Back in the 1970s, when a baby was born ‘sleeping’ or died shortly after birth, their existence was far from recognised let alone celebrated. There was no dignity in death for these young souls. I have grown up knowing that I had an older brother who died a few weeks after he was born. I have also grown up knowing that my Mum and dad had no idea what happened to him after he died. All they had was a birth certificate and death certificate. They didn’t have any photos of him, no chance to take handprints or footprints, there was no funeral, there was no memorial.
Mum would often talk about ‘her little boy’ particularly around his birthday in September, but quite often out of the blue. He was born in 1971, after a long and difficult labour, with spina bifida and encephalitis. Mum and Dad had no idea. Back then there was no screening available and very little monitoring in comparison to the care received today. Immediately after delivery, Darren was whisked away to a different hospital 25 miles away. My dad went with him in the ambulance. That was the only and last time they saw him.
That was 45 years ago now but it is still a huge part of our family history. My parents went on to have me in 1972, then my two sisters and grandchildren have followed yet Darren has never been forgotten. He was a son, a brother, an uncle but there was never any positive way to remember him because we did not know where he was. There was a void in our lives. This chasm of heartache rippled through our lives. Mum would often talk about trying to find out what happened to him and where he was but didn’t know where to start both practically and emotionally. Dad kept his thoughts and feelings to himself.
Then came the turning point in our lives. It was coming up to Darren’s birthday last year when we were watching a soap with a story line in it about still birth. Mum talked again about trying to find him. Where was he buried? Was he buried or was he cremated? She talked about how right it is nowadays that babies who do not live long are given respect and dignity in death and how the parents are supported in a way that she wished she had been all those years ago. This lack of recognition and respect for Darren continued to fill her with anger and sadness. As I listened and watched her emotions, still as fierce as they must have been all those years ago, I decided that if she did not have the strength to find her baby then we would have to do it for her.
Only a week or so after this conversation I had found charity whose mission was to reunite parents with their babies who had had brief life back in the 1960s and 1970s. The situation was not unique to us, but many families who had lost babies as it was common practice in those days. There were families worldwide who had no idea what had happened to their child. I contacted the charity and gave them the relevant details of his birth and all that I knew about his death. On 25th September 2015, they phoned with me with the information that my parents had been craving for so many years.
Mum and Dad now know that Darren was buried at Avonview Cemetery in Bristol on 26th October 1971, 3 weeks after he had died. He was buried with another baby in an unmarked grave in a corner of the cemetery. Sadly, you would not have known that anyone was buried there, but since they have found him they have been able to plant a tree to remember him and lay a plaque celebrating his short but important life. This year would’ve been his 45th birthday, this year we will have somewhere to go to remember him.
For us, our family is now complete. He is no longer ‘Mum’s little boy’ he is our brother their son and my children’s uncle. He now has the dignity and respect that should’ve been bestowed on him all those years ago.
It is hoped that by sharing our story it may help others find their lost babies.
This is for you big brother xxx