Credit: ELC

“She couldn’t find a tiny enough christening gown, so Mary sewed one for her.”

Vicky with her daugher Líadán; one of tiny handmade christening gowns

Vicky Wall says that the loss of her baby daughter brought her to realise that sometimes, even amongst the enormous pain and heartbreak of infant death, the small things also mattered. 

“When Líadán was born, she was so tiny. Beautiful and precious and perfect, but tiny. We took her home from the hospital in a cuddle cot, so everyone could visit before the funeral and I remember panicking because it was so hard to get clothes to fit her and I didn’t know where to find them,” she says.

“When you’re burying your child, you have this very short window of time, and you want to focus on her and hold her and love her. So one of the things we do now is to provide tiny babygros and extra small hats for parents to use after baby is born, so that they can just focus on saying hello and goodbye to their child.”

Thank you to the wonderful volunteers who knit these precious pieces for sick babies

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Líadán was diagnosed with Trisomy 18, a life-limiting condition which sometimes means that baby will not live for long after birth. She was stillborn at 32 weeks. “If our love could have saved you, you would have lived forever,” her parents inscribed on her gravestone.

Vicky now works with an organisation called Every Life Counts, which seeks to help parents when they’ve been given a poor diagnoses for their unborn baby.

“It’ can be such a devastating, frightening time,” she says. “We realised that there are some key requirements parents have: they need factual information about their baby’s condition; they need peer-to-peer support and sometimes counselling; and they absolutely need help to make the most of the time they have with baby.”

With Every Life Counts she started to design Care Boxes – special packages sent to families who have received a poor diagnosis for baby, each one tailored for the unique situation in which each family finds themselves.

One of the Care Boxes ready to be shipped to a family

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“We’re contacted mostly by women who’ve been told that their baby has either Trisomy 13 or 18, or anencephaly, but we’re here to help anyone whose baby has a life-limiting condition,” she explains. “Sometimes parents want help with birth plans, or with explaining what to expect to siblings, or they just want to talk to another parent who has been through the same situation.”

“Very often, parents are given this news in the worst possible way,” she says. “Ugly and misleading words like ‘fatal’ and ‘doomed’ are used, and I know from being in that situation that your first instinct is to think, “you’re talking about my baby, I can feel her moving and kicking, what can you do to help her – and to help me?”

“Our Care Boxes are a gift to parents with some of what they need to make the most of the time they have with baby, no matter how short that life is. They want to know their baby is precious and valued,” Ms Wall says. “We pack in gifts for mum and dad – helpful information, art therapy books we’ve designed, even fluffy socks – and then there’s the gifts for baby and to help make those very precious memories. A story book to read to baby, tiny baby-gros, clay to make hand and foot prints, a locket, soft bear for siblings, hand-made tiny knitted hats, a keepsake box. Every family gets something a little different, because every story is different and important.”

But last year, one mum, whose baby was due within weeks, asked Every Life Counts if they knew where she could she find a tiny christening gown. “Everyone hopes and prays for time with baby after birth, and for many parents that also involves a christening. But where do you find a tiny christening gown? Most of what’s available would swamp some of our tiny babies,” Vicky Wall remembers.

 

Thank you cards from families

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“I sent out a message to our network, and Mary Curran got back straight away. She’s a mum of 10 from Waterford (and a gran to 11), and really gifted at sewing and crafts. She said she’d make the gown from scratch, and she did. She found a little doll’s pattern to size the gown, and took handmade lace and pieces from her own daughter’s wedding dress.”

“It was just stunning, you could see the love and special care in every stitch. Our mum was overwhelmed, it meant the world to her. It was such a very special gift, a way of saying ‘we’re here for you and your beautiful baby. We’ll put our arms around you and walk this path with you’.”

Two more beautiful hand-made christening gowns have been made since for babies whose lives were too-short but filled with love. “It’s so moving to see how people can come together to help people at such a heartbreaking time,” read one message. “There’s so much goodness in the world.”

“And then we have these other wonderful women all around the country – often mums who have lost their own babies –  who knit tiny little hats and mittens and booties and cardies for these babies, because they want to help. They want to help to bring joy and make important memories because they know that letting love shine through is how to bring healing,” Vicky Wall says.

March is Trisomy Awareness Month, and Every Life Counts has been sharing parent’s stories and interviewing families to help build Trisomy Awareness. “These parents and their babies are amazing, they are #TrisomyBrave, and we’re sharing their stories to let people know that help is available and that love and joy can bring us through loss and sorrow.,” says Ms Wall. “These babies deserve no less.”

 

 

 

The handmade christening gowns

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