When Lorraine Blackburn discovered she was expecting, she and husband Chris were as excited as any parents-to-be.
But after a difficult pregnancy, during which Lorraine suffered with pre-eclampsia, at 26 weeks the couple were told that their baby would be born prematurely.
You’ve got to take a positive out of the negative. It would have been so easy to sit and crumbleLorraine Blackburn
Despite the dedicated care of staff at two hospital neonatal units, their son, Owen, passed away at the age of just 12 weeks.
‘It was devastating for Lorraine and Chris. But in the five years since they lost Owen, they have raised an incredible £200,000 in his memory and as a way of saying a huge thank you for the care he received at the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Cosham and the Princess Anne Hospital in Southampton.
Lorraine, 32, a fundraising ambassador for The Ickle Pickles charity, recalls the day she was told that Owen would be born prematurely.
‘I remember just bursting into tears and thinking ‘‘how is my baby ever going to survive?’’
‘I think that, much like any parent, you get your blinkers on about how your pregnancy will be and you just don’t expect that.
‘The world of neonatal didn’t exist to me. I didn’t know much about it and never expected to need it and then here we were just days away.’
Lorraine was kept in St Mary’s Hospital in Portsmouth and three days later was given an emergency cesarean.
When Owen was born on June 25, 2009, he weighted just 1lb 10oz. The couple, who live in Waterlooville, were told he had a heart condition.
Reality hit them when Owen was moved to the neonatal unit at the QA and Lorraine discharged herself from St Mary’s to be by his side.
Lorraine says: ‘It was just such a blur. When I heard the ambulance leave the hospital with my son, well that was my big mummy moment. I just thought ‘‘that’s my baby and I need to be there’’.
‘So off I went and we just sat by his bedside. We didn’t really leave too much. They had to prise us out.’
Owen remained in the QA neonatal unit for 11 weeks and was diagnosed with bowel and liver ischemia. Generally, ischemia is a restriction in blood supply to tissues, causing a shortage of the oxygen and glucose needed in order to keep the tissue alive.
The couple were preparing to take their baby home that week, but instead he was moved to the Princess Anne Hospital’s neonatal unit.
On September 21, he passed away.
Chris, a 39-year-old ambulance care assistant, says simply: ‘You get through it because you just have to.’
Lorraine adds: ‘It’s keep fighting or give up isn’t it? And we’re not quitters. What we went through was heart-breaking. We didn’t get the happy outcome that we expected with Owen, but that doesn’t mean that those 12 weeks were awful.
‘They were the best memories I’ll ever have and the best 12 weeks of my life.’
She adds: ‘You’ve got to take a positive out of the negative. It would have been so easy to sit and crumble and there still are days now, five-and-a-half years into our journey, when I sit there and go ‘‘I don’t want to get out of bed today.’’
‘I think ‘‘I should be going to take my son to school or picking him up in the afternoon and we don’t get to do that’’.
‘But we’re really lucky with our family and friends and their support.’
Lorraine and Chris are surrounded by a large family and kept busy by their 18 nieces and nephews.
Their four-year-old nephew Reggie, who they describe as their ‘little sunshine’, was also born prematurely, weighing just 3lb 4oz.
The couple organised their first charity walk in February 2010, five months after Owen’s death, in order to give something back to the neonatal unit.
They set themselves a target of £1,000 and challenged themselves to walk 18 miles from Butser Hill to Southsea.
Family and friends got involved and the couple ended up raising £6,500, far surpassing their target.
They then decided to host a party, charging for tickets and holding a raffle, which raised an extra £2,000.
This gave them the motivation to continue raising money and they went on to raise £8,500 in their second year, through a variety of charity walks and events.
It was during their third year of fundraising that they were approached by Ickle Pickles. It allows its fundraisers to specify which hospital money goes to.
The money raised then goes towards neonatal equipment at the chosen hospital.
Lorraine, who now works for Ickle Pickles full-time, says: ‘We got bitten by the fundraising bug and when do you stop?
‘If we can give something back to make the lives of the staff on the neonatal unit easier, but also the families that are there that get that precious time with their little ones, then it’s worth it.
‘For me it’s great as I get to keep my son’s memory alive.
‘He was here for a reason and for me that was for us to hopefully help some other families and babies get to spend time together and give them the start that they deserve.’