Tuesday, 18 January, 2011
When she lost her son Jack to meningitis, just weeks before his second birthday, Jennifer Heneghan’s world fell apart.
She was a single mum and everything she did revolved around her little boy. But as she battled to cope with her grief at just 23, doctors dealt her another devastating blow – she would never be a mum again.
But despite being told she was infertile, Jennifer refused to give up on her dream of having another child.
And now, after years of trying and £54,000 spent on IVF treatment she has finally given birth to her longed-for baby.
Jennifer, 33, says: “I didn’t want to replace Jack. Nothing ever could. I simply wanted to be a mum again. To lose a child is unbearable; to then be told you can never have any more shatters you.
“I just couldn’t give up and thank goodness we didn’t. Now when people ask I say I have two sons.”
Jack was born when she was 21. Though she split with his dad shortly after the birth and life hadn’t turned out as she’d planned it, as a single mum at 21, Jennifer couldn’t have been happier.
“Jack was my world. I loved being a mummy and the two of us were joined at the hip,” she recalls.
But just a few weeks before his second birthday, Jack went off his food and became clingy and lethargic.
A worried Jennifer took him to the GP who prescribed antibiotics for a suspected infection.
But as the days passed Jack got worse and one night, with his temperature soaring, he seemed difficult to rouse.
Jennifer rushed him to Wexham Park Hospital in Slough, Berkshire, but was advised to take him home and continue with the medication.
Only hours later Jack’s eyes became glazed and he started gasping for breath.
Jennifer’s mum called an ambulance and he was rushed back to the hospital. “A crash team were waiting and whisked him straight off,” Jennifer remembers. “We were taken to the relatives’ room and that’s when I heard the ‘M’ word.”
She was told Jack had suffered a heart attack caused by meningitis. He was on life support.
“When the doctor told me to call Jack’s family, in my heart I knew he was never coming home. A piece of me died right then,” she says.
Just three hours later Jack’s fight was over. “I screamed in shock and broke down,” recalls Jennifer. “I don’t even remember the next few weeks. I should have been planning his second birthday, not his funeral.”
In time Jennifer moved on and fell in love with best friend Marie’s brother Kevin, a National Grid engineer.
“It helped that Kevin had known Jack,” says Jennifer. “I don’t think I could have been with someone who didn’t know him because he was such a big part of my life.”
The couple discussed kids and both agreed they wanted to try. “I didn’t want to replace Jack but I knew life would always be empty without children for me,” she says. “I wanted to be a mum and I knew Kevin would be an excellent dad.” The couple decided to get married the following summer but started trying for a baby straight away.
But the wedding came and went with no news so they decided to ask doctors for some advice.
And after being referred to hospital for tests, Jennifer’s dreams were about to be destroyed.
“The consultant explained that I had developed a condition that had fused my tubes together,” explains Jennifer. “I asked what they could do and he just shook his head and said nothing. I was infertile.” Jennifer was only 25.
“It took a few minutes for it to sink in. I was stunned. I’d got pregnant so easily with Jack it seemed impossible.Apparently now I had more chance of winning the lottery than having a baby.”
For Jennifer the pain of losing Jack came flooding back. He’d been her only chance at motherhood and she’d lost him. The couple asked to have her tubes flushed to remove the blockages but it failed.
“It looked like there really was no hope. But then Kevin suggested we cancel a holiday we were planning and put the money towards IVF instead,” she says.
But four painful attempts and £25,000 later, Jen, who manages a care home for adults with learning difficulties, was still not pregnant.
“It was like being on a rollercoaster,” she recalls. “One minute up, the next minute heartbroken at another failed attempt.”
And then to top it all off Jennifer developed Bell’s Palsy – a weakness of the facial muscles – which made her look like she’d had a stroke.
“The doctor said it could be stress-induced because of the worry of the IVF,” she says. “He advised me to start looking after myself and he was right. After four cycles in as many years everything had taken a back seat to IVF and we needed a break.”
For the next three years Jennifer and Kevin, now 35, focused on their relationship – enjoying holidays and time together without the pressure of treatment cycles. But the yearning for a baby got stronger.
So in 2008 the couplecontacted London’s Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre and signed up for another course.
Just three weeks later, Jennifer found out she was pregnant with twins.
But their joy was short-lived after Jennifer miscarried at six weeks.
“I told Kevin I wasn’t sure I could go through it all again,” she says. By this time Jennifer was 33 and the couple had already forked out a huge £40,000.
Over the eight years they had been trying to conceive, the couple spent all their money on IVF giving up holidays and even missing out on home improvements. They had taken out one loan of £4,000 early in the process.
But they agreed to have one last shot using the two frozen eggs they had left. And when they realised it would cost another £14,000 to have the eggs thawed and implanted they turned to Jen’s parents for the money.
It was their first frozen cycle and they were apprehensive, especially when one egg didn’t survive. But the other did and two weeks later, Jennifer was pregnant again.
For Jennifer, the whole pregnancy was fraught with worry. She was terrified the worst would happen again, especially when a blood clot developed in her womb.
But week after week, her regular scans showed their baby clinging on. At 14 weeks they found out it was a boy. Then at 34 weeks Jennifer went into early labour and had baby Tiernan. At just 5lb 10oz he was taken to baby care, but the next day she got to hold him. At 18 days he was allowed home.
And now he’s seven months old. “After what we went through it doesn’t matter what he cost because we feel like we have won the lottery,” Jennifer beams. “We never gave up on our dream and finally it came true. I can never thank Mum and Dad enough because the money they gave us bought us Tiernan.”
Jennifer thinks Tiernan is the image of his big brother Jack.
“People always used to tell me how Jack was cheeky but adorable at the same time – and Tiernan is the same,” she says. “The older he gets the more he looks like Jack with the same mousey hair and blue eyes.”
And while Jennifer admits being a mum in her 30s is much more tiring, she’s loving every minute.
“I don’t take anything for granted and I’m afraid to say he has me wrapped around his little finger.
“He’s the miracle I’ve waited years for and he’s here in my arms at last. When I’m cuddling him I look at his little face and know it was worth every minute of the pain and anguish of IVF.”
Needless to say the family had their best Christmas ever last month.
“There’s only one word to describe the presents piled under our tree – shameless!” she laughs.
“I never thought I’d be opening presents with a child again on Christmas Day. How could I not go over the top with him?
“It used to be a sombre day because it’s all about children and just reminded us what we couldn’t have. Now Tiernan is the best gift of all.”