LOOKING at the motionless image on the monitor, Zoe Clark-Coates wanted to scream. Having lost three babies before, she couldn’t believe that it was happening again. “We’d gone for loads of scans and everything had been going fine,” she remembers. “Then on one afternoon our consultant turned to me and said, ‘Zoe I’m just so sorry’. “We could see him on the screen, he was still and his heart wasn’t beating.
“All I could do was turn my head away and let the tears pour down my face.The grief was astounding,” she says.
Zoe met her husband Andy, both 43, in their late teens. The couple married when they were 21 but delayed starting a family until their early 30s.
“When we decided to try, we thought it would be easy. But it wasn’t like that,” says Zoe, who lives in Staffordshire with Andy and their daughters Esme, 10 and Bronte, seven.
The couple run Saying Goodbye, a baby loss charity.
“I fell pregnant quickly but lost our first baby from a miscarriage,” says Zoe.
“Soon after, we lost our second baby too.We’d had repeated scans and seen our baby develop and then on one horrible day we went for a scan and were told she’d died for no reason whatsoever.
“It was just one of those things.
Her heart had stopped beating. It was so traumatic and horrendous,” she says.
Months later, the couple suffered a third miscarriage. Zoe says the grief she and Andy felt at the loss was overwhelming.
Zoe wrote a book to help other people suffering from miscarriage (Image: NC)
“I felt like a glass wall had gone up. I could see everything going on around me but I was standing behind it,” she says. “We both sobbed for our lost children.”
The couple feared they couldn’t have children. “We thought we’d never end up with a baby in our arms,” says Zoe. But to their delight, in January 2009, Zoe gave birth to a healthy baby girl they named Esme.
“Everything went brilliantly. It felt like a miracle. It was a dream come true,” says Zoe.
“But even driving to the hospital for my C-section, as we put the car seat in the car I said to Andy, ‘What if we bring it back home empty?’ “He said, ‘We’ll survive it together’.That’s what loss does to you, it strips you of hope.”
When Esme was two, she started asking for a brother or sister.
“We hoped that because we’d brought Esme home healthy and well, that the next pregnancy would follow in the same way.”
But tragically the couple suffered another miscarriage.
A year later, Zoe fell pregnant with twins, yet only one, baby Bronte, survived to full term.
In the UK, couples are offered medical testing if they’ve had three consecutive miscarriages but Zoe and Andy chose not to have it.
“We decided that we didn’t want to know. It’s a very personal decision. For me, I didn’t want my hope taken away. I didn’t want to be told there is a reason, I wanted to hope it would be OK.”
It can be difficult to talk about baby loss, especially, Zoe says, as people’s reactions often depend on how far along the pregnancy was when the miscarriage occurred.
“I never talk about the number of weeks at which I lost the babies, because people can disregard loss if it occurs early in pregnancy,” she says.
“People just don’t know what to say.And we’re encouraged to put our feelings in a box – we view people who don’t cry as strong.
“If you go into work after any sort of loss, you’re told, ‘Aren’t you doing well’.”
And this message is not healthy, argues Zoe. “Grieving is part of life.To grieve is important.”
It can be hard to know what to say when someone suffers loss. But sometimes you don’t need to say anything. “We’re so scared of saying the wrong thing that we panic. But you can’t rescue people from their pain, so don’t try. Just hold them.And never start with, ‘At least…’. For example, ‘at least they’re in a better place’ or ‘at least you know you can have children’.
“There is no silver lining to baby loss. It’s always horrendous.”
It is estimated that 70 per cent of couples who suffer baby loss have relationship problems afterwards.
“People shut their emotions away and stop talking,” says Zoe.
“It didn’t affect our relationship because Andy and I were and are soulmates.We grieved in the same way and kept talking.”
Yet Zoe says that in their darkest moments, the couple couldn’t find the support they needed. “In the aftermath of our loss, we were sent on our way to deal with it alone.”
As a result, Zoe and Andy set up their charity to help others going through the same thing. It offers services of remembrance for grieving families, emotional support and practical advice.
Zoe met her husband Andy, both 43, in their late teens (Image: NC)
She has also written her memoir, Saying Goodbye, and this month sees the release of The Baby Loss Guide, which offers a lifeline to parents and helps educate people who want to support the bereaved.
“You feel alone but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s estimated that 700 babies die through miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal loss in the UK every day.
“That’s 258,000 every year in Britain.We all know someone who has suffered loss,” says Zoe.
“It’s amazing to know that where we didn’t have that support in our darkest moments, we are now able to give that to others.”
And Zoe adds: “I wanted my babies’ lives to all mean something. I wanted them to have a legacy. I didn’t want to always remember them with tears. I wanted to remember them with a smile.And now I do and that is wonderful.”
To order a copy of The Baby Loss Guide by Zoe Clark-Coates (£14.99, Orion Spring) call the Express Bookshop on 01872 562 310 or visit expressbookshop.co.uk