A Wigan family has spoken about their heartbreak of losing a stillborn twin as they organise a lavish charity fund-raiser in his memory.
Sarah Elliott, from Standish Lower Ground, is arranging the black-tie ball at Kilhey Court to raise money for stillbirth and neonatal death charity Sands.
Sarah and her husband Jamie lost their son Theo to Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome (TTTS), in which there are complications with blood flow when two babies share a placenta in the womb.
The condition developed with horrifying speed. Mums carrying twins are scanned every two weeks and in the space of a fortnight Sarah went from showing no signs of it to having stage four, the most serious version of TTTS.
Harrowingly she had to carry Theo for several weeks knowing he had died before both he was delivered along with his healthy brother Hugo by caesarean section at 34 weeks.
Now, having realised just how many families have gone through the devastating emotional ordeal of a stillbirth, Sarah is desperate to make speaking about it more common and to raise thousands of pounds for a charity helping families in the process.
The ambitious dinner at the Chorley Road venue is also very much about Sarah and Jamie giving something back to Sands for the support they have offered them.
Sarah, 34, said: “With TTTS you get uneven blood distribution to each baby because one receives all the blood and then gives it to the other.
“They are under a massive amount of pressure because one gets too much blood and the other not enough, and one also ends up much bigger than the other.
“From 20 weeks I was scanned every fortnight. I was quite unwell the week before my 24-week scan and was in quite a lot of pain, but I thought that was just what happened. I went for the routine scan and they told me to go upstairs at the Thomas Linacre Centre for a consultant to see me.
“They explained I had gone from no signs of TTTS to stage four, the worst stage.”
The diagnosis was quickly confirmed at St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester and in an emergency operation removed a large amount of fluid to prevent Sarah going into labour, which would have resulted in her losing both babies.
She underwent further surgery in Birmingham and endured several more hospital visits in a short space of time, including being taken to theatre for an operation to give both babies their own separate blood flows.
She went home for bed rest but scans soon found there was only one heartbeat.
Sarah said: “We had to carry on as best we could because there were two of them and we still had Hugo.
“They tried to keep the babies in as long as possible because Hugo was still quite small but when I went into labour it all happened quite quickly.
“Jamie actually missed the birth because it was in the middle of the night and he couldn’t arrange for my mum to look after our elder son in time to get to me in Manchester.”
When Theo was delivered Sands came into its own, with the charity’s work on stillbirth providing the facilities in hospital that allowed Sarah and Jamie, 42, to properly say goodbye to him.
Sarah said: “They put us in a lovely bereavement suite, more like a hotel room than part of a hospital.
“We had all the cuddles we wanted and they took photos of him and did his hand and foot prints for us. They also gave us a memory box to take home.
“It was Sands who did a big campaign for bereavement suites in every maternity hospital and they also fund the memory boxes.
“Otherwise we would have just been in a maternity ward with the other babies and parents with Theo, which would have been awful.
“They also have telephone support, online forums and other help for families. It was all set up by bereaved parents who just didn’t have anybody to support them.”
With Hugo requiring a few weeks in the neo-natal unit and then returning home to grow up alongside his elder brother Henry, now five, Sarah and Jamie faced a busy few years of parenthood.
It was only after the whirlwind of emotions and events surrounding her pregnancy had stopped that they were properly able to grieve for Theo and come to terms with their loss.
Sarah said: “We just had to keep going and get on with things. More recently has been the toughest time, it has hit us more after a couple of years.
“Because Hugo is an identical twin we know exactly what Theo would look like. Sometimes that’s lovely and a comfort but sometimes you think there should be another one there doing the same things and reaching the same milestones.
“We know we are incredibly lucky because Hugo is absolutely lovely and has no complications and we’re really grateful for that, but there’s always going to be Theo missing.”
Sarah is now determined both to keep Theo’s memory alive and give something back to Sands and hopes the Kilhey Court event will bring in £10,000 for the charity.
Events on the night will include a balloon raffle, where people pop the balloons tied to their chairs to see if they have won prizes, music from a live band and a DJ, a photobooth and demonstration cars from the main sponsor Corkills Volkswagen.
Having unearthed shocking stats suggesting as many as 15 babies are stillborn in the UK each day, Sarah is also determined to make people realise how common the tragedy is and speak about it more openly.
She said: “I’ve spoken to people so many times since I started fund-raising and they have said they have been through the same thing.
“It’s not talked about very much and I’m trying to change that.
“I want to say that Theo was my child, I held him, he had a name, he was a fully-formed being.
“I want people to remember him and talk to us and our children about him.
“People who have been through this are of the same opinion. On my social media posts I always say let’s talk about it. I think it’s part of the healing process as well.”
The black-tie event for Sands at Kilhey Court is on October 13. To find out more search for Footprints for Sands on Facebook or follow @FootprintsSANDS on Twitter.