As glided serenely Jen could towards her Al, no one was guess the tragedy she hiding from the guests
Agony beneath my gown
The to-do list of a brideto-be sat in front of me. Venue, menu, dress and guests. Flowers and cars, a party into the small hours…
I ticked them off one by one. There was the cake-baking. Tick. Speech-making.
Tick. Baby-making – the most important one.
I didn’t want to hang around, you see. I was
35, 10 years older than my fiancé, Al Ferguson.
And, though I had Louis, eight, from a previous relationship, and Al was divorced with a one-year-old daughter, we wanted a baby of our own.
Me and Al had met when he was a freshly minted teacher, joining the primary school where I’d taught for a decade.
Over the following year of timetables, school trips and parents’ evenings, we’d grown closer, become best work friends, then more…
Six months on, he’d pushed a ring on to my finger. The huge diamond in the middle was surrounded by other diamonds, and yet more gems winked from the band.
Now, family planning and wedding-planning filled my head.
I chose the Salomons Estate, a country house in Tunbridge Wells, for our reception.
They had a cancellation for three months away.
‘We’ll take it,’ I said.
It was in the middle of the school summer holidays, which, as teachers, we needed!
I decided Louis would be the ring bearer and Al’s daughter, Isla, would be a flower girl.
Louis and my dad, Keith, 60, would give me away.
My bridesmaids would be my younger sister, Katie, 33, best friend, Sian, 36, my uni friend, Carla, 35, and Stacy, 24, who I used to babysit for.
They’d wear pale pink dresses. I’d be in a fitted, strapless floorlength lace gown with a fishtail and a sweetheart neckline.
With six weeks to go, I sat with pen poised over invitations when a thought flashed into my brain. My period was late! Could it be? Anticipation stopped me from sleeping that night, so I woke Al at 2am.
‘I want to know for sure right now,’ I said.
I climbed out of bed and took the test. I showed it to him.
We both broke into delighted grins. The guest list had just grown by one!
But, a couple of weeks later, I noticed spots of blood when I was in the shower.
Al quickly went on Google. ‘It can be perfectly normal in pregnancy,’ he said calmly, trying to reassure me.
But I was anxious. This hadn’t happened when I was pregnant with Louis.
The GP referred me for a scan at Pembury Hospital’s early pregnancy unit.
‘It’s too early,’ said the sonographer. ‘Come back next week.’
So, still scared, I returned the next week… to be told the same thing. However, the bleeding stopped and my anxiety lessened. Only for it to start again. A feeling of dread engulfed me. By now, I was walking around with my hand cupped protectively around my tummy.
At the next appointment, I was 11 weeks gone. The sonographer turned to me with a sombre face.
‘I can’t find a heartbeat,’ she said gently.
I clasped Al’s hand. Stunned, we listened as she told us a miscarriage was 99 per cent certain.
I had two options: let the miscarriage take its natural course, or have a surgical procedure to remove the remaining pregnancy tissue.
My heart was broken. I fixed on that one per cent. A miracle, that’s what I was asking for. In a daze, I chose to let nature take its course.
To pray for a chance…
I wasn’t thinking of the wedding, just one week away.
I was thinking of my baby. I still had a bump.
‘How is my tummy still growing if I’m miscarrying?’ I asked Al, bewildered. And I still had morning sickness, too.
How could I be going to lose the baby if I still had all the symptoms of pregnancy? Heartbroken, I clung to hope. I asked myself, should we cancel the wedding? But in the fug of sadness, I was determined about one thing. I desperately wanted to be married to Al.
‘I want to go ahead with it,’ I whispered.
Was I thinking straight? Cramps racked my bump and I continued to lose blood. I told my mum, Carole, 62, my sister and the bridesmaids what was happening.
As the morning of my wedding day dawned on 31 August, 2013, pain coursed through my tummy, worse than ever. I began to bleed heavily. I turned to Al.
Both crying, we made our vows
‘It’s happening today… on our wedding day,’ I said in a small voice.
‘But I’m determined to get married,’ I added firmly.
He hugged me sadly, put on his wedding suit and set off.
I struggled into my beautiful gown. I still had a little bump.
But I was losing blood. What if it seeped through on to my gorgeous white wedding dress?
Worried the pain would show, I swallowed a couple of painkillers to try to stop the cramps searing through my tummy.
