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Because family life matters

Alex’s story – A very short life

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Alex’s son Samuel died in May 2019 when he was just 11 days old. We spoke with her to find out what happened and how her family has coped this year, especially during lockdown.

Can you tell us a little bit about your family situation?

My name is Alex and I am married to Mike. We have a son Connor, who is 14, and a daughter Bethany, aged 7.

What has been different for you over the last couple of years?

Having been told that I was infertile, I realised in September 2018 that I was pregnant. Mike and I were both surprised but happy.

I had an easy pregnancy. I was seldom sick, and we had a lovely Christmas. During my 20-week scan three days later, the sonographer asked about our daughter’s heart. She had had a small heart valve problem when she was born and we were told that she would need surgery; but it healed quickly, and she has been in perfect health since.

The sonographer said that there was something wrong with our baby’s heart. Apparently congenital heart defects are more common if you have an older sibling with it – we had never been told this. We had a scan with a cardiologist two weeks later. She confirmed the diagnosis and that it was not fixable.

Heartbroken, we went home to tell our children. We were honest, not using misleading language like “The baby will fall asleep.” We found out he was a boy and named him Samuel. It was difficult to be pregnant with a baby who was safe as long as he was in my body, while also grieving the future that he wouldn’t have. That said, I was still able to enjoy being pregnant.

We are Christians and alongside our church, prayed for healing. But we both felt that our baby wasn’t intended to live a long life. This didn’t mean that Samuel wasn’t important. In fact, I know that his life is just as precious and valuable as anyones. A short life can still be full of love and joy and have a big impact.

We were able to live as a family in Charlton Farm hospice, where we had a peaceful and happy 11 days with Samuel. He looked perfect and needed little medical assistance. As I had a C-section, my sister Laura also stayed to help me. We made beautiful memories with our three children and wider family and friends.

If he had been born during the Covid-19 pandemic, Samuel would not have been able to meet many people and our lives would have been much more lonely. I do feel for anyone who has had a similar diagnosis, miscarriage or stillbirth this year.

Alex and Samuel

Anniversaries and birthdays can be really difficult days to navigate. How did you cope with that in May this year during the Covid-19 pandemic?

We had planned to visit Samuel’s memorial tree in a local park on the anniversaries of his birth and death, but were shielding and in lockdown so couldn’t even leave the house. Instead, I bought a cherry tree in a pot for the garden. Following our family tradition, we enjoyed cake for breakfast on his birthday. We also looked through his clothes, which we hadn’t done up to that point. Connor and Bethany chose some items for their memory boxes.

Some friends and family remembered Samuel’s birthday, which I had been worried would be forgotten, and we received lovely gifts, cards and messages. On the first anniversary of his death, we spent some time in the garden and blew bubbles together. I would probably have preferred to see loved ones, but it was a relief to not have to go into school or work.

Now you are into the second year after Samuel’s death, how are you all doing and what are you finding challenging?

I get anxious and was very angry at first. Most of the time I am ok, except for the sadness that never goes away. Mike also struggles with his mental health. We find it hard to look forward to the future or have fun. This isn’t helped by the pandemic.

Our children are resilient, although of course, they are sad. We talk about how we are feeling and never hide our emotions. We do still have some happy times. I find that doing art with Bethany helps us both to relax.

What are some of the things that you would like others to know about supporting anyone who has lost a very young baby?

Be kind, listen, and don’t avoid them. Instead of rushing in with unasked-for advice and telling them how they should feel, ask how they are. Message them often so that they don’t feel forgotten. It’s harder now because you can’t hug. But you can send a text, a card or a thoughtful gift.

We hope that Care for the Family’s Bereaved Parent Support have been able to help you, even in some small way – what has been of most help to you?

I recently attended an Online Support Day for Bereaved Parents, which I found helpful because I felt less alone. There is no normal with grieving, but it helps to know that there are others like you, with similar struggles and emotions, who understand the unique difficulties of life with grief.

Alex – thank you so much for talking with us.  We are sure that what you have said will help many other parents feel less alone.

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At Care for the Family we support couples, parents and those who have been bereaved. If you would be able to make a one-off donation to support our work, we would be very grateful. Thank you.