I feel a mix of nerves and excitement to be sharing this, our very first ever ‘From The Heart’ post with you today. You can read our post introducing plans for our new Sunday feature here. I won’t comment on that now, for I’d like this post to focus fully on the three amazing, brave, courageous and inspirational women that I have come to know as Becky, Sara and Cat, the ladies behind the Most Curious Wedding Fair.
The Most Curious Wedding Fair is an inspirational, trend-aware event that brings together 180 of the best exhibitors from the new breed of exciting and hip wedding suppliers, all under one roof for the convenience and benefit of creative couples who are planning a wedding. The event hosts fashion shows, a cafe and live music and is one of the best, most enjoyable and well organised wedding events in the UK. I’m not just saying this – I’ve been attending and supporting the Curious team for some years now (see the evidence) and am very much looking forward to joining them in London in March.
The team behind this event is made up of four creative individuals who have backgrounds in law, design journalism, accountancy, styling and PR. They are Becky Hoh-Hale, 34, who is the founder and creative director of the show (pictured below right), Sara Smyth, 40, head of production for London (pictured below centre) and Sarah ‘Cat’ Brennan, 41, exhibitor relations for London. The team have also recently been joined by Gemma Goodwin, 27, who oversees the Norwich show. Together they apply their top notch skill set to setting the bridal industry world alight with a pioneering and exciting approach to wedding fairs.
That’s the side you see, at least.
Behind the scenes, there is also the small matter of their other ambitious, creative and simultaneously full time jobs – motherhood.
Photography by Karolina of Hearts on Fire Photography
View Hearts on Fire PHotography in Little Book For Brides
Hair & makeup by Rachel Manix
From left to right Cat, Sara and Becky
The ladies behind A Most Curious Wedding Fair
Collectively, the team juggle the busy lives of six children aged 1 to 22. And between them, there’s a whole big story of just how tricky the reproduction and becoming a mother thing can be. Their experiences touch on issues that could happen to any one of us. Perhaps you can relate through personal experience of your own, or maybe you harbour deep fears that it might happen to you. One of the reasons we’re sharing this post is to highlight how even the most devastating of experiences can lead to the nurturing of even deeper levels of love, gratitude, acceptance and understanding.
There is an overriding theme in each three of the stories below – it isn’t about the rough ride that each of these women have been through, but how lucky they feel for the beautiful babies they have in their lives – just exactly as they are and in whatever way they entered the world.
What’s that old saying, ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’; by sharing their experiences with one another, the ladies in the Most Curious team have been able to overcome grief and embark on their personal journeys of healing. Through opening up and talking about what has happened, they have learned to eradicate guilt, shame and fear and remove the taboo that often clouds honest and supportive conversation around miscarriage, adoption and even giving birth to babies with a potentially life-threatening condition.
Today, these amazing women would like to share their stories and experiences with you. The often silent battles that leave you feeling isolated and alone if not talked about openly can cause deep but invisible emotional scars. So many people go through all these curveballs on the daily, but unless we talk about it, a certain amount of stigma is left surrounding them. Becky, Sara and Cat are keen to bust open that box and start a conversation about some of the most challenging life experiences that they have been through, all in the name of baby making.
Please be kind ladies and gentlemen, for as much as they want to open up to you today, it has also been an incredibly nerve wracking experience for all three ladies in ‘going public’ like this.
Becky, 34, has a beautiful four year old daughter Bella, who was conceived naturally after a mere six weeks of trying and a smooth sailing pregnancy ensued. In March 2014 she and her husband John decided it was time for number two and two months later Becky was pregnant again but at eight weeks in, in June 2014 tragically miscarried. She and her husband have been trying to conceive again ever since and it’s been a heartbreakingly long ride, with emotional break downs in dodgy Chinese medicine centres and London Buddhist temples, late night googling and herbal orders from Amazon, spiritual guru Osteopaths, unremarkable therapy sessions and Malaysian Aunties sending numerous ginger orientated recipes from abroad.
After battles with a ridiculously underfunded NHS and some private consultations she has been diagnosed with Polycystic ovaries and her plan with NHS specialists at Homerton Hospital started this year.
