Politician Michelle Kelly, who gave birth to baby Charlotte 11 weeks ago, reveals her miscarriage heartbreak in a bid to end the stigma surrounding something one in four women experience, writes Suzanne Breen
An Alliance politician who suffered three miscarriages has spoken of her overwhelming joy after giving birth to a baby girl.
East Belfast councillor Michelle Kelly revealed how she had given up on the hope of ever cradling her own infant in her arms, and feared the worst throughout her fourth pregnancy.
“I experienced no delight when I had a positive pregnancy test. I just thought ‘Here we go again.’ I spent the entire pregnancy waiting for bad news. Something that should have been pleasurable was a nightmare,” she said.
“I bought nothing in advance of the birth except a few sleepsuits and a pram right at the end, and I put them in the back room.
“I couldn’t bear to look at them in case we never got to use them.”
Nursing her 11-week-old daughter Charlotte, Michelle told the Belfast Telegraph: “I didn’t know I could love anyone as much as I love her. She is just perfect.
“Sometimes, I still can’t believe she is mine.
“I never thought I’d have a happy ending, but I know not everybody has one.
“I think miscarriage remains a taboo subject, and it’s important to speak out and end the stigma because one in four women experience it.”
Michelle had her first miscarriage in August 2018: “I was over the moon to be pregnant. I was mulling over baby names. The idea that anything awful would happen didn’t enter my head. I thought I’d sail through it all.
“I’d a very small bleed at seven weeks. I went for a private scan. There was a heart beat and the sonographer said everything was okay. I still have the picture.
“A few weeks later, I started to miscarry. There was a lot of blood. It took me a long time to miscarry. It lasted several weeks.
“Nobody ever tells you that. It was very tough.”
Michelle’s second miscarriage was in May 2019 when she was standing for the first time in the council elections: “I hadn’t been worried about the pregnancy. I’d done my research and knew that having one miscarriage doesn’t mean you will have another.
“I was quite confident. It felt lovely carrying a baby inside me while I was out canvassing.
“On the eve of the election, I was 11 weeks pregnant when I found blood as I went to the loo. There wasn’t much, but I knew it was all over.
“I had to get up the next morning and go and stand outside polling stations. I look at photos of myself from that day and don’t know how I got through it.”
The next day, Michelle went to the City Hall count where she was elected.
“What should have been a time of happiness was one of despair. I’d have swapped my election win a million times over to have kept my baby,” she said.
“Nobody but my partner Liam had known I was pregnant so I couldn’t even share what was happening with anyone.
“The whole practice of keeping a pregnancy secret until after 12 weeks means you have no support when it goes wrong.
“The second miscarriage was physically worse than the first because it was like having a period for two months.”
The Alliance councillor had a positive third pregnancy test in October 2019.
“I started to bleed the same night. I was hosting a baby loss awareness week in City Hall when I began miscarrying,” she said.
“I gave up that evening. I thought ‘This just isn’t going to happen for me’. I didn’t go for medical tests or investigations to find out why I was miscarrying. I just made my peace with it and accepted I was never going to have a baby,” she said.
Michelle became pregnant for the fourth time last August: “There was no excitement at all. Every time I went to the loo, I expected to find blood.
“I had a panic attack when I went to the hospital for my 12-week scan.
“My blood pressure was so high they considered admitting me. That was a feature of all my scans and check-ups. I was full of fear at every appointment.”
Michelle and her partner had chosen names during the first two pregnancies. “We had decided on Charlie for a boy, and Rosie for a girl. We didn’t do that this time,” she said.
“Again, I told nobody I was pregnant. I was scared I’d jinx it. I was starting to show but I kept saying ‘I’ll just wait a wee bit longer’.
“Lockdown suited me as it meant I wasn’t seeing people.”
Michelle said the consultants and midwives at Belfast’s Royal Jubilee Hospital couldn’t have been more wonderful.
“I got extra scans because I was paranoid. I’d see my baby move and that would alleviate my fears. Then when I was home, there’d be a day I wouldn’t feel her move.
“That would send me into a panic and I’d frantically phone the midwives. They were hugely understanding,” she said.
Fears that Michelle would develop pre-eclampsia meant she was brought into hospital and induced at 39 weeks.
“It took 72 hours to send me into labour. Things were progressing well until her heart rate started to rapidly accelerate. It was like a scene from ‘Casualty’.
“Doctors rushed in and I was told that she wouldn’t make it unless they did an emergency Caesarean section.
“I was extremely distressed. The consultant held my hand and said ‘We’re not going to lose her’. We’d picked a wee purple hat earlier for her to wear and the two amazing midwives, Anne and Chloe, said to me as I went into theatre ‘It’ll be okay. She’s going to wear that hat.’”
Charlotte was safely delivered on Sunday April 18, but the trauma was far from over for her mother.
“At birth, she had an infection so she was put on antibiotics,” Michelle said.
“On the Monday morning, they did more tests. I knew from the doctor’s face there was something wrong. Her infection markers had risen from five to 40 — which is a level for concern — and then to over 100.
“There was talk of meningitis and sepsis. I was petrified. She was taken away from me and put in an incubator in the high dependency unit for two days. It was a horrendous experience, it seemed like forever.”
Thankfully, Charlotte responded to treatment and, three days later, her mother was able to bring her home.
“I’ve never experienced happiness like this in my entire life. She is an absolute dote. I watch in awe as she discovers her arms and legs and the world around her,” Michelle said.
“My heart melts when she hugs Mr Giraffe close. She smiles at everybody and everything.
“She tugs my hair with strength you’d never guess she possessed.
“I don’t mind in the slightest when she wakes in the night. I feed her and put on some 80s music. Then I hold her in my arms, and dance.”