The Children’s Memorial Gardens Blog / News

Life after losing a child

October is International Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness month. This wonderful movement helps to raise critical awareness for child loss and prevention measures, whilst bringing together bereaved families from around the world to remember and commemorate their babies. 

With that in mind, we’d like to share the heartwrenching story of Zoe and Doug who tragically lost baby Olive during 2019. Please note that it does contain upsetting content so reader discretion is advised.

Zoe Ely was working in a pub when she met Douglas McBain. “For a few months, he’d been coming into see me and asking me out for a drink”, she said. “At first I wasn’t interested but eventually I agreed. We became a couple on the 11th September 2018 and then within three weeks I’d fallen pregnant!”

Despite their whirlwind relationship, Zoe, now 23, and Douglas, 29, from Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire were just like every other young and happy couple preparing for the birth of their first child. “It was a shock but we were both over the moon. Doug had always wanted a big family and I’ve always wanted to be a mum. We were really excited.”

The pair quickly moved in together and spent the next few months planning their nursery. The scans had revealed a healthy baby girl so they’d splashed out on a beautiful oak cot with pale pink accessories and butterfly stickers adorning the wall behind the cot. They’d also picked out a name – Olive Sydney Edith McBain, after three of their grandparents and great grandparents. 

The pregnancy mostly ran smoothly but at 30 weeks, their world was turned upside down when Zoe contracted Group B Strep (GBS). “It had only shown up in swabs and not any other tests so the doctors decided not to treat it with antibiotics. It’s normally only treated if it shows up in urine tests. They promised me antibiotics during my labour instead and said that would cover any risk.”

GBS is extremely common with 1 in 5 women carrying it in their bodies. It is a type of bacteria called streptococcal bacteria and is normally harmless but can be passed to the baby during pregnancy and childbirth. If left untreated, GBS will lead to serious complications in the baby such as sepsis, meningitis, loss of hearing or vision or even fatality.

“The week leading up to the birth, I’d been in and out of the hospital like a yo-yo. I had excruciating pains and bleeding, yet kept being sent home as they said Olive was fine. We knew something was wrong but we had to trust their judgement.

“That weekend, I went into labour. We were so excited thinking we were going to finally meet her. It was three weeks earlier than her due date, but that didn’t surprise us as we were told she could be premature. We packed the bag and arrived at the hospital around 3am.”

What happened next was a series of devastating events. “The doctors were doing their normal checks to make sure I was definitely in labour but they couldn’t find a heartbeat. We screamed the place down as our world started collapsing around us.

“They moved us to another ward for being ‘too disruptive’ to the other mothers-to-be. We had an ultrasound and all the midwives could say was ‘I’m so sorry’. I can’t even describe how I felt. All I can remember was looking at the lifeless picture on the screen and falling to the floor, begging them to get her out straight away and try CPR.”

Zoe gave birth naturally and baby Olive was born on the 2nd June 2019 at 10:48am weighing 6lbs 6oz. Zoe says it was the most conflicting feeling she’d ever experienced. “I had this adoration for this beautiful little girl but this heartache knowing that she’d never open her eyes or cry.

“The three of us stayed in the hospital for three days. Olive was in a cold cot next to our bed so we could still have those precious first days, even if they weren’t how we’d pictured them. We will treasure those days forever.”

Holding-Olive-in-the-hospital
Holding-Olive-in-the-hospital

When Zoe and Doug had to leave the hospital, they gave Olive to a midwife who treated her with the dignity and love she deserved. “The following days were a total blur but I remember we cried endlessly and didn’t sleep or eat. A week later, we decided to get matching tattoos of her so we could hold her memory forever.”

“It was almost impossible to organise the funeral. Usually you have the person’s wishes as to what they want but we didn’t have that because she never had a chance to live, let alone think about her funeral.”

Olive’s funeral was on her due date, the 25th June. Instead of a hearse, the couple chose an estate car with blacked out windows to escape the unwanted attention from passers by. The service was held at the crematorium and then she was buried in the cemetery. “I just remember them opening the back of the car, seeing this tiny coffin and screaming in tears again like I had done in the hospital.

“We tried to make it a nice day to give her a proper send-off, releasing pink balloons into the sky with little messages on to her.”

The grief tore Zoe and Doug apart inside, but she says it made their relationship stronger. Zoe also started to lose her hair due to alopecia and was diagnosed with PTSD in the summer of 2019. In September, She and Doug decided to shave their heads for charity and went on to raise £1,000 which they split between SANDS (Stillbirth & Neonatal Death), Aching Arms and GBSS (Group B Strep Support).

The couple raised £1000 for charity by shaving their heads

At the same time the couple fell pregnant again, but thankfully this time without any complications. Zoe was induced and given antibiotics as a precautionary measure, and gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Cherry, on the 5th May 2020 weighing 7lbs 4oz.

“Since Olive’s death, there hasn’t been a day go by that we don’t think of her or a week go by when we don’t visit her. She’ll always be our first and Cherry’s big sister. People seem to think that having another child will make you forget about the one you lost, but it’s the total opposite. We are truly blessed to have two beautiful daughters.”

The couple are now engaged and planning their wedding for May 2021. “Olive will very much be a big part of our wedding. We are reserving a seat for her and Doug’s dad, who also passed away, together with their photos at the front of the venue. We’re also making our own confetti from the petals of the flowers that we replace on her grave every Sunday. It’s taking a while to dehydrate each one but it will be worth it.”

“It’s hard to think about some of the smaller details but we’re happy to talk about Olive. Hopefully our story can help other bereaved parents realise that they’re not alone, especially if they’ve had a stillborn or gone through a similar situation. Losing a child is the most horrific pain but we urge anybody who’s experienced it to reach out and get support. 

“Nothing can fill the void that Olive left in our hearts but we want other parents to know that the grief will ease over time and that they too can go onto lead fulfilling lives.” 

If you or a loved one have experienced the loss of a pregnancy or infant, please get in touch with our charity partner The Compassionate Friends UK.

About us

The Children’s Memorial Gardens are two beautiful memorial gardens in Longwick, near Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire. We exist solely to support the bereaved families and friends of deceased or missing children. If you’d like to donate towards the cost of thousands of plants, please visit our Just Giving page here.

Contact Us

Address: Lower Icknield Way, Princes Risborough HP27 9RL

Telephone: 07535-055555