For the first time in years, Connie Yates is smiling. Wrapped in the strong embrace of her ‘rock’, Chris Gard, and cradling her baby bump, she is ready – almost – to let the joy of impending motherhood flood over her.
It is three years since she lost her 11-month-old son, Charlie Gard, in a battle against the medical system that gripped the world.
Now Connie, 34, and 35-year-old Chris are finally expecting their desperately longed-for second child – and tests show that this time their unborn infant is perfectly healthy.
Chris Gard and Connie Yates are expecting a child in August. The couple won hearts worldwide with their fight to keep their desperately ill son, Charlie, alive
The couple, pictured in August 2016 after their son Charlie was born. Unfortunatley, the infant had inherited defective genes which left him bravely battling for life for 11 months
At 17 weeks pregnant, the care home worker proudly told the Daily Mail: ‘I feel incredibly lucky to be pregnant and have a bit of hope again, and something to put a smile on our faces.
‘Some people don’t get the opportunity to have another child after they’ve lost one – we’re extremely grateful.’
The couple’s joyful news is, of course, tinged with the sadness that Charlie – who suffered from a rare genetic condition – cannot be there to welcome his younger sibling when they arrive in August. Connie admits their wonderful news is bittersweet.
She said: ‘It is mixed emotions. We always think about Charlie and we hope that he’s happy with us having another baby, but we’ll never forget him and love him just as much – always have and always will.’
Her fiance Chris said: ‘After everything we’ve been through, I’m just looking forward to the simple things people take for granted – birthdays and taking our child to their first day at school. We just hope we can give this baby the best life possible.’
Charlie had been healthy when he was born in August 2016, but at two months he became ill with mitochondrial syndrome. Doctors gave him up for dead. The condition has no cure.
But a maternal instinct forged from steel surges through Connie. Combined with Chris’s fatherly resolve and devotion to her, they utterly refused to let go of their fragile, blue-eyed boy.
And they were not alone. Respected doctors from around the world, including an American professor, were willing to offer a pioneering treatment.
Yet London’s world-famous Great Ormond Street children’s hospital was adamant it would be kinder to let Charlie die. A bitter legal battle raged throughout the summer of 2017. It drew in the greatest minds of the High Court, Appeal Court, Supreme Court and European Court of Human Rights – not to mention astonishing interventions from the Pope and President Donald Trump.
Charlie had been healthy when he was born in August 2016, but at two months he became ill with mitochondrial syndrome. Doctors gave him up for dead. The condition has no cure
By the time the arguments had finished, 11-month-old Charlie’s body had already deteriorated too much. On a warm July day, in a courtroom packed with lawyers and leading doctors, it was Connie and Chris who were the unwilling maestros in the final scene of the drama.
Little Charlie’s slightly-built mother, with a white flower in her flowing blonde hair, stepped into the witness box at the High Court, her eyes brimming with tears.
Displaying bravery and dignity, she announced to the stunned courtroom that it was too late for her baby boy, and he would be taken off life support within a few days. On July 28, 2017, Connie and Chris held each other in sheer anguish – consumed with remorse at ‘failing’ their son – as the ventilator tubes were gently removed. The guilt of only being able to watch helplessly as his short life ebbed away, has never left them. They will now live with the ‘what if’ for ever.
Connie said: ‘When you lose a child, it’s so important to know that you did everything you possibly could. If you’ve never lost a child, you don’t fully understand what the gut-wrenching grief is like.
‘It doesn’t matter if you are two or three or 100 years down the line, grief never dies because love never dies. With Charlie, we felt that we were robbed. But looking back, we were so lucky to have 11 months with him.’ When the exhausted couple finally returned to their one-bedroom flat in Bedfont, south-west London, everything was almost as they had left it in October 2016 on the fateful day when they had taken Charlie to hospital.
They had kept an uninterrupted bedside vigil. So on their return, they were greeted with the cruel sight of Charlie’s nappies, new-baby congratulation cards and the tiny clothes he would never wear.
