A civil servant who was so determined to be a mom that she persevered despite losing 12 babies is now desperate for more women to join medical trials, after experimental medicine brought her the two sons she adores.
Now a proud mom to Aidan, four, and Sam, six months, following 14 pregnancies, Ellie Robson-Grice, 36, from Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne and Wear, had accepted she would never have children with her medical translator husband, Mike, 35.
But, after hearing about a medical trial, which involved injecting a protein into her stomach to try and make her uterus a more habitable place for pregnancy, Ellie – who suffered six miscarriages and a medical termination with her first partner, and a further five miscarriages with Mike – had Aidan, and joining a further trial led to the birth of Sam.
Aidan and Sam (PA REAL LIFE/COLLECT)
She said: “I had always really hoped to be a mum, but had it in the back of my mind that it would not happen. I don't know why I felt like that.
“I met my first partner at university and we started trying and had a number of losses in quite quick succession, after which I realized I was probably never going to be a mum.
“I actually had no problem getting pregnant. The first time I was using contraception and fell pregnant, but I would miscarry within a few weeks."
Ellie and Sam (PA REAL LIFE/COLLECT)
Ellie's first pregnancy with her former partner, who she does not wish to name, was in 2008 when she was 25.
“We were so happy, but eight weeks in I started to experience pain while on the bus home. I went to hospital and was told the baby had gone," she recalled. “It was heartbreaking and took us completely by surprise.
“After that, we had a succession of early pregnancy losses. Between 2008 and 2011 we lost six babies, in just a three-year period."
Two of her miscarriages happened before her 12 week scan. Then, in 2010, she made the heartbreaking decision to terminate a pregnancy after being told the baby had just a 10 percent chance of surviving to full term, and that if they survived outside the womb they would have significant abnormalities.
“It was the hardest and most harrowing decision I have ever made," she said.
Following a devastating fourth miscarriage in March 2011, doctors tested the tissue produced, but could not explain what was happening.
Sam (PA REAL LIFE/COLLECT)
Ellie said: “I couldn't understand what was happening. It felt like if you lose a baby before 12 weeks nobody really talks about it. You feel you have no-one to turn to.
“After that miscarriage I felt really determined that I wanted to have a baby. I fell pregnant again really quickly, within a month, and miscarried again straight after taking the pregnancy test. They called it a 'chemical pregnancy.'
“On each occasion, as soon as I got a positive pregnancy test, I couldn't help getting excited, but it was tinged with huge amounts of sadness."
Aidan (PA REAL LIFE/COLLECT)
Still determined to have a family, Ellie and her partner relocated to Newcastle from Manchester, to be close to her relatives in July 2011.
“We were still thinking, 'Let's give this a go,' and in October 2011 I fell pregnant again. But, again we suffered an early miscarriage and this was the one that really took its toll on me," she said.
“The others were all significant, but by this point I was absolutely certain that I would never be a mum. I felt like I could no longer continue to try. My relationship broke down and it felt like my whole world was falling apart, but with hindsight it was the best thing that ever happened."
In June 2012 Ellie met Mike through a mutual friend and they quickly became seriously involved.
“I told Mike straight away about my history and that I didn't think I'd be able to be a mum. He said to me it was not the be all and end all, but we could try if I felt strong enough," she said. “There was no pressure and it was a case of let's see what happens."
In December 2013, Ellie fell pregnant again and was cautiously optimistic when a scan at six weeks found a heartbeat, but she miscarried again at eight weeks. This was her seventh miscarriage and led to her being referred to an early pregnancy unit at Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary.
Ellie and Sam (PA REAL LIFE/COLLECT)
She said: “It was unbelievable. My body had gone into overdrive and I had all the pregnancy symptoms. I had no idea I had miscarried which is the cruel twist of it all. There was no explanation as to what was happening. They could find nothing genetic or chromosomal. It was just one of those things. There was no pattern.
“I was really struggling mentally. At the time I was working with social services and with families where there was a lot of neglect and it was hard to not be angry and difficult to stay impartial.
“I went to the doctor asking for a phased return to work and to be office-based and they said, 'God willing you will have a child.' I was thinking, 'What has God got to do with it? Am I unworthy of a child? Am I so bad?'"
Sam (PA REAL LIFE/COLLECT)
Ellie's eighth miscarriage came in March 2014 on her 31st birthday at five weeks, and her ninth in June, again at five weeks, and her 10th shortly after leading to the couple making enquiries about adoption.
“Whenever I found out I was pregnant I felt numb. I wouldn't allow myself to feel anything," she explained.
After hearing through her consultant about a medical research trial, in July 2014 the couple decided to give it one more go, thinking that even if they could not have their baby, they might be able to help other couples by taking part.
