My first daughter Alison was born 30 years ago in August 1973. The story of her birth, and death two days later, is similar to that of many other members of Sands, so I will not dwell on the details. This was the era when midwives sent mothers home with a cheery, "Never mind dear, you can have another one" (as if you had lost something you had bought in a supermarket) or, "See you in nine months" (as if you'd made a mistake this time round).
It was actually almost two years before they saw me again, but I was very lucky in having a son and later another daughter. A year after that we moved to a different part of the country, and I was encouraged to put it all behind me. I did this quite consciously and for a time I told my new friends an edited version of my history, which left Alison out altogether. It didn't work, and it was not long before I went back to telling the true story. This caused difficulties with these first friends, who were very hurt by having been excluded from the truth. A lesson learned!
In 1979 I read an article about Bel Mooney and Hazelanne Lewis, both of whom had had stillbirths. It was the first time I had encountered any mention of perinatal death in the media and it moved me to write to Hazelanne. Within a year, in conjunction with two other mothers, I had become chair of a newly formed group of the then fledgling 'Stillbirth and Perinatal Death Society', which later became SANDS. It was such a relief to meet other mothers and be able to talk and share experiences with them. Up till then I had never met anyone else who had been bereaved in this way, and although I knew the statistics, there had been many times when I had felt I was the only one in the whole world.
During the next few years we established a thriving group. We met monthly and even included fathers in some of our activities! Our aim was to be able to help other mothers, but with hindsight I understand that many of us were able to use the group to do our own grieving. Having been told repeatedly that I should "put it all behind me", I had never properly grieved for Alison in the seven years since she was born.
Eventually I felt it was time to move on and I went on to do other things, including bringing up our two wonderful young people who have brought us much joy and continue to do so.
Then in 1997 a series of coincidences brought me back to Sands and I was persuaded that I was not too old to make a contribution as a facilitator on some of the Befriender Training days. In 1980 there was no training, we just went in and did our best! I wonder if we did any harm, but most people just wanted to talk and share: theses things never change.
Three years ago, on a visit to the area where we previously lived I felt able to visit the local crematorium where Alison's funeral had been held. In more than a quarter of a century I had never been there. I didn't go to her funeral, bowing to the pressure of people around me who thought it would be too upsetting. The place didn't affect me much, but I did feel that a piece of "unfinished business" had been dealt with.
Then last year I saw a TV documentary about the Queens Medical Centre in Nottingham, which included the information that they keep patient records for 30 years. It had been in the back of my mind for a long time to try to find out more about what really happened when Alison was born.
It proved surprisingly easy to contact the hospital records department and ask them to send me my records, which arrived within a week. They said very little about Alison as, having lived for two days, she had become a patient in her own right with her own record. I wrote to the hospital again and her record arrived promptly.
Disappointingly I discovered very little that I didn't already know. I had hoped for a photograph, or perhaps an ultra sound image, but there was neither. Ultra sound scans were at the experimental stage 30 years ago, and it was impressed upon me how lucky I was to have the chance to benefit from this new technology. This supposed good luck did not bring me a positive outcome.
Like many others of my generation, I have no memorials - no photos, locks of hair, foot or handprints. The nearest to a real memento is the wrist band which I was wearing when I came out of the hospital and of course her birth and death certificates. On days when I wonder if it was all a bad dream these have helped to reassure me that she did exist.
Sometimes it is difficult not to feel jealous of modern parents, but I try to remember that we campaigned all these years ago to make it the way it is in many areas today. Our group bought High Wycombe Hospital their first Polaroid camera, and I made two little gowns, one pink and one blue, so that babies did not have be photographed in a hospital one.
So what message can I offer to those of you more newly bereaved? Two things: my biggest regrets are the things I did NOT do. If you feel something is right for you, don't let anyone persuade you that you ought not to do it.
Secondly that it never too late to take steps to find that grave or get that record, and the knowledge that I have done so has brought a feeling of peace. I feel a sense of completion and the lingering feeling of unfinished business ahs gone, after all these years.
One last thought. In the early days when I was visiting a newly bereaved mother, she asked, "Will I ever be the same again?" Up to that point, seven years from my own experiences, I had never really thought about that question. But after some consideration my reply, "No, you will never be the same again, but with any luck, in time, you'll be better." I still believe that is true. I am certainly a different person and I would like to think that I am a better one as a result of Alison's very brief little life.