When 29-year-old Viv Ralph found out she was pregnant at 23 weeks, it came as a real shock to her and her partner, James. Little did she know how much baby Effie would change her life.
“I didn’t have any symptoms, the only thing I experienced with baby Effie was really bad heartburn which is what made me question it. I continuously had heartburn and when she was born she had loads of hair which makes sense.
“We also had our wedding booked in May 2020, so I would have been pregnant then without knowing! The wedding was pushed back to September due to the pandemic, and then with the lockdown continuing, we postponed it again to April 2021. It’s quite good it wasn’t in September otherwise I wouldn’t have fit in my dress as I’d have been seven months pregnant!”
Other than the uncomfortable heartburn Viv experienced, her pregnancy journey was a breeze.
“There were no complications throughout the whole pregnancy, to the point where I didn’t even know I was pregnant - she was perfect.”
On November 30th, 2020, Viv attended her midwife appointment where she saw everything was healthy and normal. With Effie ready to be born, Viv was booked in to be induced on December 2nd. That night, Viv and James went to bed as normal.
“I woke up an hour later and my waters had broke. There was blood in my waters which we knew wasn’t a good sign. We went into the hospital, and they struggled to find Effie’s heartbeat.”
“I had an emergency c-section within 17 minutes of being there. They got Effie out and tried to bring her back for almost an hour. They found her heartbeat for a little bit, but she couldn’t keep it."
Very tragically, Viv’s waters broke on the exact part of a blood vessel on the outside of her placenta.
“It’s really rare, and it can’t be predicted, it shouldn’t have caused a problem, but my waters broke on the exact part of that blood vessel which was just so unfortunate and my waters had got into her blood. By the time I got to the hospital, it was just too late. It was so unexpected - all the midwives in the hospital had never seen this happen before as it’s such a rare thing.”
“The hospital staff were amazing. We were lucky, we got to stay with Effie. She was born on Tuesday morning and we stayed until Friday afternoon with her in the bereavement suite, and my partner James stayed with us. Even with Covid-19, they let us have visitors in to meet her, so our families could visit Effie. We were on a separate ward away from the maternity suite and the room we had, had a separate garden with a side entrance so they allowed us to have all our family come and meet Effie.”
One very special visitor Effie got to meet was her older sister, Frankie.
“My stepdaughter Frankie met Effie in the bereavement suite and the midwives explained everything to her. We didn’t know what to say to her, she was just under four at the time. She was so excited to meet her new sister and we didn’t know at first whether to bring her in or not. For us, we had to do it otherwise it would have been a big question of 'Where is the baby?' So Frankie came in and met Effie and she absolutely loved her and kept kissing her.
“The midwives were so good at explaining to her that Effie wasn’t going to come home and that she wasn’t going to open her eyes, so Frankie decided Effie was going to go and live in the pink part of the rainbow and now, that’s where Effie is - in the Rainbow.
"Frankie has taken it in her stride. She talks about Effie all of the time. She made her a little post box so we can post letters and pictures to Effie, and the fairies come and get it to take it up to the rainbow."
Viv breaks down recalling the unbelievably painful experience of having to leave the hospital without her baby girl Effie.
“Leaving the hospital was horrible and heartbreaking. Even when I went into the hospital, I never thought I'd be walking out without my baby, carrying a memory box.”
Viv and her partner James found comfort in the fact their closest family members and bereavement midwife were able to meet Effie and remember her.
“Our bereavement midwife came to us on the day Effie was born and we feel more comfortable opening up to her as we find it easier to speak to people who met Effie - it’s a comfort to us. The people who met her know how perfect she is - she’s beautiful. She has massive lips, a tiny little button nose, she’s perfect.”
After going through their tragic loss, there have been a number of charities there to support Viv and her family throughout these difficult times. Reflecting on those days she spent with Effie in hospital, there were three important charities in particular that were there to provide help and support.
“The charities have had such an impact on us. Firstly, not all hospitals have a bereavement suite, and if that wasn’t there at the Worcestershire Royal Hospital, we wouldn’t have been able to spend as much time with Effie, and James wouldn’t have been able to stay, and our families wouldn't have been able to meet her. The bereavement suite has been built through charity work and donations.”
When you leave the hospital without your baby, all you have is the memories, which is why Viv was so thankful for some of the special items included in Effie’s memory box.
A Heart in Their Hand keyring was given to Viv in hospital. Each keyring has a little heart that fits inside. The little heart can be left in the hands of your baby while you can keep the keyring with you as a lasting memory.
Aching Arms is another charity that provided comfort in their time of need.
“We were given a bear from the midwives which had been donated by another family who had lost their baby, which really brought us comfort.”
Although Viv and James had already donated to these charities, Viv was keen to do more.
“I also wanted to do something to keep Effie’s memory and name alive, I want people to know who she is.”
Viv decided to start her brand, Love Effie and Friends, to help raise money for these three amazing charities which are so close to her heart. It all started with a hoodie that Viv designed herself to wear, featuring a drawing of an elephant with Effie’s footprints as the feet.
“I shared a picture of my hoodie on my Instagram, and a few baby loss mums commented. There’s a huge baby loss community online and all these mums are trying to keep their baby’s memories alive. I thought it would be a really nice idea to make more of these to raise money for the charities and also keep these baby’s memories alive.
“All the animals featured have been ideas from baby loss parents. For example, I would have never thought to draw a blackbird but someone commented that ‘blackbird’ was their nickname for their baby who they lost. Effie’s is the elephant and all of them have been inspired by animals from baby loss parents. All the footprints used on the designed are personalised footprints which parents of children, babies or angel babies send to me. It's one of the few things alot of parents get from the hospital after losing their baby.
“I’ve done it all for Effie. I’m so scared that people will forget her. She is the reason I've got to make it work, to make sure she is remembered and known by more people. I don’t want her to ever be forgotten.
“I want Love Effie and Friends to be able to raise money for charity and make an impact on them. I know the bereavement suite need their garden redoing because it’s never really been done, so it would be nice if we could raise some money for that to know we have helped. Money for Heart in Their Hand would go to sending out keyrings to other hospitals, and the same with the Aching Arms bears.”
Losing a baby is perhaps one of the most difficult things a parent can go through, and although Viv struggles to know what to say to other parents going through similar to what she and her partner James have experienced, her biggest words of advice are to be gentle on yourself.
“Take each day as it comes and do whatever is right for you. I’ve learned there’s no right or wrong in anything anymore. There’s no guide book, especially when it comes to losing a baby, there’s just no right way to do something. Just do whatever is right in that moment.
“I remember my bereavement midwife kept telling me to be gentle on myself, and I could never understand what she meant by it. And then one day, I went to do something and I just couldn’t do it, and I understood the importance of being gentle on myself - it made sense.”
With Viv’s incredible project, Effie’s name and her story will be remembered by so many baby’s and parents who have lost their child. For every Love Effie and Friends item sold, a donation will be shared between the three charities. We've included some of the most popular products below for you to shop and support these amazing causes.