ROS Lowrie can’t really remember what she said. Alone and in a hospital bed she called her partner Paddy, who was at home with their three children all bursting with excited expectation at the thought of Santa’s visit later that night. Her words put an end to Christmas.
All she vaguely recalls is telling him that he needed to come to the Royal Infirmary and that their longed-for baby was dead.
“I was 32 weeks pregnant and the pregnancy had been fine, no problems at all. But having had three other children... I knew when I woke up on Christmas Eve that something was wrong. There was a lot to do that day and I carried on in the hope that my thoughts weren’t real... I kept putting it to the back of my mind.
“Eventually when I came home from a Christmas lunch I said to Paddy that I needed to go to the hospital. I called first and they just said I was stressed, that I should relax and have a cup of tea. But I just knew... so I drove myself to Edinburgh.”
Ros made the 20-mile journey from her cosy family home in the village of East Linton, where the Christmas lights were ablaze and the festive spirit in full swing, her mind full of horrible possibilities. “The Infirmary was so quiet, which was a bonus for me as I was seen right away.
“I was hooked up to the monitors to check the heartbeat, but the young midwife didn’t say anything to me. Then I was taken into another room and given an ultrasound. That’s when the consultant, Dr Love, came in and told me she was dead.”
Alone with such terrible news, and knowing she would now have to be induced and go through labour to have a stillborn child, it’s hardly surprising that Ros has locked those horrific moments out of her memory. “I can remember phoning Paddy... but that’s about it. I think I was given the option to go home to have Christmas Day and then come back on Boxing Day to go through the labour, but I didn’t want to do that. I think Paddy just made it in time – Eve was delivered just before midnight.”
Paddy adds: “When Ros phoned, I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe what she was saying. It was all very unreal. I had to try and find a babysitter which took some time on Christmas Eve, then drive to the hospital. I don’t really remember that journey. Ros was quite out of things because she was on a lot of morphine. I did get some time with Eve though... she was in a Moses basket.”
Ros adds: “I did get to have time with Eve, but I hadn’t taken anything with me to hospital so she was dressed in clothes the hospital had, and they took a photograph for me. I remember them saying we might not want to look at it at the time, but that we would in future. They were so right.
“She was absolutely perfect. She weighed four pounds – just right for 32 weeks. The placenta was okay too... it was just one of those things. We didn’t want a post mortem because it wouldn’t have told us anything. So on Christmas morning I drove myself home. I probably shouldn’t have after all the morphine, but I just wanted to get home and see my other children.”
That was five years ago, but the loss they suffered is still incredibly close to the surface for the couple, who have seen their lives change dramatically since the death of Eve.
For one, the family have never been at home on December 25 since 2007. Christmas has been a time to escape. For another, Ros quit her high-flying career as a senior finance manager with Scottish Widows and now volunteers for the Edinburgh Cyrenians Fareshare food scheme, helping to deliver food which would be wasted to homeless hostels.
And every Monday the 44-year-old volunteers at Sands Lothian – the charity which offers support and counselling to those who have experienced the painful grief of a stillbirth or a neo-natal death. It did that for her, and as a result Ros and Paddy are about to change the fortunes of Sands as much as Eve changed theirs.
Paddy Burns, 43, is one of the creative brains behind 4JStudios, the computer game design and development company which – working with Swedish game development firm Mojang AB and Microsoft – has created the Xbox version of the worldwide gaming phenomenon Minecraft. The three firms have agreed that the profits of the latest version of the game will be split between their chosen charities – which means that Sands will receive one third of the money made.
So far more than four million copies of the XBox game have been sold and downloaded, making £400,000 – and even more could be made as the deadline on sales runs until November 26.
Says Paddy: “It seemed the obvious charity for us to support. I have never used its services but Ros did and it proved extremely useful for her, and of course she’s now volunteering for them too. Microsoft came to us with the idea of doing something for charity and I was all for it.”
According to Ros, she became aware of Sands sometime after returning home without Eve, thanks to a letter sent by a neighbour. “Our village is very small and people have been so supportive,” she says. “I got a beautiful letter from a mum in the village who had two babies who had died. I went to see her and she told me about Sands. The hospital might well have tried to – they gave me a pack with lots of information, but I’ve never opened it.
“What Sands did for me was make me realise that I wasn’t alone in what I was going through, the feeling sometimes that I was losing my mind, that was all normal.”
After Eve’s funeral at Mortonhall on January 14, Ros and Paddy tried to put their lives back together, throwing themselves into work. But Ros admits that after eight months she realised she wasn’t coping. “I tried to get back to how I used to be, but I just wanted to have another baby. I thought I’d give up work and do that, but it never happened... I had a miscarriage and ended up with no baby and no career.”
