“It would have been 11 years ago today,” says Caroline Murphy when we talk on Monday, September 21.
“It seems like a long time ago. We usually visit Leah’s grave every year in Glandore on that day.”
Caroline and her husband Batt live near Rosscarbery with their children, Billy, Kaitlin, Callum and Isabelle.
Even though Leah doesn’t live with them, the family are always aware of her presence.
“I talk to Leah all the time,” says Caroline.
“She is always in the back of my head, on my shoulder and in my heart. I feel her spirit. I know she’s there.”
Caroline was looking forward to baby number four while her new home was being built.
“It was my fourth pregnancy,” says Caroline. “I knew what I was doing! You never imagine there is going to be a problem. You think you will just sail through.”
Being pregnant suited her.
“I always blossomed in pregnancy, but for a few days expecting Leah, I didn’t feel particularly well. I felt tired and my ankles were a bit swollen, but that’s quite normal in pregnancy.”
Mothers have a sixth sense.
“You check for movement. You think you feel something and then you feel silly.”
Caroline thought that feeling a bit under the weather was a thing of nothing. But it wasn’t.
“I’ll never forget lying on the doctor’s couch waiting to hear the heartbeat, willing the sound of it to fill the room,” she recalls.
But it didn’t.
“There’s nothing better than that sound,” Caroline adds.
She was astounded hearing the doctor’s words.
“Even when the doctor said; ‘I need to send you to CUH’, it didn’t sink in.”
The silence in that ‘special room’ in the hospital was deafening.
“They took Batt and me to a special room where they did a scan and then they told us,” says Caroline.
Leah was gone.
“You are upside down,” says Caroline.
“You go into shock. You can’t believe it, or you won’t. It’s unreal. Everything you thought was important, everything that mattered, doesn’t anymore.
“Then you still have to go through the whole process of labour,” say Caroline.
You still have to wait. And you still have hope.
“You’re waiting for the cry, for the joy,” says Caroline.
“Usually when a baby is born, the room is full of cries.”
But sadly it wasn’t the case.
“There’s just silence,” says Caroline.
“It’s all so wrong.”
Caroline, devastated and bereft after losing her baby, wondered what had happened.
“You think they got it wrong; even though they haven’t.”
You try everything and anything to make it all right.
“No matter how many deals you make with God; there’s nothing you can do,” Caroline adds.
Showing kindness was something everyone tried to do.
“The kindness of the nurses was mind-blowing,” recalls Caroline.
But there was no way out of the mind-blowing grief that Caroline and Batt felt losing their much-wanted daughter.
“The only thing you can do is go through it,” says Caroline.
“And as much as I didn’t want her to be born dead, I still wanted her with us and all I wanted to do was to have her. Just to be able to hold her and talk to her and tell her how terribly sorry we were that she wasn’t coming home.”
Caroline had to return home empty-handed. She felt betrayed.
“My milk came in. I felt like my body was betraying me. It was difficult to face the kids and to tell my parents,” says Caroline.
It’s difficult when a dad loses a child.
“It was difficult for Batt too,” says Caroline.
“There was a naming ceremony in CUH and the hospital staff were amazing. But you still have to bury your child.”
It isn’t natural for a mother to bury her child. It is natural though for a mother to always worry about their child.
“I remember before the funeral, thinking she’s going to be cold. She’s going to need a blanket.”
Caroline was surrounded by love.
“My family were wonderful, especially my mother,” says Caroline.
“She minded the other kids. I remember my youngest son who was 18 months ran to her when I brought him inside. That was another wrench. But it was only natural.”
Other people’s reactions to the Murphy’s tragic loss was more aloof.
“Some people’s reactions were unnatural,” says Caroline.
“They’d cross the road to avoid me. And then others sent lovely messages, texts and cards on Leah’s anniversary.
“Small acts of kindness meant a lot to us. They were a huge comfort.”
