…and the mother racked by guilt that she may have harmed the tiny child she now adores.
- Shannon Skinner, 20, and 24-year-old partner Anthony Hunt’s story caused media storm earlier this year
- Couple are showing off Amelia to the world for the first time
- May take years before doctors can say if abortion drugs Shannon was given to end pregnancy have caused any developmental damage
- She accidentally fell pregnant when her contraception failed just 4 months after traumatic birth of first daughter
By Helen Weathers, Published: 23 May 2014
At just three weeks old, Amelia Hunt looks absolutely perfect with her shock of silky, dark hair and long, delicate fingers.
Born by Caesarean section on May 1 weighing 7lb, she comfortably nestles into her mother Shannon Skinner’s arms for a bottle followed by a snooze.
‘I can’t stop cuddling her — I never want to put her down,’ says Shannon, 20, gently handing Amelia to her partner, head chef Anthony Hunt, 24, while older daughter Lacie, 14 months, plants kisses on her sister’s forehead.
‘Every time I look at her I think: “She really shouldn’t be here.” But now that she is, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
‘We call her our miracle baby because we just don’t know how she survived. She must have really wanted to be here.
‘Watching her sleep, I can’t bear to think of her not existing. For a long time I felt guilty, but now I just feel relief.’
As a young family group, they present an irresistible picture of domestic bliss, with euphoria pervading their Bristol flat which is heady with the scent of new life and baby lotion.
One can barely imagine that not so long ago they did not want this baby at all. The couple’s story caused a media storm earlier this year when it was revealed that their unborn child had miraculously survived an abortion.
And today, for the first time, Shannon and Anthony are showing Amelia off to the world and sharing their feelings about how her birth has impacted on their lives.
Besotted with their baby daughter, the memory of that turbulent time, when they didn’t want a second child, feels like a horrible stain that they can’t erase.
Nor are their anxieties over. Amelia may look perfect, but it could be four years before doctors will be able to say if the abortion drugs Shannon was given to end her pregnancy have caused any long-term developmental damage.
‘I want to believe that she is perfect, and my gut feeling is that she’s fine, which would be another miracle,’ says Shannon, ‘but even if there are problems we don’t yet know about, it won’t change our love for her.’
Amelia may be a much-wanted and loved baby now, but it causes her parents visible discomfort to admit it was a different story when Shannon accidentally fell pregnant nine months ago.
How, as they marvel at her new-born perfection surrounded by dancing pink “It’s A Girl!” helium balloons, will they ever be able to tell their daughter the truth?
‘I really don’t know what we’ll say,’ admits Anthony, tenderly straightening Amelia’s tiny denim dress.
‘It’s such a rare thing to have happened, but we hope when she is old enough she’ll understand.
‘What she needs to know is that she is loved and wanted. If we had the chance again we would do everything differently, but we thought we were doing the right thing at the time.’
Shannon hopes her daughter will understand how special she is, how her mother never really wanted an abortion in the first place and was only following medical advice, and how she wept tears of grief when she thought she had no choice.
‘I’ll always regret the abortion, but I’ll never regret having Amelia,’ says Shannon.
She accidentally fell pregnant when her contraception failed just four months after the traumatic birth of her first daughter, Lacie, which resulted in a third-degree tear and ruptured internal organs.
Advised by doctors that another pregnancy could pose a serious risk to her physical health, coming so soon after major repair surgery, Shannon felt she had no choice but to have an abortion.
‘After Lacie was born, I asked to be sterilised because her birth had been so traumatic. I was convinced I didn’t want any more children, but I was told I was too young to make that decision,’ says Shannon.
‘When I found out I was pregnant with Amelia, my first instinct was to keep her, but I kept thinking of Lacie and how unfair it would be on her if anything happened to me and she was left alone or I couldn’t look after her.’
Shannon was also suffering from post-natal depression, which had put intolerable strain on her four-year relationship with Anthony, and he had moved out of their flat to give them both breathing space.
When Shannon phoned him to break the news — two weeks after they’d split up — his stunned reaction was: ‘You can’t be! We were taking precautions.’
They both agreed it would be irresponsible to bring another child into the world in such circumstances, and their first priority had to be baby Lacie.
Shannon was almost eight weeks pregnant when she was booked in for a medical abortion (using pills as opposed to surgery) at a Marie Stopes clinic in Bristol, which carried out the procedure for the NHS.
As the young couple sat tearfully in the waiting room, they very nearly changed their minds at the 11th hour, with Anthony telling Shannon he would support her whatever she decided. ‘I wish now I’d just walked out. I was crying my eyes out, but thinking of leaving Lacie motherless made me go through with it,’ says Shannon.
‘Because I was only eight weeks gone, I told myself it wasn’t a baby yet and it would be like a miscarriage.’
Many women, like Shannon, choose a medical abortion because it is considered less invasive and distressing. It involves taking the drug mifepristone orally, which inhibits the hormone progesterone, essential for pregnancy.
This is followed by misoprostol, which can be taken on the same day or up to three days later, which causes the uterus to contract and expel the embryo.
At the clinic, Shannon was given the two drugs to take four hours apart. She was fitted with a contraceptive implant at the same time.
The regret Shannon felt as she bled for two days was nothing compared with the guilt that consumed her when an emergency scan three months later revealed that the abortion had failed.
Shannon, worried after feeling movements in her belly, had taken a home pregnancy test which proved positive.
‘I just bawled my eyes out because it was the last thing I was expecting,’ says Shannon, a former bar worker, who fell pregnant with Lacie at 17 despite being on the Pill.
