A part of me died the day I lost my son

Leanne Bailey and her West Highland terrier, Oscar.
Leanne Bailey and her West Highland terrier, Oscar.

From broken bones to new beginnings

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The tragic death of Leanne Bailey’s baby has spurred her on to help others. She talks to SARAH FOSTER about cot death and the fundraising walk her West Highland terrier, Oscar, will lead out.

Leanne Bailey’s son William would have turned 25 last month but she can only imagine what it would have been like to see him graduate or get married.

When he died, aged just three months, she says her future died with him.

An hour before he passed away he’d been smiling at her. But after falling asleep in his cot, William never woke up again.

The years have gone by but her memories of that night don’t fade. She still remembers how she’d been listening to an Elton John cassette and sterilising bottles in a bid to get ahead for the next morning.

‘He was fine, he just woke up in the night,’ says Leanne.

‘I sat him in the chair and he was smiling. When I put him back to sleep he screamed the place down but he’d do that and then he went to sleep.

‘I was putting things away and my partner had gone to bed. I dropped a pan lid on the floor. I thought he’d wiggle but there was nothing at all and I knew he was dead. I just knew it.

‘I’ve spoken to other people and they’ve not been able to express it but quite often they say they’ve had a weird feeling in their stomach.

‘I don’t think other people do understand it but half of me had just died.’

Leanne had been in the same room as her sleeping son and she was later told he had probably died just 10 minutes before she’d dropped that lid.

‘I still did CPR, his dad needed me to do that, to see me doing it but I knew he was dead,’ adds Leanne, who’d been training to be a nurse.

‘I was almost too horrified to pick him up, I didn’t want to touch him.

‘I didn’t have a mobile phone so I went to the phone box and called 999 and told them not to rush, not to blue light it because he was dead.

‘My instinct kicked in, my nursing kicked in. I detached myself from it for a few hours, I needed to detach myself.

‘The police were very good, a WPC came and it was her first dead baby.’

For the parents of babies who have died from cot death there’s no peace of mind anyone can give them about why or how such an appalling tragedy has occurred.

Leanne gave her consent for a post mortem to take place and for tissue samples to be given. William was buried on February 14,1986, and she still doesn’t know why it happened to them.

His death brought about the end of Leanne’s relationship with William’s dad. Torn apart by grief, they dealt with what happened in their own ways.

‘I packed William’s things up,’ says Leanne. ‘A lot of his stuff I took to the local health centre to take to people who were less fortunate than I was at the time.

‘I had to pack him away, I didn’t want to wipe him out but I saw a sock or a babygro that was his and I fell to pieces. I had to pack him away until I was ready to deal with it. Other people have things untouched and they are still there years later.’

Now married and settled in Southsea, the events of 25 years ago and the son she lost never go away.

For the past few years she’s been involved with the cot death charity, FSID, and works as a befriender, listening to others who’ve lost their children in the same way, pointing them in the direction of help.

The charity has been behind some of the biggest and most effective campaigns to educate parents about the risks of cot death. It also raises money for research and that’s important to Leanne because it means William’s death won’t have been in vain.

The number of deaths has gone down during the charity’s 40 year history but Leanne is hopeful that one day they’ll be able to make a real breakthrough.

‘I have to believe that it will happen because then William hasn’t died for nothing. Right now he has,’ she adds.

‘He was happy and smiling and then he died. My future died that day.’

As Leanne, 45, is talking her West Highland terrier, Oscar, jumps on to the sofa next to her and snuggles by her side for a cuddle.

He’s full of character and has been Leanne’s constant companion since he was a puppy. And it’s Oscar who will be at the head of a fundraising drive for the FSID.

Last year he was one of 38 Westies walking along Southsea seafront to raise £900 for the charity – this year Leanne hopes to push the total past the £1,000 mark.

‘Quite a few people came from Gosport, Fareham and Lee-on-the-Solent last year,’ she says. ‘Oscar is my baby, I know he’s a dog, I don’t think he’s a little person, but any cuddles I’ve got to give he gets.’

Despite Leanne’s connection to the charity she says it is really a joyful occasion and a great chance to get a group of wonderful Westies together.

‘I don’t want people to feel sombre and sad, it’s not just about William dying but if I can do anything to help I will,’ she explains.

‘People get to come and have a walk with their dog and we raise money. I don’t say they have to raise a particular amount of money, if they just want to stick £10 in the bucket they can. Last year people were coming up to me with anything between £2.50 and £150.

‘It’s called Walk A Mile In Memory but I call it Walk A Mile With Your Westie.’

She adds: ‘I win both ways. It’s not all about me being miserable and wishing it was different, it’s a bit of fun, a laugh while raising money for something that is important to me.

‘Cot death is still happening. If they find the research that stops it in my lifetime then my little boy will have been a pioneer.’

* If you have a West Highland terrier and want to join the walk, you can email Leanne at lanniec@sky.com or call her on 07753 884317. The walkers will set off from the Coffee Cup near the beach huts at Eastney on Sunday May 15 from 10.45am.