Pregnancy after baby loss: 'We felt guilty for being excited'

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Iona and Luke
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After experiencing a neonatal death, Iona and Luke had mixed emotions about getting pregnant again

Iona and Luke wanted to feel full of joy as they were expecting their first baby girl, but instead they felt guilty.

"I was so excited when we got the positive test result," remembers 32-year-old Iona, from Stratford-upon-Avon. "But the next day, I was just filled with absolute dread, thinking: 'oh my God, how am I going to possibly go through all of this again?'"

Almost two years earlier, after a healthy pregnancy, Iona had gone into labour at 41 weeks.

"I thought everything was just going to be fine," she explains, but after complications due to a bacterial infection of the placenta, the couple's son Oscar died when he was 13 hours old.

"I was in shock, really," Iona says. "I didn't understand how ill he was and wasn't really prepared for it."

She says she remembers getting home from the hospital and feeling in denial. "It's like a glass wall, you can see the world is moving, but you're not part of it."

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Luke and Iona describe being "in the throes of grief" after Oscar died

It is estimated one in four pregnancies in the UK end in loss during pregnancy or birth. Recently, leading experts called for people affected to be given specific support.

After Oscar's death, Luke says they were handed a list of places to ring, should they need any help. But lacking the strength to even pick up the phone, it was Iona's mum who found a local organisation able to offer counselling.

Three weeks later, Iona met her bereavement support officer, Amy.

Amy and her husband Ryan set up The Lily Mae Foundation in 2010 after losing their own daughter at 36 weeks. Amy had to deliver Lily Mae knowing she was no longer alive and says it was the lack of support after such a traumatic event that motivated them to create the foundation.

When it comes to bereavement Amy says one aspect many parents struggle with is growing a new life around their grief with many fearing their baby will be taken away from them again.

Just over 15 months after losing Oscar, Iona and Luke found out they were expecting a baby girl, Isla.

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With the second pregnancy, Luke was feeling anxious before every scan

But while preparing for her arrival the couple had mixed emotions.

"With pregnancy number one, everything is exciting," says Luke. "This second time around, you just walk into the room and you're like: please, tell me there's a heartbeat."

Iona says she felt "guilty" for being excited about having another baby. "I feel like I'm doing a disservice to Oscar because he should be here with me. It's a weird concept to have guilt over it, but you do."

Iona says she called Amy immediately when she found out she was expecting. "I tend to find out before the husbands," laughs Amy.

She told the couple it was important to normalise their fears and do what feels comfortable, even if that meant not buying any clothes for Isla until they were ready. "You're always going to have the Oscar-shaped hole, but you learn to build your life around it and live with it."

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"He's always going to be our first child," reflects Iona.

For over a year, Iona had avoided going into her son's room, but ahead of Isla's arrival, the couple took down and replaced some of Oscar's things. Iona says, although difficult, it was like "physically marking a new chapter".

Luke says: "It looks like a baby's room again, rather than a spare room with dinosaur stickers on." Oscar's ashes are still there. "We kind of feel like it's his room; they are on a shelf, so he'll be looking down," reflects Iona.

Isla was born via a planned Caesarean section on Luke's birthday, which meant no drinks for him. "I'll never have a birthday again," he jokes.

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Iona gave birth to a healthy Isla last February

Among the many hospital bags Iona prepared, she included the blanket which Oscar was wrapped in in hospital. "I want to reuse it because that's what I would have done naturally. He had a little hat as well, but I couldn't bring the hat," she says.

"There's no real logic to it," explains Luke: "Some things you couldn't reuse and do, but others, you really want to."

After 37 weeks of pregnancy, all the anxiety lifted.

"Hearing her cry when she came out; I don't think either of us took a breath for minutes because, obviously, that didn't happen last time," Luke says.

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Iona says having Isla has made them feel "optimistic" about the future

Reflecting on her own experience, Iona says she would like others to look ahead to the future. "Having Isla doesn't change what happened; Oscar will always be part of it, but it has definitely brought a lot of light into our lives."

"You never think it will get easier, but it does," adds Luke while baby Isla cries. "And then she comes along, and everything gets harder, and you are too tired to worry about anything anyway," he laughs.