Dame Laura Kenny is bravely breaking down stigma around baby loss. The world’s most successful female cyclist speaks for the first time about suffering a devastating miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy within three months of each other – and says women who are under 12 weeks pregnant shouldn’t feel conditioned to suffer in silence like she did.
Her emotional interview, shared exclusively with OK! VIPs, comes as the five-time Olympic medalist, along with her cycling husband, Sir Jason Kenny, led a peloton of 300 cyclists down The Mall for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee pageant, pulling her through the hardest months she has ever had to endure. Sign-up or login below to read the full story.
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Dame Laura Kenny is showing us a photo on her phone. She looks radiant in a yellow Jenny Packham dress and is standing outside Windsor Castle with her husband, cyclist Sir Jason Kenny, and their four-year-old son Albie, wearing matching yellow ties, moments after receiving her damehood.
“Deep down I wanted it to be Prince William if I could pick any royal other than the Queen,” says Laura, still giddy from the ceremony last month that also saw Jason knighted for his services to cycling. “Will said to me that he thought the honour had been a long time coming for Jason and me. He also said he’d seen my Instagram post about my miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy. That was very emotional – I wasn’t expecting that at all.”
The five-time Olympic gold medalist was back on top of the podium in April at a cycling championship in Derby for the first time since bringing home gold at the Tokyo Olympics in August 2021.
It was a bittersweet moment because Laura and Jason had secretly been trying for a baby, knowing her maternity window was tight should she want to compete at Paris 2024. The day after they got back from Japan, the 30-year-old quit taking the pill and cycling’s golden couple were overjoyed when they discovered Laura was pregnant a month later.
“We were at home and Jason was like, ‘Well done!’ when we saw the pregnancy test was positive,” she says, during our shoot in Manchester. “We were both so excited. When we had Albie, I was a bit panicked because I was terrified it was going to end my career, but this time it was different as I knew I’d done it before and I could get back to Olympic standard.”
Laura (formerly Trott) and Jason, 34, who fell in love in the velodrome before the London Olympics in 2012, kept their news to themselves, not even telling their parents. Instead, they intended to announce the pregnancy after 12 weeks when the risk of miscarriage falls significantly.
It meant that in November, when she suffered her miscarriage at nine weeks – as later revealed by Laura in that heartbreaking Instagram post Prince William referred to – she had nobody to turn to other than Jason, who was also lost in grief.
“I was due to fly out to Majorca to commentate for Eurosport and started bleeding the night before,” recalls Laura of the moment she realised she was losing the baby. “I was at home and shouted for Jase. He told me not to panic and I called my midwife who reassured me that some women bleed through the whole of their pregnancies.
“Stupidly, I convinced myself to get on the plane. Jason begged me to reconsider and asked if he could come with me – I could see he was nervous – and I told him no. But after I left the bleeding got worse and worse.”
At the Track Champions League the next day, Laura was on her feet commentating for three hours and was going through sanitary towels every 10 minutes. By the end of the day, her stomach pain was excruciating and she was forced to confide in a cycling friend who took her to hospital.
“I tried to pretend that everything was fine and somehow managed to get through commentating. Then that evening I just couldn’t do it any more. It was so painful and the amount of blood I was losing – I’d never seen anything like it. I had to keep going to the toilet and the amount of pants I went through was ridiculous.”
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At the Spanish hospital, Laura wasn’t able to get the answers she needed. She was taken for an internal scan and was told she was four to five weeks pregnant, which she knew wasn’t possible. “They just looked at me like a young girl who got her dates wrong and sent me home.”
After three agonising days apart, she was reunited with Jason and Albie at their home in Knutsford, Cheshire, where she heartbreakingly passed the baby later that day. “I had 10 minutes of being in absolute agony,” she says. “I was bleeding at an unbelievable rate then my stomach really started to hurt and I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, I think I’m actually going to pass the baby’ – and then I did. It was horrific.
“I had no prior experience of miscarriage and I didn’t know any friends who had either. My mum only told me she’d had one after I told her what had happened. I literally had to ring my mum and be like, ‘I’ve got some good news and bad news. I’m pregnant – and I’m having a miscarriage.’
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“There was no checkup after to see if anything was wrong. I just got discharged. You have to have three miscarriages to be able to go back in and see the doctor. You’re not even allowed to ask for blood tests. You get made to feel nuts when you come out saying you’re pregnant if it’s under 12 weeks – people are shocked. But if we’re lucky enough to fall pregnant again I’m telling people straight away because I’ve never felt so alone.”
Despite one in five UK pregnancies ending in miscarriage, stigma around baby loss is rife with many women feeling guilt and shame, as though it’s their fault, and therefore suffer in silence.
“As an athlete I rely on my body,” says Laura. “I see my body as a machine and it failed me for the first time in 11 years and that was hard to accept. There were also a few athletes who had put their lives on hold and had got pregnant, and every time I had a sinking feeling because that could have been us. I’d cry on Jason a lot. It just felt so heartbreaking.
“It took me a long time to process the grief. This might sound silly but we always said that whenever our dogs die we will bury them under a tree in our garden. We did that with the rabbits recently and that made me feel better, so Jase was like, ‘Why don’t we get a tree for the baby?’ He said he thought it would make me feel better. So when I got back home one night, he’d got me a little angel and a rose tree in memory of our baby. It did help me move on.”
