When a new baby is on the way, a sense of delighted anticipation grips the whole extended family.
Friends throw baby showers, grandmothers start crocheting; in recent years even elaborate ‘gender-reveal’ parties have become de rigueur.
But for Gaynor Thompson and Ben Moorhouse there was no such shared excitement: no congratulatory cards, no sharing of scan photos and no proud updates on social media. In fact, helped latterly by the strange circumstances of the pandemic, they kept their happy news a closely guarded secret, even from family, for Gaynor’s whole pregnancy.
More unbelievably still, it was not until their son Apollon was two weeks old that they finally introduced him to their unsuspecting parents.
Gaynor Thompson, 39, and Ben Moorhouse, 37, who live in Yorkshire, revealed they kept having their son Apollon (pictured) a secret from friends and family
None of the grandparents had any idea that Gaynor, in lockdown at home in Yorkshire, was even expecting.
Ben, 37, recalls how he broke the glad tidings to his mum Carole, 67, in a video call: ‘We said, “We’ve something special we’d like to share with you.” Then we put the camera down so she could see Apollon in his Moses basket.
‘She was in complete and utter shock, as white as a ghost. It took a couple of minutes for her mind to process what she was seeing.’
‘She said, “Is he real? Are you sure?”’ says Gaynor with a smile.
‘For a minute I think she wondered whether he was one of those lifelike dolls.’
Minutes earlier Gaynor, 39, had shared the news with her widowed mum Jennifer, 61, who was similarly flummoxed — and then thrilled.
‘We video-called and to start with the image was just of me,’ Gaynor recalls. ‘We had a giggle about our lockdown haircuts, then Mum asked “how are you doing?” That’s when Ben took the phone and showed her Apollon. She was lost for words, then she cried and started dancing round her sitting room.
‘She said, “I thought you were going to tell me you were expecting a baby, not that you’d had one!” She was just overjoyed.’
Ben’s dad Martin, 67, divorced from his mum but still good friends, was next to know.
Gaynor said there wasn’t a day of her pregnancy with Apollon (pictured) that she didn’t feel scared of something bad happening, after previously experiencing a stillbirth and miscarriage
‘And he cried happy tears,’ reports Ben. ‘He took it in his stride and said “we look forward to meeting the young man when you’re ready”. He came round with my aunt for a garden meeting the other day — we sat two metres apart —bringing a year’s supply of nappies and baby toiletries.
‘Dad is almost blind and it meant so much to me that he could see Apollon before he loses his sight.’
From there the news percolated to siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles. ‘We said, “You can tell everyone but please don’t post anything on social media,”’ says Gaynor, 39.
When we told Mum over Zoom, she was in complete shock, as white as a ghost. She thought he was a doll
You may well wonder at their reticence; at their decision to conceal Gaynor’s pregnancy and even their longed-for son’s birth from those closest to them. Many families would have felt excluded and hurt.
Not Gaynor and Ben’s family, however — because they knew the tragic reason for the couple’s refusal to share the news that filled them with both joy and trepidation.
For in October 2018 their first child, a daughter, was stillborn at 37 weeks and the loss, at almost full term, of their beloved baby — followed by a subsequent miscarriage — made them fearful of celebrating prematurely.
Gaynor, a section co-ordinator with Marks & Spencer, explains: ‘There wasn’t a day of my pregnancy with Apollon when we didn’t feel scared of something bad happening.
‘Ben and I agreed early on we wouldn’t say anything to anyone, except to our managers at work.
Gaynor explained that they were private about her pregnancy because they didn’t want to be insensitive to others who’ve had stillborn babies. Pictured: Gaynor and Ben’s daughter Kallipateira, who was stillborn
‘If people knew, there would have been cards, congratulations; constant requests for updates. So we said to our employers “it’s a secret” and, aware that our daughter had died, they understood.
‘Privacy was important to us, too, because we’d made friends with other parents who’d had stillborn babies and we were conscious of their feelings of loss and distress. We thought it would be insensitive to them to celebrate our happy news while they were grieving.’
So Gaynor worked through the first weeks of her pregnancy with Apollon, successfully hiding her burgeoning waistline. Then when lockdown started, she had a legitimate reason to disappear.
‘It helped that I could hide away from the world, rest and just look after myself,’ she says. ‘By the time lockdown began, I was five months pregnant and my bump was becoming noticeable — but I had a reason for staying at home.
‘I did wonder whether I should tell Mum but then I thought, if something happened it would put her under incredible strain. She would have wanted to rush round but wouldn’t have been allowed to. She understood, when she knew, that it was best we hadn’t told her.