My story is of an ordinary early pregnancy miscarriage. No high drama, no freakish causes or effects, just two and a half weeks of knowing you are pregnant and then all of a sudden you’re not. Of course nothing about it feels ordinary, not to you, the mother of the baby, the keeper of the little light that is yours from the moment you take the test. But you are told ‘it happens’, ‘just one of those things’, ‘not this time’ as if it is ordinary and minor and yes, how sad, but let’s soldier on…
Like everything with motherhood, until it happens to you – being pregnant, being in labour, breastfeeding – no one can prepare you for, or indeed really discusses it, what that physical and emotional process really feels like when you are actually living it. And it is the same with miscarriage, what happens in that toilet, the horror, the feeling of it all falling away, that private moment you will never forget, is a secret only mother’s know. And after it happens, for the most part, we brush it away, we don’t talk about it, it is not a common subject of conversation. We speak about it in hushed tones behind closed doors if we speak about it at all. Just another thing women have to go through that doesn’t tend to get much air time.
I have an amazing, awesome, nearly five year old daughter Bella and waited longer than many people to get back on the wagon. We started to try for numero 2 at the end of March last year, and in the third month of trying, I was 8 days late and did a test when John got home from work. Bella was overtired and screaming for her bedtime stories and wanted ‘MUMMY TO DO IT!’ so John went to look back on the test and came into the room grinning, to the soundtrack of Bella wailing and chucking books. Not the best timing, but job done.
Becky and her daughter Bella
So followed a wonderful week and a half of getting out heads round the idea, feeling excited and worrying about having two children, how Bella would feel, having enough space, having enough money, but wonderful all the same.
And then some spotting.
I had some spotting with Bella and it was scary, but I went to the doctor’s, they gave me a scan and one of the best moments of my life was seeing and hearing a heartbeat, so loud and defiant it felt deafening. I made an appointment to see the Doctor, tell him I was pregnant and perhaps mention the bleeding. ‘There isn’t any point in having a scan’, he said, ‘it won’t stop you from having a miscarriage. And it would only show that you were still pregnant, if you are, at that point in time, and wouldn’t be able to tell whether you are about to miscarry or will indeed eventually go on to have a miscarriage.’
This blatant disregard for the aspect of reassurance or knowledge the scan would provide me as the person carrying this pregnancy, this tiny baby inside my body, was not cool. However, he did say the words which would come back to give me some comfort in the following weeks. That I must never blame myself if I did have a miscarriage, that there is more often than not chromosome abnormalities or other problems – nature’s way of making sure you get the best one you can.
I could have done a pregnancy test, but at that point, the bleeding was almost non existent. Over the next few days the bleeding got far worse and I ended up at A&E on the Wednesday evening. My cervix was also closed tight, which is a good sign, so I felt reassured and just to double check I was booked in for a scan the following morning.
The scan showed that the egg sac was fine – plump and round and there was the shape of the wonderful little guy in there, but difficult to see because the ‘yolk’ was right in front. Every so often there was what looked like the flicker of a heartbeat behind the yolk and we laughed with relief. The Sonographer said, everything looked promising and good for 5.5 weeks pregnancy. Alarm bells rang – I was at least 7.5 weeks, probably closer to 8. She said that could be ok if I ovulated later in the month I fell pregnant. Yet again, we let our hopes come back.
By the next evening, the bleeding got, for want of a better word, more gloopy, much more frequent and I started feeling like I was having period pains. Bad times. Thursday night I had proper cramps. John was away so I slept with Bella in my bed to feel close to the life I had already created. Proof that I could do it. If I kept new life near, life made of the same stuff, maybe just maybe, some of it would rub off and keep this one alive too.
Friday came, John took the day off work and we went to the Early Pregnancy Unit again. Another examination, cervix still closed, but lots of swabs to wipe away the blood as there was so much. A more sombre tone to the conversations, no jokes, lots of silence and waiting. John held my hand much tighter and we sat closer together, trying to unite against what we feared was coming.
Another scan, everything looked the same but no heartbeat this time. It was a different Sonographer who said it was possible there wouldn’t be a heartbeat at 5.5 weeks, so come back at 6.5 and they could check growth. But that evening as I Iaid on the bed with a maternity pad on, I felt cramp, ‘squirt’, cramp ‘squirt’. I cried and let resignation set in.