The couple, who married in 2016, pulled through their grief to take Albie to Lapland in December and welcomed the distraction of Christmas. But they were already under pressure if they wanted to try again. Laura’s cut-off date was 1 January, after which she felt it would be too late to turn around having a second child in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics.
“It’s so time sensitive because my career only lasts 10 to 12 years,” she says. “We started vaguely trying again afterwards, but it was hard after the grief. My period came on 1 January and it felt like fate as that was my cut-off. We’d have to wait until after the next Games.”
What Laura didn’t know was that she was pregnant again – but the pregnancy was ectopic. It was a devastating twist that saw Laura rushed into A&E with a life-threatening situation where the fertilised egg was already rupturing her left fallopian tube.
“I started to feel really unwell on 7 January,” she explains. “Jason and I both had Covid but my symptoms were really bad. The room was spinning, I was throwing up and my temperature was through the roof. I had this incredible shoulder pain too – at the time I didn’t know that was a symptom of an ectopic pregnancy – and my whole body ached. I was lying in bed with Albie and I messaged Jase to fill the bath up with boiling hot water. I just felt like I needed it hotter than anything to make the pain go away.
“The next day, I took a pregnancy test just to rule that out as a reason for the sickness – it took forever for the line to emerge, but it was positive. That’s when I knew something was terribly wrong and we went straight to A&E.”
At the hospital, Laura was rushed in for a scan where doctors confirmed the ectopic pregnancy. At the time, she had little knowledge of what it meant and began googling in the waiting room outside alone, as Jason and Albie weren’t allowed in due to pandemic restrictions. She learned there were varying options for treatment ranging from taking tablets to dissolve the pregnancy to a blood transfusion in very serious cases.
“I sat there and started crying because I was like, ‘Flipping heck, I’m completely on my own.’ They took me off for a blood test and when they came back the doctors couldn’t hide their expressions. They were looking for the pregnancy hormone HCG and mine was through the roof, meaning I was way further along in the pregnancy than I anticipated – I was seven weeks. They panicked and said it was an emergency as it was rupturing my fallopian tube and I was going to be next on the operating table.
“I just went into full blown panic. I was signing forms saying there was a chance I could die under anaesthetic, but they were so good, because I rang Jase – all I wanted was to see Albie – and they said if I can get Albie to the fire exit within 15 minutes they’ll let me out to see him.
“So I got to see Jason and Albie for five minutes, by which point I’d already got the tube in my hand and was waiting to put my gown on. When Jason had picked him up from school earlier that day and told him I wasn’t well and was in hospital he said he burst out crying instantly. Albie coming to the hospital and realising Mummy wasn’t dying was a massive thing for his little brain.
“The moment they left I was put under. That was the first time I’d ever seen Jase be worried – there was a realisation that this was really bad.”
Laura had keyhole surgery to remove the ectopic pregnancy but doctors weren’t able to save her fallopian tube. “When I came around they told me and I was gutted,” says Laura. “It means it’s harder to get pregnant naturally but doesn’t half your chances because the other fallopian tube will realise it needs to catch up and it can catch the eggs coming from the other ovary.”
Despite being in pain, Laura discharged herself the next day so she could continue her recovery at home with Jason and Albie. Jason had set her up in the spare bedroom and waited on her hand and foot with both of them putting on a brave face for Albie.
“We were in disbelief,” says Laura. “It wasn’t until two weeks ago that I asked Jase ‘How was it for you?’ and he said he was just really stressed as he thought I could have died. Looking back it feels silly because I was nowhere near dying, but in the moment I was really ill.”
Laura hopes that by sharing her story she can provide comfort to other women who have suffered baby loss and help them feel less alone.
“When I was going through this I really struggled to find a platform where I could read that it was all going to be OK and this happens to a lot of people,” she says. “When I started racing again, it felt like the right time to tell people so I wrote a post saying my victory had not been without its struggles.
“The response I got was overwhelming – my Instagram went mental and I had thousands of messages from women and men who came to me saying they’d suffered in silence too. Six or seven athletes also came forward, which was comforting for me as I felt like less of a failure.
“We shouldn’t be ashamed or scared when the number is one in five. That’s a massive number – yet we felt so alone.”
Laura, who, along with Jason, led a peloton of 300 cyclists down The Mall for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee pageant earlier this month, says she doesn’t know what the couple’s future holds in terms of expanding their family – not only because of the Olympic pressure, but because of the trauma of two baby losses within three months.
“I’m not going to sit here and pretend I’m not scared to go through it again – because I am,” she says. “I don’t want to put myself through it and I don’t want Jase to go through anything like that again. I’ve never seen him so concerned about his wife. I’ve never seen him that stressed and it scares me. Everything about it scares me at the minute.
“Some people will think I’m mad to do that [pursue my career] if I want a family but I can’t forget that my career will only last a certain period of time. I have to do what’s right for me and my family right now and it doesn’t seem like the right time. I’ve got the Commonwealth Games coming up in July and I am serious about it. I’m happy training and I feel good on the bike.”
If you’ve been affected by this story, contact Tommy’s, a miscarriage, premature birth and stillbirth charity, at email@example.com or call 0800 0147 800.