Her nearest and dearest stayed close to Caroline.
“Family and friends were wonderful. Some of them travelled over from London. My aunts were great support. I didn’t have to do anything.”
She still had to grieve for Leah.
“I lay on the bed in our room, trying to process it,” says Caroline.
“I had no energy, no interest in anything.”
She wanted to be somewhere else; in a place where her lost child was.
“I wanted to go where she was,” Caroline recalls.
“This was before Féileacáin. We had no memory box.”
The family had no idea how to say Goodbye to Leah.
“We had no clue what had to be done,” says Caroline.
“We had to get a coffin, get a plot. The chaplain in CUH helped us.”
Another beloved child helped Caroline see a way back, a way out of the black tunnel of grief.
“My eldest daughter, who was five years old then, came upstairs to me. She gave me a picture.”
Caroline, steeped in grief for Leah, wasn’t registering much.
“I just said; that’s lovely pet.”
Caroline got a wake-up call.
“My daughter looked at me and said; ‘that was the last chance I had to make you smile.”
The thoughtful gesture from the child made a big difference.
“That was the moment I realised I had a choice,” says Caroline.
“I came downstairs a different woman.”
A realisation dawned on Caroline.
“Family is the only thing that matters,” says Caroline.
“I could move on.”
Caroline saw the light.
“On the one side was Leah, darkness and blackness, and I just wanted it to engulf me, just to try and be with her, even though I knew logically I couldn’t,” says Caroline.
“And then on the other side were my other children, my life; my everything. I thought; I am grieving for a daughter who is gone but I have a daughter here who needs me.”
The Murphys were blessed with another beautiful daughter.
“Isabelle, 10, was born a year after Leah.” Leah may be gone, but she is never forgotten.
“Grief isn’t something you can be cured from,” says Caroline.
“When I’m 80 I’ll still feel myself in that hospital bed, on that doctors’ couch.” That was then.
“There’s the Caroline there was before and there’s the Caroline now, and I firmly believe it had a huge impact on us for obvious reasons but also for not so obvious reasons.” Some things are very obvious.
“To be there as a family and to have gone through that as a husband and wife has made us better people, better parents, a better couple.” The family celebrate Leah’s memory which is alive and well.
“I organise the Mass of the Angels which is held every summer,” says Caroline.
“The annual event has very much kept Leah alive.” People who understand the loss of a child pray together and talk together.
“For me it is important to talk about our babies because they are very much part of each and every family,” says Caroline.
“There are women in their 70s and 80s who come to the mass whose loss would never have been acknowledged. The mass gives you that hour just to remember.” “I couldn’t get over the amount of older gentlemen who come to the mass. It’s very emotional. Saying, ‘I’m here for you’, is all you want to hear.” Nobody ever forgets the child they have lost no matter how much time passes.
“They don’t forget,” says Caroline.
“Talking about it is therapeutic.
“The loss of a child brings you together. Sometimes unbearable grief can put a huge strain on a marriage. It brought us together.” The weight of sorrow can be lightened.
“The grief is like carrying a massive sack that is too heavy to carry,” says Caroline.
“As things get better; the sack gets lighter.” The blessings get bountiful.
“I have four beautiful children and a business,” says Caroline.
Caroline counts her blessings.
“I remember the day I got my 4 hens!
“Now West Cork Eggs is a thriving business.” Another member of the Murphy family is thriving.
“We fostered Uffa, our Labrador who is a guide dog. He brought so much love.” Love coming in many guises; comes and goes. But love never leaves.
“Love does come in many guises,” says Caroline.
“Sometimes you have to look for it.” And sometimes you don’t.
“Leah is always with me. I know she’s there.”
*Féileacáin, (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Association of Ireland, SANDA, was formed by a group of bereaved parents in 2009 to offer support to anyone affected by the death of a baby around the time of birth.
Support line: 085-249 6464 Office in North Street, Skibbereen, 028-51301