How could a baby still be in there? I stood up and hurried to the bathroom as I felt a rush of everything come out. Blobs and clots, it was just as if someone had pushed the eject button. I sat on the toilet and wept in a blur of toilet paper and pads, hit flush and I called John in. We cried, looked at a suspicious looking fleshy ‘clot’ on the tissues I had kept and held each other in a moment of gore, devastation and surrender. And there we were – a couple who had lost a baby. It was the start of a long process of grieving.
And that is where the story could end, but I believe it shouldn’t.
I don’t want to get too heavy into culture of faith, but at times of great tragedy, I do turn to the spiritual element of my part-Chinese upbringing. In Chinese culture, miscarriages are treated as a major physical and emotional event. After a baby is born, women have a 30 day resting period, literally translated as ‘sitting for a month’. They do not leave the house and eat several recouperating meals of ginger and chicken a day to replace the internal ‘balance’ and nutrients they have lost post-partum. This also gives them time to get to know their baby, do their best to get a good milk supply (if needed) and basically recover and adjust to this new way of life. Chinese women who have miscarried are advised to do this for an even lengthier 40 days, because not only has your body gone through the same process, there is the emotional aspect to take in to account as well.
While I didn’t confine myself to the house for 40 days, I did eat the ginger chicken several times a week and this way of thinking gave me a ‘pass’ to take it easy and allow a good amount of time before I thought about feeling ‘normal’ again. But in those raw and dark days that first followed, I cried on the phone to my dad, ‘please ask my aunties what I can do to honour and commemorate that baby, that little life, send it on its way, it doesn’t know where to go. Getting flushed down the toilet is just not enough.’
They immediately knew the protocol – there was a special a set of ritual actions to follow; physical, tangible, markers and things I could do beyond the thoughts in my mind. So three weeks later we set off for the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist temple in London. The ladies who ran the place, or Dharma sisters, didn’t look confused or think I was silly, they didn’t look at me in pity – my request for the ‘right thing to do’ following a miscarriage felt very normal, straight forward and understood. There were specific customary instructions, a ceremony that has existed for thousands of years. The Dharma sister said to write mine and John’s name and the words ‘The Baby that I have lost’ on special yellow paper and to put it with a candle at a certain altar at the temple and say all the things I needed to say. This altar is where there is constant chanting, where many families put their recently deceased loved ones names, young and old, to mark their passing, pray for their souls to find peace and go to the right place. The Dharma sister actually said that in the case of miscarriage, the particular reasoning is that the baby became disconnected from me and this process will ensure that the baby will be looked after by someone, benevolent spirits and deities, until we are reunited.
I’m not saying I believe that with this ritual my baby has flown up somewhere to sit on a cloud with Buddha, but her words made sense of a lot of the emotions I was trying to fathom. Any child you make, you need to be with you, to feel in your arms, to be by your side, to nurture until it no longer needs that nurturing. But I didn’t get to do that and now that baby we made is just simply gone and that is maybe where the biggest feelings of loss and emptiness spring from. You are disconnected, no longer bonded and empty handed at the end of it and on some level I couldn’t bear to think of it all alone. The ritual and those words acknowledged that and offered some comfort.
Everyone is so different and some people might read this thinking, wow, take it down a notch lady, it is sad, but this is too much! Of course all experiences and especially grief is so personal and subjective, but for me there was a strong feeling of, how can that be it? What can I do for closure, to end that chapter that was in full beautiful flow in my heart and head, and that has been cut short so suddenly? When everyone else stopped talking about it and professionals had done all they could, I felt I’d been left alone and stranded.
That period after miscarriage is a lonely time. I talk about it where ever I feel it is appropriate, to try and normalise it for myself and others – and that helps. And that is why I felt I wanted to share my experience today, because this happens to so many of us at all stages throughout our pregnancies.
Regardless of faith and beliefs, time is the biggest healer, for sure. I think the Chinese have it right. And you should be able to say to your boss ‘I’ve had a miscarriage, I won’t be coming in for three to four weeks’.
My silver lining is that as a previously over worked, sometimes dissatisfied and moany mum, I have received the gift of gratefulness for the miracle I have been given, which is Bella. And hopefully somewhere along the line not too far away, we will have something else to be thankful for.
