‘They will live on through this one’ - Couple who lost three children bid to raise £30,000 as they prepare to welcome new baby
PUBLISHED: 19:00 29 September 2018 | UPDATED: 09:00 03 October 2018
Losing one child is a devastating tragedy which no parent expects to have to face.
But for Andrew and Sally Stephen, they faced the horrific situation three times.
And now they are expecting a fourth baby, desperate to hear the “sound of small feet in their house” and looking forward to their three lost babies “living on” through it.
The Norwich couple, who live in Pochard Street, had to make the heartbreaking decision to terminate Mrs Stephen’s first pregnancy in January 2015 as their baby daughter Erica had Edwards Syndrome, a genetic disorder. Most babies with the condition die before, or shortly after they are born.
“We’ve done IVF all the way through,” Mr Stephen, 45, said. “The first cycle didn’t work, the second cycle didn’t work, and then we got pregnant with Erica.”
But at the 12 week scan Mr and Mrs Stephen were given the devastating news that the condition meant Erica would likely not survive.
Mr Stephen said: “The chances of survivability were very, very poor. The prognosis was she would have probably lived for an hour but she would have been in severe pain so we had to make that decision then to do a medical termination, which was for the benefit of her not us.
“So that knocked us for six.”
The couple took some time and stopped their IVF treatment, but decided they wanted to try again.
“We did another cycle and we had two eggs put back and thought we’d hedge our bets and lo and behold we discovered at the six weeks when they do a viability scan that Sally was pregnant with twins,” Mr Stephen said.
“And everything was going fantastic - really good - we had the 12 week scan and you could see them and they were growing and they were fine. And then it was just coming up towards April time in 2016 and Sally felt a bit funny on the Friday, went for a quiet lay down.”
By the Monday, Mrs Stephen was in so much pain she called the hospital and was told to go in immediately - she was in premature labour.
“We were right on the crux then at the start of the 23-week point,” he said. “So they gave Sal some drugs to slow the contractions down and some steroids to mature [the twins’] lungs.
“Every day is a massive milestone at that stage, so we managed to go to the Saturday night and that was it, they decided they were going to come into the world.”
Mrs Stephen went through a 10-hour labour, and on the Sunday at 7.50am Eleanor was born, still in her amniotic sac.
“Samuel was still then swimming around as if he didn’t really want to come out,” Mr Stephen said.
It was then medics descended on the room and the couple knew something was wrong.
“When I went through to see [the babies] you could tell the difference between Eleanor and Samuel. You could tell she was pretty poorly, she’d already had two blood transfusions and she was also very anaemic,” Mr Stephen said.
Eleanor weighed just over 1lb and Samuel almost 2lb. Eleanor died at just eight hours old after two cardiac arrests.
At first, Samuel was breathing on his own and seemed to be doing well, but he then suffered a pulmonary edema, a condition caused by fluid on the lungs.
The couple prayed their son would reach seven days old, as that was when he could be given more steroids and a shot at survival.
“On the seventh or eighth day we said we’ve got nothing to lose now because we were losing him. They flushed him with steroids but you could see his extremities were getting whiter and whiter, his organs were trying to pull together and keep going,” Mr Stephen said.
It was then clinicians decided they could not do any more for the tiny baby, and Samuel died at 10 days old.
It was just over a year since they had lost Erica, and the couple found help from East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices to cope with the grief.
Now, Mrs Stephen, 38, is expecting again and doctors have been keeping a close eye on her progress, with everything looking positive so far.
“We were very against doing the IVF again,” said Mr Stephen. “We thought we can’t put ourselves though it. But that was then, we made a choice we would give it one very final go. We weren’t ready to give up on the thought of having the sound of small feet in your house and being dragged around for the next 20 years. We’ve had all three children buried together at Colney Woods and they will live on through this one.”
Mr Stephen said all his children received “exceptional care” at the hospital, prompting him to raise money for the NICU unit.
Already he had raised £3,500 to decorate the parents’ rooms, through donations made at his children’s funerals.
And in February he will take on two ultra marathons by completing 100km on a Nordic skiing machine and 100km on a rowing machine in the same day, approximately 13 hours of constant exercise, which if successful will qualify as a world record.
“The doctors and nurses were phenomenal,” he said. “The care they received and the kindness and compassion towards us was outstanding.
“Even if you could all donate just a £1 each then something good will come out of this tragedy.”
Mr Stephen has been training hard for the challenge and is being coached by the team at Crossfit RS3 Norwich in Bowthorpe who have sponsored the event by providing training plans and guidance on how best to prepare for the day.
He is hoping to raise £30,000 to buy the hospital a new incubator, as although the couple were fortunate to be able to keep both their children in one place close by, other babies were sent to other hospitals due to there only being six incubators available.
Mr Stephen said: “So you can end up with your child being in London or wherever so we were lucky they were on the same ward. That gives another local child who needs that the ability to stay local.
“It has been a very difficult few years, but I want to give something back to keep the memories of my children alive by raising money for a new incubator which will allow for one more child to have the chance of survival when all the odds seem stacked against them. “
Every pound raised will be matched by Mr Stephen’s employer SSE. To donate visit: justgiving.com/fundraising/andrew-stephen3