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Community / Local couple raise £9,000 and counting for stillbirth charity after tragic loss

Helen and Connor Smith have shared their experience of stillbirth – and they say the story of baby Lowrie making a positive difference is ‘so comforting’

The Smith family - Connor, Joey and Helen - photographed last year.

A LOCAL couple who tragically lost their unborn baby have thanked the community for its generosity after their fundraiser for a stillbirth charity bypassed the £9,000 mark.

Helen Smith, who was 37 weeks pregnant, was told by a midwife at the end of June that her baby’s heart had stopped after she noticed reduced movements in the week before. “We genuinely felt our hearts break in that very moment,” she said.

Amid the grief, Lowrie Ewan Smith was born two days later in Aberdeen, on Monday 28th June, weighing 7lb 4oz, and looking just like his big brother Joey.

“He was just too precious to stay with us in body, but he will never, ever leave our hearts,” Helen said.

Helen and her husband Connor Smith, from Cunningsburgh, have sought to find positives in the achingly sad situation by raising money for stillbirth and neonatal death charity Sands, which has a branch in Shetland.

In less than four full days more than £9,000 has been raised for the charity through an online donations page as the community rallies together.

“We set up the fundraiser to try to focus on something positive and we’ve been absolutely blown away with folks’ generosity. It means the absolute world to us and knowing our peerie boy is making such a positive difference is so comforting.” 

Shetland Sands’ Marie Manson said she wanted to thank Lowrie’s family for the fundraising.

“This will ensure that our charity will be able to continue supporting parents and provide essential items for hospitals,” she said.

“Shetland Sands would like to pass on their thoughts to Lowrie’s family at this sad time and we would like to let them know that we are here if they need any support.”

Sands has given the Smiths support in a variety of ways since being told about their loss.

“Sands has been so, so helpful from the facilities they help provide to the memory box to their continued support now we’re home,” the couple explained. 

“We’re 25, we’ve never had to organise a funeral before, let alone for our baby.

“Their bereavement support app has endless amounts of information to support you through every stage from the minute you find out you’re in this nightmare to continuing to support you through the years as you learn to live with the grief, as well as supporting you if you ever have another pregnancy.

“We really have so much admiration for the people who set it up.”

The couple also want to raise awareness of the importance of seeking help around reduced movements of unborn babies.

Helen said Lowrie was “such an active boy” until around 21 June, which is when his movements started to reduce significantly.

She said her gut feeling was that something was not right, and over the space of about a week she attended maternity to have him checked over three times.

National stillbirth and neonatal death charity has a branch in Shetland.

Helen said during checks all initially seemed fine apart from the lack of movement, but things changed when the Saturday came.

“Driving up [to the maternity department] I just felt like something was wrong – perhaps they’d induce me or send me to Aberdeen for induction. Never in a million years I expected events to pan out as they did,” Helen said.

“Once I arrived the midwife tried straight away to find Lowrie’s heartbeat but was finding it difficult. She tried another machine and she also fetched a more senior member of staff to try. Nothing.

“Neither of them could find the littlest trace. After a short while it was agreed to call the consultant in, as well as my husband Connor who was home with our little boy who was in bed. Once they both arrived, we were taken for a scan and very quickly those heart shattering words were spoken: ‘I’m so sorry…’.”

The couple said their minds then understandably went into “complete overdrive” trying to process everything- how they would tell their two-year-old boy Joey, how they would tell everyone else – “how do we go back home to a house perfectly prepped to take a perfect little newborn home?”.

But to add to the agony she had to think about how Lowrie would be born. 

“I remember the utter fear rushing over me,” Helen recalled. “I was 37+3 weeks pregnant on that Saturday, our precious little baby would have to be born but how on earth could I go through labour knowingly I’d never hear that precious cry at the end, knowingly I won’t be taking our longed-for little bundle back home to his big brother? I couldn’t.”

Helen, who said the midwife in Lerwick was “really kind and supportive”, ended up having an elective caesarean section at the Rubislaw Ward in the Aberdeen Maternity Hospital, which is for mums and dads who have lost a baby.

At the back of the ward there are two soundproof rooms, with ensuites and comfy chairs for partners. There is also a ‘baby room’ in the ward, just across from these rooms as a safe space for babies to stay in a specially adapted Moses basket, so the parents can visit if they feel able to.

“It was such a homely and modern environment, and very comforting,” the pair said.

“Sands have played a huge part in providing these facilities and they definitely made the whole process much smoother.”

The day after the couple arrived in Aberdeen, on Monday 28 June Lowrie was born, and taken into the care of bereavement midwife Myra, who Helen described as “amazing”.

The midwifes dressed Lowrie in special clothes picked by the Smiths for his ‘first outfit’, and took photos for a memory box.

“These will now be our most treasured photos,” Helen said. 

They were also given ink and clay hand and footprints, as well as a teddy bear, which their son Joey instantly became attached to.

It is now called Lowrie Bear. “He takes him to bed every night and comes through with him and Rara, his long-time favourite, every morning now since we got home.”

All these items are provided by Sands. 

It is not the first time the family has experienced loss; in April last year, at the very height of lockdown, she suffered an ectopic pregnancy. This is when a fertilised egg implants itself outside of the womb, usually in one of the fallopian tubes.

“We’ve experienced both a late and early loss and can empathise how difficult a loss at any stage can be,” Helen said.

“I’m finding the only way I can cope is to share my thoughts – the good, the bad and the ugly. Our friends and families have all been so so supportive, especially my sister in laws. They’ve been there for me to fully open up to and I’m really grateful for them.” 

Reflecting on the heartbreaking experience, Helen encouraged anyone pregnant to “please, please, please trust your mother instinct and your body”.

“If you feel something isn’t quite right make sure you get seen and checked as soon as possible,” she said.

She said a number of people have reached out to her with similar or identical situations, but hearing stories from decades ago put into focus the greater levels of support currently available to grieving parents. 

Helen, meanwhile, said the couple agreed between themselves that the only way they can see through the situation is to try to focus on the positives.

“Wir peerie boy can’t have died for no reason and he will make a difference and we will spend the rest of our lives making sure he does so,” she said.

“From fundraising to raising awareness to breaking taboos and opening up difficult conversations surrounding stillbirths, miscarriages and infertility. So many people suffer from at least one, if not all of these things but finding the ‘right time’ to speak about them can be very difficult.”

Sands says that every day in the UK, 15 babies are stillborn or die shortly after birth.

It offers bereavement support services both nationally through its freephone helpline, mobile app, online community and resources, and locally through a network of around 100 regional support groups based across the UK and run by trained befrienders.

Manson said Shetland Sands is available to offer support to anyone whose baby has died before, during or shortly after birth.

“We have trained befrienders who can meet any parent either as a group or on a one to one basis at any time,” she added.

“Befrienders are also bereaved parents. We provide support on Messenger, Zoom, email and on the phone.

“There is also a support group that covers all of Scotland they meet on Zoom every month.”

People can donate to the fundraiser in memory of Lowrie Ewan Smith here.

Anyone affected by the issue can access support from the Shetland branch of Sands via 07341945028 or support@shetlandsands.co.uk.

More information is available on the national Sands charity website.