I nearly died giving birth: Gemma Atkinson reveals how she suffered a postpartum haemorrhage and lost nearly a litre of blood while partner Gorka Marquez was left in tears
- Gemma And Gorka: Life Behind The Lens sheds light on star’s pregnancies
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She’s wearing a baggy T-shirt with unwashed hair and raddled eyes, but Gemma Atkinson’s joy and relief at welcoming her newborn son is palpable.
And just as the Hits Radio presenter and her professional dancer fiancé Gorka Marquez promised, there’s no dusting of glamour in their new three-part documentary series that gives us an unvarnished look at a second pregnancy after a previous traumatic birth.
Gemma And Gorka: Life Behind The Lens not only shows the utter chaos as they juggle their work, their four-year-old daughter Mia and their two dogs, it also raises awareness of the less savoury side of pregnancy – the haemorrhoids, the profuse sweating and the partner giving perineal massages to hopefully make the actual birth easier.
‘We’ve not gone full-on Kardashian but you see life as it is during and after pregnancy,’ says Gemma, former star of Hollyoaks, Emmerdale and Casualty, and a Strictly Come Dancing finalist in 2017.
‘Just a few weeks ago I had a human inside my stomach and now he’s in my living room. I feel very blessed with our little family of four. It feels like Thiago’s always been here, and Mia is like the mother hen we thought she would be. Our family is complete.
Gemma and Gorka met while filming Strictly in 2017, and although they did not partner one another in that series, they did pair up for the 2019 Christmas special
‘We wanted to make a series that wasn’t just about reality, but also an informative documentary.
‘We cover the pregnancy journey, speaking to midwives, pelvic floor muscle specialists and GPs, because growing and birthing a human is hard. There are so many things we learned this time around that we didn’t know with Mia. I wish there’d been a show like this on air when I was first pregnant.’
The couple met while filming Strictly in 2017, and although they did not partner one another in that series, they did pair up for the 2019 Christmas special.
They welcomed their daughter Mia in 2019 and Thiago in July this year. But the harrowing experience of Mia’s birth brought anxieties for Gemma’s second pregnancy.
Doctors had to battle to save her life when she suffered a postpartum haemorrhage, losing nearly a litre of blood. Gorka was left sobbing as nine medics ‘pulled clots of blood out of her’ after an emergency Caesarean was performed because Mia’s heart rate dropped suddenly.
‘My first birth was a traumatic one. They gave me a form about blood transfusions that asked if one of us had to be saved, which one would it be,’ says Gemma, 38, while Gorka changes baby Thiago’s nappy.
‘It could have gone very differently. Immediately afterwards you think to yourself, ‘Gosh, would I go through that again?’ Then you look at your child and think, ‘I’d do it all again tomorrow.’ That’s the nature of motherhood.
‘However, this pregnancy was deemed high-risk too. When you see that on paper it’s a shock because you think, ‘I’m under 40, I’m technically fit and healthy. I’m not severely overweight. Why is it high-risk?’ But it’s just based on the previous pregnancy.
‘Knowledge is power, so it’s important to ask lots of questions,’ she adds. ‘And we didn’t have any knowledge with Mia about why this had happened. Now we know that there was a lack of blood from my placenta to Mia. So for this pregnancy I was given aspirin to help with the blood flow.
‘Digging into why some of us end up having emergency C-sections and postpartum haemorrhages like I had was the game-changer, as I’ve been asked about it by so many women who have had similar experiences.’
Gemma And Gorka: Life Behind The Lens not only shows the utter chaos as they juggle their work, their four-year-old daughter Mia and their two dogs, it also raises awareness of the less savoury side of pregnancy
While the series also explores having a traditional birth after a Caesarean, in the end Gemma didn’t get that with Thiago – she underwent another C-section at the Royal Bolton Hospital.
But true to her positive outlook, she says, ‘This time round was so much more relaxed. It was actually a wonderful experience and it just so happened that the same surgeon who delivered Mia was on shift. So she delivered Thiago as well.’
The series also looks at the role of the partner during pregnancy and birth, and how they can often feel like a spare part. ‘From my experience, I can see how men push themselves away or isolate themselves as they tend not to ask questions or show emotions,’ says Gorka, 32.
