Having a child is a momentous, life-changing event, however it happens, and we love to report and celebrate all the different pregnancy and birth experiences of our readers and their families.
Many people sail through their pregnancies and are able to welcome their newborn babies into the world with minimal fuss and unmitigated delight. For others, things are more complicated – some spend the pregnancy in the shadow of a worrying medical issue, others have to watch their newborns being rushed straight into intensive care.
Happily, advances in medical science mean that more and more everyday miracles are being performed in situations like these, giving more families the possibility of the happy endings that they hope for and deserve.
This season, in the second part of our special feature, we meet the Ingle and Hall families, whose babies needed critical surgery at birth, and who now raise money for the hospital that saved their children’s lives; and we also tell the story of the Reynolds family, whose extraordinary twins were given just a 50% likelihood of surviving the pregnancy.
But first, the story of a baby girl, whose sense of timing was so perfect that she managed to be conceived before her parents had even decided that they wanted children – and it turned out to be the most timely unplanned pregnancy imaginable.
lexandra Thomas, and her husband, Chris, were walking near their home in Vauxhall, South London, when they noticed that a local health centre was advertising free men’s health check-ups. On the spur of the moment, they decided to go in. “I’d recently been for a bit of a health MOT,” says Alex, “and we thought that Chris might as well get a full check up too.”
Alex and Chris had been together for just seven months at the time, having met on Match.com. “We’d both had a series of bad dates, but we were instantly relaxed in each other’s company – we have different, but complementing, personalities, and a very similar outlook on life. We were both ready to meet someone to settle down with, and from the beginning we took it for granted that we’d be together in the long term.”
As Alex waited for Chris outside the consulting room in Vauxhall, what had started as a totally routine event started to turn into something slightly more concerning. “One consultant came out of the room and another went in. I was waiting for quite some time, and eventually I became really quite anxious.” When Chris finally emerged from the clinic, he didn’t look too worried, but he told Alex that the doctors had found an irregularity in one of his testicles which they thought needed further investigation. “They’d told him not to worry, but they thought it was best that he see a specialist the next day, just to be on the safe side.”
Chris was booked in for further checks early the next morning. And the following day Alex went off to her job, at Cupcake Mum, a private members’ club for mothers, as usual, fully expecting Chris to call her during the morning to tell her that he’d been given the all-clear.
However, it was after lunch when the call finally came, and the news wasn’t what Alex was expecting. “He said, ‘I’m really sorry, I’ve got testicular cancer and they want to operate on me today’. I burst into tears, right in front of everyone at work.”
The diagnosis was a total shock. “Chris had no symptoms at all,” says Alex. “Just a slightly larger testicle where the tumour was, which neither of us had noticed.” The couple had been planning to have children together one day, and one of the first things that they were told was that Chris’ fertility might be affected by the illness and treatment. “We saw our future change instantly. At Cupcake we were having a Christmas party for the children, and we were all blowing up balloons. It seemed so inappropriate all of a sudden. A senior manager was there and she told me to go to the hospital and be with Chris. I rushed there as soon as I could.”
In the end, Chris had to wait three days for the operation. He was told that the tumour was at an advanced stage, that the surgeons would need to remove his testicle, and that he would have to undergo chemotherapy as soon as possible. Fortunately, testicular cancer generally responds well to treatment, but the couple had no idea whether, afterwards, Chris would still be able to have children. “I cried when the consultant told us to prepare for bad news on that front,” says Alex. “I’ve spent a long time working with children – I was a nanny for many years – and I was really saddened by the thought that we might not have our own child. I’m surrounded by children and pregnancy at work, and I couldn’t get away from thinking about it.”
Of course Chris’ health was the paramount concern, and the couple found that the crisis strengthened their relationship. “It was a really, really tough time,” says Alex, “but Chris was amazing. He was very brave, and also very determined not to hide the fact that he had undergone the operation. He didn’t complain once. He’d lost his father to pancreatic cancer, and we both felt incredibly lucky that this was discovered before it was too late. The whole experience completely sealed our relationship – it made us more sure that we should be together, children or not.”
Doctors had told Alex and Chris that they would have a three week window in which they might be able to conceive naturally, before Chris started chemotherapy. However, before they had a chance to try this, Alex felt a little strange on the train on the way to work. “I bought a pregnancy test at Clapham Junction, and I did it as soon as I got into work. The line was very faint, but I knew there was a line!” When Alex got home that evening she told Chris, and they took another test. The line was still faint and Chris was unconvinced, so Alex went to the doctor. “She said that we should wait another week, which we did, and, after having done about twenty pregnancy tests there was finally a strong line, and we allowed ourselves to get really excited!”
In fact, Alex must already have been pregnant before Chris went for that very first check-up. “We were unbelievably lucky. Some people might have thought it was a little soon to have a child after just seven months together, but for us it was a miracle! The whole thing had been so hard for Chris’ family too, having lost his father to cancer, and then been in a similar situation with Chris, so the news of the baby was a positive thing for everyone to focus on.”
Six months later, Chris was given the all clear on his health, though he still has regular check-ups, and a couple of months after that, baby Mimi was born. “We’re thriving as a family,” says Alex. “Chris and I got married in November, and Mimi is now a feisty 15 month old. We’d love to have another child, and we’re hoping that we’ll be able to, but for now we’re focusing on being a newly married couple with a wonderful and exhausting toddler!”