SANDS Memorial at the National Arboretum

We took a little road trip to Staffordshire earlier this week. I’d heard that there is a memorial to stillborn and neonatal death at the National Arboretum, and wanted to take a look.

The National Arboretum is the country’s centre of remembrance. Many of the memorials focus on sacrifices made by servicemen and women during conflicts during the last two centuries.

It is a vast, beautiful site – well-maintained and abundant with trees and flowers. I especially liked the fruit trees because they are constantly providing new life.

The SANDS memorial is in a beautiful private garden. The iron gates feature the SANDS logo – teardrops and butterflies. There is a winding path to get to the main enclosure, where the sculpture is. The path also offers grieving parents a bit of privacy, away from the main avenue.

Along the borders of the path many bereaved parents have placed stones and pebbles detailing the names of the babies they have lost. My mind never fails to feel boggled when I see the number of other babies’ graves when I visit Hugo, and I felt equally overwhelmed by the amount of stones at the memorial.

I wished I’d have known about the tradition before I visited, because I’d have taken one for Hugo. I’d probably have painted it with brightly-coloured stars.

Most of the stones have been decorated in some way, brightly coloured tributes to their lost children. Some of them bear dates as far back as the 1950s and 1960s – times during which, I understand baby deaths were not acknowledged. I feel glad for these parents that they are able to recognise the loss of their precious babies, however long ago it was.

There were three stones that particularly broke my heart – decorated in identical style bearing the names of three siblings who were born and died two years apart.

The memorial itself is a baby curled up as if in a womb. It is incredibly well represented and detailed.

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Both Martin and I spent time with our hands on the sculpture thinking of Hugo, what should have been, but how blessed we are to have had such a special baby.

It was, as expected, incredibly moving. The tribute to all lost babies, and to know that they will always be remembered is a sentiment very much appreciated by this bereaved mother.

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Images on this post are the copyright of Martin Parker.

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