Mum’s heart­break: I couldn’t pre­tend Ben didn’t ex­ist

What do you do when the unimag­in­able hap­pens? talk about it, says ni­cole Bowles, 33...

Woman's Own - - HELLO & WELCOME -

Ev­ery night as we gather around the din­ner ta­ble, my hus­band Dan and I en­cour­age our boys to share their favourite mo­ment from their day. Then we vote to de­cide which one our other son, Ben, would have liked the most. You see, un­like Alis­tair, seven, Toby, four, and Ed­ward, two, Ben isn’t here to make a mo­ment of his own. But that doesn’t stop us from in­clud­ing him in ours.

For as long as I can re­mem­ber, I’ve wanted a fam­ily. I met my hus­band Dan at school, and af­ter mar­ry­ing in 2008, we started try­ing for a baby.

Alis­tair was born in De­cem­ber 2010, fol­lowed by Ben in July 2012. Dan and I couldn’t have been hap­pier. At three months old, Ben was al­ready learn­ing to roll. I re­mem­ber the day he rocked de­ter­minedly on his play mat, with Alis­tair crouch­ing down be­side him, egging him on.

In Novem­ber 2012, when Ben was four months old, I started tak­ing the boys to a tod­dler and baby group in our home town of He­lens­burgh, with an­other mum, Sarah, and her lit­tle boy. On this par­tic­u­lar day, the weather was awful, so I de­cided to take the boys in their dou­ble buggy, with Alis­tair placed in the top seat, and Ben in the bot­tom.

‘As I pulled back the rain cover, I froze’

Ter­ri­ble mishap

Af­ter the group, Sarah and I walked into town where I stopped by the butcher’s to pick up chicken fil­lets for din­ner. I placed the plas­tic bag full of meat on top of the hood of the pram, un­der the at­tached rain cover. Af­ter­wards, we went to a char­ity shop. But by the time we were leav­ing, a heavy driz­zle had set in. Pulling the rain cover over the pram, I ducked down to check on the boys. ‘Mummy doesn’t want you to get soaked,’ I said, smil­ing at them both. Ben was fast asleep, but Alis­tair was wide awake.

‘Shall we go for cof­fee?’ I asked Sarah, who sug­gested we head to her house, just a 10-minute walk away. As we got to the front door, I bent down to get the boys out of the buggy. As I pulled back the rain cover, I froze. The plas­tic bag of chicken had slipped off the hood of the pram and fallen be­hind Alis­tair’s seat. It had landed straight onto Ben’s face, stop­ping him from breath­ing.

Im­me­di­ately, panic shot through me as I yanked Ben from the pram.

He was blue and floppy, his eyes closed and his chest mo­tion­less.

‘My baby!’ I screamed as I knelt on the floor. Plac­ing his tiny body across my lap, I started per­form­ing CPR while Sarah ran to get help.

Quickly, peo­ple started to gather on the street around me. Af­ter a few min­utes, I was so breath­less that a by­s­tander took over. It was then I saw Alis­tair’s lit­tle legs swing­ing in the pushchair. ‘What’s hap­pen­ing, Mummy?’ he cried. ‘It’s OK, we just can’t wake Ben up,’

I said, tears sting­ing my eyes.

Within mo­ments, an am­bu­lance and po­lice car ar­rived. As two paramedics took Ben into the back of their ve­hi­cle, I stayed out­side with the po­lice and rang Dan. ‘It’s Ben,’ I sobbed. ‘Come quickly.’

Wait­ing for news

I paced out­side the am­bu­lance, while Dan raced to meet us. But the paramedics couldn’t wait any longer, and so watch­ing the am­bu­lance peel away, I prayed they could save my lit­tle boy.

Shortly af­ter­wards, Dan ar­rived and we were driven to the hospi­tal by the po­lice, leav­ing Alis­tair with Sarah.

Ben had al­ready been whisked through to A&E by the time we got there. So Dan and I waited in a bay out­side his room.

Fi­nally, af­ter 10 min­utes, a doc­tor emerged. ‘We’ve re­stored Ben’s breath­ing,’ he said. ‘But we’ll need to do fur­ther tests to check there’s no lasting dam­age.’ Al­though my heart swelled with panic, I knew I needed to stay calm for my baby.

But with each new re­sult, the ter­ri­ble ex­tent of his in­juries was re­vealed. The lack of oxy­gen had caused se­vere brain dam­age. ‘He’s very un­likely to get bet­ter,’ the doc­tor said.

In an in­stant, my whole world crum­bled. Al­though it was the hard­est de­ci­sion, it was ob­vi­ous to us all. The kind­est thing to do for Ben was to re­move his life sup­port.

Back on the chil­dren’s ward, we spent our last mo­ments wash­ing and cradling him, be­fore re­mov­ing his oxy­gen tube. An hour later, Ben passed away peace­fully in my arms – a beau­ti­ful and dig­ni­fied death.

Leav­ing the hospi­tal with­out him, I thought my heart might break.

When I found Ben’s favourite toy don­key on the din­ing room floor back at home, I clutched it to my chest and screamed.

The next few weeks passed in a blur. The tragic na­ture of Ben’s death meant I was con­sumed with guilt. It wasn’t long be­fore the night­mares started. Within two months, I was di­ag­nosed with PTSD.

I was re­ferred for coun­selling, and re­ceived sup­port from the Scot­tish Cot Death Trust, be­cause there wasn’t a ded­i­cated char­ity for what hap­pened to Ben. But our lives were full of re­minders, things that Ben would al­ways miss.

At first, we mourned th­ese events and his ab­sence from them. But when I fell preg­nant just over a year later, I knew we couldn’t carry on like this.

We re­alised the im­por­tance of talk­ing about Ben as a way of keep­ing him with us. Luck­ily, our fam­ily and friends were in­cred­i­bly sup­port­ive.

In Fe­bru­ary 2014, our baby boy Toby was born. A year later, in March 2015, we moved down to London for Dan’s work, and in May 2016, Ed­ward was born.

Our new ar­rivals helped heal us a lit­tle, but be­ing some­where new, where no­body knew us, was hard. When peo­ple asked how many chil­dren I had, I didn’t know how to an­swer. I couldn’t pre­tend Ben had never ex­isted, but if I said I had four but one had died, the con­ver­sa­tion would stop abruptly. Peo­ple didn’t know what to say or how to act. We were be­com­ing iso­lated.

‘Peo­ple didn’t know how to act’

Sup­port­ing oth­ers

I de­cided I wanted to change that. So in June 2017, I set up the char­ity Our Miss­ing Peace, to sup­port be­reaved par­ents and the peo­ple around them.

We de­signed a pur­ple, heart-shaped badge with a miss­ing puz­zle piece that peo­ple can wear to show they’ve lost a child, and they’re will­ing to talk about it.

Not ev­ery­one un­der­stands why you’d want to wear a badge like this. But over the past year, we’ve shipped over 2,000.

Ben would have been six years old now. Al­though he can’t be here, we’ll never stop re­mem­ber­ing him. He was, and will al­ways be, a part of our fam­ily. l For more in­for­ma­tion and sup­port, visit our­miss­ing­; @ben_and_ break­ing_the_si­lence

Ben when he was three months old

With Alis­tair and baby Ben

It’s im­por­tant to keep the mem­o­ries alive

Ni­cole and Dan with Alis­tair, Toby and Ed­ward

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