London’s world-famous Great Ormond Street children’s hospital was adamant it would be kinder to let Charlie die
The pair visit their son’s grave – a ten-minute walk from their home – almost every day.
It gives them enormous comfort as they process their grief, and they also still regard little Charlie as a fully present member of the family. And so it had to be there, surrounded by the brown leaves of an autumn day last November, that Connie decided the time was right to tell Chris she was pregnant again. She said: ‘I wondered how to tell him. I thought about waiting for Christmas, as a present.
‘In the end, I decided to tell him in the best way – with Charlie. So I put the pregnancy test in the bottom of our bag, and we both went to visit Charlie’s resting place. Chris was taking bits out of the bag, and then he found the test right at the bottom.’
Chris, a postman, said: ‘I suddenly saw the blue test result, which said “pregnant”, and I just said, “Oh my god!”. I was so happy. Just elated. But I was also fearful. I worried about how Connie would take it, if the worst should happen. This time, it is so hard to stop yourself getting scared. There would be a bit more excitement if we had not been through what we went through last time.
‘But now I’m worrying again – because I can never see myself loving another baby as much as Charlie.’ Unlike some men, Chris is not afraid to let his angst show.
He said: ‘It is difficult to explain, because I want to be able to love this new baby, and I’m sure I will, but I will always have that feeling: is Charlie up there, upset at the things we are doing with this new baby?’. And he added: ‘It is very important that the new baby doesn’t grow up in Charlie’s shadow – “Charlie Gard’s brother or sister” – because they will be their own person.’
The family faced a heartbreaking legal battle to secure further treatment for their son Charlie
After years of heartache, Connie and Chris were finally on a path to happiness – but still a dark shadow loomed ahead. What if the new baby had the same awful condition as Charlie?
Connie and Chris had to wait five weeks before DNA tests could be carried out on the unborn child to look for the mutant gene. And after the blood test, the couple then had to endure an agonising fortnight’s wait for the result.
Connie said: ‘We just tried to keep busy, to take our minds off the result. Stress can be harmful in a pregnancy and so I just tried to keep positive.’
Chris said: ‘It was an awful wait. On the Friday of the phone call, we were pacing around in high anxiety, worrying that it would stretch into Monday if they didn’t call.
‘Eventually they rang. We were standing in the living room, shaking. I put my arm around Connie, and took a deep breath. We answered it and put the call on speaker phone so we could both hear. It was one of those moments. This call was going to make us or break us. The geneticist just said, “It’s good news”. Connie immediately burst out crying. She literally couldn’t speak. She was just gasping and crying her heart out.’
Connie recalled: ‘I don’t think I’ve ever cried with happiness like that before. I mean, I’ve cried with sadness, and I’ve cried with happiness when Charlie was born and stuff, but this was something else. It was just because there had been so much anticipation, so much anxiety, and so when she said “good news”, it was just utterly overwhelming and emotionally draining. I tried to speak, but couldn’t.’
Chris added: ‘I was cheering and clapping. I was so elated. But I needed to be sure, so I said to the geneticist, “Can I just clarify? The baby definitely doesn’t have the fault?”. She said, “No, there is no sign of it”.’ The couple’s thoughts immediately turned to Charlie.
The couple, pictured outside the High Court, faced an anxious wait for the results of a 12-week scan which indicates their new child is not carrying Chris’ defective gene
Chris said: ‘Once Connie had recovered, the first thing we did was go to Charlie’s grave. We went and thanked him. I kind of prayed to Charlie and asked him just to do his best to try and make sure this one was healthy. I had told him, “Your mum deserves this.” But then I had to add, “If it’s not healthy, it’s not your fault”.’
Between them, Chris and Connie have visited their little boy’s final resting place almost every day. ‘It has helped me,’ he says. ‘I can sit there and put the world to rights with him. Because he was such a big part of our lives, he is a big part of this. I can’t help thinking he’s had something to do with this good news.
