ticked by, I saw more and more people emerge for the day, and they had no idea what I was doing. It was my little secret.
Since completing my lockdown marathon some people have told me how amazed they are at how I could have ran such a long way without the crowds cheering me on and the promise of the medal after crossing that finish line. But really Ike was the only cheer squad I needed. And I feel a huge sense of accomplishment for having done it for him. It won’t bring him back but it has given me a sense of purpose and has helped me to include Ike in my life. He will always be my baby, and whether he is alive or not, Ike will always be a huge part of my life and my inspiration.
To find support from Tommy's please click here.