'We will never forget perfect Sophie'

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THE heavy silence among the leather chesterfields and wood-panelled walls is peaceful; the kind of quiet you can sink into as you gaze out to the first tee of Mortonhall Golf Club.

&#149 David and Charlene

It's an easy hush in which Charlene and David Henderson go about their jobs comfortably.

But they know a different kind of silence - the heart-wrenching, soul-searing kind that comes after hours of labour, a birth and the lack of a cry from a newborn baby.

Twelve years ago the couple experienced the kind of pain that actress Amanda Holden and her husband Chris are currently going through - the complete absence of sound in a labour room when a much-longed for child is delivered dead.

Charlene, just like the Britain's Got Talent judge, was seven months pregnant when she was told that her baby's heart had stopped beating.

"I had been at my first antenatal class the night before," recalls Charlene, 42, head of catering at the golf club. "I had looked at the other women thinking their bumps were huge compared to mine.

"They were all complaining about the room being really warm, but it didn't feel that way to me.

"That night I was even talking to someone who told me about a couple who'd just been told their baby had died in the womb and I felt so sorry for them. Twenty-four hours later, that was us."

The couple, who at the time were working at Prestonfield Golf Club, had waited five years after getting married before they started their family.

Charlene's sister already had two boys and now she was desperate to have her own child.

"The pregnancy had been fine," she says. "There had been no problems. But looking back I think I know when she died. We had been in Ireland and we were getting back on the ferry when I felt a sharp pain, and then a feeling like there was a brick lying inside me.

"A week later I felt there was maybe something wrong, and even then I thought it might be my blood pressure as I'd been feeling light-headed. I went in to see my midwife and she got the monitor out to listen to the heartbeat.

"Suddenly she was asking where David was and a doctor had come in to listen too.

"David came to the surgery and they sent us straight to the Royal. I was hooked up to monitors and given a scan. A second doctor came in to confirm what was happening. All this time I was getting more and more panicked, I was shaking inside.

"And then they just told us 'I'm afraid your baby's heart has stopped beating'."

It's 12 years ago, but Charlene's eyes still fill with tears as she remembers that moment. David looks at his feet.

"I think I screamed," says Charlene. "But then I had to call my parents to tell them what was happening. My mum was saying to my dad, there's a problem with the baby, and I just said 'no mum, the baby's dead'."

She pulls a silver locket out from beneath her chef's whites and opens it gently. "Here she is," she says. "This is Sophie. She was just 2lb 12oz when she was born. She was so tiny and almost transparent. I just remember holding her and wrapping her in a blanket as I kept thinking she'd be cold."

Although Sophie had died - a post mortem discovered it was as a result of a lack of oxygen - Charlene still had to give birth naturally. She went back into hospital later that night to be induced and at 12.47am on January 24, 1999, Sophie was delivered.

"I was asked if I wanted to see her, but initially I wasn't sure. But I'm so glad I did. She looked so perfect, and seeing her made me realise I was still a mum, we were still parents."

David says: "It feels so inhumane, asking a woman to go through the birthing process, knowing that the baby will be dead.

"It just doesn't seem right, but there's nothing else you can do. And I get so annoyed now when people describe what happened to us, and to Amanda Holden, as a miscarriage. That's just ignorant."

Charlene however, believes that going through the birth process gave them some time to come to terms with what had happened, whereas a caesarean section wouldn't have.

"The nurses took her from me at 3.30am, then we went to the SANDS room (Stillbirth and Neo-natal Deaths charity) and at 9am the next morning she was brought back to us," says Charlene.

"The family all came in to say goodbye to her, and then we left. Without her.

"It was so hard leaving the hospital without a bundle. Feeling empty inside but having no child in our arms. All we wished for was gone."

She twiddles the locket in her fingers. It's rather dented now, the result she says, laughing, of her second daughter Ellie's teething period.

Ellie, now ten, came along just over a year after the death of Sophie. Then there was Olivia, who's now eight.

"They're not replacements," says Charlene. 'They're Sophie's younger sisters. They know all about her, and they know she's watching over them. Olivia asks me questions like, 'what do you think Sophie would look like now?'. It's the kind of thing I ask myself all the time."

David, 46, adds: "The anniversaries are always hard. The day she was born, then her funeral on February 1, then things like when she would have started school, or turned ten.

"All of these things are always in your mind.

"She's a part of our life and always will be," agrees Charlene. "I have a ring with three diamonds so I would stop wearing the locket, I don't want to lose it, but I just can't. I still need to have her beside me. I still have a soft toy we bought for her sitting on top of the TV in our bedroom."

The couple say they feel utterly sorry for Amanda Holden - especially as she has to go through her grief in the glare of the celebrity spotlight. "I know I just wanted to get away from everyone and everything," says Charlene.

"My parents were going to Tenerife on holiday so they took us with them."

David, who is Mortonhall's club steward, adds: "We had 700 members to face when we came back, who all knew what had happened. That was bad enough, but for her, having to face the cameras, it will be so hard."

Charlene also recalls that when she was expecting Olivia she had gone into the former Simpson Maternity Pavilion in Lauriston Place for a check-up at the same time as Sarah and Gordon Brown were there, just as it was announced that their first child, Jennifer, had died at just ten days old.

"I thought how terrible, that they were grieving but having to face the whole world. People just have no idea how awful it is if they've not gone through it. They don't know how to behave, how to act."

While the Hendersons went on to have two healthy children, Charlene went through the misery of a miscarriage in the months after losing Sophie, because her "body and mind weren't ready". Her pregnancies with Ellie and Olivia, both Buckstone Primary pupils, were also fraught with worry.

"I was in and out the hospital all the time getting checked," says Charlene. "And I also had SANDS. We used them a lot after Sophie, and then through the pregnancies too, they gave us so much support, they were brilliant.

"I ended up having Ellie and Olivia by section and in a way I do wish I'd had a natural birth as it felt like they were given to me, rather than me giving birth to them.

"But the main thing is they were both alive and well and healthy.

"You never forget a child you lose but you can go on and have more children.

"But there's always an emptiness, a space where Sophie should be."

Touched by tragedy

SEVENTEEN babies are stillborn or die shortly after birth every day in Britain. In Scotland the rate is one in every 167 live births. But while many stillbirths occur at full term to apparently healthy mothers, post-mortems reveal a cause of death in only about 40 per cent of cases.

A stillbirth occurs when the baby has died in the uterus after 20 weeks. Some causes include birth defects, chromosome abnormalities, high blood pressure, placental problems, bacterial infection, and umbilical cord blockages.

It's still not clear what caused Britain's Got Talent judge Amanda Holden to lose her baby. But she's not the only celebrity to be touched by tragedy recently - singer Lily Allen was six months pregnant last November when a viral infection caused her baby's death.

SANDS Lothians is the charitable organisation that offers counselling and advice to people who have lost a baby. Its annual memorial service is being held on March 6 at 2pm at Craiglockhart Parish Church.

For more information visit www.sands-lothians.org.uk or call 0131-622 6263.