Hi! I’m Claire. I’ll be 34 in a few weeks. I’m married to the love of my life, the most wonderful and kind man in the universe. I have no children. That last one is always a difficult sentence for me to put in words. I am, however, a mother. Let me explain.
I got married to my first husband when I was 26 years old. He was 17 years older than me. We struggled to conceive. We tried and tried and tried naturally for a year. Then we both took fertility supplements for a year. The following year, we moved from Namibia to South Africa, where my husband underwent a number of tests. Turns out he had a sperm count of 0.6%, and about 0.05% motility, as a result of an antibody disorder following the removal of a varicose vein on his testicle when he was in his thirties. His body attacked his own sperm, making it clump together, and made most of his little swimmers deformed. It took us three years to find that out.
Fast forward to 2012. My husband and I went to a fertility specialist in Cape Town, and eventually decided on undergoing IVF. I injected myself with hormones for almost 14 days, and after I finally gave myself that last enormous injection to make myself ovulate, the doctor harvested an even dozen eggs from my ovaries. It was not the most pleasant experience of my life, to put it mildly. But I craved motherhood. I’ve always wanted to be a mother. I wanted a big family with four beautiful children, running around and causing absolute chaos. I adore children. I was made to be called Mommy.
We were so lucky. Out of the 12 eggs the doctor harvested and fertilized, only three of them divided. I was devastated, funnily enough. I had envisioned freezing the others and having my big family one day. But three was a good number. On the morning of the implantation, they informed us that only two of the embryos were viable. Still, we were glad. We had two little embryos! The transfer of embryos was different from the harvesting of eggs. This time, I wasn’t given general anaesthetic – just a little local anaesthetic and something to dilate my cervix. The doctor used an ultrasound machine and I was actually able to see my two little babies being placed in their safe and cozy home in my womb. After a few days and a few blood tests, the results were finally confirmed: the embryos had implanted in the uterine lining and we were pregnant!
Seven weeks later, I went for my first scan. I couldn’t wait to see how my babies were growing. My sweet OBGYN, a wonderful man who passed away a little over a year ago, got to work at the ultrasound machine. His face fell a little, and I was alarmed. Had we lost our babies? Sadly, one of the babies had stopped developing at the embryonic stage. He or she had reabsorbed into my body, and all that was left was an empty amniotic sac on the ultrasound image. I don’t think I’ve ever really grieved that tiny little baby that I lost. I was too happy that I still had one beautiful one left, about 3cm long at that stage, moving around and flexing her little legs and arms.
At 40 weeks and 2 days, I went into labour. After 12 hours of unbearable pain, my baby wasn’t descending, and I still wasn’t fully dilated. My doctor decided it would be best if I had a caesarian. I was so relieved when they finally gave me the spinal block and I couldn’t feel the ongoing waves of pain ripping me apart. At 19h25 on 12/12/2012, I delivered a beautiful baby girl: Sofia Torras-Campbell, 4.34kg and 51cm. She was perfect. Ten little fingers and ten little toes, and a mop of thick black hair. When her baby hair started falling out and her real hair came in a few months later, she looked just like I did as a baby. Dark blonde curls, a cute button nose and the happiest smile.
My Sofia was a little mini-me. She was just as much of a tomboy as I was. When she started walking just after her first birthday, she was unstoppable. My little girl would go on great adventures, finding little stones to bring to me with as much ceremony as though she was handing me precious gems. Then she would go and hunt fearlessly for snails, wiping the slime all over her hands and grinning like an imp. She loved our dogs and all others, running towards anything with four legs and fur and giving the happy creatures great big hugs and kisses.
My marriage at the time was not a happy one. As a result, I began divorce proceedings late in 2014, just before Sofia turned a whopping two years old. Part of the divorce agreement was that Sofia would go to Tulbagh with her father to visit friends from 20-29 December 2014. They would be there for Christmas and he would leave his car there for his friends to sell. I would fetch them on the 29th and take him straight to the airport to go back to his home country of Spain, and Sofia and I would start our new life together.