‘Connie was a fantastic mum to Charlie and she will be a fantastic mum again. It is all she has ever dreamed about. It was so traumatic, what we went through. But she has been so strong. She is the glue in our family. It’s just the best news. There’s not a person more in this world for me that deserves to be a mum more than her.’
The couple do not yet know if they are having a boy or a girl. Chris said: ‘Before Charlie, I strongly wanted a boy. This time, after what happened, I really couldn’t care, as long as they are healthy and they have a long life.’
They have discussed names, but are not ready to share their ideas until they have met the new member of the family. Connie said: ‘It might begin with “C”, because we were Connie, Chris and Charlie – “the C team”.’
There were more tears of joy when the couple had their 12-week scan in early February. For the first time, on a sonographer’s screen, they had a glimpse of the new life taking shape. Chris said: ‘Connie cried straight away when she saw bubba on the screen.’ She recalled: ‘It was jumping around all over the place. We called it our little jumping bean.’
Chris said: ‘We were nervous, as all prospective parents are. You want to know everything’s OK. And they went through everything, the heart was OK, the brain was OK, the spine, everything, it just seemed to be tick, tick, tick, tick. It was sheer relief.’
Baby Gard number two is due in August – the same birth month as Charlie. During his short life, the child’s legal battle rocked the establishment by drawing support from Pope Francis, whose intervention in early July 2017 caused a storm when he deliberately expressed hope that the boy’s parents would be ‘not ignored’.
Connie and Chris have also set up the Charlie Gard Foundation to help other families facing a similar plight. It is part-funded by £1.3million in donations from well-wishers. The couple are also pursuing a ‘Charlie’s Law’, which aims to spare other families similar painful courtroom clashes with doctors
Then US President Donald Trump set aside global events to tweet: ‘If we can help little Charlie Gard, we would be delighted to do so.’ After Charlie died, his mother and father could scarcely see beyond the next day, let alone focus on their future.
Connie said: ‘At that point, I was not imagining ever having children again. Yet I have always wanted to be a mum. Everyone said, “Oh, you are still a mum”. Well, yeah, still a mum, just without a child. A mum with empty arms. I don’t want to upset readers by this, because I know a lot of them maybe can’t have other kids. But it’s just a fact, the thought of having empty arms for ever did upset me. However after about a year and half, we started to emerge from the fug, and we thought about trying again.’
By then, Chris had fulfilled a death-bed promise to his stricken son, and asked Connie to marry him. They are still planning their big day.
Connie and Chris have also set up the Charlie Gard Foundation to help other families facing a similar plight. It is part-funded by £1.3million in donations from well-wishers. The couple are also pursuing a ‘Charlie’s Law’, which aims to spare other families similar painful courtroom clashes with doctors. It would help give parents more rights over what happens to their sick children in hospitals. For Connie and Chris, they now have a chance to focus on a family life of their own. Chris said: ‘There will not be a day that goes by when Charlie is not in our thinking process, in whatever we do. There is a part of me that died when Charlie died, without a shadow of a doubt, and I will be sad for the rest of my life for him.
‘But you can’t let that sadness take over your whole life. I’ve got to be the best dad as I can be, to his brother or sister.’
12-week scan that shows all is well
For Connie and Chris, there was a real risk their new baby would have the same rare condition as Charlie.
They are both carriers of a defective gene named RRM2B – which can lead to mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome – meaning there was a 25 per cent chance they would pass it on.
If tests had shown signs of Chris’s mutant RRM2B gene in the baby, doctors would then have had to perform a more invasive test via the placenta to see if the foetus had Connie’s defective gene too.
If both parents’ mutant genes were present, it would have led to a hellish repeat of history. But Chris said: ‘It didn’t have my mutant genes.
‘We didn’t even need the second test. It was the best-case scenario.’
The 12-week scan of Chris and Connie’s new baby shows everything is proceeding well
Source: Daily Mail | BBC News & Gossip