Gaynor (pictured, with baby Apollon) said Ben did all the shopping, while she confined her outings to a gentle walk each evening
‘Ben did all the shopping and I confined my outings to a gentle walk in the park every evening. We live on a quiet street and we went out when there weren’t many people about. I wore a loose-fitting jacket that disguised my bump for as long as possible.’
And what about visits from family? After all, Gaynor’s mum and Ben’s dad live near them in Halifax; Ben’s mum is in Bradford not far away.
‘Mum didn’t come to see me, even at a safe distance, because she was concerned about my vulnerability,’ says Gaynor. ‘I’d had gestational diabetes with the previous pregnancy and they were still worried about that.
‘Of course, lockdown provided the perfect reason for me to remain safely at home.’
Even so, keeping such a momentous secret from her family was not easy. Gaynor is matter-of-fact about it now but it took great strength of character for the couple to go through all the little joys and fears of pregnancy alone — especially when their worries were exacerbated by the death of their first baby.
She admits: ‘The loss of our daughter has brought Ben and me closer than ever and we’ve always been able to talk. But there were days when Ben was at work when I felt anxious and isolated. I did miss confiding in Mum but I wouldn’t have wanted to worry her.
Gaynor explained that they had video calls a couple of times a week, but made sure the camera was focused on her face. Pictured: Apollon
‘We still messaged our families every day and spoke a couple of times a week on video calls. We chatted about the lockdown, everyday news and the gardening we’d all been doing.’
She continues: ‘We always made sure the camera focused on my face. But once, just before Apollon was born — fearing they might notice a change in me — I lost my nerve and we pretended we couldn’t take part in the video chat because of computer problems.’
When Gaynor thinks back to her first pregnancy in 2018, she is sure they made the right choice to keep things quiet this time. Back then there was general rejoicing that a baby, unplanned but welcome, was arriving after her 13 years with Ben. Then at 36 weeks came the first intimation that something was wrong.
‘The midwife noticed problems with our baby’s growth but we had a scan and were told all was fine,’ says Gaynor.
‘It wasn’t. Our daughter was fighting for her life. She was starved of oxygen,’ says Ben.
‘The next week we went for another scan,’ Gaynor continues quietly. ‘I looked at the screen and knew what had happened before the words came out of the stenographer’s mouth. She said the unimaginable: “There is no heartbeat” .’
Ben recalls coming home to a house that was ready for their daughter and shelves of congratulations card, knowing Gaynor was carrying their dead baby. Pictured: Ben and daughter Kallipateira
Ben takes over: ‘We came home for two days and the house was all ready for the big arrival. On the shelf there were good luck and congratulations cards. And then we had to go back into hospital, knowing Gaynor was carrying our dead baby.’
By confronting the bleakness of their loss now, they hope other parents, similarly bereft, will feel empowered to speak about the lacerating grief of stillbirth.
‘I had to go through a 15-hour labour and it was the worst experience ever,’ says Gaynor. ‘You don’t expect to have to give birth to your dead baby. It was just devastating; heartbreaking.
‘You spend nine months growing that life and you feel you could die with them. You’re in shock, yet you still have to put your body through that gruelling experience.’
Ben cuddles Apollon, now six weeks old and dozing contentedly in a blue sleep suit, and remembers the awful emptiness of losing their baby, whom they named Kallipateira (after a character in Greek mythology).
‘To be in that room in the maternity suite, hearing the sounds of other families celebrating the births of their babies when you’re holding your dead daughter, was just indescribable,’ he says.
Ben (pictured) and Gaynor have set up a foundation in Kallipateira’s name, raising £17,000 for a suite for parents who have had stillborn babies at their local Calderdale Royal Hospital
‘We walked out of the hospital with a shoebox containing a lock of her hair, her hand and foot prints and photographs. That was all we had of our daughter.
‘Other parents were coming out with their babies in carriers, holding balloons. You feel, “What have we done so wrong?”
‘We were two people who had so much love to give, even in death.’
They are a couple who exude kindness — much of their life together has been spent raising money for charities — and so from their daughter’s death has sprung hope for other families similarly bereaved. They have set up a foundation in Kallipateira’s name and raised £17,000 for a suite for parents who have had stillborn babies at their local Calderdale Royal Hospital.
The two of them spent 24 hours at the hospital cuddling their dead daughter. ‘We just didn’t want to leave her,’ says Gaynor. ‘And I felt a sense of guilt. I was meant to be protecting her and I’d let her down.’
There followed, on their return home, the harrowing process of ringing family and friends.
‘They were waiting excitedly to hear about the new arrival; how much she weighed, who she looked like. And we had to make those calls to say she had died.’