Have you ever wondered how you can take part in a Tommy's research trial? It's as simple as one, two, three click… https://t.co/T0jNg8Bomv— Tommy's (@Tommy's)1525784408.0
Ellie enrolled in a multi-site Response study overseen by stillbirth and pregnancy loss charity Tommy's and was part of a double blind placebo-controlled trial, where she had to inject a protein similar to that found in the uterus called NT 100 or a placebo, a dummy drug, and would not know which she was taking.
The aim was to see if injecting the drug would help make a more habitable environment for the fetus.
In August 2014 she found out she was pregnant and for the next nine weeks, under close watch from an “amazing" research midwife Victoria Murtha, she had to inject her stomach every day.
Mike with Aidan and Sam (PA REAL LIFE/COLLECT)
“We got to our six-week scan, then the eighth, 10th and 12 weeks then the 16 week and 20 week," Ellie explained. “There was such an overwhelming sense of relief with each scan that passed. We were renovating the house at the time and had got to the nursery but still couldn't bring ourselves to do it.
“When we got to around 26 weeks, I realized I was actually going to have a baby. But I still couldn't bring myself to buy any baby books or think about the actualities of it."
At 37 weeks Ellie was induced after her 36 week scan showed Aidan had stopped growing.
He was born at 10:14am on May 11 at Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary weighing exactly 6lb.
“It was the most magical moment when he was handed to us. Everybody had a tear in their eye, as they really appreciated the journey we had been on," Ellie explained. “It was completely surreal holding him. The first time I remember kissing his feet and hands. I couldn't stop crying. He was perfect."
Although there were signs, like Ellie's white blood cell count going up, the pair have no idea whether they were part of the test group or control group, and whether the drug helped or they were just lucky.
Mike with Aidan and Sam (PA REAL LIFE/COLLECT)
Having married in July 2017, they wanted to try for a brother or sister for Aidan, sadly losing another two pregnancies in the process.
Then they contacted Professor Siobhan Quenby, an obstetrician at Tommy's National Centre for Miscarriage Research and met her in December 2017.
Although the tests came back clear and they left without a diagnosis, their experience had been so positive that they volunteered to take part in a research project with Tommy's, to help other women suffering miscarriages.
Ellie pregnant with Sam (PA REAL LIFE/COLLECT)
Meeting with Debbie Bullen and Dr. Laurentiu Craciunas in Tommy's Research Centre in Birmingham, Ellie had an immune system biopsy and endometrial scratch – a procedure to disrupt the endometrium which can increase the chance of an embryo implanting and causing pregnancy.
It was part of a study aimed at identifying causes of miscarriage related to the lining of the womb.
“Because it would have increased our chances, Mike and I decided to give it one last shot and that would be it," said Ellie. “Again we do not know for sure, but it is likely the procedure itself was a determining factor in getting pregnant with Sam."
To their delight, Sam – like Aidan, known as a 'rainbow baby' as he entered the world after a miscarriage – was born on February 7 weighing a healthy 6lb 7oz.
“We were so happy. A lot of the anxiety I had after Aidan was born has passed," said Ellie. “I appreciate every single moment with my boys and I know I'm not having any more children. In my heart I would love more and to experience pregnancy without anxiety, but I know I can't.
“We have our family now. Aidan is the most amazing big brother and Sam's face lights up as soon as he sees him. We're just in a really happy place with our rainbow babies."
Now she is keen to raise awareness of the importance of taking part in research trials, as part of Tommy's and the Wellcome Trust's Tell Me Why Campaign, calling for more research into the causes of miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth, highlighting that 71 percent of women never find out why they miscarried.
She explained: “I want to let other potential parents know not to dismiss research projects.
“It can be demanding and invasive having injections and biopsies, but it is nothing compared to the pain of losing pregnancies."
She concluded: “People come up with really weird explanations for why it might have happened, like you were putting your washing out and had your hands above your head, or you are incapable of carrying boys, you bought a baby grow and tempted fate. All of which are nonsense.
“I know taking part in trials won't have the same outcome for everyone, but somehow it worked for us.
“It also takes the research one step further to help find out why and to stop miscarriage from happening. Without people participating in the research we will never find answers."
Ellie and Mike with Aidan and Sam (PA REAL LIFE/COLLECT)
A spokeswoman for Tommy's said: “A shocking 71 percent of parents are not told why their baby has died in pregnancy or has been born prematurely. In many cases, doctors simply do not know why it's happening.
“Without a medical reason, parents, particularly women, blame themselves. Not knowing why leaves them feeling alone, powerless and full of worry for future pregnancies.
“Parents deserve to know why it happened. Only then can it be prevented in the future."
For more information visit www.tommys.org/why