Discovering you’re pregnant should be an exciting experience, but what do you do when the unimaginable happens? How do you get through the day when your baby has died? In 2016, Jodie Blackman and her family lost their baby girl Evelyn. But with support from Sands and their loved ones, Jodie’s family is now stronger than ever
My husband Lee and I have been together 11 years, and married for six. Four children later, we’re stronger than ever. After some tragic events in our lives that would tear a lot of families apart, we’ve been able to cling on to each other like never before.
We met in 2007 and quickly became a very settled couple; we moved in together after a year, and found out I was pregnant with our first child in 2010. I suffer with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), so was advised to start a family young as it can take a while to fall pregnant. At only 21 years old I was a little scared of the unknown, but I knew with Lee by my side, and our family’s support, we could be the best parents.
In January 2011, our gorgeous daughter Luna was born, who quickly captured our hearts and was a daddy’s girl from day one!
Lee and I married in June 2012 and, with Luna there watching, it was a magical day – finally we were a “proper” family unit.
We wanted a small age gap between our children, so started trying again as soon as we were married. We thought it would take a while because of the PCOS, but after our honeymoon I started getting those tell-tale symptoms. Fast forward to April 2013 and we welcomed our baby boy Jude into the world.
He slotted into our family perfectly. Luna loved her brother and always wanted to “help” me with feeds!
2015 came and Luna went off to school, and I really missed the dynamic of having both children at home. Three children was always my dream – Lee took a little more convincing. He eventually came round to my reasoning that when we’re old and grey it’ll be lovely to have lots of children to look after us!
We began trying for our third child and I fell pregnant after a few months. Unfortunately this pregnancy wasn’t meant to be and I had an early miscarriage. We had only known I was pregnant for a few days, so our happiness was very quickly snatched away from us.
We didn’t really have a discussion about trying again for another baby, we just knew that’s what we wanted – I think even more so after the loss.
In 2016, I fell pregnant again. It wasn’t the easiest of starts, as I bled until about 12 weeks, but I had regular scans to reassure me that our baby was alive and well. The first seven months flew by, before we had another devastating blow. We knew we were having a girl this time and the children were ecstatic to be getting a baby sister.
At my 31-week midwife appointment, she was concerned my bump was a little larger than it should be, so referred me for a growth scan the next day. I wasn’t concerned at all, as Luna and Jude were above average weights, so I just assumed she was going to be a big baby too.
However, I went to that appointment only to be told that she had a brain abnormality, and that I had to have further tests at St George’s Hospital in London.
Being told there was something wrong with our baby was heartbreaking. As a mum I was supposed to be keeping her safe and well inside me, but we were soon to find out that she wasn’t very well at all.
After multiple visits to St George’s for scans, MRI and an amniocentesis, they found numerous brain abnormalities with our baby girl, caused by a chromosome deletion. The list of problems was endless and we were advised that she was not viable for life outside the womb. I had no idea how to cope with this news myself, let alone how to break it to our kids. Lee took the lead on this, and I’ll be forever thankful to him that I didn’t have to say those words to my other babies.
Late on 29 October, I started getting contractions and we made our way to the hospital. We were shown through to, what I now know is called, the bereavement suite.
The midwife went through lots of options about what I wanted to happen in birth and after. She gave me a booklet called When Your Baby Dies Before Birth, provided by the charity Sands. It was a tough read when I was so unaware of what was to come in the next few hours, but that booklet has stayed with me and it’s something I still read occasionally now. It takes me back to a very scared and anxious time, but it also helps me to remember parts of labour that I had otherwise blocked out.
At 33 +3 weeks pregnant, on 30 October 2016, our sweet baby girl Evelyn Jean was born. She weighed 4lbs 12oz and was such a mixture of her big sister and brother.
After being checked over, we were able to dress her and wrap her up in a blanket my mum had bought for her, and spend some time just cuddling and staring at her, trying to take in every little detail of her before we had to say our goodbyes.
The bereavement midwives were amazing throughout the whole process. We were given a memory box – again provided by Sands. Inside were more information booklets – we still refer back to these whenever we need a bit of guidance.
There were two teddy bears inside; one to stay with Evelyn and one to come home with us. It provided us with the tools to take a hand and foot print of our baby – something I hadn’t even thought of doing. It encouraged us to make memories with her, and supported us throughout any future decisions we were going to have to make.
After leaving the hospital, organising and having a funeral for Evelyn, I found myself at a bit of a loss. I was supposed to be at home caring for our newborn daughter and her two siblings, but instead I was just finding ways to cope with getting up each day.
Lee was put in touch with a guy, through a mutual friend, who had lost a son before birth too. He very quickly became a lifeline for Lee – someone who could relate to everything Lee was feeling and offer support. We met up with Jay and his wife, Leigh, and became friends instantly. It’s amazing that through our losses we have found a lifelong friendship.
As a parent to a baby that isn’t alive, you have a fear that people will forget about them, and I know Leigh felt that too. We decided to keep their memories alive through a family fun day, with all money raised being donated to Sands, to provide even just one person with a memory box, and help break the taboo of talking about our lost babies.
In July 2017, with the help of our family, friends and the very generous public, we raised more than £6,000. We had a football match, bouncy castle, live music, raffle, and an auction. I hope the money we raised has gone on to help other families in a similar position to us. At the time it’s just booklets and words, but in hindsight I couldn’t have done without those words.
We have since attended a couple of Sands support meetings and have also found that talking to other parents, who may have a few years more experience on the roller coaster that is grief, has helped massively. There can be light at the end of the tunnel – you just need the right support around you.
We now find ourselves eight months pregnant with our fourth baby, still supported by Sands and their Rainbow baby groups. Although it’s been an anxious time for us, we have the best support around us and two lifelong friends in Jay and Leigh who continue to help us.
I will be forever thankful to Sands in helping to guide us to a place where we could see a happy future in life after loss.
Evelyn will always be a huge part of our family and will never be replaced or forgotten.
Jodie and Lee’s story underlines the importance of reaching out in adversity. They were fortunate to be able to draw on their strong relationship, professional support, and new friends to help them find a way through their confusion and grief. Grief is not a brief process, but as Jodie points out, the person lost remains a part of your life, which can help you find a way forward. Thank you for sharing this inspiring story Jodie, and wishing you and your growing family all the best.