Skip to content

In 2013 in the UK, one in every 137 babies was either stillborn or died in the first 4 weeks of life

Here in N. Ireland, over 3 babies a week are stillborn or die in the first 4 weeks of life.

Colin's mum was still at work when he rang late one afternoon: "Dad, there's no easy way to say this - the baby is dying".

My immediate reaction was that something terrible had happened to our grandaughter Rosie as she was not quite a year old and therefore a "baby". We had spoken to Colin and Cathy only a few days before and they had all seemed well, with no hint of any concerns about Matthew or Rosie - or their new brother or sister who was due to arrive in about two months. Now they had been told that their eagerly anticipated baby would probably not survive until full term.

Should I ring Lesley at work? Eventually I decided to wait until she came home and she realised immediately that something was badly wrong. When I broke the news, she jumped to the same wrong conclusion as me in thinking first about Rosie. Amidst all the other anguish, there lingers some guilt about my relief at realising that Rosie was fine - because what did that say about my feelings for my unborn grandaughter? Was the truth "better" or "worse" than what I had assumed? Of course, it was neither - it was just awful.

The next week was a nightmare. We had been due to fly to Ireland to see them all for Rosie's birthday. Now we wanted to get there as soon as possible to give whatever help we could and to be with them. The worst aspect of all was that this lovely young family was faced with coping with the final two months of a pregnancy with no hope of a happy outcome. No intervention was possible so they just had to wait.

Mercifully the wait was not prolonged. Cathy was soon readmitted to hospital and her stillborn little daughter arrived in the night. Daisy was baptised the following day and Cathy came home to an uncomprehending little boy and a tiny girl whose first birthday party was arranged for the next day! Somehow we all got through this - birthday cake, candle and all. Daisy's funeral was held two days later.

A grandparent in these circumstances is one step removed from the worst of the personal pain but is torn in many ways. You are so sad about the loss but also desperately worried about how a much loved son and daughter in law will react. Will they cope? Will they succumb to depression and /or bitterness? What of their two children, especially the three year old who had been so looking forward to the new arrival? How to comfort, what to say? Should you try to help them express their grief, or encourage them to get on with their lives as quickly as possible? How to avoid the gaffes, such as referring to Daisy when you meant Rosie? There were no easy answers to any of these questions but all the extended family tried the best they could to offer support and love - as did hospital staff, clergy, and Colin and Cathy's work colleagues and friends. Hopefully we were all able to help them, if only a little.

Well, it's more than a year on as I write this and the healing process is under way. Sands has been a lifeline, not only for the immediate response and the help the organisation gave to Colin and Cathy, but in the focus their subsequent work for the charity has given to them. But for Sands, would we have thought of going for a Christmas Day swim off the Donegal coast as a fundraising event? I think not. And, though scarred, I am sure we have all gained something from the little girl we never got to know and cuddle.