Gaynor discovered that she was pregnant with Apollon on the day they had organised a service to commemorate Kallipateira. Pictured: Gaynor and Ben with Apollon
To compound their sadness, Gaynor miscarried their next baby in May last year. ‘We were at rock bottom,’ she says.
But finally, in October, came glad news. On the day when they had organised a service at Halifax Minster to commemorate their daughter and mark the lives of other babies who had died at birth, Gaynor discovered she was pregnant for a third time.
‘It seemed fitting that on that day of remembrance we found out we were going to have a brother or sister for Kallipateira,’ she says. ‘We both cried. It felt like an angel was looking down on us.’
This time, Gaynor — who had been under the care of Calderdale Hospital — sought help from experts at the Rainbow Clinic, part of the Tommy’s Research Centre at St Mary’s Hospital, Manchester, which looks after women who have suffered stillbirth or neonatal death.
Appropriately, a ‘rainbow baby’ is one born after bereavement — and that’s why the name Apollon (the Greek god of rainbows, medicine, light and poetry) had a special resonance for them.
Ben, who works in customer services for a housing association, explains that they choose Greek names for their children because of the close affiliation he and Gaynor have with the island of Rhodes: Ben lived and worked there in his early 20s and they have returned regularly to visit friends.
Gaynor revealed Ben (pictured) was unable to attend her final three pre-natal appointments because of the Covid restrictions
Professor Alex Heazell, in charge of the Rainbow Clinic, prescribed Gaynor medication to avoid the problems that had contributed to their daughter’s death — undiagnosed gestational diabetes and an issue with the placenta.
Even at the height of the pandemic, when many people were hardly leaving their homes, Gaynor was glad to make the 100-mile round trip for her fortnightly check-ups and scans, knowing she was under specialist supervision. Truth be told, it seems she was so worried about her baby’s safety that she hardly spared a thought for herself.
‘Tommy’s phoned before every appointment to check that we had no symptoms of coronavirus,’ she says. ‘Ben wasn’t allowed to attend my final three pre-natal appointments because of the Covid restrictions and that did make me a little anxious.
‘But the hospital did everything they could to make me feel at ease and Ben was able to be there with me at the birth.
‘We had outstanding care. Even so, there was not a day when we didn’t worry — which was why we decided to keep the pregnancy a secret. We didn’t want to jinx it. It was best there were no cards, no social media messages.’
Gaynor said she didn’t have any time to feel scared when Apollon was born, as she recalls that he arrived after 16 minutes’ labour. Pictured: Ben and Gaynor with Apollon
Apollon was born prematurely on May 23 at 35 weeks, weighing 4lb 8oz. It was a day of huge jubilation and relief for Gaynor and Ben.
‘I’d bled a little bit, so I went to the maternity ward (at Tommy’s) and my waters broke,’ she recalls. ‘There was no time to feel apprehensive. I was due to have a C-section but instead Apollon arrived after 16 minutes’ labour. The midwife didn’t even have a chance to introduce herself!
‘In a way it was a blessing that he arrived so quickly. I didn’t have time to feel scared.’
‘There was a ten-second interval before he cried, then I just felt overwhelmed with every single emotion. I wanted to cry and laugh, I was so overjoyed. I thought, “He’s safe, he’s well, he’s here!”
‘I also thought about his sister and asked why it couldn’t have been the same for her. Her death was avoidable. That’s the tragedy.’
‘Everything happened so quickly I was in shock,’ Ben admits. ‘I was so delighted but at the same time my mind went back to his sister. Apollon will help us, but not a day will go by when we won’t think of her.’
Apollon was kept in an incubator for two days, where he was tube-fed, then Gaynor and Ben were able to take him back to their home in Halifax.
Gaynor said they’re cherishing every moment with Apollon and lockdown gave them an opportunity to spend a few days together without visitors. Pictured: Gaynor and Ben with baby Apollon
All around are mementos of the baby they lost — aside from their memory box there is the little play mat, rattles, cuddly toys and a bouncy chair, all of which they bought for their daughter.
‘They were chosen with love for Kallipateira and we thought then of the joyous hours we’d have with her. Now we believe she will be happy knowing her brother is playing with them,’ says Gaynor, nestling Apollon by her neck.
‘He’s unbelievable, such a contented little bean. You start to pinch yourself and ask, “Is it all a dream?” He’s our little miracle, and I can’t stop looking at him and giving him cuddles.
‘We cherish every moment with him and lockdown allowed us to spend a few precious days together, just the three of us, without any visitors, in our own little bubble. And the pleasure of that has been indescribable.’
For help or to support parents who have suffered stillbirths, go to kmfoundation.co.uk
Tommy’s funds research and provides pregnancy health information to parents: www.tommys.org