Page last updated at 12:44 GMT, Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Our baby girl 'died in our arms'

By Peter Jackson
BBC News

Sarah Speake, Martin Tewkesbury and Amelie Tewkesbury
Sarah Speake and husband Martin with Amelie 20 minutes before she died

A mother whose daughter died in her arms 11 days after she was born has called for better training and more funding to prevent similar deaths.

The Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society (Sands) says nearly 6,500 babies die at an early stage in the UK every year, or about 17 a day.

On Friday Sarah Speake and her husband will take their two children to London Zoo to celebrate what would have been their daughter Amelie's fourth birthday.

The couple met there on a blind date, and they want the whole family to feel involved in the anniversary of her short life.

Ms Speake, 37, said: "Our son Josh has been brought up to know he has a sister and that she's in the stars, we celebrate her birthday and always do something."

Sarah, her husband Martin Tewkesbsury, son Josh, three, and 10-month-old daughter Hannah all treat Amelie as a permanent part of their family.

Her ashes are kept on the dressing room table of their house in Chiswick, west London, and photographs of her in an incubator are on display to keep her memory alive.

I was lucky... when all the tubes had been removed we had two hours on our own with her, so she was able to die in our arms, that was very, very important
Sarah Speake

Four years ago Ms Speake was 35 weeks pregnant when her daughter stopped moving in her womb and she went to hospital to check it out.

Amelie's heart rate was dangerously high and within 45 minutes Ms Speake was in the maternity ward to give birth via Caesarean Section.

"She was born in a coma and spent her entire life in a coma in the neo-natal intensive care unit," Ms Speake said.

"It absolutely floored me, it completely destroyed me because as a new-born mum you don't ever expect anything to go wrong and I hoped beyond all hope that she would be ok.

"I kept believing until we knew.... the day before she died we pretty much knew it was imminent, it was just a question of when."

Ms Speake said she received "amazing" care at Arrowe Park Hospital in the Wirral in a room funded by Sands away from the main maternity ward.

"I was lucky... when all the tubes had been removed we had two hours on our own with her, so she was able to die in our arms, that was very, very important."

Sarah Speake
Being Amelie's mother made me a better person, says Ms Speake

The technology director for the internet search engine Google said Josh was conceived the day after she nearly committed suicide and was born less than a year after Amelie.

She said Sands allowed her to meet other bereaved parents and understand that she could survive the experience.

"You learn to live with it and it becomes a part of who you are. I think I'm a better person as a result of being Amelie's mother," she said.

But she said not everybody's experience of care is as positive.

"I think, unfortunately, we find it's a bit of a postcode lottery... there is a need for much better standardisation of care and equally better training of existing medical professionals for subsequent pregnancies."

She said she was given a specially allocated midwife before Josh's birth because she was a bereaved parent, but not when she was pregnant with Hannah.

"All subsequent care is struck off and you have to re-explain your tragic story...," she said.

Ms Speake wants awareness to be raised and said while people are well informed on cot deaths, far fewer are made aware of stillbirths despite there being 10-times as many deaths.

Like the charity Sands, she also wants to see improved research into the causes to try to prevent more deaths.

The couple normally spend Amelie's birthday at Kew Gardens in west London to see the snowdrops, which became a symbol of her life.

Ms Speake's mother brought the flowers to the hospital in a vase when Amelie was alive, but things have since moved on.

"This year we decided we didn't want that to become a pilgrimage, we now have snowdrops in our own garden," she said.

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