Then, fixing a smile on my face, I stepped into the Aston Martin that was taking us to the ceremony.
The blue sky overhead was glorious. This should have been one of the happiest days of my life, but instead I ached with sadness.
I barely registered the rose petals strewn along the path for our outdoor nuptials.
Dimly, trying to focus, I spied Al’s worried face waiting for me. I willed myself to walk towards him and we stood side by side. Crying softly, we made our vows to each other.
We were locked in a private tragedy, and our 100 guests couldn’t even guess.
After the ceremony, we had afternoon tea with them and an evening BBQ.
I kept my face fixed in
a smile for the camera and tried to focus solely on my lovely new husband and our happiness at being together. But I was constantly checking to make sure there was no blood on my dress. And my mask must have slipped, as I found myself standing alone at one point. As I clutched my tummy, my sister, Katie, appeared by my side. ‘Come on,’ she soothed me. ‘Be here.’
In the moment, she meant. This moment wouldn’t come again… ‘I’m doing my best,’ I replied. But by 10pm I felt worse and whispered to Al, ‘I want to go.’
At our hotel, Al helped me out of my dress.
The first night of our married life I spent in agony, being sick and miscarrying our baby.
Days later, it was all over, and I felt so desolate.
There was only one remedy for the sadness, so we kept trying.
Three months after the wedding I was pregnant again.
I was elated but, equally, fearful. What if the same thing happened again?
This time, I couldn’t bring myself to look at our baby during my scans. But the 12-week scan came and went, and no blood spotted my underwear.
Yet I didn’t stop feeling scared until I was carrying home a beautiful, healthy newborn son.
Teddy arrived in August 2014, a thriving 7lb 8oz.
We wanted a sibling close to his age, so, just one month later, we started trying again.
From time to time, I opened up our wedding album.
I felt sad as I flicked over the pages, seeing that tight smile on the day that betrayed my pain.
‘I wish we could do it again,’ I sighed to Al.
‘We will,’ he answered. ‘We’ll renew our vows.’
So, on an impulse, I bought a dress similar to, but shorter than, my first wedding gown. I hung it in the wardrobe to be ready for the happy day.
But then I fell pregnant. And sobbed as I miscarried at 12 weeks.
History was repeating itself. Another five times, I became pregnant over the next three years, and lost our baby each time…
I could never get beyond the 12-week scan.
So, as my 40th birthday approached last June, I was reminding myself how lucky
I was to have two beautiful sons.
I was determined to enjoy a day of celebration with my family. ‘Let me plan it,’ said Al.
He kept all the details secret, while I splashed out on a cobalt blue Karen Millen dress.
On the morning of my birthday, I unwrapped a necklace and a voucher for a spa from the boys.
Meanwhile, Al disappeared to the venue, wherever that was! The doorbell went. Baffled, I watched openmouthed as the girls who’d been my bridesmaids piled into the house… with a make-up person and a hairdresser.
‘You’re getting married!’ shrieked their voices in unison.
Yup, Al had organised another wedding for us, disguised as my big 4-0!
Heart pumping, I pulled out the white dress I’d chosen for renewing our vows from my wardrobe.
Outside, a car pulled up – the same Aston Martin that had taken me to my first wedding. Where was I going?
Soon the country house where we’d wed first time around came into view.
Tears pricked my eyes as we stopped outside and I was met by Louis and Teddy, dressed in grey morning suits. Beaming, I strode inside. ‘This isn’t a birthday party,’ Al was telling our guests. ‘It’s a wedding. We want to turn heart-breaking memories into precious memories.’
Five minutes later, we were renewing our vows.
I had to speak off the cuff because I hadn’t known to prepare, yet the words came easily.
‘I will love you till I’m old and grey,’ I told Al.
Later in the evening, we all went on to a Mexican restaurant to celebrate my birthday.
Now, when I look back on the photos, I see a bride finally bursting with happiness on her wedding day.
Me and Al have known such joy and such heartache, and we have two wedding albums to reflect it.
But one emotion ties them both, and that is love.
Me and Al with Teddy as a newborn Here’s our Teddy now, wearing his wedding finery!
I looked like any other bride, but inside I was broken This time, my wedding limo was driving me to happiness
Louis, Teddy and me: smiles all round!