A mum whose baby daughter died after just nine weeks has spoken of the invaluable bereavement support she receives from East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices (EACH). Natalie Smith and husband James attend fortnightly sessions with an EACH counsellor.
It is helping them come to terms with their grief, following the shock of baby Quinn passing away in February. She had a severe infection that led to major heart problems and spent half her short life in hospital, mainly at Great Ormond Street (GOSH), in London.
“We had three separate referrals to EACH, including from the palliative care team at GOSH, and that’s when we met our counsellor,” said Natalie, who lives near Haverhill.
“We always look forward to our meetings with her. People sometimes say ‘does it actually help?’ The truth is I don’t need help – I just need someone to talk to. She’s great because she doesn’t judge. She listens, says the right things and validates the way we’re feeling.
“We know we can also talk to family and friends and people try to give advice, but it’s different. She understands and remembers things I say – perhaps something I might have mentioned that I’m worried about. It’s just nice having an opportunity to talk about Quinn.
“I find a lot of people are reluctant to mention her, perhaps because they’re worried about upsetting me. However, it’s completely different in our sessions. I know I could say the most ridiculous thing to describe the way I’m feeling and she’d reassure me it’s fine and normal.
“She’s also got the same sense of humour as us, so it’s nice having some lighter moments, too.”
Natalie and James usually attend sessions at Milton but have also been visited at home. Quinn arrived in the world last December. She was a perfectly healthy baby after a completely normal labour.
However, she developed a temperature after four and a half weeks. She then started breathing strangely, making what is best described as a ‘grunting’ noise.
Natalie and James took her to hospital, where it was discovered she had an infection. They were told the worst-case scenarios were sepsis or meningitis. Things then took a turn for the worse that night.
Quinn’s heart-rate increased and her breathing deteriorated, so she was taken by ambulance from West Suffolk Hospital to GOSH by the PANDR (paediatric and neonatal decision-making and retrieval service) team based at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, in Cambridge.
“Her heart-rate continued to rise and 15 to 20 people rushed around when we arrived there,” said Natalie, 32.
“They had crash pads and a defibrillator. It was chaos. We were told she was extremely unwell and was being intubated, but that she might not survive. Quinn’s heart-rate began to stabilise but, in the event of things going downhill again, arrangements were made for her to be transferred to GOSH.
“As soon as we arrived, it was quickly identified that the left-hand side of her heart wasn’t working properly. She had a blocked artery and a vegetation on her valve, which meant blood was leaking back into her heart and sometimes into her lungs.
“The doctors said they weren’t hopeful she would make it through the night. Then we were told the infection was Group B Strep. The infection had gone straight to her heart, causing serious malfunction.”
Quinn was too small to be operated on or have a transplant, but continued to fight on for another five weeks. She eventually died on 11th February.
“The doctors and nurses were amazing,” said Natalie, who has a two-and-a-half year-old son, Cooper.
“They were kind and thoughtful throughout, treating her like their own. We knew she was safe, in the best possible place and in the safest of hands. It was a case of seeing the very best of people.”