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David saddles up for charity in memory of tragic baby Rachel

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David Charles at home in Doagh with his wife Claire and children Naomi and Emily

David Charles at home in Doagh with his wife Claire and children Naomi and Emily

Kevin Scott

David Charles at home in Doagh with his wife Claire and children Naomi and Emily

Almost a decade on - he still remembers the silence.

When his baby girl Rachel came into the world on September 11, 2010, David Charles knew something was seriously wrong.

The expected jubilant scenes and sounds of a baby's cries were replaced with the frantic pace of doctors working on their little girl.

A week before, everything was perfect. David (42), his wife Claire (39) and first daughter Emily (now 11) had just returned from their holidays, but a routine scan sparked the start of their heartbreak.

The midwife measured Claire's bump and thought it was too large - she was measuring 38 weeks when she was only 32 weeks pregnant.

A consultant outpatient appointment revealed there was a lot of fluid around the baby and Claire was sent to the Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital in Belfast where she was diagnosed with a condition called Fetal Hydrops - a symptom which indicates another problem. However, tests came back clear and that weekend Claire went into labour and had to have an emergency section.

David said the medical staff were "fantastic" but he sadly knew his little girl wasn't going to survive.

Rachel wasn't responding to treatment and the couple treasure the precious time they spent with her before she passed away.

David said: "She died in Claire's arms surrounded by her family. It was absolutely devastating. We had gone from the previous Monday, everything was going fine - to suddenly, boom, this devastating thing that happened over the course of a week."

David says his over-riding memory that stays with him was the complete quietness - which was in stark contrast to when Emily entered the world.

"I always remember just the silence. Complete quietness and the doctors working. I remember when Emily was born she screamed and cried and I knew in that silence, that complete silence, that it wasn't going to work."

It was here the family first encountered the charity Sands, when they provided a memory box when Rachel died, which included a little blanket, teddy bear and a camera.

Sands NI is part of the UK charity which supports anyone affected by the death of a baby, and works in partnership with health professionals to try to ensure that bereaved parents and families receive the best possible care.

It also funds research to help reduce the numbers of babies dying. Now, in memory of Rachel in her 10th birthday year, David is taking part in 10 cycling challenges to raise money for the charity.

He recalled one of the hardest things was their journey home without their baby.

"When we brought Emily home it was a brilliant, exciting time, whereas when we were coming home the second time around, it was so much more tragic, we were just walking in ourselves and not with Rachel."

The couple found comfort in going to the Sands NI support group, where they could share, listen, cry or just sit with other parents in similar situations.

"You are effectively sharing with people that have experienced similar losses and who really understand.

"Claire continued to go and she's now a leader and takes the Sands NI support group in Antrim. She's also on the Sands NI committee. For us, it's been about giving something back."

The family, who live in Doagh, Co Antrim, make sure they talk about Rachel and remember her as part of the family. And the loss of their child makes them appreciate their other daughters Emily and Naomi (7) all the more.

"We don't dwell on the sadness, it's more a positive mindset that we had her for that short period of time but she had such an impact in terms of the good," David added. "It's still tough at times, but we try to be positive in a negative situation."

He also drew comfort from seeing how much of an impact the Sands NI meetings had on his wife, who also suffered a difficult birth with their third child Naomi.

And for any parents that are going through the devastating death of their baby, David urges them to remember that it's okay to talk about their child.

David, who has started training for his gruelling cycle challenge at the end of March, added: "It depends on your personal beliefs. I believe that I'll see Rachel one day again, which is massively important to me. There is something, it's almost like a stigma, the loss of a baby is so difficult to talk about.

"It's worse if people ignore it, that's harder, because it's almost like she didn't exist and we know that she did."

To donate visit: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ david-charles10

Belfast Telegraph