As many of you know, life does not always go the way we plan. A short 8 days after Sofia’s 2nd birthday, Sofia and her father went to Tulbagh. They arrived at our friends’ farm and had a lovely lunch. Perhaps Sofia’s father had a few glasses of wine too many, as he was prone to do. Perhaps he was tired after a long drive. Perhaps he was upset because he only had a few days left with his daughter before he went back to Spain. I’ll never know.
In any case, that afternoon Sofia struggled to go down for her afternoon nap. Probably too much excitement, being away from home, with four gorgeous doggies to play with. Her father pushed her around until she fell asleep in her pram, something we always did when she couldn’t sleep. It always worked. Then he draped a blanket over the pram and went for a nap himself.
Our friends told Sofia’s dad to close the bedroom door. They reminded him when he said that he and Sofia were going for a nap. He didn’t. The guest wing was apart from the main house, alongside a courtyard with an enormous, deep fish pond down the middle of it. While Sofia’s father was asleep, Sofia woke up and slipped out the bottom of her pram, not moving the blanket that was draped over it. Her father woke up a bit later, saw that the blanket was still in place, and presumed she was still sleeping. He wanted to go back to the main house, and decided to take Sofia with him in case she woke up while he was gone.
Sofia’s father never lifted the blanket to check on his daughter. He pushed the empty pram out the bedroom, along the full length of the fish pond, and into the house. A few minutes later, our friend went outside to feed the prize koi she keeps in the pond. She began screaming. When Sofia’s father ran outside, thinking our friend was being attacked, he saw what she was screaming at. Sofia was floating in that fish pond. Face down, lifeless.
I was busy spring-cleaning when I got the call. It must have been around 17h00. I was scrubbing the stove and the extractor fan. I didn’t recognize the number when my cellphone rang – Sofia’s dad called from our friend’s phone. I couldn’t make out was he was saying at first, but I recognized his voice. He was frantic. Hysterical. Then I understood. He was saying “Sofia is dead! Sofia is dead!” over and over again.
For all the mommies who read this, you most likely went cold now, and thought of your little ones. I know, the thought of losing them feels like somebody punched you in the chest. That is exactly how it feels when somebody tells you your child is dead. I was all alone in my house. Nobody to comfort me. After screaming into the phone, I choked out an “I’ll be there as soon as I can” and I fell to the kitchen floor. My neighbour told me a few weeks later that she had never heard such heart-wrenching wailing. She and her husband were about to call the police when the house fell silent again.
I was in a daze. I called my mother, couldn’t get through to her. I called her partner, who I had yet to meet, and finally got through. I told her to call my brother. I called the wonderful man who I am now privileged to call my husband. He said he was on his way. I stumbled to the bedroom and pulled out a backpack to pack a few overnight things. The doorbell rang. My mother had called my brother’s girlfriend, as my brother was out on a field survey in the middle of nowhere, somewhere in the Northern Cape, I think.
My brother’s girlfriend and her father came in and tried to help me calm down. I led her into my room and told her I was packing. She gently helped me to put on the right boots, as I was tugging on a brown one next to a black one.
The next few hours were blurred, as my knight in shining armour came to fetch me and drive me to Ceres Hospital, where the paramedics had taken my Sofia. They were unable to resuscitate her. The autopsy report, which I made the grave mistake of demanding a copy of, stated that she was in the water for at least 20 minutes before my ex-husband pulled her out and started CPR. A year later, the doctor on call at the hospital contacted me. He said I should let him know if I ever had any questions. I told him that nobody had ever told me whether there was ever a sign of life, whether they had ever been able to resuscitate in the ambulance or at the hospital. He assured me that there was not. The doctor said that it would have been a quick death. She would have lost consciousness in 1-3 minutes, and it would have been painless after that.
Walking into that hospital room was dreadful. My baby girl was lying under a blue hospital sheet, with a multitude of tubes down her throat from where they had tried to bring her back to life. I asked the nurses if they could take out the tubes so I could hold my little girl and kiss her, but they couldn’t. The tubes have to be in for the autopsy, you see. I could only sit next to her, kiss her face, hold her tiny, cold hand. She was only two years and eight days old.
