A delighted mom is celebrating life with a new baby and shared how she triumphed over tragedy, following the terrifying discovery that her previous pregnancy was in fact a tumor.
Discovering she was pregnant again just three months after finishing grueling chemotherapy, Victoria Johnston, talked about the emotional minefield she and her husband Marc navigated as they journeyed towards their new baby Imogen's birth.
Victoria, Kaitlin and Marc (SSAFA/PA Real Life)
A first time molar gestation happens in one in every 600 pregnancies, but that rises to one in every 80 for women who have been through it before, according to the NHS.
Johnston first believed she was expecting, before discovering it was molar. It was a roller-coaster of emotions.
“It's something you can't quite describe," Johnston said.
Marc, Kaitlin and Victoria (SSAFA/PA Real Life)
“I went from thinking I was pregnant, to losing what was never going to be a baby, to being told I had cancer and worrying I might not see Kaitlin grow up," she said.
"Then I was pregnant again, but fearing it would be molar and, finally, had the joy of meeting my perfect baby girl."
When Johnston first thought she was expecting her second child, she and Marc were thrilled.
She even bought Kaitlin, her older daughter, a t-shirt saying, "I'm going to be a big sister," and planned to share the news with friends using a picture of her wearing it alongside the baby scan.
But, comparing it to her pregnancy with Kaitlin, something felt wrong. She was plagued with particularly violent morning sickness and her bump seemed to be growing at a faster rate than it had before.
“For the first five weeks after the pregnancy test something didn't feel right. It's hard to explain, but I just didn't feel pregnant," she recalled.
Casey, Victoria, Kaitlin and Marc (PA Real Life/Collect)
“My mum insisted that all of my unusual symptoms were because this time around it was a boy and that it was normal to have a bigger bump, but I was 10 weeks pregnant and looked more like I was 17 weeks," she added.
Then, in October 2018, a 12-week scan at Dorset County Hospital showed it was in fact a tumor.
“It all seemed fine at first, then I was asked more and more questions," Johnston said.
Victoria and Marc on their wedding day (Philip Cooper Photography/PA Real Life)
“The lady doing the scan told me she couldn't see anything and went to ask a colleague for help," she continued.
“When I saw the scan, what was supposed to be the baby looked almost like a bunch of grapes."
“That's when they took me into a separate room and explained to me that they suspected I was having a molar pregnancy and that it could be cancerous, although this was rare."
Victoria, Kaitlin and Marc (PA Real Life/Collect)
A second devastating blow came a week later, when Johnston discovered her tumor was cancerous.
“We were warned in advance that it could lead to this, but it still took a while for it all to sink in," she explained.
“There was a story line in Coronation Street at the time about a girl, Sinead Tinker, who was diagnosed with cervical cancer. All I could think about was her saying how she never thought it would happen to her. In the story, she has since died."
On November 2018, Johnston had an operation at Dorset County Hospital to remove the abnormal cells before starting a six-week course of chemotherapy.
“I was so sick from the weight loss it caused, too," she recalled.
“Between finding out I was pregnant, to finishing that first bout of chemotherapy, I lost over three stone."
Imogen and Kaitlin (PA Real Life/Collect)
“The first couple of days after the chemo sessions were always hard, as I felt so tired, but at least I could start to do things towards the end of the week and the week after that," she said.
“Luckily, I didn't lose my hair. It did start to thin, but only people who knew me noticed. That's not to say it was easy. The agonizing back pain, dry mouth and nausea were still unbearable."
“Luckily, because of Marc, we had the help of the armed forces charity, SSAFA, who covered the costs for Kaitlin's childcare – it was a godsend," she continued.
Treatment was a success, and in March last year, Johnston, was told she would need regular blood tests for the next 10 years to make sure the cancer had not returned.
The couple feared they would not be able to conceive after chemo, but a month later they were told they could start trying for a baby.
Marc, Kaitlin and Victoria (PA Real Life/Collect)
“Marc has been a bit hesitant about starting a family so soon after treatment," she explained.
“But you never know what chemotherapy can do to your fertility and I thought we should see what happened. I thought, 'What will be will be.'"
And, just three months after finishing chemotherapy, Johnston received a call about her most recent blood tests, in which she was told doctors suspected she was pregnant.
A scan soon after confirmed that the couple were six weeks pregnant.
“I was pretty scared to say the least," she said. “After everything that had happened , I couldn't help but worry that the pregnancy would turn molar again."
Baby Imogen (PA Real Life/Collect)
When the pair reached 20 weeks, they were told that the possibility of a molar pregnancy occurring had passed and they could finally start planning for a future with baby number two.
“At seven weeks, we saw the heartbeat, but it wasn't until 20 weeks that we finally started to feel like we were really going to have a little sister or brother for Kaitlin," she said.
“Doctors told us there was no chance of the pregnancy turning molar after that point."
Kaitlin and Imogen (PA Real Life/Collect)
“We told Kaitlin, but we didn't get her a t-shirt this time. It sounds silly but we didn't want to jinx it or to tempt fate," she explained.
“Luckily she couldn't remember the molar pregnancy too much, as she was only one at the time."
“She didn't understand me being pregnant again that much right away, but by the time of the birth she couldn't wait to be a big sister."
Victoria, Casey and Marc (Philip Cooper Photography/PA Real Life)
“A month before Imogen arrived we decorated the nursery and Kaitlin couldn't wait to put the baby in there," Johnston added.
Following a smooth pregnancy, she was due to give birth on February 3. But, with no sign of the baby wanting to arrive, on February 23 she was induced at Dorset County Hospital. Giving birth to baby Imogen.
Johnston admits it “did not feel real," for the first few weeks, but they all soon settled into family life.
“It was the perfect birth really, apart from Imogen not wanting to leave my womb," she said.
“When she came out she was just the most brilliant, healthy little thing."
Kaitlin, Victoria and Marc (SSAFA/PA Real Life)
“It didn't feel real to start with," she said. “After having such a tough year it was hard to embrace being happy."
“But now it's great finally seeing Kaitlin play the role of big sister and she loves everything about it."
Baby Imogen (PA Real Life/Collect)
“She loves changing her, feeding her and cuddling her – it's like having an extra pair of hands. She'll get everything all prepped beforehand," Johnston added.
“If we'd had our baby and it hadn't been a molar pregnancy, we wouldn't have Imogen with us now."
“So, while it sounds odd, it really feels like everything has worked out the way it should have."