A woman who feared she may never have kids has two boys now thanks to a “miracle” stitch.
Susan Harper-Clarke, 41, suffered two heartbreaking miscarriages but gave birth to healthy Tom and Will because of a pioneering procedure.
She could keep her babies longer in the uterus because of a stitch higher in the cervix – given via the abdomen – instead of a traditional vaginal one.
The new technique available at three NHS centres may be rolled out nationally within two years and could save thousands of babies’ lives.
Susan’s success came after she enrolled on a trial of 100 woman, led by obstetrician Professor Andrew Shennan over 10 years at London’s St Thomas’ hospital.
Susan was devastated when she and husband Graeme lost her daughter, Emilia, after she went into labour at 19 weeks in April 2010.
The physiotherapist, from Teddington, South West London, recalled: “I came back from work and felt stomach cramps.
“My husband was stuck abroad so I had to go through labour without him, knowing Emilia was too premature to be saved.”
Tests later showed Susan had a weak cervix, where the neck of the womb begins to dilate and open too early in pregnancy – leading to miscarriage or premature birth.
In Susan’s case, the stitch acts as a barrier to hold a baby in the womb.
A vaginal stitch is more common as women can then often have a natural delivery.
Susan got pregnant again and had a cervical stitch 16 weeks into her pregnancy but heartache came when she went into early labour five weeks later with daughter Grace.
Recalling the April 2011 ordeal, she said: “I was told I could go home and wait for natural labour, knowing she was dying inside me, or have what they called an elective termination – though there was nothing elective about it.
“The latter felt like the lesser of two evils. I’m a positive person but losing two children before they even took a breath had a massive effect.
We feared I would never carry a child. My sister even offered to be my surrogate.”
“I couldn’t understand why this kept happening. I had no risk factors – I didn't smoke, I wasn’t overweight and I’d never had surgery to my cervix before.
“It was heartbreaking to lose my two babies, knowing that a little more time could have made all the difference and they could have been saved.”
Desperate for an alternative, Susan contacted Prof Shennan. That December she was expecting for a third time and was randomly selected to have the abdominal stitch.
She said: “Finding out about this trial gave us hope. Our sons are our little miracles and we owe their lives to St Thomas’, there’s no way I’d have had them without this stitch.”
The stitch is permanent so women are unable to have a vaginal birth and will need a caesarean. Tom was born via a c-section in July 2012.
She and Graeme were overjoyed when in 2014 she was pregnant again. Will arrived the following April.
Susan said Will, aged four, and Tom, seven, are “full of personality. They are mischievous, active and very loving.
“Without our two girls, my two boys wouldn’t be here. Thankfully our story has a happy ending.
I hope thousands of other families will soon be able to say the same.”
Prof Shennan said of the stitch: “Once more specialists know how to do it, the more women will be able to access it locally.
“Women who lose multiple babies, even after failed stitches will usually have successful pregnancies with an abdominal stitch.”
He said the findings may change the outcomes for the two per cent of pregnant women – around 1,000 every year.
He added: “We are so glad to be able to help these women in their desperate situation.”