From the moment we found out that Findlay had died, Tom and I knew we wanted – no needed – to do something in his memory. As we sat in the small consulting room, surrounded by bereavement leaflets and hospital documents, feeling utterly helpless and desolate, I turned to my husband and said ‘We have to do something. All this, our baby dying…it can’t just be for nothing.’
Of course, I realise that Findlay’s death wasn’t for anything. Sometimes devastating things happen and there’s no explanation. No purpose. No silver lining. And absolutely nothing anyone can do to change it.
Call it a distraction, an outlet for my grief, an attempt to find meaning in my life amidst the heartache and pain; whatever the reason, it was then that we decided to organise a charity dinner to raise money for our local Sands group.
Who are Sands?
“Sands exists to support anyone affected by the death of a baby, to improve the bereavement care received by parents and families, and to influence policy makers and promote research to reduce the number of babies dying.” – Sands website
Sands, the stillbirth and neonatal death charity, have been my lifeline. From practical support, such as information about preparing for Findlay’s birth, organising his funeral and returning to work; to telephone and online support network which helped Tom and I realise that (tragically) we are not alone in losing our baby; Sands were by our side through every painful step of this harrowing road which we found ourselves on.
In addition to the support they offer those affected by the death of a baby, Sands work tirelessly to fund and promote research into stillbirth and neonatal death and are at the forefront of improving bereavement care. For those who are in the fortunate position not to have needed their support, it is possible to underestimate just how vital their work is and how much this charity means to families like ours, but I cannot overstate how special this organisation is. They saved me.
Tom and I decided to commit our fundraising specifically to our local branch, Norfolk Sands. I’ll explain more about why later on.
My dad had organised several Sportsman’s dinners over the years, so he seemed the obvious person to turn to for help (as well as his extensive black book of potential attendees!)
We were overwhelmed by the support we received from family, friends and local businesses, who rallied together to buy tickets, spread the word and donate items. We put together a pretty impressive selection of auction and raffle items, including a 1966 World Cup winners signed print, signed and framed Thierry Henry Arsenal shirt and audience tickets for Soccer AM, including meet and greet with presenters and guests (courtesy of my wonderful friend Hannah. If you haven’t seen her show Game Changers on Sky Sports then go and check it out – yes, it’s a kids programme but this girl is seriously A-MAZING. So do it! Once you’ve finished reading of course.)
We had 250 tickets to sell and, despite my initial apprehension about getting bums on seats, we sold out in a matter of weeks and even had a waiting list! It was set to be the social event of the season.
The star of the show was undoubtedly football hero and Mr Homes Under the Hammer himself Dion Dublin, who captivated guests with tales from Sir Alex Ferguson’s dressing room, revealed some Match of the Day backstage gossip and shared his top-tips for boosting your profit margins for your next one-bed flat renovation project.
The evening was compèred by the hilarious Adger Brown and with top-notch food, fabulous prizes and some astonishing close-up magic tricks there was something for everyone. I mean, who doesn’t love a balloon animal?
Alongside raising money, we wanted to raise awareness of stillbirth and neonatal death and elevate the profile of Norfolk Sands. When Findlay died, there was little support available in our region. Whilst we had access to Sands’ extensive online and telephone provision, what I desperately wanted was to meet with and talk to others in a similar situation; I needed to feel like we weren’t alone. Sands do offer local volunteer-led support groups, but there weren’t any in Norfolk.
The Norfolk Sands committee was down to just four members, following the loss of a number of volunteers over previous years, and as such they didn’t have the manpower to accommodate the number of bereaved parents in our region. The group were still providing memory boxes and supporting local hospitals to improve bereavement care through training and remembrance services, but a lack of trained befrienders meant there was little else they could offer.
In January 2016 Tom and I joined the committee, along with several other new members, and we have all been working over the last 15 months to get Norfolk Sands’ online, telephone and support groups back up and running. There are now a further three trained befrienders within the group and in March we officially relaunched the support meetings. I want to say that no one attended, that they weren’t needed, but sadly there were several of us at the group – including one couple who were very recently bereaved. Stillbirth and neonatal death is still happening. Babies are still dying. And until they’re not, organisations like Sands will be there. Providing support, funding research, giving hope that there is a life after loss.
The dinner was a roaring success (even if I do say so myself) raising over £8,000.
It was decided that a significant chunk of the money would be used to fund a new wireless fetal heart monitor for the Norfolk & Norwich Hospital’s maternity department, as well as accompanying training for the midwives.
This piece of equipment means that the baby’s heartbeat can be continually monitored throughout labour, whilst still allowing mothers the freedom to move around rather than being restricted to the bed in the way the traditional, wired machines do. Research has shown that being upright and able to change position not only relieves discomfort (of which there is a great deal associated with labour) but enables women to work with their bodies, babies (and gravity!) to labour more efficiently, thus reducing the need for intervention to assist the birth. [Source]
In ‘high risk’ pregnancies, fetal heart monitoring can give an early warning of any complications, which could save babies’ lives. As someone who knows how terrifying pregnancy after loss is, I cannot emphasise how important it is to have the reassurance of knowing that your baby’s heart rate is being monitored, whilst still being able to respond to the needs of your body and do what feels natural. And let me tell you – laying on your back, strapped to a bed in tangle of wires is not natural.
Okay, perhaps I’m being a tad melodramatic, but it is hard to keep the CTG bands in the correct position when you have an overwhelming desire to get down on all fours and bellow like a cape buffalo in mating season. I received a number of tellings-off from our no-nonsense midwife Abbygail during my labour with Leo for ‘wriggling too much’ whilst she was trying to monitor his heartbeat. In my defence, staying still is easier said than done when your baby is literally CROWNING – not that anyone had realised I was that ready to push! But I digress…
This monitor even works in the birth pool, which is pretty cool.
I am extremely proud of this event and the money we raised in Findlay’s memory. I was overwhelmed by the support we received from loved ones and strangers alike; their generosity and kindness, which came at a time when the world appeared a cruel and desolate place, renewed my faith in humanity. I learned that it is possible to survive even the most tragic of circumstances; that there is life after loss, and it can be beautiful: even though it is not the life you wanted or imagined.
I am also grateful to have had something to focus on to help me navigate my grief; something positive which we achieved in the face of brutal heartbreak and devastation. This dinner became the vessel into which I poured the love which was bursting the banks of my heart for the boy who never came home, and on the darkest of days it gave me a purpose, a reason to go on.
Knowing that this monitor will provide reassurance to other parents, and could help to save even one baby’s life, fills my heart with pride; it seems like a fitting tribute to our small soldier.
I hope that Findlay is proud of his legacy, and his family, too.
For more information about Sands and the incredible work they do, check out their website https://www.sands.org.uk/
Information about Norfolk Sands, including details of their support line and meetings, can be found at http://www.norfolksands.org.uk/