‘But I think the partner should be more involved and more in tune with their feelings so they won’t feel left out. I ask so many questions now. I’m so proud of Gemma and what her body has created. I don’t feel left out – I just think now I’m not a priority. The priority is our baby boy and our children.’
After a week off work to welcome Thiago, Gorka has now returned to rehearsals for the upcoming Strictly series, leaving their home in Manchester on Sunday nights and returning on Fridays.
Luckily Gemma’s mum Sandra, who lives locally, is there to help. ‘But this time round things are much easier,’ says Gemma. ‘I’m very lucky that Mum is here whenever I need her.’
Gemma admits that after Mia was born she and Gorka held ‘a little resentment’ towards one another once he had returned to work, and that this took a toll on both of them.
Gemma resented that Gorka was back on the road touring with his Here Come The Boys show, and he resented Gemma for being at home and regretted missing time with the family.
‘It’s hard for me because I’m away quite a lot with my job so often it feels like I’m missing some of the best things as I love being a parent and I love my family,’ Gorka says.
It was Gorka’s Strictly co-star Giovanni Pernice who stepped in and asked Gemma to FaceTime Gorka when he stayed back at the hotel on his own because he was missing her and Mia.
‘It dawned on me that it’s just as tough for the partner who goes back to work as it is for the one who’s at home,’ she says. ‘At first I felt, ‘It’s OK for the dad, he’s getting sleep and he’s with his mates.’
‘But from a dad’s point of view, he just wanted to be at home. Gio was fantastic then, and he was the first person to know we were having another baby. So at Strictly in Blackpool last year he was buying me tonic water and telling everyone, ‘She’s on the gin and tonic.’
Gemma is relishing motherhood, but there was a time when she thought she’d never marry or have children, and live with ten dogs instead.
‘I was happy with that idea,’ she says. ‘I’m all about timing. If I’d got married or had babies in my 20s I would have been a single mum now because I was never with the right person. But things like love happen when you’re ready.
‘That said, I never expected it to be a Spanish dancer, more like a John Rambo!’ she adds with a laugh. ‘I wasn’t even maternal until I met Gorka and then I thought for the first time, ‘I could have a family with this one.’
‘And he’s a real Mrs Doubtfire. I’m feeding the baby but the house is immaculate because Gorka’s cooking and cleaning, so I have no complaints.’
The series also looks at how this pregnancy has been harder on Gemma’s body than her first four years ago, with her legs getting bigger and her boobs tripling in size.
But she’s enjoyed ’embracing the changes’ despite being trolled over her weight and told that she’s ‘let herself go’.
She received huge praise for her body positivity when she shared photos in a bikini on a beach holiday while pregnant with Thiago, revealing that she had initially worn trousers because she’d never had so much cellulite in her life.
‘But I ditched the trousers immediately,’ she says. ‘I didn’t want my daughter to say to me, ‘Why are you wearing trousers at the beach, Mummy?’ and for me to have to say, ‘Because I’ve got really bad cellulite at the minute.’ I’m her role model. We’re all different shapes and sizes, but it doesn’t mean that just because I had cellulite when I was pregnant I couldn’t wear bikinis on the beach.
‘It took me a good year to be back to my strongest in the gym after Mia’s birth and people said, ‘We thought you’d do it quicker and assumed you’d snap back.’
‘There’ll be people saying the same thing this time round. I think if someone doesn’t know you personally, then don’t take it personally.
‘I don’t know if it’s because I’m a mum now or because I’m in my late 30s, but there’s a level of not caring as it says more about them than you, just like the school bully. I feel sorry for them in a way.’
So how has parenthood changed them both? ‘I’m more thoughtful in every way,’ says Gorka.
‘Like after a show, when I’m tired and just want to get on the bus and go to the hotel to sleep, now I’ll make the effort to talk to people who are excited to meet us. I don’t want to treat anybody differently to the way I would want my children to be treated.’
Gemma’s also gained so much. ‘It’s definitely made me more patient with everything because I’m not the priority any more.
‘It doesn’t matter if I’m on the nursery run and I’ve not washed my hair and I have my PJs on as long as I’m there on time. I’m enjoying taking my time. The last thing on my mind is getting back into the gym. I’m just loving being a mum.’
Gemma And Gorka: Life Behind The Lens starts on Wednesday 30 August at 8pm on W and UKTV Play
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