With a little help from our friends

Sara and Gareth Bennett from Portsmouth who with their friends have set up a fund raising drive to help pay for their IVF treatment. 'Picture: Ian Hargreaves  (13228-5)
Sara and Gareth Bennett from Portsmouth who with their friends have set up a fund raising drive to help pay for their IVF treatment. 'Picture: Ian Hargreaves (13228-5)
Former Great British Bake Off contestant Enwezor Nzegwu takes part in a 24-hour treadmill relay at Portsmouth University Gym to raise money for cystic fibrosis. Fellow participant Dannii Hutchins gives support. 'Picture Ian Hargreaves  (180224-1)

Bake-Off star organises 24-hour charity run at University of Portsmouth

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When Sara Bennett first became pregnant she felt all the pride and wonder of a new mum-to-be.

‘I had always assumed I would have kids so it was a case of ‘this is it, this is what I’ve been waiting for all my life.

‘There was the sickness and the wanting to sleep all the time, but I was so elated. I found that my senses had magnified, my sense of smell, all of them. Everything seemed 100 times better than it had been.’

When she became pregnant for the second time, Sara had the same sense of elation but there was a whisper of doubt in her mind.

The third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh times filled Sara and husband Gareth with a mixture of joy, hope, fear and dread.

After a few weeks of experiencing the intense happiness of that first pregnancy, the young couple were facing the devastation of losing their child.

Sara had been so excited she had told everyone she could – ‘I wanted to shout it from the rooftops.’

But after learning at eight weeks that she had lost her baby, she could feel nothing but despair.

‘Something wasn’t right and I had a scan, the baby wasn’t alive, ‘says Sara, her eyes filling with tears. ‘It’s hard to describe how you feel, it was like my whole world was falling from underneath me.’

And the Portsmouth couple’s agony wasn’t to end there. In the last 10 years Sara, 34, and 33-year-old Gareth (known to his friends as Gaff) have been through the emotional roller coaster of seven pregnancies, six miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy that put her life at risk.

But Sara is an amazing example of a ‘glass half full’ person.

An ectopic pregnancy occurs when the embryo implants outside the uterus and is potentially fatal.

Sara had a life-saving operation and Gaff had to wait anxiously for the results knowing they had lost another chance for a family.

She found it hard to leave the house for weeks afterwards, but two years later she says: ‘It didn’t kill me so in the end I took that as a sign.’

Now the couple are trying to raise money for a second round of IVF treatment after the first failed.

And their loyal and caring friends have rallied around to help them, launching the fundraising drive MaybeBaby 2013.

Through a donations website and a series of events, they hope to hit their target of £10,000 for the treatment.

‘We can count our blessings for something – that we have such lovely friends,’ says Gaff. ‘I tell Sara that all the time, that we have a lot to be grateful for.’

Sara, a customer services manager, and Gaff, a landscape gardener, wanted to tell their story, not simply to raise money but to inspire others who might be trying desperately for a baby.

‘We thought people might be able to relate to what we’ve been through,’ says Sara. ‘And it might inspire people to do something similar to raise money, although I know it’s a very personal thing.’

Gaff and Sara, who comes from Iowa, met online. They were living in the US when Sara first fell pregnant at 23 but now they’ve settled in Portsmouth, Gaff’s home town.

Sara says: ‘I’ve always had the dream of the white picket fence and the children and pets. When we got married we never really doubted that we would have children. It was something we wanted as soon as we could.’

But pregnancy after pregnancy ended after eight weeks and when Sara tearfully talks about her experiences she is forced to say ‘it happens’ rather than ‘it happened’, bringing home the dreadful regularity of her traumatic experiences.

Gaff says the worst time for him was the ectopic pregnancy. ‘That was really hard. It’s so hard for Sara but men have a terrible time too. We feel the frustration and anger and we’re trying to hold it together. And I was worrying about Sara.

‘I remember saying to a nurse ‘‘is that it, will she never be able to have a child?’’, and she said ‘‘never say never’’.’

Sara suffered from ovarian cysts as a teenager and one of her fallopian tubes became blocked but the miscarriages were still something of a mystery. Surgery for the ectopic pregnancy made a baby even more unlikely.

The couple decided to have IVF treatment and qualified for a round on the NHS but, depending on where couples live, a second try comes at a cost.

‘The irony is that treatment may have identified the problem and we’ve been advised to go for egg donation, but now we have to pay,’ says Sara.

One of her fundraising friends, Jen Wilson, says: ‘That seemed the cruellest thing to me, so we said lets get them that money. They would make such amazing parents, it seems so unfair.’

Sara constantly struggles with the situation. ‘I have my good days and bad days. Sometimes I’ll wake up with a smile on my face and then I see a mum with a pram and it’s heartbreaking for me. But you can’t spend every day crying about it.’

And when she’s talking about her problems, she can even laugh.

‘People talk about the morning sickness and swollen ankles. But I want swollen ankles and big painful boobs. I want to get me some stretch marks.’

But tears aren’t far away. ‘I know there are a lot of women who don’t need that family, but the instinct won’t go away for me. I’ve never really thought of another direction.’

And another issue for Sara is self-blame. ‘I can never get it out of my head that the problem lies with me,’ she says But Gaff is quick to reassure her.

The couple are realistic about the future and have discussed adoption and other options for their lives.

But Sara says: ‘We feel we have to try, even if it’s to give us that closure. I think if we hadn’t tried we’d always regret it.’

And she knows she has the strength to carry on. ‘I’m emotional, I cry a lot. But it doesn’t take me long to bounce back.’

Fundraising drive

When Sara and Gaff realised that another round of IVF treatment would cost £10,000, their friends rallied and launched the MaybeBaby 2013 fundraising drive.

They will be holding several events which are currently in the planning.

There is also a website where people can read about the couple’s story and donate if they wish.

‘I wouldn’t force our dream on anyone. I understand this is just for us and there are a lot of important causes out there,’ says Sara. ‘But if people want to help or show their support then we’re really grateful.

‘We’re also happy to hear from couples who perhaps want more information or to tell us about their own experiences.’

To donate, reach Sara and Gaff and find out details of the fundraising campaign, visit gofundme.com/maybebaby2013.

One of the reasons Sara and Gaff wanted to tell their story was to reach out to others in similar situations.

Sara says she has found the support and advice of those who understand her problems helpful and comforting.

One of the ways she has made contact with people going through similar ordeals is through websites such as fertilityfriends.co.uk and infertilitynetworkuk.com. Fertility Friends puts people in touch through its online community.

Infertility Network UK offers support, information and advice. It also leads the National Infertility Awareness Campaign for fair access to NHS funded treatment.

Sara says: ‘I wanted to show how useful these sites are. It’s important to share what you’re going through with people who really understand.’