I was devastated when my husband, Mike, lost his battle with cancer – but could we still have the baby we’d always dreamed of?
By Kady Parke, 36, from Bristol
Watching her two-year-old son cradle her new baby daughter, Kady Parke knows she made the right decision – even if her husband isn’t there to share the moment with her.
Some people warned Kady that having a SECOND child from her husband’s frozen sperm would be too much to cope with but instinct told her Mike, who died in 2011, would have been thrilled.
Kady decided to fall pregnant again to give her son Charlie, two, who was conceived through NHS IVF treatment six months after Mike died, a sibling to rely on and care for in case anything ever happened to her.
Having made the decision to pay £12,000 for private IVF procedures using her army widow’s pension, she asked herself whether it was unfair to bring a second child into the world without a dad, and even faced thoughtless comments from strangers who expected her to buckle under the pressure.
But now Kady, 36, a specialist cardiac nurse from Paulton, Bristol, says that raising Isla, who was born on April 12th, feels like the most natural thing in the world.
She said: “Until even very late in the pregnancy, I was questioning my decision.
“Although Mike and I had talked about having a child before he died, having more than one child was never something which came up in discussion. Of course I can’t say for certain what his thoughts would be, but my heart tells me he’d be absolutely chuffed.
“Now two and a half weeks after the birth, I know it was the right decision. Looking at Isla, I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Kady’s life changed forever in August 2010 after she returned from holiday with her fiance Mike, a Major in the Royal Signals who had served in Iraq in 2008, to be told that he had terminal cancer in his chest and head.
She said: “Mike had complained of neck pain and then headaches. He had a melanoma removed a few years before we met, but since being given the all clear he’d largely put cancer out of his mind.
“Getting the news was devastating. Being able to bring the wedding forward and having a challenge to focus on helped. That was the kind of guy Mike was – he liked everything to be organised and charted out.
“We were so lucky that his mates from the regiment went out of their way to organise everything at short notice.
“Mike and I had talked about the issue of children before. He had previously said, in a casual way, that he didn’t want children. But as everything changed so quickly he made it clear that he wanted a family with me. And I wanted nothing more in the world.
“He said he’d like a daughter, so that he could act the tough, protective army dad. It was a vision which fitted him really well.”
The pair had a traditional military wedding, with Mike’s comrades providing a saber arch as they exited Bulford Garrison Church near Salisbury in October 2010.
Two months later they attended an IVF clinic where Mike’s sperm was frozen. By this time his treatment was taking a gruelling toll.
Kady said: “Mike had radiotherapy and chemotherapy and it was tough going. We eventually decided that we wouldn’t be able to cope with trying to get pregnant while everything was going on.
“I decided I would pick up the fertility treatment after Mike had gone. It was a heartbreaking decision to make, and I was nervous talking to him about it.
“But he put a smile on his face and said that would be absolutely fine – it was what we both wanted, and the thought of having a family still made him happy, even if we were facing the inevitable.”
Sadly Mike deteriorated and he was moved into a hospice, where he died aged 37 on May 1st 2011.
Kady said: “I told Mike I loved him. He was very weak and it took him a lot of effort to say it, but Mike managed to say he loved me too. He died just hours later.”
Facing her grief head-on, Kady, came to depend on the support of Mike’s mother Margaret, 69, his sister Dawn, 45, his brother Jason, 38, as well as her own mother Trudy, 60, and her sister Lorna, 37.
And soon she decided to honour Mike’s wishes and follow through on their plan to have children together.
She said: “I got a letter from the IVF clinic two months after Mike died informing us that we could start our treatment. Suddenly I had lots of questions.
“I didn’t know what to do at first, but then a friend asked me a simple question – did I want to have Mike’s baby or not?
“The answer, instinctively, without hesitation was ‘yes’.”
Little Charlie was born on June 10th 2012, with his father’s bright blue eyes.
Kady said: “Dawn was there the day that Charlie was born. The first thing she said was that he was the spitting image of his dad.”
Charlie, who arrived more than two weeks prematurely, became sickly with bronchiolitis shortly after he turned five months old, requiring harrowing hospital trips.
Kady said: “At one point Charlie was put on the same anti-reflux medication as Mike. Although bronchiolitis is perfectly common and Charlie wasn’t in any danger, it was a terrible reminder of the experience of going to hospital and losing Mike.
“At home Charlie was waking up five or six times a night and wouldn’t stop screaming, so I needed all my strength reserves.
“There were times when I was so angry Mike wasn’t there.”
Gladly, Charlie’s strength improved and he quickly developed into a strong, intelligent boy.
Rather than letting the challenging experience of raising Charlie put her off, Kady was surprised when her thoughts began turning to having another child using Mike’s sperm.
She said: “Mike and I had talked about having one child – but never two. So this was uncharted territory.
“After everything which had happened, I couldn’t stop thinking about what would happen to Charlie if something happened in the future. Would he be left on his own? It didn’t seem right that it was just me and him in the world. He needed a brother or sister with him too.
“I told Margaret that I was thinking about having another baby, and she was over the moon. She was right behind me from day one. She loves babies, and knew I was making the decision for the right reasons.
“Unfortunately other people were less positive. People I hardly knew at work looked at me sideways, and told me they were worried that I wouldn’t be able to cope.
“Of course, I could see why they would think that. Is two dogs, two kids and work too much to cope with when you’re missing your husband?
“But at the same time, there are thousands of families out there facing the same challenges. Military wives spend six months apart from their husbands at a time. They get through it.
“I knew I would cope. I can manage anything once I’m faced with it. I had the support of my family, Mike’s family, and some great neighbours. This was a decision I was making for Charlie, just as much as me.
“Of course I questioned my decision. Early on I woke up from a nightmare and truly realised for the first time that I would never see Mike again. It felt awful and scary.”
Then Charlie, who was beginning to talk, stunned Kady by asking where his daddy was.
Kady said: “Children pick up on so much – he must have been thinking about something I said to him.
“I told him his daddy was up with the stars. Later I asked myself whether it was evil to bring children into the world without a father figure – it’s an issue everyone seems to have an opinion on.
“Then, towards the end of my pregnancy, I asked a friend what I would do if the baby came along and I didn’t want it after all. What if I didn’t love it? What if I wasn’t able to cope? I expect these are things which all pregnant women ask themselves, whether they have a husband at their side or not.
“So up until very late in the pregnancy, I was questioning my decision.”
After £12,000 worth of treatment at the private Bath Fertility Clinic, Isla was born at the Royal United Hospital in Bath on April 12 weighing a healthy 9lb 3oz.
She said: “I’m lucky to have the financial means to support my family. Without Mike’s pension, I wouldn’t be able to cope. I certainly wouldn’t have had a second child unless I felt it was within my means.
“It’ll always be a question as to what Mike would think about his family. I think, like most men, he would have been stunned and maybe a bit panicked when he realised I was having a second child.
“But there’s no doubt in my mind – no question whatsoever – that Mike would have been absolutely delighted that Isla’s in the world. Just like her brother, she has the Parke features, and she’s got his clear blue eyes, too.
“I can look forward to the future with them in it now. It’s helping me move on from Mike’s death, even though they also mean that he’ll always be a part of me.”