Louise Warneford was just shy of 50 when she became a mum. For over 16 years she and her husband, Mark, tried for a baby only for their baby dreams to be shattered around the 14-week gestation mark.
Each pregnancy would end in miscarriage, a condition known as recurrent miscarriages.
Louise was ready to give up when a doctor made a discovery that changed her world and saw her become a mum at 48 years old.
It never got easier
Rewind to 1999 when Louise and Mark first got married. She was 32 years old and the couple decided straight away that they wanted a family. The couple, from Swindon, UK, started their journey with IVF. Mark had undergone a vasectomy during a previous relationship so the couple knew this was their best chance of falling pregnant.
Which they did. Over and over again. 18 confirmed pregnancy tests. 18 early ultrasounds confirming a heartbeat. 18 miscarriages.
With every pregnancy, Louise would be hopeful that this was the one, but yet she was too scared to ever take a pregnancy photo just in case it ended.
“I never allowed photos when I was pregnant because I assumed I would lose the baby and I didn’t want that sad memory,” Louise told TODAY Parents. “Each loss left me devastated. All my hopes, all my dreams… my whole world would just fall apart. It never got easier.”
Natural killer cells
After 18 failed attempts, Louise couldn’t bear the heartbreak anymore. They had spent $100,000 on IVF treatments over the years and it was time to stop. However, it was then that Louise met Dr. Hassan Shehata, an OBGYN in England.
He diagnosed her with elevated “natural killer” cells or NK cells. NK cells are part of the immune system and help the body fight infection. Shehata believes they can cause recurrent miscarriages.
“The NK cells think you’re carrying cancer or a virus and kill off the pregnancy,” Louise explained.
Dr Shehata treated Louise with a combination of steroids, baby aspirin and blood thinners. She then went through IVF one more time to discover she was pregnant.
Louise welcomed her son, William via c-section at 37 weeks. It was the first time she’d ever made it past the 14-week mark in a pregnancy. While the treatment did work on Louise, it is not always effective.
“For decades, doctors have been at a loss for ways to help women with multiple miscarriages and many of the treatments that focus on the immune system have left women still frustrated,” Dr Lora Shahine, director of the Center for Recurrent Pregnancy Loss at PNWF in Seattle, said.
“Scientific studies examining drastic immunosuppression treatment for women to prevent miscarriage have not proven beneficial, but women — and their doctors — desperate for an answer and an intervention, will often take the risks associated with these treatments.”
Don’t lose hope
Since welcoming her son, Louise has opened up about how incredibly grateful she is that she has William. She has written a book and often speaks out about her story to provide hope to those couples who may need it.
“When the surgeon handed him to me, I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe my luck,” a teary-eyed Louise explains in a video with 5 News.
To those who may be trying to conceive, she says, “You can do it. There is hope out there. I was one of the lucky ones.”