‘Just one more to be sure,’ I said, downing another pint of water and sitting on the loo to go for a wee – pregnancy test between my legs.
I peed on the plastic stick and paced the bathroom for two minutes, waiting for the results, before two little blue lines appeared.
‘Yep, it’s definitely positive,’ I smiled.
It was the eighth I’d done – just to be sure.
I called my partner of five years, Shaun, 44, upstairs and told him: ‘We’re having another baby!’
I was already a mum-of-three and although I knew our ever-growing brood would be a handful, I was made up.
‘I can’t believe it,’ Shaun grinned, sweeping me up in his arms and twirling me around.
We’d met each other in 2015 whilst staying in the same holiday resort in Liverpool, Merseyside.
We quickly fell for each other.
I already had two kids from a previous relationship – 19-year-old Cory and John, 11 – and they even gave Shaun their seal of approval too.
In time, Shaun and I went on to have Ayla, now three.
Being a mum had always been a dream of mine, and I was delighted at the prospect of a new addition joining our family.
I went along to a five-week scan without a worry – I’d done it all before – but that quickly changed…
‘Miss Crellin, I’m afraid we can’t see a baby,’ the empathetic sonographer at Nobles Hospital, Isle of Man, told me.
‘What do you mean?’ I asked, squeezing onto Shaun’s hand as tightly as I could.
‘Well, here’s the sac,’ she said, pointing to the blob on the monitor. ‘But we can’t see a baby in there. I’m afraid you might be having an ectopic pregnancy.’
My heart sank. Just weeks earlier I had been over the moon about another child, but just like that, my hopes were crushed.
The nurses took my blood just in case, and called me up just a week later.
‘It looks like you have a fighter on your hands! Your blood work has come back as ‘normal’ so the scan must have just been an anomaly. Your baby is fit and well!’ they told me.
I couldn’t believe it.
We had been on such an emotional rollercoaster, but my little one was still there.
By the 12-week scan, we were able to hear the heartbeat.
‘Thud thud, thud thud,’ it sounded loud and clear around the room. It felt like such a gift.
Shaun and I started the baby preparations – we bought new babygrows and stocked up on nappies – and still had a load of stuff from when the others were little too.
We went to all of our routine appointments, and by 20 weeks my baby bump was bulging.
The kids joked around and called me ‘Mr Blobby’ as I was so huge, but I didn’t mind.
Shaun came along with me for the next scan in September, 2019.
Our anticipation was building as we were just 22 weeks away from my due date.
The nurse put the ice cold gel on my belly.
‘The cold shock never gets old!’ I giggled.
Shaun and I stared eagerly at the screen and watched the grainy black-and-white image as our unborn baby wriggled around.
We looked over at the nurse, expecting a smile just like ours, but she was as white as a sheet.
‘Oh, no,’ she whispered under her breath.
Shaun asked what was wrong, but she didn’t answer. Next thing I knew, a consultant was by my side.
He had a leaflet in his hand, and passed it over to me.
Spina bifida was in big bold words at the top of the paper.
‘I know this seems scary, but let me explain what’s going on,’ he said.
‘When we looked at your scan, we could see a gap in the baby’s spine.
‘In medical terms, this occurs when a baby’s spine and spinal cord don’t develop properly in the womb.
‘Vital nerves are exposed, causing irreversible damage before the baby is born, such as life-long paralysis of the legs and feet.’
My head felt like it had bounced off of a wall.
‘How could this be happening? I thought we’d already faced our hurdle in this pregnancy,’ I panicked.
The consultant went on to explain what this would mean for me and the little one still growing inside of me.
‘You’ll need to visit a specialist in the next week or so, who will take a scan of the baby’s spine,’ he said.
‘From that point you’ll have three options. You can either continue on with the pregnancy as normal and the baby can have corrective spine surgery after birth, you can terminate the pregnancy, or you can have foetal surgery whilst baby is still inside of you.’
The word termination made me shudder and I vowed not to abort our baby.
Surgery after birth sounded too late to really have any impact, so I pondered over foetal surgery for a day or two.
Shaun wasn’t too keen on the idea of someone operating on our baby whilst it was still inside of my womb, but he came round to the idea.
We settled on the foetal surgery option, and doctors advised we needed to get the procedure scheduled before I reached the 26-week mark, otherwise it wouldn’t be an option.
The day after we made the decision, I was rushed to London so medics could run more tests.
Doctors wanted to make sure I was fit and able to go under the operation, as it wouldn’t just be the baby who was being poked and prodded.
The assessments included genetic testing, a psychological assessment and an MRI scan, all of which thankfully were good enough to allow me to go ahead with the surgery.
But that wasn’t the end of the nightmare.
A consultant grabbed me before I headed to a hotel for the night, and let me know there weren’t any surgery slots for me in London when I needed them.
‘We do have one option for you. They conduct the same surgery in Brussels, and the surgeons can fit you in their schedule. If you can get there within the next 24 hours, you can be operated on,’ he explained.
Startled, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
‘I needed to get to Brussels in a day?’ I fretted.
I knew it was now or never, so before I could even pack a bag, I jumped on the next Eurostar train. Shaun was home with the kids, who were all on tenterhooks waiting to see what will happen.
I phoned my friends in a panic letting them know what was happening, and thankfully they helped me book a hotel for the next two nights.
Riddled with nerves, I disembarked the train in Brussels, jumped in a cab, and checked into my hotel.
The next thing I knew, I was on an operating table, surrounded by Belgian medical staff, comforting me as best they could despite the language barrier.
I was under the knife for three hours. Doctors put me to sleep, opened up my womb and took my unborn baby out of me to operate. My unborn baby was fully removed from my body, operated on, then stitched up and put back inside of me.
They lifted my tiny baby out of me so they could slice down his spine, moving his spine closer together then stitching him back up so it would hold its new position.
When I woke up, the doctors were all smiling.
‘The operation went as well as we could hope. And we did it in record time too!’ they assured me.
I let out a big sigh of relief – thank god my little one was okay. I would just have to sit tight until the birth to see if the operation really did work.
After a week of aftercare in Brussels, I was flown back to the UK, still on my own, and taken straight to Liverpool Women’s Hospital.
63 days later, all of which were spent waiting in hospital, little baby Blay was born on 6 December 2019.
It was too dangerous to give birth naturally, so after a simple caesarean section, my miracle was in my arms. I gave him a tiny kiss on the head before he was whisked away to the NICU unit for further monitoring.
He was safe and alive, weighing a diddy 5lb 13oz. That’s the only news we could have hoped for.
Blay was kept under monitoring for two weeks, as his hips were dislocated, meaning his legs folded on top of his body.
Slowly but surely he gained weight, and Shaun and I took our boy home to meet his family in December 2019, two days before Christmas. The kids were ecstatic, taking it in turns to hold their new baby brother.
After such a whirlwind pregnancy, having my family all back in one place felt like peace at least.
I couldn’t be happier with how the surgery went – my little boy has a fighting chance at a normal life, and if we didn’t take the risk when we did, he could be living a very different life.
He still has a long way to go, and we won’t be too sure how well he’ll be able to walk, but that’s the least of our worries.
He’s here and we love him and that’s all that matters.