Months after their 2013 wedding, Claudia Matthews and husband Benjamin, were delighted to discover they were expecting twins.
"We were scared it had happened so quickly – but what an amazing gift," says the 43-year-old from Solihull. "I’d always joked with Benjamin that I thought we’d have twins as there is a history of them in my family and I believed it would happen to me too.
"I remember the sheer look of panic on his face when we went for our scan and the lady asked me if we had twins in our family - because there were two heartbeats!
"Once he’d got his head around it, we were bursting with happiness and excitement and having had several scans we decided to tell the world after the 12-week milestone. It was a dream come true."
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But that Christmas, while 22 weeks and four days pregnant, Claudia began to experience severe and regular cramping. She and Benjamin, 42, went to the local hospital where she was examined. Thankfully, two tiny heartbeats were found so Claudia was given medication for her pain and kept in for observation.
"At no point was I told that I was in pre-term labour and Benjamin was even sent home," says Claudia. "I only knew something was really wrong when I went to the toilet in the early hours only to find that my precious babies were on their way.
"I was rushed into a private room, absolutely petrified and in complete disbelief, willing my babies to stay in longer. Benjamin arrived and we both shared the shock of being told that our boys would be arriving with a very small chance of survival. I felt numb, as though I was watching someone else’s life, not mine.
"My beautiful perfect boys Archie and Hugo were born alive and for a split second I thought they would make it as there was nothing wrong that I could see, they were just so tiny and fragile. We had some precious moments of cuddling and kissing them. They both held my fingers before they slipped away. These moments I am grateful for, although I can’t describe the sheer pain I felt – how could I have lost my twin boys? It must have been my fault, something I’d done, I’d failed them as a mother."
Claudia and Benjamin were allowed to take their babies home and they went straight to the funeral directors where they later held a farewell service. It was a hugely traumatic time. Claudia had to have a second placenta removal under anaesthetic after developing an infection. The emotional scars were deep. She could not sleep, had hysterical outbursts and could not process what had happened.
"Wherever I went I saw babies – babies everywhere," she says. "I even ran out of the supermarket once because I came face to face with a mother with twins in her trolley.
"My life would never be the same again, I would never be the same again, but I struggled on and wouldn’t let this break me – I vowed to carry on in memory of Archie and Hugo and their very short little lives."
Claudia is far from alone. Baby Loss Awareness Week commences on Saturday (9 Oct) which helps raise awareness of the heartbreak of stillbirth, miscarriage and neonatal death. Miscarriages (losing a baby before 24 weeks) are estimated to occur in one in eight pregnancies while around eight babies a day are stillborn in the UK.
It’s an important week for mothers like Claudia who feel the pain of losing their children every day. "When I first started talking about my journey, there were some people who didn’t agree with what I was doing but I think it’s so important to share stories like mine so other mums – and dads – feel less alone. You feel such a failure when you lose a pregnancy, and so much guilt that anything you can do to lessen that for others has to be helpful."
A year after the loss of her sons, Claudia became pregnant again, but understandably felt frightened and anxious. She tried hypnobirthing. "This helped me immensely with managing my anxiety and helping me to think positively," she says. "Our little boy Maddox arrived three weeks early – a perfect little bundle of joy. But we knew we wanted to extend our family – a little brother or sister for Maddox."
Claudia got pregnant again but sadly miscarried on Mother’s Day 2017. A short time later the couple found they were expecting again, but tests revealed an increased risk of a genetic disorder and other health issues.
"We said goodbye to our baby Albie at 16 weeks,’ she says. "I went home and held Maddox - my rainbow baby - so tightly. He deserved a little brother or sister; I couldn’t give up.”
A positive pregnancy test came just before Christmas and Claudia and Benjamin dared to hope again. But on December 23 she miscarried. It was at this point that she decided she could not put herself or her husband through anymore. This was compounded in Summer 2018 when a surprise pregnancy ended in early miscarriage.
"This time I felt different, almost numb,’ admits Claudia. ‘I’d lost six babies and I was at a complete loss, why me?"
Claudia then read a book called Saying Goodbye by Zoe Clark Coates which helped make the grieving mum feel for the first time she was not alone. She threw herself into fundraising for baby loss charities and trained as a Hypnobirthing instructor and Birth Trauma Recovery Practitioner - more on her website - which she describes as her "absolute passion".
In 2019, to their absolute joy, welcomed another child – baby Marnie.
"We are incredibly lucky and the children are an absolute joy," she says. "But I want people to know they are not alone. Charities such as Twins Trust and its Bereavement Support Group are here for everyone and there are people like me, who really understand what you’re going through. I hope one day to be able to become a befriender."