WHEN Annabel Stewart gets on her bike at the start of an epic bike ride across Cuba she will be finishing something she set out to do seven years ago.

Back then she was in a very different place.

Grief stricken from losing two children who were born sleeping late on in her pregnancies, she found herself needing to fill the void that ached for her babies.

Having had two healthy boys, Ewan and Luke, the dream was to have a trio of children and after a little persuasion of husband Nigel, they discovered they were pregnant with their third child at the start of 2008.

That was itself no small miracle as having been treated for breast cancer in her early thirties, the subsequent chemotherapy risked leaving her infertile.

But remarkably, soon after trying, her family began to grow and by her third pregnancy Annabel described herself as “the happiest I’d ever been”.

Then it all changed.

It was while at a spa having some much needed ‘me time’ that Annabel, from Chandler’s Ford, first realised something was wrong.

“I couldn’t feel anything move anymore. I prodded and prodded, I spoke gently, I spoke firmly and I prodded some more. In the end I just had to admit to myself something wasn’t right.”

When she got to the hospital her worst fears were confirmed. An ultrasound found no trace of a heartbeat.

She then faced going through an unbearable delivery of full labour. She said: “The only sound afterwards was my own sobbing, not the cry of a little pink new-born. I held him, all 5lb 7oz of him. My third born son, Ryan William. I loved him so much it made me burst with emotions I couldn’t find and didn’t have the words for. My heart broke that day. I thought it would never heal.”

She spent the next few days going in and out of hospital where Ryan had been given a room to allow the family to come to terms with what had happened. “I was never ready to say goodbye but eventually I had to come out of denial and move on. I had two boys at home who needed me,” Annabel said.

After a difficult time the couple found they were pregnant again, with a baby girl.

The pregnancy seemed to be progressing well but the 20-week scan revealed their daughter had severe spina bifida, hydrocephalus and her brain hadn’t developed properly.

“Our world fell apart again,” Annabel says.

Olivia Stewart was born sleeping at 23 weeks.

The labour itself was so traumatic Annabel almost lost her womb, needed six transfusions and emergency surgery.

After being released from intensive care with her baby girl in her arms Annabel remembers one of the hardest parts was seeing a ward full of happy parents cooing over their newborns.

“I remember being in a lift with a man and his boy, he shielded his son and I shielded my girl, it was so very very awful,” she said.

It was then at her lowest that she threw herself in to a fundraising cycling challenge across China to raise money for charities that had supported her.

“I had such a huge hole filled with grief and I needed so badly to fill it with love,”

Although she was channelling her energy into the upcoming ride and caring for her two sons, the thought of having another baby was becoming increasingly powerful. The decision to try once again for their third much-longed-for child put a horrendous strain on her marriage, but Annabel was resolute that it was worth risking again.

She said: “Eventually after much persuasion we decided to try again and I fell pregnant. My due date clashed with Cycle China but I didn’t tell anyone I was pregnant and didn’t even cancel the ride until late September because I couldn’t believe my baby might actually be alive at the end of it all.”

Amelia Stewart did indeed come kicking and screaming in to the world in December 2010.

Now with her three children all hurtling through childhood, Annabel feels the time is right to finish what she started seven ago.

It was her friend Ali Sendell, who is also joining her on the 360km ride through Cuba in October for the charity Genesis Research Trust, who suggested she took on the challenge.

Annabel said: “I am looking forward to meeting people who have been through quite hard times but are getting through it in such a positive way. I think it will be tough and there will be some very sad conversations but I think it will be the start of something good.”

The approaching summer is always a difficult time of year as it is when the family remembers the babies they lost on their birthdays.

“We always mark it as a family, the kids know all about their brother and sister, One year we all did a midnight swim, it was lovely.”

Talking of her ongoing grief for her lost children and how the bike ride is giving her a positive focus, Annabel says: “We knew that Olivia was very poorly but we don’t know the reason why we lost Ryan.

"Maybe in twenty years’ time because of the research this bike ride is helping to fund, someone might do.

"If that helps just one person, stops someone going through what we have, then it will be worth it.”

  • Genesis Research works to prevent complications in pregnancy and raises money for the largest UK-based group of scientists and clinicians who are researching causes and cures for conditions that affect the health of women and babies.

It provides financial assistance for medical research and promote healthy childbearing.

To support Annabel please click here to visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/aliandbel