Ards mum Claire is out to help others build precious memories of tragic infants
Four years after tragically losing her baby, a Newtownards woman has decided to launch a not-for-profit enterprise selling giftware to allow her to make 'memory boxes' for Northern Ireland families whose babies have a short life expectancy.
Claire Gray's baby Matilda died at just 90 days old.
Born at 37 weeks weighing 4lb 6oz, Matilda was very poorly and needed to stay in the neonatal unit.
Because her time with her daughter was so short, Claire said she knows how important it is for families of seriously ill infants to have things to remember their babies with.
She has volunteered along with the Ulster Hospital's Forget Me Not group for three years, making and distributing memory boxes for babies living with life-limiting conditions, but it is her dream to raise enough money to make and distribute items of comfort to all six of Northern Ireland's neonatal units, and eventually across Ireland.
Claire, a special needs therapist, last year made headlines when the public rallied around after she launched an appeal to find Matilda's doll, which she lost on a day trip to Dublin Zoo. She described the doll as "a way of Matilda being with us" after she passed away.
Love Matilda will launch on Saturday at a party celebrating what would have been the child's fourth birthday. The enterprise will allow people to buy from a special giftware range, including stationery, mugs, tote bags and slipper bags, while supporting Claire's efforts to send memory boxes to our neonatal departments.
Matilda's Marvellous Memory Boxes include clothes to fit babies weighing as little as 3lbs, as well as art sets, clay handprint kits and nursery rhyme books.
Claire said: "When Matilda was five days old we were told she had a serious genetic condition called Trisomy 18 Edwards syndrome.
"It meant that Matilda had an extra copy of chromosome 18 in every cell of her body and we were sadly told that Matilda's life expectancy was limited. "My husband (Kris) and I felt like we'd been hit by a freight train - how was it possible that our little newborn daughter had a condition that meant we were going to live longer than her?
"We'd been told that Matilda was unlikely to see her first birthday. It made absolutely no sense to us - and to be honest, it still doesn't.
"Nurses pointed out little things that were different, we were preparing for the possibility she could have special needs - how we would celebrate the things she could do, and help her through the things she couldn't; we'd already been thinking about what school she could go to, I was imaging taking her to Makaton classes - it was hard to take.
"We wanted to make Matilda's short life as wonderful as we could. We took her out to the beach, to the duck pond, she felt the sun, she heard nursery rhymes and stories every day, she saw the seasons change and heard the crunch of the autumn leaves as I took her out.
"With the boxes we want to give other families everything they need. These beautiful boxes are lovingly packed with presents to celebrate the baby, while supporting parents. With just one present from Love Matilda you've given two very special gifts."
Tragedy struck the couple for a second time in November when Claire and her husband lost a second baby, Leanora, just 15 weeks into pregnancy.
"Having the memory box is like a stranger saying: 'We know what you're going through and we care.' It means so much.
"A lot of the time I think that I haven't done enough to help others; I'd love to be able to start art classes and workshops to help. It's hard when the next baby comes along because you're always thinking about the baby you've lost."