Two or three days later, my ex-husband and I had to officially identify Sofia’s body at the morgue. Out of everything, that was the worst for me. Not the moment I heard she died. Not when I saw her lifeless body in the hospital. But when we were led into a tiny building outside the Wolseley police station, raw cement cinder block walls and a tin roof. Sitting on plastic government chairs behind a large glass window, we had to watch as they wheeled in a steel gurney through another door behind the window. We weren’t allowed to go in and touch Sofia. We only had to look. And give an affirmative answer to the constable that it was indeed the body of our daughter. She was lying under a grey blanket, similar to the ones you see at the SPCA. Still with all the tubes down her throat. At that point, I wanted to die.
Sofia’s memorial service was beautiful. We had no flowers, except on her tiny white coffin. The mommies from my mommy group brought beautiful pink and white balloons instead, filled with helium. We released them into the sky after the service. It was as perfect as a child’s memorial service can be.
Three months after Sofia’s memorial service, my knight in shining armour and I were in love. He was my rock, through Sofia’s death, through my divorce, through all the crazy-ladyness that followed. I was a broken woman, and he fixed me. I had grieved for three months, started a charity to raise money (Starfish for Sofia) to send underprivileged children to swimming lessons to prevent drowning.
I decided that one day, I would like to have another baby. I had a contraceptive implant in my arm and wanted it out. The OBGYN who delivered Sofia discussed it with me (he said that a new baby was the best medicine for a grieving mother) and removed it. He assured me it would be three to six months before I could conceive again. That suited me perfectly, as I wasn’t ready to be pregnant so soon.
Two months later, I had a meeting with one of my connections for the charity, the owner of a gorgeous salon and spa. She was planning a special day at her salon and wanted to use it as an opportunity to raise funds for my charity. I woke up that morning feeling a little ill. I had stomach cramps and alternating hot and cold flushes. I thought I was coming down with a bug, but had already postponed the meeting and decided to work through it.
The meeting went well, and the salon owner is a wonderful, kind lady. Afterwards, I felt comfortable enough to tell her I felt unwell, and asked if I could lie down on her couch for a while until I was ready to drive. She was so sweet, she even gave me biscuits because I skipped breakfast and she though my blood sugar might be low. I called a friend and asked her to fetch me because the pain was becoming worse. By the time she arrived, I was in and out of consciousness and barely lucid, so she called an ambulance.
The paramedics saved my life that day, by pumping me full of fluids. They rushed me to hospital, where an inept intern kept asking me how far along I was. My abdomen was quite distended. I told them I wasn’t pregnant. In fact, I was still spotting because of withdrawal bleeding from the contraceptive implant. They made me lift my hips and pushed a basin under it, telling me to urinate so they could do a pregnancy test. The pain in my abdomen was so awful that I couldn’t, no matter how hard I pushed.
The ER intern said I couldn’t see a gynaecologist because he was seeing private patients until four o’clock. Eventually, they placed a catheter to test my urine. I wasn’t conscious for much of it, but it could have been about two hours on that bed. The intern came back, telling me I was pregnant. They thought I might be having a miscarriage.
My knight in shining armour arrived at the ER. I will never forget his face when I told him I was pregnant. He was elated. Thirty seconds later, when he heard I might be miscarrying, his face fell. He was concerned, disappointed, sad. Finally, the intern informed us that the gynaecologist could see us. I was moved from the bed to the wheelchair. I remember my foot dragging along the floor as my knight in shining armour wheeled me along a maze of corridors and up a number of elevators before arriving at the gynae’s practice. I felt like I was slipping away.
Then, the pain. The terrible pain. The gynae and my knight wrestled me from the wheelchair and onto the consultation table. I thought they were pulling my insides out through my stomach. The gynae put the ultrasound wand to my stomach. I remember thinking how ironic it was. He told my knight he would be back and not to move me, then left the room. Shortly afterward, he returned with his partner, another gynae. They looking at the ultrasound and conversed in quiet tones. I heard “a mess” and “operate”, “immediately”, and, most frightening, “won’t survive surgery now”, then “resuscitation”. I was terrified.