Tears start to stream down her face. “I’m sorry,” she apologises, “I didn’t think I’d cry... it was a really difficult time. About a year ago I realised I’d have to do something, so that’s when I began volunteering. I’ve also just started talking to fourth year medical students about stillbirths and how important what they say and what they don’t say can be.”
Paddy adds: “People react so strangely to stillbirth. Some avoid you completely because they don’t know what to say, others say the wrong thing in trying to say the right thing, like ‘you’re lucky because you’ve got other kids’. It doesn’t really work like that.”
“And,” says Ros, “the problem with stillbirth is there’s no research into it. More needs to be done to stop it happening, and more needs to be done to get people talking about it openly. But the money raised through the game sales will be for Sands to be able to offer more support as there are so many people who need it.”
At the time of the tragedy, Ros’s other children Emily and Tom were 13 and ten, while she and Paddy’s first child Beth was just 19 months old. The couple never kept the death of baby Eve from them – but every Christmas they have always left home for skiing in France, or a change of scene in Crieff. Anywhere to get away from the memories.
But this year that will all change, and they will wake up in their own house on Christmas morning. “Emily is at university now and this will be her first Christmas coming home so that will be nice for her to be able to do that. Beth is six-and-a-half now so she’s really excited about Christmas,” says Ros.
“I don’t know what we’ll do on Christmas Eve itself though. They always have carol singers in the village and I’m not sure I could stand that. I might see if I can do some work with Fareshare.”
She adds: “I imagine I’ll be at Sands quite a lot in the run-up to Christmas. It’s such an emotional family time anyway, but there are other moments when I’ve needed to come. I should have been registering Eve for primary school last month, so it’s great to be able to come somewhere to talk about that, and not have people saying ‘there she goes again’. It’s been a fantastic support for me.”
• For more information about Sands visit www.sands-lothians.org.uk or call 0131 622 6263.
Personal tragedy that sparked sue into action
BACK in 1978 Sue Allison was devastated by the stillbirth of her baby daughter. As the weeks and months passed she desperately needed to speak to someone who had been through a similar experience. She advertised in a local paper for anyone who had had a similar experience to call her. And so Sands was created.
When Jane Rose, whose baby boy David died after being born prematurely, took over in the late 80s she decided to introduce monthly befriending meetings – and her and other mums’ hard work resulted in monuments being unveiled at Rosebank Cemetery and at the Rose Garden in Mortonhall Cemetery.
In 1986 Professor Neil MacIntosh came to Edinburgh to work as Head of the Department of Child Life and Health and got Sands involved in speaking to medical students.
In 1990 Dorothy Maitland took over as chair. She introduced a separate telephone line in her house so that Sands could be listed in the telephone book. Memorial services throughout the year were also introduced and Dorothy worked with the Simpson Memorial Maternity Pavilion to establish a family room.
As the workload grew, office premises were needed and a permanent place was eventually found within the Craiglockhart tennis campus. There are also now four part-time staff as well as many volunteers. Around 100 babies die in the Lothians every year, so Sands now offers support to bereaved parents and grandparents, surviving twins and their parents in groups and on a one-to-one basis.
lThe charity will hold its annual memorial service on December 2 at Craiglockhart Parish at 2pm. For more information contact Dorothy at
Virtual world chips in for charities
IN the world of online gaming Minecraft is one of the leading brands.
Originally created by Swedish programmer Markus “Notch” Persson and later developed and published by Mojang, it was released three years ago for PCs and earlier this year the Xbox 360 version developed by 4JStudios was released as an Xbox Live Arcade game.
The game is like a virtual 3D Lego world, allowing players to build constructions out of cubes. The graphics are distinctly blocky and 1980s-looking.
There are two modes for players: survival, which requires players to acquire resources and maintain their health, and creative: where players have an unlimited supply of resources, the ability to fly, and no health or hunger. Some activities in the game include mining for ore, fighting hostile mobs, and crafting new blocks and tools by gathering various resources found in the game.
It’s proved so successful that it has sold more than eight million copies on PC and more than four million on Xbox and received a host of awards including a Golden Joystick Award for being the Best Downloadable Game.
For every purchase of the Minecraft Halloween Skin Pack – the game’s latest update – from the Xbox Live marketplace until November 26, the full value will be donated to charities including Block by Block, a United Nations project to get young people involved in urban planning, Sands Lothians, Child’s Play, a charity which donates games consoles to childrens’ hospitals, and MacMillan Cancer Support.