When given the devastating news that their daughter wouldn’t survive, Shooting Star Children’s Hospices gave Claire and Steven the chance to say goodbye.

“To have Ralph, Annie’s older brother, we had seven rounds of IVF so we thought we’d never have another child,” explains Claire, “but just after Ralph turned one I found out I was pregnant – we were amazed and felt incredibly lucky. When Annie was born at 36 weeks, she spent six weeks in hospital before Claire, Steven and Ralph, finally got to take her home and settle into life as a family of four.

Sadly, the family’s joy at having Annie home was short-lived when she became unwell with a chest infection, which quickly developed into pneumonia. Tragically, Annie died just a week before her first birthday. “In the months leading up to her death, Annie started to have quite a lot of breathing issues so we were in and out of hospital. Just after she’d spent another two weeks in hospital with bronchitis symptoms, I took Annie and Ralph out for the day with some friends. Annie was a bit grumpy and by the time we’d got home her hands and feet had started to go blue. I called an ambulance, but after some oxygen she picked up and seemed OK, so we were expecting to be discharged . The tables turned very quickly that night though so we were transferred to another hospital as she needed special paediatric care. We were then told she had adenovirus pneumonia.”

Annie spent the next week in intensive care. “When one of the consultants told us that she wasn’t going to survive and we had to make the decision to turn everything off, it just didn’t feel like the real world. I heard someone talking about the hospital mortuary and I thought ‘I can’t just leave her here and go back home’.”

The family were then told they could transfer to Shooting Star Children’s Hospices’ Guildford hospice, Christopher’s, to spend time saying goodbye to Annie. “I don’t remember much about the rest of that day except how grateful we were to be able to stay in one of the family flats as we just couldn’t cope with leaving Annie on her own. We spent five days at Christopher’s with Annie – Ralph and our extended family and friends also came to say goodbye; for my parents in particular this was really important because they’d seen her in intensive care surrounded by wires and they didn’t want that to be the last memory of her. Being at Christopher’s gave us the chance to spend much-needed time with Annie – to cuddle her, to kiss her, to tell her how much we loved her and for our tears to flow. It gave us the space to start to take in what had happened. I don’t want to imagine what it would’ve been like if we’d have had to leave Annie in hospital.

“The ongoing support that we have from the hospice is also amazing and has quite often kept me going. I don’t see Carolyn, the counsellor at Christopher’s, as much as I used to, but I still find it good to be able to come and speak openly about how I’m feeling. The thought of not having that support is a terrible thought – a child dying is quite a taboo subject and not easy to talk to people about, whereas at Christopher’s you can talk to anyone and they just treat you normally.”

The family have also attended Remembering Day at Christopher’s. “Doing memory-making activities at Remembering Day means that whilst Ralph, who’s now four, knows Christopher’s is where Annie came after she died, he sees it as a sort of nice place, somewhere you do craft activities or play in the garden, which is good. Quite often when I’m at Christopher’s for counselling I’ll also pop out to the tree and see the leaf we hung for Annie on Remembering Day and although it’s tinged with sadness, it’s a very special place to us.”

Last year, Claire and her friends took on Snowdon, raising £7,746 for Shooting Star Children’s Hospices. “Fundraising gave me a real focus. I wanted to do something in memory of Annie, but I also wanted to do something for Shooting Star Children’s Hospices because I’d seen first-hand how important the work of the hospice is – losing your child is the worst thing you could ever go through, but Shooting Star Children’s Hospices helped us to cope.”

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