SITTING in their beautiful remembrance garden with their nine-month-old son, Bryan and Mags Griffin know they’re the luckiest parents imaginable.
But they also know their ‘rainbow baby’ will never take away their pain – for inside the teddy little Brody is hugging, is the older brother he will never meet.
The heartbroken pair decided to have the ashes of Milo, who tragically entered the world stillborn in March 2019, sewn into a Build-A-Bear Mags bought Bryan for his birthday.
“We didn’t want to ever forget Milo, and the thought of his ashes simply being blown away didn’t seem right,” said Bryan, 35.
“So after he was cremated, we put his ashes into a little urn which Mags sewed inside the bear, which we pick up for a cuddle whenever we’re feeling a bit low, or we just want to remember our amazing son.
“Brody loves hugging his ‘Milo Bear’, and seeing them together means so much to us.
Having suffered a miscarriage late in 2017, the couple had been overjoyed to learn they were expecting again – this time the 12-week scans showed a strong heartbeat, and the couple could start to relax and enjoy the pregnancy.
“We decorated Milo’s nursery, bought the baby grows, little cuddly toys – since we’d first met in 2010, Mags and I had always talked about starting a family, and finally it felt like we were there,” said Bryan.
But having passed 40 weeks, they asked their midwife at the Forth Valley Royal Hospital for a sweep to ‘get things going’, but were told the baby wasn’t sufficiently engaged.
The following week the midwife agreed to do a sweep, and the couple went home, waiting for their son to make an appearance.
But when Mags couldn’t feel Milo kicking anymore, they drove in silence to the hospital, fearing the worst.
“Scans and then a second opinion indicated there was no heartbeat, there was no movement,” said Bryan.
“All I could do was to try to stay positive, to pretend I knew better than the doctors, to calm Mags down when in my heart I feared the worst too.”
With the crushing news their baby had died, Bryan’s only thought was to protect his wife, to make her OK again.
“I hadn’t really processed that Milo would still have to be born, but when we were moved to a bereavement suite the gravity of all this finally sunk in – all our hopes and dreams for our son were gone. All we could do was prepare and try to deal with our grief.”
In the 48 hours before Mags was induced, they were supported by a charity called Simba who helped them create a memory box of little toys they could put them into Milo’s hands and keep his smell – as well as make foot and hand prints and all the other small things they wouldn’t think of doing while they waited to finally meet their son.
“Meeting Milo on the evening of 18th March was traumatic, but despite the fact that he wasn’t breathing, he looked like any other sleeping baby,” said Bryan.
“But Mags felt the same rush of love any new mum experiences, wanting to look after him, to hold him. I was even paranoid about hurting him, wanting to cradle his neck and head so carefully when I held him.”
The midwives helped the couple bath and dress their son, and provided a ‘cuddle cot’ with a chilled mattress so they could stay with him a bit longer.
“Even though we never felt Milo’s heart beating against our chests, his little breath against our faces, or heard him cry, we simply didn’t want to leave him,” Bryan said.
“We took some photos with him, got prints made of his hands and feet and took plenty of keepsakes home which helped us to heal.”
Mags says those days after Milo’s birth were “the saddest, but in some ways the happiest days of our lives”.
“We got to bring him into the world, but unfortunately there wasn’t anything else we could do for him,” she said.
Unable to do much apart from sit in silence, watching the TV, finally they managed to start thinking about Milo’s funeral, with Mags coming up with the idea of the ‘Milo Bear’ containing his ashes so they could always have him there with them.
A few weeks later they also had a naming ceremony where Bryan read a poem, Mags made a speech and all their friends and family came together to celebrate their little boy.
“We also brought a stack of books and put a little note in each of them, asking a local bookshop to hand them to parents who came in as a gift from Milo – some of the messages we got back from those parents were simply heart-melting,” said Mags.
And in May 2019 Mags had the idea of turning an overgrown area in their back garden into a place of calm and tranquillity where they could go to remember their son – Milo’s Meadow.
“We poured ourselves into that, pulling up roots, planting flowers, pulling down the greenhouse, decorating a tree with painted stones and ornaments from our pieces and nephews,” she said.
“It kept us busy so we didn’t wallow in our grief, but also gave us a positive focus, creating something beautiful, watching the seasons pass and new plants thrive with each passing month. The sense of calm and love we now feel sitting in Milo’s Meadow is indescribable.”
Just after Christmas 2019 they fell pregnant again. Thrilled to be expecting again, Mags says the pregnancy was absolute torture, constant anxiety that we’d lose another child.
“We had the 12-week scan in March 2020, almost exactly the same day as Milo’s first birthday,” she said.
‘HE LOOKED LIKE MILO’
“The scan helped us to get past that day as we felt we had some good news again, the scan results showing our baby was healthy.”
They had planned for their families to stay with them and share the news on Milo’s birthday, but then Ireland went into lockdown with Covid-19, so they made the announcement on Facetime – and in September 2020 they welcomed Brody Fox Griffin to the world.
Expecting a boy meant they could keep Milo’s things which had been left intact in his bedroom, and it made Brody part of Milo’s story too.
The fact he could wear some of Milo’s clothes and play with his toys was a big thing for them, and later on, taking him out to Milo’s Meadow in the garden felt very poignant.
“Just before Brody was born, I couldn’t stop thinking of Milo,” Bryan said.
“To some extent, Brody is here because of Milo, the butterfly effect: if Milo had been born alive, we don’t know if we would have tried for a second child as quickly.”
When they heard Brody’s first cry, Mags and Bryan burst into tears because it was something they never experienced with Milo.
“The nurses held him up over the screen and he looked so much like Milo, a little nose and big cupid’s bow on his lips,” Mags said.
“We couldn’t get any words out to describe the overflow of emotion, in floods of tears. Getting to hold him and feel his warmth, wriggling around and getting annoyed at me, was so incredible.”
Because of Covid, Bryan could only see Brody and Mags during visiting hours, but was there as much as possible and thought about them constantly. Brody is ‘a little dream’, he says.
“We’ve been so, so blessed. When your rainbow baby is placed in your arms, it doesn’t erase the pain that came before, but it rubs the sharp edge off.”
Nine months later, Brody doesn’t know yet how special he is. Bryan says he is “the little soul who came along to heal our broken hearts”.
“Navigating baby loss is so messy and complicated and an endless, lonely journey,” she said.
“Whether an early loss or late, it will stay with you always. It’s not talked about, happening everywhere in silence – but I’d say I’m better at talking about my grief now, especially with Mags.
“At one point, Mags thought I wasn’t really feeling the grief and that she was feeling it too much, which wasn’t the case – there’s no such thing as grieving your baby too much – but I was trying to stay strong all the time and show it wasn’t affecting me.”
Bryan says there’s more being done now for men around mental health, which is great, but he still feels there’s still a certain amount of taboo.
“Sometimes men struggle to talk to other men about how they’re feeling, but I’ve been on a few support groups, and it’s good to be able to speak to other dads,” he said.
“This isn’t a club that anyone ever wanted to be in, but when you are part of it, the support is unrivalled.”