On the 18th of January 2014, Jen and Chris Reid welcomed their son Edward Louis Reid. Eddie was healthy and strong from the moment he entered the world. Tragically, three months later, he became a victim of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). After experiencing such a devastating loss, Jen and Chris turned their grief into an incredible force for good by founding the charity, Teddy’s Wish.
This charity funds research into the causes of baby loss and provides bereavement support for grieving families. Through Teddy’s Wish, Jen and Chris honour the memory of their baby body, Eddie.
Jen, you joined us for The Virtual Meet-Up last year to talk about Parenting After Loss and shared how you were able to lean on a great support system, and how Chris was a huge part of that. Chris, would you be able to share some of your experience from a father’s perspective?
Chris: Losing a child is the most shattering loss. I was instantly transported into an alternate reality, looking at my old life in a state of disbelief. I remember going into the hospital room 4 or 5 times to see Eddie and found it exceptionally hard and difficult to say goodbye. I made a promise that I would try and make him proud in everything I do from that day forward. We were very fortunate to have a wonderful bereavement counsellor and I remember being told that whatever my emotional response is will be the right response such is the extremity of losing a child. I took great comfort in knowing that and found solace in exercise and being outdoors. I called that my mindfulness time and it is as valuable today as it was 8 years ago.
I feel very fortunate to have Jen as my wife and best friend – very early on we spoke about the importance of being open with each other and recognised that we would both grieve differently. I was so grateful that we allowed each other into each other’s grief journey which I believe made us stronger. I remember being frightened about losing the pain of grief but felt so re-assured when we met another bereaved parent who was in his 60’s and who cried when telling us his story of losing his baby many years ago to SIDS. I still grieve today and still at times will cry, which makes me feel re-assured that Eddie was real and was a part of our life.
Both of you have been able to turn this experience into such an amazing force for good with Teddy’s Wish. How did you go about starting this charity? And how did you find sharing your own experience and hearing the stories of others?
Jen: On every medical test possible, Eddie was a perfectly healthy and thriving baby boy. We were left with no reason or attributable cause as to why our baby boy left us. SIDS, by its definition, is a diagnosis of exclusion. Our desperate need to understand why and to search for answers became the starting point for setting up our charity, Teddy’s Wish in July 2014. Through our grief journey we met many other parents who had lost an infant or baby and we started to understand the scale of loss here in the UK, not just SIDS, but stillbirth and neonatal losses too. And that led to a recurring thought: No parent should ever suffer the loss of a child. For those that do, they will need all the love and support possible.
By sharing our stories and hearing other stories, we found it helped our own grief journey as we felt less isolated and alone. And hearing stories from parents further along in their grief journey gave us hope. If they could survive this devastating loss then we could too.
Our hope is through the charity we are not only raising awareness amongst the baby loss community, we are also helping to create a more compassionate society.
How did this experience change going through the milestones of pregnancy and early parenthood with Ollie and Chloe? Did you find it more difficult to enjoy those moments?
Jen: Pregnancy after loss was terrifying. Once you fall on the wrong side of statistics you can’t help but wonder whether this will happen again, despite re-assurances from doctors. I felt like my innocence had been taken away and I was just desperate to get through the 9 months of pregnancy. I was so grateful to receive additional support and scans which gave me re-assurance on days when I felt particularly anxious. And then of course, a new anxiety took force once Ollie was born, especially in those early months. We made sure we were surrounded by the right support and put in place systems that gave us a sense of re-assurance. We used a baby movement monitor for both Ollie and Chloe until they were 12 months and I learnt mindfulness techniques which helped me immensely in cherishing the present moment. Whilst I felt anxious, I also felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude and love which made me recognise that feelings can co-exist.
You’ve shared that once you experience this kind of loss, it’s hard to trust life again. How do you manage the anxieties that come from an experience like this?
Jen: There is an old adage that time is a great healer but what it actually does is give you more coping mechanisms. What felt like a giant leap a few years ago, for example leaving the kids with a grandparent for a few hours, feels more manageable today. There will always be anxiety but by taking baby steps and doing things at our own pace rather than what society expects us to do, we have learnt to manage it as best as we can. Ollie and Chloe are now 6 and 4 but still have a video monitor in their room! That might be considered strange, but we must do what makes us feel comfortable.
Jen, at The Virtual Meet-Up, you talked about grief coexisting with these milestones and new experiences. You described this feeling as ‘happy/sad,’ and I think that really resonates with how parents who experience loss feel. What advice can you give someone navigating these feelings and learning to balance such a mix of emotions over time?
Jen: This is a tough question as everyone has their own unique grief journey and I am not a qualified expert but what I would say is that you shouldn’t judge yourself on how you’re feeling. Sometimes grief can overwhelm you most unexpectedly but don’t be upset by it, we learn how to manage this with time. A famous holocaust survivor Dr Edith Eger once said “to feel is to heal”.
Teddy’s Wish is really Eddie’s legacy, and it’s a beautiful way to honour him every day. How will you have conversations about Eddie with Ollie and Chloe? Have you been able to speak to them about him?
Jen: When Ollie was 4 years old, Chris was terrified of speaking about what happened to Eddie as he didn’t want to upset or taint his innocence. We sought advice by our wonderful counsellor Jenni Thomas who explained how to speak about death to children and we found it so helpful. We explained to Ollie and later to Chloe that they had an older brother who very sadly died because his body stopped working. This approach was gentle but also truthful and pragmatic.
We also have photographs of Eddie in the house- he is very much part of our family and we all speak about his legacy through the work we do at Teddy’s Wish.
What have been the unexpected perks of parenting for you both?
Jen: We know that not all parents go on to have subsequent children after loss but we try to be present at all times and cherish our time with Ollie and Chloe. We know how precious life is and they are a daily reminder of how lucky we are.
What is the biggest lesson parenthood has taught each of you?
Jen: It has taught us unconditional love for Eddie, Ollie and Chloe and never to take anything for granted. We cherish every moment. Even the sleepless nights!