Julie-Ann Coll is a mother of four, however, one of her children, Mark William Ian, was delivered at 22 weeks and did not survive.
Now, Julie-Ann and her family remember him by visiting his grave, releasing balloons on his anniversary and talking about the brother her other children did not meet.
She explains, “It’s his anniversary now on the 22nd November and he would have been ten this year.
“However, he weighed just 560g (20oz) when he was born and while they did try to save him, he was simply too small.
“At the time they asked me if I wanted to see him and I remember asking, ‘Does he look like a baby?’
“They told me he was perfect and he was. Ten fingers, ten toes and he looked so beautiful.
“I wanted him christened and my minister told me that ‘all babies go to heaven’ but it was important to our family and so we christened him.
“We decided to take him home with us from the hospital and have a proper burial. It was a hard day but I tried not to cry. My daughter Kerri-Lynn was only three and I didn’t want her to see me crying.
“We had already told her she was to be a big sister and it was so difficult explaining to her that her baby brother was being buried instead.”
Losing Mark so far along in her pregnancy was a shock to Julie-Ann, especially since she had a child already.
She says, “I was only 18 when I had Kerri-Lynn and the thought of anything going wrong never entered my head. But before I fell pregnant with Mark I had a miscarriage but it was early on, around 7-8 weeks. Yet I still hoped that my next pregnancy would be fine and it was until I got to 21 weeks.
“I remember it was Remembrance Sunday and I just didn’t feel right but it wasn’t until the next day that I went to hospital. They told me my waters had broken and that I was dilating. I was in labour and all they could do for me was put me on bed rest. I spent the week in hospital and after a scan revealed the baby was still doing well, I was sent home.
“I started having pains again and I knew things weren’t good but I was still hoping my baby could survive.”
It was not to be and baby Mark was delivered on November 22.
Julie-Ann continues, “I was devastated. I was only 21 and I wanted him so much.
“I was so glad I got to hold him before we had his burial. That was so important to me; to get a connection with him.
“We talk about him all the time.”
Ten years later Julie-ann has two other sons, Mackenzie (8) and Robbie (16 months). Kerri-Lynn is 13 and the family all know about Mark.
But Julie-ann always felt that she wanted to help others in the same situation.
She explains, “My husband Steven wasn’t with me when I delivered Mark but he’s always known how important he is to me and has supported me so much. So when I noticed a charity called ‘Life After Loss’ on Facebook I started to chat to the other people on there.
“Just sharing our experiences really helped. They are based in Newry so I could never get to the group meetings but they then asked if anyone wanted to become a group leader so they could expand their support services.
“I told Steven I really wanted to get involved and he encouraged me to go along and see what it was about.
“Before the first meeting I was terrified but once I got there I was completely at ease. Everyone there had been through similar circumstances and we were able to talk without anyone judging you.
“We also got a day training in suicide awareness. Now I’m ready to start my first meeting in the city at the end of this month. I’m hoping that people come along and are able to get some support from the group. The charity aims to help those who have had a miscarriage, stillbirth or lost a child under the age of two.
“Of course, losing a baby or child affects the whole family so everyone affected is welcome, including men.”
Starting the group support meetings is something Julie-Ann feels ready to do.
“Doing this feels like something positive is coming out of Mark’s premature birth. It’s a new journey for me. I’ve always talked about Mark which has helped me so much but not everyone is able to do that so hopefully they can gain some support from the group.”
The charity also organises an annual balloon release which Julie-Ann hopes others locally will get involved in.
“Last year we went to Belfast Castle for the charity’s annual balloon release. I was a lovely day but also very poignant. They tied the names of all the lost babies to the balloons and then let them go. Hopefully some of the people who come along to the local group meeting will be able to remember their children in this way next year too.”
Julie-Ann will host the first Life After Loss meeting at the Holywell Trust building at Bishop Street on Monday 24th November from 6.30-8.30pm.