They wrestled me off the bed and I think I lost consciousness. I arrived at the ICU, I think. I woke up and they told me I had an ectopic pregnancy and my fallopian tube had burst. I was bleeding out at a frightening rate. The surgery couldn’t be performed because I had lost too much blood and I wouldn’t survive the trauma. They had to resuscitate me, I was too far gone.
I remember glimpses of the resuscitation. I remember the heated blanket over me, the needles, the fluids. Most of all, I remember going into a lovely, warm, golden light. I am sure it was the entrance of heaven. I stayed in that place for a while. But then, I decided I wasn’t ready. I didn’t want to die. Despite everything, I still had a lot of living to do. I fought. I fought hard. And I regained consciousness. The doctors said I was ready for surgery.
When my knight in shining armour met me on my way to theatre, I didn’t say, “I’ll see you soon”. I said, “Goodbye”. I wasn’t sure if I would make it out of this one. He told me, “It’s not goodbye. I’ll see you very soon.” That was my motivation. That made me want to live. The surgeon told me later that I had been about 10 weeks pregnant and I had lost about two and a half litres of blood. He said that I was very lucky to have survived it.
At this point, I was at three babies in heaven. I wondered if my family of four children would all be in heaven. I married my knight in shining armour just over a year after my Sofia died. By this point, we really wanted to start a family. I have a beautiful, perfect, kind, smart, loving stepson who is six years old now. He had just started Grade 1. Nevertheless, I still wanted a living baby of my own.
So, in March last year, we were very excited when I was two days late. I did a pregnancy test and it was positive. We were overjoyed! In a normal, healthy woman, the chances of conception around ovulation are around 50%. With me having one fallopian tube, you can imagine this is much less with me. This was finally my chance to become a mommy again! We did the whole rigmarole with numerous over-the-counter tests. And, because I had a prior ectopic pregnancy, I had to go for a whole bunch of blood tests to make sure the other fallopian tube wasn’t narrowed and also causing an ectopic. The first blood tests were good, considering it was only about five days after I was late. Then, what I considered the inevitable happened. A few days later, the nurse at the doctor’s practice told me the blood tests showed that my HcG levels had dropped. A few days later, I miscarried. It was terrible. I was devastated. Baby number four in heaven.
I have had many traumas in my life. The worst was losing my Sofia. But I never stopped going, never stopped believing. In the Bible, the book of Job tells us of a man who endured much suffering. Job lost all of his possessions, he lost his wealth. All of his children died when the house collapsed due to a storm. He lost his will to live. However, Job had faith in God. As do I. Job Chapter 42 Verse 10 tells us that God provided Job with all his fortunes after his suffering and prayer, and gave him double what he had before.
I have lost four children. I am in great debt and unemployed. But I have faith that God will give me the strength to make something of my life. After all that I have lost, I believe I can gain something out of my suffering. It has made me stronger, more open-minded, ready to tackle new things.
After all of this, I still feel that I am a mother. I may not have any children physically with me in this world, but I am a mother. I went through the labour pains, I have the stretch marks and scars to show for it. I have storage containers full of baby clothes and clingwrapped baby and toddler equipment. I have no child living with me, but I have a gorgeous little stepson. He loves me and I love him. I am not resentful of other mothers, I respect them and want to support them because they are doing an amazing job.
You, mommies, are doing an incredible job. You deal with the teething, the nappies, the sleepless nights. The first smiles, the happy belly-laughs, the first steps. The crawling, the climbing, the crying because of falling over or bumping into things. The drooling, the sibling rivalry, the prioritizing between having a shower and making your husband dinner. You are all incredible.
I love children. I relish every moment I can spend with them, because they remind me of my time with Sofia and bring back happy memories. Your children do not make me uncomfortable. They bring me great joy! They make me smile with their antics, they make me feel loved and wanted with their attention-seeking, they make me feel whole again.
Thank you, mommies. Thank you for letting me spend time with your precious little ones. Thank you for making me feel like a semi-mommy again.
Much love to you all xxx