Antrim mum Saoirse Bellard's anguish over stillborn daughter
A Co Antrim mum has described the agony of burying her baby daughter who was stillborn just weeks before her due date.
Saoirse Bellard should be spending today getting to know her precious baby daughter, but instead she is struggling to cope with a loss no parent should ever have to endure.
Little Olivia Rose, who was due on Tuesday, was born sleeping on March 8.
Saoirse - also mum to 23-month-old Nathan - gave birth to Olivia Rose with minimal pain relief as she was desperate to remember every moment of the experience.
She said it took her six hours to build up the courage to finally hold her much longed for baby.
"I couldn't look at her, I didn't want to see her," explained 20-year-old Saoirse.
"Before she was born I was so scared of what she would look like, but after she was born I was so scared of looking at her and falling completely in love and not being able to let her go but knowing that I had to."
Saoirse is speaking out to help break the silence attached to baby loss, to encourage more grieving parents to feel comfortable discussing their grief, and to raise awareness of stillbirth.
According to official figures, there were 99 stillbirths in Northern Ireland last year - the equivalent of two babies lost to stillbirth every week.
Saoirse, from Crumlin, had enjoyed a perfect pregnancy and spent the weekend preparing for her new arrival with her partner, 22-year-old Ryan Ferguson.
"We went shopping for clothes on the Saturday and then on the Sunday we were getting her nursery ready," she continued.
"I was 17 when I was pregnant with Nathan and I was still at school, so it was really difficult as I was very conscious of what people were saying about me.
"But this time around I had really enjoyed my pregnancy and I was so excited decorating her room and getting all the last wee bits and pieces sorted.
"She had been such an active baby, I had taken so many videos during the pregnancy of my tummy moving as she moved around, so when I didn't feel her move all day Sunday I started to worry.
"Ordinarily, if I had tickled my belly she would have responded or if she heard Nathan crying she would have kicked."
That evening, Saoirse was unable to find a heartbeat using a home foetal heart monitor so she went to the maternity unit for reassurance.
However, after 40 minutes of various scans and monitors, they too were unable to detect a heartbeat and a doctor subsequently broke the devastating news - Olivia Rose was gone.
Saoirse was sent home for the night to return the following day to be induced.
"People thought it was cruel, they couldn't understand how I could be left to carry a dead baby around, but for me it was the best thing they could have done.
"I knew what was going to happen at the end of the process and I had time to spend with Olivia.
"Even though I couldn't feel her moving, I knew she was still in there.
"She was born at 7.30am on the Thursday and Ryan held her straight away and was singing and talking to her.
"It was six hours before I was able to hold her, but when I did she was perfect, she looked so much like Nathan when he was born."
Saoirse and Ryan were able to spend a precious 24 hours with Olivia Rose before returning home to Nathan, thanks to a specialist chilled cot, known as a cuddle cot. The couple is now fundraising to buy another cuddle cot for the Royal Maternity Hospital in Belfast to help other parents who will suffer the same experience.
"I went to see her the morning of her funeral," continued Saoirse.
"She was wearing the dress we had bought on the Saturday that we had planned to bring her home from the hospital in. I told her everything that I wanted to tell her.
"I slept with a blanket and I put it in her wee coffin with her. I have the blanket she was wrapped in after she was born, I carry it around with me because it is the only thing I have with her smell on it.
"People find it very difficult to speak to you after you have lost a baby but I want to talk about Olivia Rose.
"She is my daughter and even though I never saw her smile or heard her laugh or got to change her nappy, I carried her and gave birth to her and I love her."
To make a donation or to find out more about fundraising events being planned by the couple, log on to the Olivias Cuddle Cot Facebook page