Sara, 40, has a rather handsome and strapping 16 year old son, Lucas, from a previous relationship and now has two daughters with her lovely husband Rob. Sara’s journey with Rob has had its fair share of extreme highs and lows, suffering two tragic miscarriages and 13 months of trying to conceive her feisty and delicious two year old Delilah. This was preceded by seemingly everyone around her announcing pregnancies, crying sessions on her bathroom floor and moments of madness ordering fertility drugs online (which she luckily didn’t have to take as she found out she was pregnant with Delilah before they arrived!).
After such an overwhelming time Sara tried quickly for her third baby and as is often the way fell pregnant with the charming and gorgeous Carys quickly, when Delilah was just 8 months old. In her third trimester Sara had scans which flagged up some concerns about the size of the baby, which led to checks for chromosomal abnormalities. During an agonising final few weeks of the pregnancy, they were given the ‘all clear’, only to be called back in to say that actually, Carys had Williams Syndrome, a condition similar to Downs Syndrome, with learning difficulties and possible heart problems. Rollercoaster doesn’t even cover it. Carys is now one and a delight to be around, a real trooper and a fierce and vital member of the Most Curious brood.
Sara and her daughter Carys
It is hard looking back now, with 3 beautiful, noisy children filling the house, to recapture the utter despair and ache of losing a much wanted baby. The world collapsed, I honestly could not see the light. I didn’t want to talk about it as verbalising it made it real. Even now I prefer to remember in solitude, those two lost babies. The first was a girl and we named her Evie. The other we never knew but I tend to think of a little boy. But here we are now with two more little joyous bundles, one currently blowing wet raspberries up my nose! We have rebuilt our world, albeit an unexpected one, and whatever the trials and tribulations of everyday parenting, I am so grateful for our life now.”
I think this is why we didn’t really have a huge reaction to the shock diagnosis of Carys’ Williams Syndrome when I was 37 weeks pregnant. As long as she remains healthy and her heart condition is managed then we feel very grateful indeed. Many WS babies need early open heart surgery to stay alive and we have so far avoided any surgical intervention. Carys is sweet, soft, happy, loving and gives pretty much the best hugs ever. All the children bring us joy every day and that is something we never take for granted.
Cat, 41, has been thrown a fair amount of life’s punches, from all sides of the baby-making coin. She herself was adopted by a lovely mother and father who had their own tale of unexplained difficulties conceiving. Then at seventeen, during her final year at school, Cat fell pregnant with her first love. Growing up in Ireland, options were slim and Cat had to make the tortuous decision to give her beautiful baby daughter Aoife up for adoption, believing this was the only way she could give Aoife the life she deserved.
Cat now has another daughter, eight year old Sophie, who rocks the world of the whole Most Curious team. Things didn’t work out with Sophie’s Dad and our all-round tough tiger-mumma has been a single mum since Sophie was a baby.
I know what it feels like to long for a baby but for very different reasons to Sara and Becky. In 1993, aged just 18, I gave birth to the most amazing, beautiful baby girl, a baby girl I chose to give up for adoption. As you can imagine this was the most difficult, excruciating decision I have ever had to make. It was overwhelmingly heart breaking, but at that time I believed the only way I could give my precious baby girl the life she deserved was by giving her up for adoption.
For years afterwards I longed for a baby, I just felt so empty and lost without Aoife. I can remember never noticing so many mums and babies until afterwards, I seemed to see them everywhere and all I wanted was to be like them, to have my baby with me and be her mum. So I know that longing, that desire for a child that seems to take over your every thought.
I know the idea of adoption can seem very alien to some people, they believe the old adage that blood is thicker than water and could never contemplate giving their child ‘away’. But adoption is not about giving your child away, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
It’s about taking the time to consider what would be best for your child, making a choice based on what you feel is in their best interests, and not on what you want. Of course I didn’t want to give Aoife up for adoption, I loved her with all my heart and never wanted to let her go. The problem was I also wanted what was best for her and at that time I didn’t believe that was me.
The fact that I am adopted too definitely gave me a different perspective on the situation, I knew what adoption was like. Growing up I never felt any different because I had been adopted, if anything it made me feel special because I felt like I had been chosen by my parents to be their daughter. I knew that giving birth to a child doesn’t make you a parent, bringing that child up is what makes you a parent, loving that child, being there for that child, these are the things that matter, not whether you are blood related.
