I spent a month with my dead baby girl – I took her home to bed and would read her Star Wars, I didn't want to leave her

A GRIEVING mum has spoken about the precious month she spent with her stillborn daughter, reading her stories, singing songs and introducing her to friends and family – thanks to a refrigerated
‘cuddle cot’.

Amy Dutch was allowed to take her daughter Alicia-Mae home with her while she planned the funeral after she was born at just 26 weeks on April 18 this year, weighing a tiny 1.7lbs.

The 25-year-old first-time mum said having access to the special cot, which has a built-in cooling mattress to stop deterioration, allowed her to make “endless memories”, including spending hours reading Star Wars storybooks, taking her for walks around the house, as well as rocking and singing

'You Are My Sunshine’ to her precious baby – a song that was later played at her funeral.

Amy, who lives in London, was also able to take plenty of photographs and most importantly of all, she spent weeks sleeping next to her deceased baby – first in hospital and later in her family home.

The cot's special cooling system allows grieving parents time with stillborn babies that they may not have gotten otherwise.

“All pregnancy I'd been fixated on this image of falling asleep curled around a Moses basket on my bed and then waking up to my baby crying,” Amy told Fabulous.

“That image will never be complete but the fact I could still make half of it come true really warmed parts of my heart that I thought had died with Alicia-Mae.

“I know the thought of someone staying in the house with a dead baby is maybe not everyone’s idea of comforting, but I think we all deal with grief differently.”

Amy, who works selling handmade items online, spent her time sewing tiny Alicia an appropriately-sized nappy and a dress, which she was able to put on her daughter.

“Taking her home allowed me to change her clothes and blankets and actively be a mum,” said Amy.

“I now have photos of my baby girl in my bedroom and that just fills me with joy. There was something immensely comforting about seeing her at home amongst her things where she belonged. Her journey felt more complete.”

Amy discovered she was pregnant in late November last year while living in Turkey, working for an animal charity and living with her boyfriend Emced Rihavi.

She said: “When those pink lines popped up on the pregnancy test, I was so excited and straight away made arrangements to come back to England for Christmas and to tell everyone.

"I planned to come back for just two weeks and then return to Turkey to spend the early pregnancy with Emced and my dogs, before finally coming back a few months later to have the baby.”

But due to Covid, Amy’s flight back to Turkey was cancelled and air-travel would not resume until she was six months pregnant and unable to fly. A refugee and unable to travel himself, Emced and Amy spent the majority of the pregnancy apart.

Amy said: “The pregnancy was difficult but beautiful. I was sick the whole time, not going a day without throwing up at least once. I had sciatica and mood swings and suspected preeclampsia.

"Our baby grew fast and well, she was active and when I found out she was a girl at the 20 week scan I was thrilled.”

I held my breath just waiting for her to cry, hoping they were somehow wrong. She was beautiful, every inch of her

It wasn’t until Amy was 26 weeks’ pregnant that she felt something wasn’t quite right.

“Alicia hadn't been moving as much for a couple of hours and I couldn't quite place the last time I remembered her moving properly,” she said.

“I spoke to friends and family and everyone assured me that I was just imagining things. I had an appointment with my midwife the following day
anyway so I decided to wait until then.”

When the midwife was unable to find a heartbeat, Amy was rushed to hospital for an emergency scan, her mum by her side the whole time.

“We were ushered into a small dark scan room,” Amy recalled. “We began the scan in silence and I watched as my baby girl popped up on the screen, so still.

"One of the midwives clutched my leg as they found her chest and zoomed in to see no heart jumping.

"Those words never leave you once you've been told them for real: ‘There’s no heartbeat’. Suddenly I was thrust into a world no one wants to know exists.

“I was still going to have to come to the labour ward at the hospital and deliver my baby as I would have done normally, but with the most heartbreaking difference – she wouldn't cry or open her eyes or come home with me forever.”

Those words never leave you once you've been told them for real: ‘There’s no heartbeat’

After nine hours of labour, on April 18, just after midnight, Alicia-Mae was born at Kings College Hospital in Camberwell.

“She was placed into my arms and the whole world stopped,” said Amy. “I held my breath just waiting for her to cry, hoping they were somehow wrong. She was beautiful, every inch of her.

“I spent four days with her by my bedside in hospital. I felt so attached to this beautiful little girl I had created, I just wanted to show the world.”

After leaving hospital, Amy visited her daughter at the funeral home every day, until over a week later she began feeling unwell and was bedridden with flu, and no longer able to visit.

A bereavement midwife arranged for a cuddle cot to be loaned to Amy so that she could take her baby home for the final 12 days before the funeral.

The cuddle cot was set up by Amy’s bedside, so that she could sleep next to Alicia as she had done in hospital. She was able to video call Emced in Turkey so that he could see his daughter.

Amy said: “There is nothing that eases the pain of losing a baby but the gift of time is something incredibly important.”

Amy is determined to make sure more women know that a cuddle cot is an option and to make sure these facilities are readily available around the country. She is in the process of setting up a charity to help reach women like her.

Alicia was cremated and Amy plans to have her ashes added to her own when she dies so that they “can rest together”.

A King's College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust spokesperson said their cuddle cots were donated to the hospital by charity 4Louis.

“Cuddle cots can help parents during one of the most difficult times of their lives, allowing them to take their baby home while they are coming to terms with the devastating impact of stillbirth or late miscarriage.

“All parents in our care who lose a baby after 24 weeks have the opportunity to take their baby home if they wish to do so. It enables families to have longer with their baby in the comfort of their own home and create precious memories away from the hospital environment.

"Many parents say that the experience helps them come to terms with their loss.”

Amy is now fundraising for more cuddle cots in her daughter's memory. You can donate to the cause here.

Jen Coates, Director of Bereavement Support at Sands (Stillbirth and neonatal death charity), said: “For parents whose baby was stillborn or died soon after birth, a cuddle cot can help in preserving their baby and give them some precious time together, offering a chance to make memories; dressing the baby, taking photographs or simply staying close by.

This can make a big difference to helping families to cope with their
loss. It’s important that more parents know about being able to take their baby home and children’s hospices and some funeral directors will be able to lend a family a cuddle cot or special cooler unit to help
with this.”

Sands is here to support anyone affected by the death of a baby. Sands’ free Helpline is available on 0808 164 3332 10am to 3pm Monday to Friday and 6-9pm Tuesday and Thursday evenings. You can also [email protected] for support.

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