Jed mum behind SiMBA support for bereaved parents

SiMBA Sharron and DarrenMcLean
SiMBA Sharron and DarrenMcLean

A BORDERS mum who lost her baby in her fourth month of pregnancy is helping other families in the same situation.

Jedburgh’s Sharron McLean, together with Louise Blair, helped the charity Simpson Memory Box Appeal (SiMBA) set up in the region three months ago.

And already there are five other mums and families, who are mourning the premature loss of their babies, attending the support group.

Mrs McLean said: “We felt there wasn’t anything for us at the time. I think the thing with the support group is you don’t have to explain how you feel. When you talk about your experiences, other mothers will nod because they have been through it too, you don’t need to hide from how you feel.

“I really don’t know where I would be without the support I was given – it let me know it was all right to feel the way I did.”

Sharron and her husband Darren, who have a three-year-old son, Hamish, found out there was something wrong with their daughter at 12 weeks. She had an enlarged fluid sack behind her head and tests showed she had Turner syndrome, a chromosome disorder.

“We were told at 15 weeks that she wasn’t going to survive.”

Mrs McLean was given a tablet to induce labour.

“It’s a terrifying experience. As a mum you want to be able to protect your baby but there is nothing you can do. It’s so outwith your control, you are doing things but you feel as though you are not really there, as if you are watching someone else go through it.

“Labour is usually quite quick, you can be in and out the same day. After it has all happened you can see your baby and they will give you photos. I know for me I was terrified, wondering ‘what’s she going to look like?’ They were super at the BGH, they described her, it was all so respectful.”

Back home, Mrs McLean continues: “I sat down on my sofa, I felt so empty, really hollow. I wasn’t pregnant any more. Because I had gone through labour before I knew all the pains, but this time it wasn’t ‘it’ll all be worth it, you’ll have your baby’.

“My husband realised it much more because he was having to watch me go through it as well as coping with the loss of his baby.

“I didn’t want to see other people because nobody understood. They were really sympathetic though some people crossed the street and some of my best friends didn’t pick up the phone because they didn’t know what to say.

“After the first couple of days go by you start to feel stronger. Everybody’s life has carried on, but yours will never be the same again.”

On returning to work she said: “You are stepping into an environment when everything else was fine, nothing around you had changed but you are a totally different person, trying to fit back in. You get back to being a version of yourself, you learn to cope with it.

“I’m sure from mums I have spoken to you learn to cope with the pain and come to terms with not having the baby, but you never get over it.”

SiMBA was set up in 2005 by a midwife and others to raise money to create ‘memory boxes’ to help families and honour babies who have died, been stillborn or miscarried.

The memory boxes are little treasure chests of mementos such as a hand-sewn blanket on which the baby has rested, a birth acknowledgement certificate, hand and foot prints and in some cases photos. It was introduced to Simpson’s Centre for Reproductive Health in Edinburgh as the result of a donation from a bereaved parent and has since given comfort to many parents through difficult times.

“It’s very much about making memories for people. If you have lost your baby you walk out of the hospital empty-handed. That box is all you have got and all you will ever have. It’s so precious to people, it’s all you’ve got to remember your baby by,” said Mrs McLean.

The charity also makes ‘trees of tranquillity’ where families can remember their lost baby, and raises money for a special private room for families whose babies will not live, where mothers can give birth.

The Borders tree of tranquillity is at Old Gala House, Galashiels, where bereaved families can place a leaf on the tree and take time to remember their baby in a tranquil garden setting.

“You don’t have a grave. It’s a beautiful place, a gorgeous garden and somewhere you can remember,” said Mrs McLean. And she hopes people who have lost babies even decades ago may find peace there: “Twenty, 30, 40 years ago mothers had their baby taken away and that was it.”

SiMBA completed the refurbishment of the en-suite family room, just off the main maternity ward of the BGH, in March last year.

“It’s not a baby ward, husbands are allowed in and it lets the whole family have time. There was another mum in the same situation when I was there, so I didn’t get to use the family room which was fine, she was already in there,” said Mrs McLean.

Some people’ reactions to Mrs McLean’s loss were: “Oh, it’s just a miscarriage”.

“Some people don’t realise as soon as you are past 11-12 weeks, you have to go through labour.

“The support I was given through SiMBA and BGH was really brilliant and got me through what was a really difficult time.”

In the UK 11 babies are stillborn every day and recent research put Britain 33rd out of 35 countries in the developed world for stillbirth rates.

“We are not improving. It’s still happening a lot. People think, because it’s never talked about, it doesn’t happen in the Borders. It does.”

Mrs McLean hopes more people will hear about SiMBA: “The worry is that there are families in the Borders who just don’t know the support is there.”

“The chaplain at the hospital is super, he’s a bereavement counsellor and is supporting our work. We are trying to make sure everybody is working together.”

Mrs McLean and Darren are raising money for the charity: “It’s given us something to get our teeth into knowing that we might be helping others in the same situation and giving back to SiMBA after how much they gave to us.

The pair were two of 90 SiMBA supporters who completed the recent Challenge Scotland walk in Edinburgh.

Cabinet-maker Darren will also be doing two cycling sportifs of more than 100 miles, and the 100-mile Tour of Britain ride in September.

“It’s a challenge for him. He’s done one 100-miler before. For him cycling has been a way of getting through it. It’s different for dads – they are looking after the mum as well as going through the loss. It’s something he feels he can do for his daughter.”

And the pair are organising a quiz night in Jedburgh at the end of July.

“It’s really finding a positive way to move forward and not dwelling in the past which can make you so bitter and angry.

“You do have times when you think why did it happen to us? You can’t do anything about it but what you can do is move forward and do something for someone else.”

The support group meets at Old Gala House on the first Wednesday of each month from 7-9pm.