After Emma Smith’s infant daughter died suddenly in her sleep, Emma began to volunteer for The Lullaby Trust – helping other parents who have been affected by Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
In February 2000, Wandsworth mum, Emma Smith, gave birth to her first child, Maisy. Like most new parents, she was completely besotted with her baby.
“I loved Maisy so much that my heart hurt. I would lie in bed, with her beside me in her cot, and long for her to wake, I would watch every movement of her face.”
However, when Maisy was just ten weeks old, tragedy struck. Emma and her husband, Martin, had been out to dinner with friends, and they had taken Maisy with them. When they got home Emma sat down to feed Maisy, and then accidentally fell asleep on the sofa, with Maisy next to her. Anyone who’s experienced the exhaustion of new parenthood will understand how easily this can happen – and, though no one knows exactly why, sleeping on a sofa or armchair with your baby is a risk factor for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
“I’d never fallen asleep with Maisy before,” says Emma. “It was so out of character for me to put her down beside me on the sofa after her milk. I can’t let myself contemplate any ‘if onlys’, though. When I woke, there she was by my side. I knew immediately that something was wrong. I ran upstairs with her, screaming for Martin.”
In the days and weeks that followed Maisy’s death, Emma’s grief was intense – and she needed help to get her through this harrowing period. “I would wake in the night, not knowing what to do with myself. I found The Lullaby Trust’s number. I called them sometimes, when there was no one else for me to talk to.”
The Lullaby Trust is a charity which provides specialist support for people who have been affected by SIDS, and promotes expert advice on safer baby sleep.
Amongst other services, they have a dedicated helpline for bereaved families.
Happily, Emma now has three other children – Betty, Peggy, and Ollie. However, she has never forgotten the help that The Lullaby Trust gave her after Maisy died, and she still volunteers for the organisation.
“The Lullaby Trust asked me to talk to people about Maisy – to help them with fundraising, and to spread awareness of the amazing work the charity does. It gives me such pleasure to be able to help them in a very small way, and it also gives me enormous pleasure on a personal level to be able to talk about Maisy – about the joy that she gave me in her ten short weeks, and the difference that she continues to make to my life and my children’s lives.”
On behalf of The Lullaby Trust, Emma has, over the years, shared her personal experience with many different groups of people. She has also run several marathons to raise money for the organisation. “I’ve talked to people who were being trained to go and knock on people’s doors and ask them to sign a direct debit form to give to the charity – surely one of the most difficult jobs ever! I’ve also done quite a lot of media work, telling my Maisy story whenever there is new research that needs to be made public. I’ve spoken at fundraising evenings and, most recently, I gave a talk at 10 Downing Street. I’m currently training to run my fourth marathon – I train very early in the mornings, while everyone is still asleep.”
As well as being a hands-on mum and a marathon runner, Emma runs a nursery for toddlers in her home each morning, and a cookery school for adults in the afternoons. But, she’s determined to find time for her voluntary work too. “Like all mothers I’m ferociously busy, but, when I’m doing something for The Lullaby Trust, it’s my Maisy time. Had I been lucky enough to have her with me, I would be spending time taking her to piano lessons, and gymnastics and helping her with homework – so I suppose I just spend some of the time I would have been doing that, doing things for The Lullaby Trust instead.”
And Emma’s not the only person in her family who makes a contribution to the charity. “Everyone is incredibly supportive. My mother ran the London Marathon with me – I thought how proud Maisy would have been, with her mother and her grandmother both running in her honour. My children understand about the work of The Lullaby Trust and they want to get involved too. We often make cakes together, and they sell them for Maisy outside our house.”
Though it can sometimes be tough – both practically and emotionally – Emma feels that her voluntary work pays dividends in helping to keep her daughter’s memory alive. “Maisy’s birth and death changed me forever. I can’t put into words how utterly devoted I was to her for those ten weeks, I loved her so much. I sometimes find it difficult not to cry when I’m talking about Maisy and remembering both the joy and the tragedy. I also find it very tough meeting other people who have lost their children, and imagining how terrible they are feeling. However, during the years after Maisy died, I became aware that she had taught me so much. She has made me the mother I am today. My work for The Lullaby Trust enables me to talk about her – to boast about her, I suppose. I still feel incredibly proud to be able to say that I was her mother.”
And Emma also finds some consolation in knowing that she is helping to prevent other parents from going through the same traumatic experience that she has suffered. “The number of cot deaths is going down year by year, and Maisy and I, between us, may have helped in a tiny way towards this. Sometimes, at mile 25 in the marathon, I feel like giving up. But that’s when I focus on Maisy, and all the other families and children who have been affected by cot death, and push on through.” ✿
The Lullaby Trust’s Tips for Safer Sleep
• Place your baby on their back to sleep
• Keep your baby away from smoke, during pregnancy and after birth
• Place your baby to sleep in a separate cot or Moses basket in the same room as you for the first 6 months
• Breastfeed your baby, if you can
• Use a firm, flat, waterproof mattress in good condition
• Sleep on a sofa or in an armchair with your baby
• Sleep in the same bed as your baby if you smoke, drink or take drugs, or are extremely tired, or if your baby was born prematurely or had a low birth weight
• Let your baby get too hot
• Cover your baby’s face or head while sleeping, or use loose bedding