Long and painful road puts Paul on course for a charity marathon

Losing a child is every parent’s worst nightmare. To lose four babies is unimaginable. Paul Woods tells Catherine Scott how he coped with such tragedy and why he is running the Marathon.

WHEN Paul Woods joins the 35,000 people pounding the streets of London on April 17, he will be remembering four special people. Every step of the marathon will bring back memories of his four children: Liam, stillborn at 24 weeks in 1989; Nathan, stillborn in October 1992 at 40 weeks; and twins, Nicola and Natalie, born in July 1993 at 28 weeks and who tragically died a month later.

“I still think about them even though it is quite a long time since they died,” says Paul, 47.

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Paul now has a healthy son Callum, four, whom he adores, but he constantly worries about him. “I have nightmares something has happened to him.”

Paul, from Rothwell, is running the Virgin London Marathon in aid of Sands (the stillbirth and neo-natal death charity).

“Thanks to Sands, my children are buried in a communal grave at Harehills Cemetery in Leeds.  Sands helped us so much at such a devastating time in our lives and I just hope I can raise as much money as possible for such a worthy cause.’

Paul admits that when he lost his babies he found it difficult to talk about how he felt.

“I know I bottled it all up,” says the personal fitness trainer. “But I am not the type of person to talk to a stranger about things like that. I know that it really helps some people and that is why Sands is very important, but they were also very good helping us with the practical things such as the funerals and burials.”

When Paul found out he was going to be a dad for the first time, he was overjoyed.

Everything was fine with his girlfriend Vicky’s pregnancy but then Liam was stillborn at just 24 weeks.

“It is really hard, but most of the time I was thinking about Vicky and how she was coping. ”

Not long after Liam’s death, Paul’s relationship with Vicky broke down. He then met and married Bev and adopted her two little girls by a previous relationship. In 1992, Bev became pregnant with Nathan, but just before he was due she was rushed to hospital. “Bev knew something was wrong and she went into hospital and was told that Nathan had died. She was sent home and told that nature would take its course. We couldn’t believe it. It was so terrible, we knew that she was still carrying our son, but was dead. Bev went into labour and gave birth to Nathan in Leeds General Infirmary the following day. “We had a proper funeral and burial,” explains Paul, a Catholic.

As the couple tried to come to terms with their loss and deal with their grief, Bev discovered she was pregnant with twins.

“We were so excited. I felt that it was God’s way of giving us something back,” says Paul.

“I wrapped Bev up in cotton wool. I couldn’t bear the thought that something might happen to these babies.”

But at 28 weeks Bev and Paul were told the twins were in trouble.

“They said we could wait, but one of the twins would die or we could have them both delivered immediately and they both might have a chance. It was a terrible decision, but we decided to give them both a chance.”

Nicola and Natalie were born weighing just over 1lb each at St James’s Hospital. They were put on a special oxygen machine to try to help them breathe. For a month, they fought bravely for life, watched constantly by their parents. But after four weeks Natalie lost her fight, followed a week later by her sister, Nicola.

“All that went through my head was that it was my fault. I had lost a baby with Vicky and now I had lost three with Bev, she had two healthy children when I met her so it had to be something to do with me.”

The couple had tests to see if there was some reason why they had lost three babies so late in pregnancy. “The doctors couldn’t find anything wrong. They just said we were unlucky. In some ways it might have helped to know there was some reason.”

Paul then feared he may lose Bev when she developed a blood clot. “The doctors said they didn’t know whether she would make it. All I could think was that I must have done something bad to be punished so much.” Bev made it through, but a year later the couple split up, although they remain good friends.

Paul admits he struggled emotionally. “When Bev was six months pregnant with the twins, I had lost my grandfather who brought me up. He really wanted to see me have a child.

“Then I lost the twins and then my grandmother died. I found it really difficult to cope. I bottled it all up and it made me really quite ill. I just couldn’t get my head round what had happened.”

When Paul met Callum’s mother a few years later, he was determined not to go though it all again. “I couldn’t face losing any more babies. I just didn’t know how I would cope.” But Paul changed his mind.

“When she became pregnant I was pleased, but terrified at the same time in case something happened to the baby.”

When Callum was born healthy, Paul was delighted, but he couldn’t control his fears and he admits that at first he struggled to bond with his much-longed for son. “He cried constantly. I immediately thought there was something wrong, but the doctors said he just had colic.” In the end, they called in a private nurse who stayed with them for five days.

“God sent us an angel,” says Paul. “She said we needed to see a specialist as she thought Callum had gastro oesophageal reflux, where the valve at the bottom of his oesophagus doesn’t work properly, allowing acid from the stomach back out.” A London specialist confirmed her diagnosis and Callum was given medicine to close the valve.

“He was like a different baby overnight.”

But Paul’s relationship with Callum’s mother broke down, in part due to his fears for his son.“I am constantly worried that something will happen to him. It broke my heart when we split after everything I had gone through.

“But I now see him twice a week and he means everything to me. I thought time had passed me by and I would never have children. But he brings so much joy. I would like people to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel no matter how bleak it may seem sometimes.”

Stillbirth and neonatal death

17 babies die every day in the UK (10 are stillbirths, seven are neonatal deaths) totalling almost 6,500 baby deaths a year

Ten times more babies are stillborn than die of cot death every year in the UK.

The stillbirth rate has remained almost unchanged in the UK for the past 10 years.

Stillbirth is when a baby is born dead after 24 completed weeks of a pregnancy

Neonatal death is when a baby is born alive but dies within the first 28 days of life

To find out more, visit: www.why17.org or www.uk-sands.org

To sponsor Paul in the Virgin London Marathon visit http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/paulwoods