I also knew how much my adopted parents loved me. I knew how much my mum in particular longed for a child, how difficult it was for her that she couldn’t conceive. However, she often told me that she was glad that she didn’t conceive any children naturally because if she had she would never have been able to be my mum. And I knew there was a couple out there who were in the same situation as my mum and dad had been all those years ago, who were longing for a child to love and cherish, who were everything I wasn’t, who had everything I didn’t have, how could I deny Aoife that chance in life?
As I have gotten older and I look back on that time in my life I have realised that I didn’t believe I was good enough for her. I know it sounds cliché, but I really had no belief or confidence in myself or my abilities, I didn’t believe I could be the mother she deserved. And so I chose to give Aoife up because I genuinely believed it was the best thing for her.
It broke my heart and I wonder now sometimes how I ever did it. I can’t say I regret what I did because I don’t believe in regrets, I believe that we make the best decisions we can based on what we know at the time. However, if I was to meet someone now who was in the same situation as me back then I don’t know if I would recommend adoption to them, it’s an incredibly hard thing to do and also incredibly hard to live with. I miss that baby and that little girl I never had the chance to know so much, and I always will. I remember Aoife playing me a video of her when she was around 2 or 3, and what I particularly loved was hearing her talk, but my heart ached too for that little girl whose voice I had never had the chance to hear before.
I was incredibly fortunate though – the couple that did adopt Aoife were amazing and gave her more than I ever could have dreamed of. They gave me so much too, I have a wonderful relationship with Aoife and this is only possible because of them.
As part of the adoption agreement I asked for a yearly update, just a couple of pictures to see how Aoife was growing and changing, and maybe just some news on how she was doing. Aoife’s parents gave me so much more than that though and I know that played a huge part in helping me to cope. Aoife’s mum wrote such wonderful letters and they sent me so many beautiful pictures. As a toddler Aoife would put ‘X’s and ‘O’s on the back of the pictures sent to me, as she got older she would send me Christmas cards and write letters. It was so wonderful and brought me so much happiness. I never dreamt I would be allowed to have so much contact with her and it’s because of Aoife’s parent’s kindness and openness that I have the wonderful, precious relationship I have with her today, I am forever grateful to them for that.
What was even more wonderful, and a real turning point in my life, was that when Aoife was 8 her mum got in touch to say that Aoife would like to meet me, I couldn’t believe it! That day, 21 September 2001, was one of the most special and life changing days for me. We all went for pizza and it was just wonderful in so many ways. To see this beautiful, happy little girl, to sit and chat with her, hang out with her, hug her, just be close to her, well, it was simply amazing, a dream come true. It was also lovely to see Aoife and her mum together, to see the great relationship they had and how much they obviously loved each other. Afterwards I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, a weight I didn’t realise I had been carrying until it was gone. I knew Aoife was happy, I had literally seen it with my own eyes and that brought me so much peace.
Cat and her daughter Sophie
After all those years longing for a baby the ironic thing is that when I did finally become pregnant again with Sophie, having a baby was not in my plans at all.
However, at 31, I was very different to the scared, naïve 17 year old girl who had become pregnant all those years ago. I had grown and changed, and learned so much in those intervening years and knew I was good enough to be a mum. Ideally I would have preferred not to be a single mum but that’s just the way it had to be. I did want Sophie’s Dad involved in her life though and I’m happy to say he is, she has a great relationship with him and his family. My own family have been a huge support too, my sister and my parents, and if it wasn’t for their support Sophie and I wouldn’t enjoy the life we do.
My girls are definitely the best thing that ever happened to me. They have brought me so much joy, happiness and contentment, and also taught me so much, especially about love.
These are the stories of just three women, imagine how many more stories there are out there left ‘behind the scenes’?
I hope that these stories have inspired you today – connected with you on some level. If you have or are going through anything similar now, I hope they offer you reassurance and comfort. My love and thanks to the Most Curious Wedding Fair team – ladies, I cannot wait to see you next month.
Just a reminder to reader that you can find out more about the Most Curious Wedding Fair here and that the team will be donating 10% of all ticket sale profits to The Miscarriage Association, The Williams Syndrome Foundation and Barnados. You can engaged with the team on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
I would love to read your comments below. Do you have an experience of motherhood or trying for a baby that you would like to share?
If you’re afraid of posting publicly, please feel free to share your thoughts anonymously.
Love Annabel x
(Gemma, by the way, is rather sensibly yet to embark on her reproductive journey).