40 stories for #Sands40
40 stories for #Sands40, | 4 July 2018

As part of Sands 40th anniversary this year, we will share 40 stories by 40 parents, family members and friends affected by the death of a baby. Starting in June to coincide with Sands Awareness Month and our #FindingTheWords campaign, we aim to show the sheer number of people who are affected by the tragedy of a baby’s death, help other bereaved parents to understand they are not alone and raise awareness of the issues surrounding stillbirth and neonatal death. Visit our 40 stories for #Sands40 to view other blogs in the series.


My story is about our daughter, Dora. She was born on 14 January 2012. 

Dora was born very quickly and I was left in shock by the speed of the birth. One of the midwives said Dora needed to go and see a paediatrician but she let me hold her briefly before she took her away.

I will never forget the look she gave me as long as I live: She fixed her big blue eyes on me and we held each other’s gaze. Her skin was so clear and beautiful. I thought she would be returned to my arms in a short while. 

The next few hours unfolded very slowly and now it is all a foggy blur. About three hours after Dora was born, a paediatrician came to tell us she was gravely ill and they would do everything they could for her. The phone calls I made to my parents went from delight to despair. 

We were moved to a special parents room (away from the labour ward, thankfully) where we just sat, staring in disbelief.

Eventually, we were given the news that Dora had died. We went to see her and my husband held her for the first time. And that was the point, for the next year, where I felt like I was detached from the rest of the world. 

We walked out the hospital without our daughter. We carried an empty car seat and I can’t remember if we spoke. At that time, our son Sam was 15 months old. He had been born in the same hospital so we knew what it should have felt like leaving the hospital with a new baby. We were in a dreadful parallel universe. 

We got home in the early hours of the morning to both sets of parents. We fell into their arms and we cried endless tears. I think we stayed up until our son got up. We made him porridge. Got him dressed. He was our only anchor. 

Finding the words or the voice to tell people what had happened was near impossible. Still to this day, I feel the words sat in my mouth, unable to get them out. Sometimes it is to protect my feelings, sometimes other people’s. 

The months after Dora’s death were unbearably grim. There had to be a postmortem, we had to register her death. And we had to organise her funeral.

Choosing a coffin for your baby is one of the most dreadfully symbolic things you can do.

We wanted the funeral to be perfect but at the same time we were in shock and denial, and our emotions swung around minute to minute. Somehow we got through each day. 

Our local Sands group were an invaluable support in those early days. Who knew this group of brokenhearted people existed? People going through the motions each day but then finding huge solace with other parents at Sands who just ‘got’ their pain. 

We never found out why Dora died. And now it doesn’t change anything.

We were lucky, after an extremely anxious pregnancy, to have another son who we called Tom. He looked like his sister and has enough spirit for two children. 

The four of us talk about Dora, celebrate her birthday, guess what she would have been like and what she would be doing.

The death of a child brings a bittersweet quality to all happy family occasions and grief can creep up on you at any time, out of nowhere.

I recently had her name tattooed on the inside of my wrist in her honour so she is visible to me always. Our love for her is boundless. 


Photo: Anna McMahon's baby daughter, Dora. 

Dora, Anna McMahon

15 babies die before, during or shortly after birth every day in the UK. We want to reduce this number, but we need your help. Support #FindingTheWords initiative now to help ensure a bereaved parent doesn't have to cope alone. Thank you.