Finding a son and a brother … the lost babies of the 1960s and 70s

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

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6 thoughts on “Finding a son and a brother … the lost babies of the 1960s and 70s

  1. My little girl died 5 years ago, I cannot imagine not only living with the constant missing but also the agony of not knowing where she was. Lots of love to your mum and the rest of your family

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  2. Wow, you truly are incredible. What a heartbreaking situation, not only losing a child but never knowing where your baby is?! For your parents, having their child whisked away & never seen again must have been distressing & left them heartbroken. A missing piece of your family jigsaw, as you say.. A void, knowing he’s out there, but where?! It doesn’t seem possible until you find yourself in that situation, nowadays families, no matter what happened to their child, are given the right to go to their family, allow them to grieve, be laid to rest & have somewhere special to visit, a chance to show they came into the world & will always be remembered with respect & the dignity every life deserves. Clearly Darren was Never forgotten, Leaving a hole in your parents hearts & a big question mark… After all these years, you’ve finally given your brother, your parents son & your children’s uncle a resting place, somewhere to visit, chat & he’ll finally be at peace, with the dignity he truly deserves. I’m sure he will be Lookin down & bursting with pride. Honestly you are an inspiration! Somewhere, somehow you find this strength, maybe you don’t even realise this, but every day you do something magical, with your special family, fighting unfair battles, but you do it?! Amazing, it’s a word people use all to often, but you are.. Incredible… Sending lots of love & a special prayer for your brother… After 45yrs, Darren will be up there, with all the specials angels, finally free. 💖👼🏼💖😘

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. I asked mum before writing if she minded and like me she wants to try to help others in the same situation. I can remember last year being at work and waiting for the phone call. I explained to a colleague why I was so vague and he just could not believe that it used to happen. I just can’t imagine what it must’ve been like for my parents. So, so pleased they found him. They will be able to properly wish him a happy birthday this year xxx

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      1. I can only imagine the feeling of anxiety & hope whilst waiting for that call & the desperate praying they found him. So pleased for you & your family. After all the years they can finally wish Darren a Happy Birthday & know 45yrs later he’s resting with the respect & dignity he deserves. Can’t believe how things were yrs ago & yes, sometimes with all the negativity & unbelievable situations we all find ourselves hearing, living with or experiencing in the world we are living in today, we often dismiss the positive changes that have taken place nowadays, such as this. Hopefully, Yes this will help other families in the same situation, giving them the belief, that even after so many years, with research & contacting the right people/contacts, it’s actually possible to find their family members & bring them home, restoring their dignity & final resting place. You are amazing, inspirational. I hope you are all as ok as you can be & Felix is doing well? His smile is infectious… Incredible 🍀🙏🏽💙🍀

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