Holding Nicholas in my arms was the turning point for my grief; pure, unadulterated joy after being so unhappy, so heavy and dark with grief. It was one year and three days after my daughter Natasha had been taken from us, and having Nicholas gave me back my life. His arrival helped me regain my sanity and gave me my career. He changed my life.
Reading about how Kate Rothschild has just had a baby, two years after the death of her daughter Iris, made me think about Nicholas – my own healing “rainbow baby” who arrived to heal all of our grief at losing Natasha.
Natasha was just three months old the previous year when I checked on her one evening in her nursery and saw her eyes roll back and her little hand twitching. I took her to an out-of-hours GP but came home feeling rather silly; he had told me that new mothers are prone to worry and reassured me everything was fine. The next day we went to my own GP and, after examining her, he went off, saying he was going to see another patient.
It turns out he was actually trying to get a bed for her at Great Ormond Street Hospital; he knew something was dreadfully wrong. She died five days later from encephalitis, likely to have been caused by a kiss from someone with a cold sore.
You think you will never be normal again. I felt as if my life had ended and, while I’ve never been a depressive before, I spiralled into a black hole. I knew no amount of counselling would help me. There were times when I thought I couldn't go on. I permanently felt like I had something pressing down on my head.
I would re-live the trauma every morning when I woke up to realise it wasn’t just an awful nightmare and every time I saw someone and had to break the news. My friends stayed away – they all had new babies and didn’t think I would want to be around them. But I wouldn’t have minded seeing their babies, I wanted people around and needed social contact. I was lonely and it was very isolating.
I knew I wanted to get pregnant again. I thought that another child growing inside me would help me to come to terms with what had happened. I was so desperate I took a fertility drug Clomid. In the end I fell pregnant quite quickly and, as soon as I did, I felt a sense of calm; a sense that everything was going to be ok.
The birth was very sudden and traumatic. I worried I was going to lose a second child, but the doctor eventually arrived and cut the umbilical cord and, when I held him, all my despair melted away.
When you lose a child, you think you will never feel normal again, but my advice to others in the same position is that humans are adaptable. Women are resilient, and women who have lost their children can go on to do amazing things that wouldn’t have happened without the loss of that child. I was pragmatic about things and resolved not to worry about anything I couldn’t change. I did move on – you have to.
“Rainbow babies” are so-called because of the hope and joy they bring to the bleakest of times; in my case my “rainbow baby” also helped me find a purpose.
Kate Rothschild will also find that purpose whether it’s creating a charitable foundation or whatever she chooses to do, she will find the reason why Iris died; it’s very cathartic when you find that reason.
Not long after Natasha died, I remember Anne Diamond campaigning after losing her son Sebastian to cot death [now Sudden Infant Death Syndrome]. I saw that, by raising awareness, she was changing many people’s lives.
My Nicholas was a terrible feeder and I was feeling very vulnerable about him not eating; I thought, if he gets an infection he needs reserves in order to fight. He was small, but had an iron will but I got there in the end with his eating, and started to share recipes with other mums in the playgroup. They said I should write a book and that started my career. It took two-and-a-half years to get the Complete Baby & Toddler Meal Planner published, and we’ve now released the 30th anniversary edition.
Bereaved parents find solace in speaking to others who have been in a similar position. Only people who have lost a child can truly understand the grief and what you go through. In 2012, at the Charity Awards, I was asked to present a prize to Julia’s House, a hospice for young children in Dorset, and after talking to their chief executive I resolved to help fundraise for them.
I knew Samantha and David Cameron had lost their child, Ivan, a few years before, so I wrote to her asking for help. Samantha, who also went on to have new “rainbow” baby Florence, told me about how much love and joy Ivan gave them and that their loss will stay with them forever. While I don’t have the same sorts of memories from Natasha as she was so young, I do remember every moment of her life.
Samantha and I held a charity event at 10 Downing Street for Julia’s House in 2013 and, because he lived in Dorset at the time, I invited Guy Ritchie. So taken was he with the work of the hospice, Guy went on to host a fundraising event the following year with Robert Downey Jnr, David Beckham and others, raising nearly £1million to build a completely new hospice in Wiltshire. It took four hours for Natasha to die in my arms at Great Ormond Street after doctors turned off her life support and I can’t imagine a more peaceful and wonderful way to end a child’s life than in the garden at Julia’s House. Robert Downey Jr went on to raise a further $2million, and so continues my daughter’s legacy.
Natasha would be 33 now and she has not only helped me but so many other children to have healthier and better lives. One in two of us will die of a diet-related disease and, after I lost her, I knew I wanted to do something to improve the wellbeing of children. When I was awarded an MBE, it was for services to child nutrition.
Her life was short, but her life from then is in that book; my passion, my pain and my love. What I created because of her lives on. I went through a lot, but it gave me a real passion to fight for my career.
My bond with Nicholas is incredible. He actually moved back in with me when he had Covid and, five months on, he’s still here and I love having him around. He was such a wanted baby and his arrival filled me with happiness after so much despair
As told to Abigail Butcher