Baby Loss Awareness Week: 'Nothing kills a conversation like a dead child, but denying Ciaran's existence feels like a betrayal'
This week, a band of 15 brave women – all members of the East Herts branch of stillbirth and neo-natal death charity Sands – are taking part in a poignant photographic project called "15 Faces of Baby Loss"* – to break the taboo about dead babies.
Baby Loss Awareness Week, from Wednesday October 9 to Tuesday October 15, is their chance to unite with others across the country and the world to commemorate their children's lives, to raise awareness of the issue and to drive improvements in bereavement care and support.
Every day in the UK, 15 babies die before, during or shortly after birth. On New Year's Day 1995, my third child, a little boy called Ciaran, was one of them.
He entered the world at 2.17am to silence – a new year but no new life.
Before, as I had laboured, I heard the National Lottery show blaring on a television in the ward next door to the small room I had been allocated away from the other mums.
I already knew I would not be winning that night. There would be nothing but loss.
Shortly after Christmas, I had noticed that my baby was not moving as energetically as he had been, but I assumed he was short of space as his due date grew nearer. I was only 35 weeks' pregnant but my two older children had both been born early.
Nevertheless, I consulted my midwife and, before I knew it, I was being sent to St John's Hospital in Chelmsford for an emergency C-section.
However, doctors there decided to send me foetal cardiology specialists at Guy's Hospital in London as my baby's heart was beating twice as fast as it should have been. As I sped to the capital in an ambulance, I was terrified.
After I had been given an ECG to check my cardiac health, I was given drugs to try to slow Ciaran's heart rate, but to no avail. The face of a young doctor as he carried out a final ultrasound scan told its own story.
Labour began and I decided to return to Chelmsford to be closer to my family as I faced the birth. It seemed oddly appropriate that my older children were born during the day, but Ciaran was born in the dead of night.
He was a hefty boy like my first son Joseph, weighing in at an ironically healthy 9lb 7oz, and he looked uncannily like his sister Enya, with the same nose and mouth. Like his older siblings, he had a shock of dark hair.
As I held him close, I knew he was part of me, my child, and yet I would never get to know him.
A post mortem failed to establish any reason for his death – he was perfect but just didn't make it.
The following days, weeks and even months were a blur. While I may have wanted to go to sleep and never wake up, my daughter celebrated her first birthday the week before Ciaran died and my first-born was three the week after. I had my hands full and, in the end, that was my salvation.
At the end of October 1996, I returned to St John's Hospital to have Oliver, and the relief when he was born safely was overwhelming. But he was not and never could be a replacement for his brother. He is his own person and my fourth child. There are no substitutes.
Every time I look at my three living children together, I see a space and a son who is missing.
You never get over your loss – you just slowly grow stronger and more able to bear the pain. Even after so many years, family and friends know invitations to New Year celebrations will be politely but firmly refused.
I no longer spend hours sobbing under a duvet, but it is the one night of the year when I feel free to grieve, to look at his pictures and to wonder about the young man he should be now. It will be a quarter of a century this new year, but it still feels like yesterday.
Some things never change. Even now the hardest question in the world to answer is: "How many children do you have?" Do I tell the truth and risk awkwardness and embarrassment?
Nothing kills a conversation like a dead child, but denying Ciaran's existence feels like a betrayal.
So I have four kids and I fully support the work brave mums like East Herts Sands members Justine Raja, who lost daughter Violet, and Katherine Kannegieter, whose son Finley died, are doing to break the taboo and end the silence. We need to talk.
* See Wednesday's Bishop's Stortford Independent for a 4-page special – including the "15 Faces of Baby Loss" – by news editor Sinead Corr on Baby Loss Awareness Week, including the baby loss stories of three Bishop's Stortford and Sawbridgeworth mums.