Success: Fiona Stonehouse with her daughter Summer Rose
Every year in the UK, around 20 per cent of pregnancies end in miscarriage and stillbirth — a tragic issue that was brought into the spotlight recently when Britain’s Got Talent judge Amanda Holden lost her second unborn baby.
Fiona Stonehouse, 36, an unemployment consultant from Liverpool, had suffered two miscarriages.
She then underwent a procedure that saved her next child.
Rushing to get ready for work one morning, I kept feeling I needed the loo. I went to the bathroom and suddenly there was blood everywhere. I was 20 weeks pregnant and knew it was the baby.
I screamed for my partner, Paul, who took one look at me and called for an ambulance.
Once we arrived at Liverpool Women’s Hospital, the labour pains started, so they transferred me to a delivery suite and midwives gave me painkillers.
We just couldn’t believe it — the day before, a scan had showed the baby was well and healthy.
The baby, who we called Melody Grace, was born with a pulse, but within 20 minutes she passed away.
I held her for a while, feeling absolutely devastated, and left hospital that afternoon with only photographs of my lovely baby.
I wondered if it was something I’d done. Fourteen years previously, my daughter Imogen was born healthy, though I went into labour eight weeks early. That time, the doctors managed to stop the labour with drugs until I was full term.
When I went back to hospital after the miscarriage, the consultant said I might have cervical weakness. This means the cervix — the neck of the womb — starts to open before the baby is due.
So, when I got pregnant again six months later, doctors placed a stitch in the cervix to prevent it dilating too early. This time they kept a close eye on me.
At 17 weeks, a scan showed the cervix was ‘funnelling’ — opening and closing so it formed an hourglass shape — which the doctors said could allow in bacteria, putting the baby at risk of infection. I was told to rest.
At 20 weeks, my waters broke at home. The stitch had failed to work. At hospital, the doctors had to take it out so I could give birth to baby Paul Joseph, who was born without a pulse.
After the second miscarriage, Paul and I were in despair and wondered if I’d ever have another healthy baby.
Then my doctor told me about a procedure where surgeons put a strong nylon loop around the top of the cervix and secure it with a knot.
It is placed much higher up the cervix than the stitch — just below the womb. The operation would be done before I got pregnant (the cervix is left open enough so you can conceive).
Three months later, I met Dr Roy Farquharson at Liverpool Women’s Hospital.
He warned that it was a far more invasive operation than having the stitch (that was done via the cervix, while this procedure meant an incision through my abdomen).
Also, the baby would have to be delivered by Caesarean because the cervix would be closed. However, the new operation had a 90 per cent success rate, compared with 75 per cent for the stitch.
While I was still worried, I knew it was my best chance of having the baby we longed for.
So in October 2008, I had the operation under general anaesthetic and woke with a 7cm wound — I was on a pain relief drip for two days and left hospital five days later.
We kept praying there’d be a prize at the end. By January 2010, I was pregnant again. This time I had antibiotic pessaries and creams to reduce any chance of infection.
Around the time of the 20-week scan, I started having Braxton Hicks or ‘fake’ contractions, which is a sign the body is getting ready for labour, so I went in to hospital for monitoring for five days.
I was terrified I’d go into early labour again, but the contractions simply faded away.
The doctors planned a Caesarean for five weeks before my due date. I spent the final week resting in hospital and on September 8 the doctors delivered Summer Rose.
It was magical — Paul and I spent some precious time with her before the doctors took her to a special care baby unit for a week. When she was nine days old, I took her home.
Since I’ve still got my super-strength cervix in place, if we want another baby I needn’t face all that heartbreak again.
Dr Roy Farquharson is consultant gynaecologist at Liverpool Women’s Hospital. He says:
Around 20 per cent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage — recurrent miscarriage, when it happens twice or more, affects around one in 100 women.
While it’s not always clear what has triggered a miscarriage, it can occur if the woman develops sticky blood — this blocks small blood vessels in the placenta.
We can treat this with blood-thinning injections, mini aspirin and the vitamin folic acid.
It can also be caused by the growth of bacteria in the vagina.
Another possible cause is cervical weakness. Here, the womb starts to open or funnel, and the rest of the cervix then opens, too, so labour begins early. Even women who’ve previously had healthy pregnancies can develop this condition — we don’t know why.
Putting a stitch in the cervix through the vagina can help prevent it opening early. But we can also offer transabdominal cerclage, which strengthens the cervix at the point where it starts to open.
This operation carries risks, including infection, bleeding, and damage to the bladder and bowel — but these are reduced if we do it before pregnancy.
The operation takes 90 minutes under general anaesthetic. First, I make a 7cm incision along the bikini line. Then I pass a needle threaded with strong nylon through the incision and right round the cervix at the point where it joins the womb and pull it tight.
I secure it with a surgical knot and close the incision with stitches. The patient usually leaves hospital after four or five days. She can start trying to get pregnant once she’s had her next period.
The body will not absorb the nylon thread and it should last for ever, so the woman can have more full-term pregnancies if she wants. This is a wonderful operation that offers hope to women when all else has failed.
The operation costs £6,000 privately and a similar cost to the NHS.