On 16 April 2014 our world, that of my wife Jen and myself, was obliterated. We had lost our son Edward, at the precious age of 3 months. He had died that morning of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. From that moment on myself and Jen became different people.
People have since asked me "I bet you are glad to see the back of 2014?". The answer is always filled with confused emotion. But it is always the same. Not really, as those 3 months we had with Edward were the most magical, innocent and wonderful of days. His life is forever trapped in that tragically short period of our lives.
The passing of time is frightening and confusing. We don't ever want to be further from Eddie, and forever to this day fear that his light will somehow dim as time passes on. But amongst the desolate anguish at the Royal Free hospital we made two promises that I know we will keep forever. The first is that we would live our lives for Edward, we would strive to make him proud in everything we do and somehow that might keep that light shining brightly. The second that we would always be open with each other. If we fell apart we would do so together. Couples understandably do fail as a result of the extreme emotional pressure that results from losing your child. We couldn't fail, we must not for that would betray Eddie's memory.
Grief is an individual journey. It is for Jen and it is for me, even though our journeys are so closely entwined. But with the support of our wonderful family and friends, as well as our simply amazing bereavement counsellor we took tentative steps each day.
Jen inspired me and many others with her beautifully written blog (https://lifeaftereddie.wordpress.com/), and her determination to be open to her grief showed me how important it was to face it, no matter how painful. I realised that the emotions, the depth of anguish, are too powerful to contain. They will always overpower you, often taking you by surprise, for the simplest of things. When it does it, still to this day as it will be forever more, it is as crushing and painful as ever.
I am certain that the two of us being open with our grief helped tighten and strengthen our love, and I like to think of it being Eddie's love living through us.
My role was, as it tends to be with men, a little more practical. With the support of my ever-energised mother, my brother in law, and a revolving band of able bodied helpers, we transformed our jungle of a back garden into "The garden of hope". The garden became a focal point for everyone's confused and shattered emotions. We channelled that energy into the garden and it became a wonderful tribute to Eddie. We planted a magnolia in honour of our little big man. It has blossomed since as I am sure he would have done.
As those early weeks passed the acute pain of burying your son and saying goodbye gave way, and our house felt incredibly empty. We had just bought it and moved in; ready and fit for our family. But our family was no more. All those dreams of watching Eddie learn to kick a ball in the garden, to read him stories at bedtime, to tell him that's quite enough tv ... that his eyes will go square if he keeps watching. All vanished.
In that void a burning question. His post mortem had shown him to be perfectly healthy. How can we lose our child with no explanation in this day and age? This question proved to be the foundation for starting our charity, Teddy's Wish. But we quickly recognised that SIDS was just one cause of infant and baby loss. Thousands are lost each year as we have already heard today: we were stunned to learn that our still birth rate is one of the worst in Europe. And that led to a recurring thought:
"No parent should suffer the loss of a child. Those that do will need all the love and support possible".
And so our charity, Teddy's Wish, was born. We have been working hard for over two years now and have funded multiple projects for both research and bereavement support. We found that Teddy's Wish provided a language, a way to say something positive to people lost for words when you tell them you have lost a child.
We hope that it will continue to raise these essential funds but perhaps as importantly help raise awareness. Infant and baby loss should not be a taboo subject. It is scary, rightly so, it is every parent's worst nightmare. And for us, for many others here in the room today, and thousands others every year that nightmare has become reality. That is why we must be open, we must talk about it and raising awareness is so critically important.
In February we welcomed Eddie's younger brother, Ollie, into the world. He has just turned 8 months. The range of emotions becoming a parent again is hard to convey: guilt as you fear replacing the memory of Eddie, extreme anxiety as you fear that he might befall the same fate, and amazing wonderful joy as you recognise that hope has re-entered your life. That is for us the way our life will be, a conflicting mix of emotions or "happy sad" as Jen describes it.
We manage the responsibilities of looking after Ollie, the charity and my day job as best we can. I am forever in awe of the work Jen does day to day with the charity whilst simultaneously looking after Ollie when I am at work.
This week is Baby Loss Awareness Week. I was privileged to share a stage with Antoinette Sandbach, MP, and Will Quince, MP, who like us are bereaved parents but have done so much to raise the awareness of this tragic topic in Government. We were joined by Jeremy Hunt, Health Secretary, and Philip Dunne, Minister for Health, ahead of Thursday's Commons debate on Baby Loss. We truly hope that this is a big step for the UK in tackling and substantially reduced baby loss in this country.
We couldn't think of a better way to honour our darling boy, to keep his light shining brightly in our lives and so Ollie can grow up knowing what an inspiration his big brother has been to us all. Hopefully he is looking down on us now, kicking and gurgling, and he will be proud of his mummy and daddy.