‘I was out of my mind with worry that the abortion pills had affected the baby, but it wasn’t until I saw the 3D scan of my daughter on Christmas Eve that I fell in love with her. Once I’d seen her face, everything was different.’
Shannon had been warned by the clinic that medical abortions have a higher failure rate than surgical terminations — up to 14 in every 1,000, although some studies suggest it could be as high as 4 per cent.
A spokesperson for Marie Stopes International said: ‘Very occasionally, the medical abortion pill can fail. Cases like this are few and far between but, of course, that does not make the situation any less upsetting.’
Medical staff at Marie Stopes gave Shannon two pregnancy tests to use three and four weeks after the termination and told her to call them if she had any problems.
When the two tests showed positive, Shannon went to her GP, but she says a third test at the surgery was negative. Reassured, Shannon left, thinking the two previous results had been false positives caused by hormone fluctuations from the terminated pregnancy.
When the fourth home pregnancy test last December then showed positive, Shannon — by now back with Anthony — was convinced she’d fallen pregnant a third time, despite the contraceptive implant.
Referred for an emergency scan, and expecting to see just the beginnings of another new life, she was distraught to be told that the foetus she was carrying was the same baby she thought had been aborted.
So, 20 weeks pregnant, Shannon faced another impossible dilemma. Told by doctors that the abortion drugs created a higher risk of birth defects, including limb deformities, skull and central nervous system defects, she was advised to have a surgical abortion.
‘To see your daughter’s face and then be told you can still go through with an abortion . . . how can you?’ asks Shannon.
‘It would have involved going into labour and giving birth to a dead baby. I just knew I couldn’t go through that and then have nothing at the end of it.’
‘To survive the first abortion, my daughter obviously wanted to be here and I couldn’t go through with a surgical abortion. It didn’t matter to me if she was born healthy or not.’
Guilt and anxiety were Shannon and Anthony’s constant companions during the remainder of the pregnancy, which included 19 scans, severe anaemia, a uterine prolapse and several health scares.
At 25 weeks, Shannon spent a week in St Michael’s hospital in Bristol when she started bleeding and having contractions. Doctors feared she was going into premature labour.
Anthony says: ‘Shannon really needed me and the trauma brought us closer and made us more determined to face this together. At times, it felt like the hospital was our second home because we were there so often. Shannon was in constant pain, but they couldn’t tell us why.
‘At times we really thought we were going to lose Amelia. The doctors told us there was a risk of miscarriage or premature birth, but couldn’t say if the abortion drugs might be to blame or were a consequence of the injuries Shannon suffered during Lacie’s birth.
‘We knew from the scans that Amelia was physically perfect, with all her fingers and toes, but while the doctor said it was looking good in the womb, he couldn’t guarantee that everything would be fine after the birth. It was a very worrying time.’
At 35 weeks, Shannon was diagnosed with SPD (symphysis pubic dysfunction) causing severe pelvic pain and inflammation.
She was ordered to rest and not to lift anything heavy — no easy task when you live in a second-floor flat without a lift and have a lively baby who has just started toddling. ‘I was counting off the days because I was desperate for her to come out,’ says Shannon, who had an elective Caesarean on medical advice because labour could have caused the scar tissue from her previous surgery to rupture, causing a life-threatening haemorrhage.
‘I just wanted to see her and finally hold her in my arms.’
Anthony adds: ‘I was a bag of nerves and looked as white as a sheet the day of the Caesarean.
Then, at 10.46am they held up Amelia, who let out a huge cry, before taking her off to be checked over. I felt so emotional and relieved. I just knew everything was going to be all right.’
Shannon adds: ‘I cried with relief when the midwives held up Amelia and said she had the biggest mop of hair they’d ever seen on a newborn.
‘We just couldn’t stop staring at her in wonder, amazed that she was really here. It felt so strange, after all we’d been through.’
The first person Anthony texted with the good news was his mother Nicola, 45, who has been a tower of strength during the past few months, as has Shannon’s mother Amanda, 43.
Despite their apparent happiness and relief at the outcome, the reality of having two babies under the age of two is clearly already beginning to sink in.
Recovering from the Caesarean, Shannon is under strict orders not to lift anything heavier than Amelia, which means Lacie cries with frustration when her mum can’t pick her up.
‘A couple of days after we brought Amelia home, I was in tears because I couldn’t do anything. I felt completely useless, cooped up in the flat unable to put a wash on, vacuum the carpet or even lift the kettle,’ says Shannon.
‘I can’t drive and can’t carry two children and a double buggy up and down two flights of stairs. I am totally reliant on Anthony and his mum for help.’
As for their relationship, Shannon and Anthony say they are determined to bring up their children as a couple and are determined to avoid the bickering that led them to break up last year.
Anthony, however, has yet to move back into Shannon’s two-bedroom flat — paid for by the state — and is keeping his live-in accommodation at the restaurant where he works for £25,000 a year.
They are taking things slowly and hope to move to a ground-floor flat together when they are back on their feet after a tumultuous, stressful few months.
Already there have been a few squabbles over Anthony’s ‘freedom’, and Shannon admits she finds her domestic captivity frustrating.
Shannon, who’d gone back to work part-time when she discovered she was pregnant with Amelia, says: ‘I’d like us to get married but Anthony’s not quite ready yet.
‘We agree that we need each other and that the girls need us both. We know where we went wrong last time and are determined not to make the same mistakes again.’
Shannon is now booked in for a contraceptive implant to ensure she never has to face another unplanned pregnancy.
Meanwhile, she and Anthony can only pray the abortion has had no lasting effects on Amelia.
As Shannon says: ‘If it does turn out there is anything wrong with her, I will always regret going for that abortion.’