June is Sands Awareness Month, when both Sands, and their supporters, work hard to increase awareness of stillbirth and neonatal death and the everlasting impact experienced when a precious baby dies during pregnancy, at birth or shortly afterwards. While many more people are aware of the pain of baby loss because of the work of Sands and other organisations, many people still have no idea and it remains a taboo subject.
And whilst I have shared our story, countless times, and been overwhelmed by the love and support you have shown our family, and Joseph’s memory, today I wanted to share another Mummy’s story – the story of Cate, Mummy to Raz and Elsa, and her mission to raise awareness of stillbirth and neonatal death and the life changing effect that they have.
My son, Raz, died in December 2015, 30 weeks into a perfectly healthy and textbook pregnancy. No health care professionals had ever had a moments concern about his health, and none had mentioned stillbirth to me as a possibility. I thought that it was something that only happened extremely rarely, to babies already too sick to survive, to victims of medical negligence, not ones that kicked ALL.THE.TIME, that hiccupped and grew and thrived, that were so wanted, that were mine.
I never bought into the ‘it’s safe at 12 weeks’ mindset. I knew things could go wrong. But everyone told me that after 30 weeks he would be fine. That even if he were born prematurely he’d likely survive. On the day that he turned 30 weeks I got worried, I couldn’t remember when I’d last felt him kick (I’d had a grotty cold and hadn’t been totally with it). I rang the hospital and they told me to lie down, drink something cold and eat something sugary. Give it two hours, if I was still worried to call them back. One of the longest two hours of my life. I lay there going out of my mind. There was no movement. Not a thing. I knew it was serious, I knew he was sick. He must be resting up; everyone said he’d be fine.
We went to the hospital and the midwife tried to find a heartbeat – ‘The baby must be hiding, let’s move you somewhere we can do a scan to get a good look”. What felt like an eternity while they scanned my belly. Then the dreaded words “I’m sorry, there’s no heartbeat”. After writing all of this down it seems foolish, but they were words I never expected to hear.
Just like that, my world crumbled. My darling son, who was so longed for. He was gone.
One thing I feel that people don’t really realize or think about is that when your baby dies you still have to give birth to them. To meet them. To love them. To have the innate urge to put some food in their open, lifeless mouth. To want to cuddle them up and never let them go.
The latest statistic is 15 babies per day die either after the 25th week of pregnancy, during or shortly after birth. 1 in 220 babies. One every 90 minutes.
In December last year, Raz turned two. We spent the day with him, just like any parent. But on that day I also started a yearlong challenge. To walk 2000 miles before his third birthday – to raise money for stillbirth research and also bring awareness to stillbirth. Three weeks ago, I successfully reached my halfway point. My 2000 mile journey is the equivalent of walking from Bristol, my hometown, to Istanbul. At this point in my fictitious European tour, I would have just passed Vienna.
It’s been a long slog so far. Helped and hindered by my beautiful rainbow daughter. She’s 19 months old and comes on the vast majority of my walks. She’s not always a massive fan, but in the main she is very good about it. Though I have to say, if you’re not impressed by 2000 miles, then surely throwing parenting a toddler into the mix, having to plan my walks around meal and nap times, as well as every day life, should get me some points!
Any money raised will support the Manchester Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre, the only dedicated stillbirth research centre in the UK. This centre works with Tommy’s and St Mary’s Hospital. Through their research they have managed to develop tests and treatments that have resulted in a 29% decrease in stillbirths across Manchester since 2011.
If you would like to support me, please head to my JustGiving page (www.justgiving.com/2000miles) and give whatever you can. Even a few pennies make a difference. Stillbirth is a woefully underfunded area of research and one that I truly believe could benefit from more investment. I honestly believe that this will save lives and prevent families’ hopes from being ripped apart.
Thank you so much to Cate for sharing her story, and for the hard work she has done, and is doing, to help fewer parents suffer such a devastating loss. You can follow her journey over at –
Also, please head to the Kicks Count (www.kickscount.org.uk), Tommy’s (www.tommys.org) and Sands (www.sands.org.uk websites for more information. And if you’re pregnant and feel like there is something not quite right, trust your instinct and go and get checked. Even if it’s for the tenth time that day. Mother’s intuition shouldn’t be ignored.