In May 2009 my heart shattered into a million pieces when our baby was diagnosed with a fatal condition at the 21-week anomaly scan. He died soon after and I delivered him by an induced natural labour two weeks later. My partner Mark and I named our son James, we held him, touched him and told him we loved him.
The loss was devastating, it was like nothing I had faced before and my arms ached. It was a real and physical feeling. I needed to hold my baby, but instead Mark and I just clung to each other. Then a dear friend sent me a soft throw blanket and it was like she was sending me a hug, wrapping me in her love and support. She told me she sent it in the hope I would feel comforted and that it would be something tangible in her absence. I clung to it, the ache eased and I could finally sleep.
The next few months were so hard but I found a way to exist. I returned to work, I went through the motions of everyday life but I was hurting and trying to make sense of my new normal. On Mother’s Day 2010, I walked through my local cemetery and I cried for my loss. It was then, however, that I realised that to fight against my grief was pointless. I needed to find a way to embrace the pain and use it to help not only myself but to help other people too. I wanted to bring comfort to other mothers who had lost their baby; wanted them to know they weren’t alone; that others experienced the ache they felt in their empty arms.
And so Aching Arms began to take shape. I posted on an online support forum asking if anyone wanted to join me to create this charity and the response was overwhelming. Many women, most of whom were also recently bereaved, wanted to help, these brave women became our very first trustees and fundraisers. I don’t think any of us realised how the charity would grow and how others within the baby loss community would respond.
In taking my experience of that comfort blanket, we created the Aching Arms bears and in June 2010, we began providing these comfort bears to bereaved parents through hospitals and by posting them directly. When we started, the aim was to donate 10 bears to one hospital and today we are in over 160 hospitals nationwide and last year distributed more than 5,000 bears in total.
We now have eight passionate and dedicated staff members, seven trustees and a team of more than 150 dedicated volunteers who help us ensure our bears are delivered safely to the aching arms of bereaved parents. We also have extremely generous supporters – their donations enable us to continue to run and help bring comfort to thousands of people who face the loss of their baby. I feel very honoured to lead this truly beautiful charity.
So, I and my team know a lot about loss, but a lot about love too. James lives on in me and Aching Arms is his legacy. I often stop and think about him, all the memories we never got to build, the smiles we never shared and the little brother, born 4 years after him, he will never know. But starting and building Aching Arms has given me a purpose and I am delighted that I somehow found the strength to help others through this charity and found a way to heal myself by helping others.
On our ten year anniversary as a registered charity, we reflect on how much the charity has grown and look at the impact we have made collectively.
We want to say a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has supported us, past and present, all the wonderful volunteers that lovingly prepare bears and deliver them to hospitals, all the health professionals that give out the bears to bereaved families, all those bereaved families that then go on to gift bears in memory of their precious babies to others who need to know they aren't alone.
We thank all our staff, trustees, donors, supporters and fundraisers. All of you. We couldn't continue without your help, compassion and support.
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