‘It’s such a confusing feeling, to be a mother and to not have a child.”
Alison Murray flips through the pages of a photo album, filled with images of an angelic, round-faced newborn, sharing her emotional story with Peace Arch News readers in order to make a positive impact for future mothers in her community.
Next to the album is a brand-new knitted blanket, a plush pink and blue teddy bear and a purple box filled with precious keepsakes.
Murray turns the page to a picture of her cradling her newborn daughter, Stella. Her face in the photograph is riddled with grief; tears – not of joy, but of heartbreak – streaming down her cheeks.
Though the news of Murray’s pregnancy in 2012 came as a surprise to the then-24-year-old, Stella quickly became “so loved and so wanted” for the young mother-to-be and her mother, Sandra, who live together in a Panorama Ridge townhouse.
“We planned our whole lives around her.”
When Murray was 38 weeks along, she noticed she hadn’t felt her baby move for a while. After a few days and some encouragement from her mother, she went to Peace Arch Hospital for a checkup.
What happened next was a chain of events Murray can only describe as her worst nightmare.
“The nurse couldn’t find a heartbeat, so they got the doctor in,” Murray recalled. “He never actually said that she was gone, just that we would need the ultrasound tech to come in…
“I don’t know how long it was until the ultrasound tech got there, it felt like hours. He did the ultrasound and said there’s no heartbeat. Your baby’s dead.”
Murray’s labour was induced and the hospital sent her home with instructions to return the next morning.
Unknowingly, the hospital’s orders caused her even more heartache, as her bedroom was full of baby furniture and clothes that she knew would not be used. When she returned to the hospital the next morning to discover her labour had not progressed, she begged them not to send her back home.
Stella Charlotte was born the following afternoon.
“Surprisingly, it was an amazing experience,” Murray, now 27, said. “I don’t know how to describe it, but it was something that I could do for her.”
After she was born, Murray was able to spend several hours with Stella, time that she describes as “the most treasured 24 hours of my life.”
She had professional photos taken with her baby – courtesy of an organization of volunteer photographers called Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep – and had imprints of Stella’s tiny hands and feet taken.
The volunteers worked compassionately and quickly, as precious time altered Stella’s appearance.
“It was not how you want to see your baby,” Murray said.
Struggling to come to terms with what had happened, Murray said she was “very lost for a long time afterwards.”
It was only recently that Murray learned of a piece of equipment, called a CuddleCot, that could have helped. Manufactured in the U.K., a CuddleCot keeps a stillborn baby cool, allowing the family the time they need to spend with their child, without having to see the baby’s appearance change.
Murray is aware of only a handful in Canada. Determined to raise the $3,500 to purchase one for Peace Arch Hospital, she plans to hold an arts fundraiser next month and has launched a webpage to collect donations.
The Art Wars event, set for Oct. 10 at 100 Braid Street Studios in New Westminster, will feature several artists – including Murray, a student at the Art Institute of Vancouver – painting on-site in a competition. Attendees will vote on which finished pieces are their favourite, and the artwork will be auctioned off a the end of the evening.
She hopes to recruit a few more volunteers for the event.
In addition to raising funds for a CuddleCot for Peace Arch Hospital – Murray noted she’d ultimately like to see one in every Lower Mainland hospital – she wants to raise awareness about still births, both at the health-care level and among the general population.
Though she said the nurses and doctors who treated her at Peace Arch Hospital were amazing, she feels there are some procedural improvements that could be made.
“I just don’t feel like hospitals are prepared for this kind of thing,” she said.
“You’re still on a maternity ward, you can hear all the other babies crying.”
She also hopes that sharing her heartbreak might help to make the subject less uncomfortable for others.
Pointing to a tattoo of her daughter’s name imprinted on her chest, she said that when people ask who Stella is, they often change the subject after hearing her response.
“You have to grieve quietly and by yourself, because it upsets people to talk about it,” she said. “It’s a lonely road.”
Though Murray said nothing will fill the hole in her heart left by her daughter, raising money and awareness to help others struggling with the loss of a baby has helped her to heal.
“I don’t get to plan birthday parties for my daughter, so this is something that I can do for her,” she said. “It’s really all I have left to do.”
To contribute to Murray’s fundraising campaign, visit gofundme.com/cuddlecotforPAH
To find out more about the Art Wars event, email firstname.lastname@example.org