Photo-features helped Carlie get her real life story published in the Daily Mirror. The sensitive story was read back to her before print so she had full control over the article. Read Carlie’s full true life story below:
I buried my own baby
Kneeling on the ground next to a leafy tree, Carlie Woods fished a small hand trowel from her handbag. Furtively looking around, she waited until the churchyard had emptied before starting to dig.
Tears streamed down her face as the mound of freshly dug soil grew. Finally she put the trowel down and, hands shaking, reached back into her handbag for her jewellery box.
Her earrings and bracelets had been removed earlier that day for something far more precious.
The box held the remains of a much-wanted baby that Carlie had miscarried earlier in the day.
So, with her partner, family and friends by her side, she gently placed the makeshift coffin into the grave she’d dug and said a prayer.
Carlie, 22, had just performed her second unauthorised burial.
After the service the loved ones she had invited laid flowers at the spot where, just months earlier. Carlie had buried another baby.
She knows her story will shock people and she understands there may be repercussions to face. But she feels she has been forced into such a terrible situation.
Both her babies were miscarried pre-24 weeks – the stage at which a baby is deemed a person. And she suffered both losses at home, so without a birth or death certificate Carlie struggled to ar range the burial she felt they deserved.
“My babies may not have lived long, but life is life and they lived in me” says Carlie. “I knew I would not be able to live knowing they didn’t have a church burial.
“Life, however short, deserves to be recognised in a dignified way. I couldn’t just flush them down the loo. I loved them.”
With one in every four pregnancies ending in miscarriage, Carlie’s dilemma is one millions of women face.
“I’ve no doubt that hundreds of unauthorised burials will be taking place,” says Carlie.
“But it’s a shame that we have to creep around in secret like this.”
As the law stands, only babies born after 24 weeks are officially recognised as having been born, therefore enabling parents to register their death and easily arrange a funeral service and cremation or burial.
For babies born or miscarried before that, hospitals rely on their own guidelines to determine how the loss is dealt with. Some may offer a service for late stage babies, for example between 16 and 23 weeks. This is likely to be in the form of a group cremation or burial.
For miscarriages pre-16 weeks, the remains are most likely to be treated as clinical waste and incinerated.
Ruth Bender Atik, Director of the Miscarriage Association, says: “The trouble is parents are in shock and may not ask the question about what will happen to the remains of their baby. If nurses are not forthcoming with the information at the time and then when the parents do start thinking about what’s happened, it’s too late. “People assume they can’t have a funeral with a burial because they don’t get offered one in the same way post-24 week stillbirths do, but the fact is there is no law that says you can and no law that says you can’t. It’s difficult without the paperwork, but not impossible.”
The Miscarriage Association advises all hospitals to give leaflets to women who have miscarried, offering basic information about what will happen so they can make a choice.
“Every loss is different so we must remember that some women are happy for the hospital to take care of things however they choose. It’s important to separate here what is a funeral service, a symbolic goodbye, and what is a disposal,” explains Ruth.
The Miscarriage Association also asks hospitals to give mums of miscarried babies a certificate recognising their loss.
“It’s not a lawful document like those given to babies born after 24 weeks, just something so they don’t leave without any acknowledgment of the life they’ve have lost.
“A funeral service can still be held to celebrate a life no matter how short, without a burial or cremation having to take place. Without a clear law it’s going to be down to individuals and some parents will find a funeral director willing to organise a burial, others may not.”
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The situation becomes even more difficult for women who miscarry at home, like Carlie. With no hospital paperwork acknowledging the loss, Carlie feared she would not be taken seriously when she wanted a burial. So, having seen first-hand how devastating it can be for a woman not to have a final resting site at which to grieve, Carlie went ahead alone.
“I was one of twins but my brother Sean died at birth,” she says. “ Midwives just took him away and that was that. We can only assume he was treated as clinical waste and for my mother Jayne it’s something she’s never got over.”
Jayne Woods, 40, says: “Things were different back then and even at that gestation we weren’t given a choice. Not having a burial spot, a place to grieve or to remember Sean has tormented me all my life.
“I only told Carlie about her twin when she was old enough to understand and she designed and made an online memorial page. Finally it felt like we had recognised Sean existed.” Carlie’s page was flooded with comments from other mums who had been through it and a surge in websites like Gone Too Soon and Facebook pages dedicated to the memory of miscarried babies indicate that many others are searching for ways to recognise their loss.
Carlie says: “It was so heartbreaking to read their stories and to think of all these babies with no mark to show that they ever even existed.”
But improved hospital policy, largely thanks to lobbying from organisations like the Miscarriage Association, has seen dramatic improvements.
Over the past two years, Zoe Downer has had four stillborn babies, all between 20 and 22 weeks.
She says: “We could be as involved as little or as much as we liked. They put us in touch with a funeral director and we said we wanted cremations so that we could take them home.
“Our babies are miscarriages in the eyes of the law but having them treated with respect like that certainly helped me at a very hard time. Because they were pre-24 weeks there were none of the usual regulations surrounding death, we could pretty much do what we liked. I feel sorry for mums who miscarry earlier.”
Carlie had her first child, Callum-John in 2008, but when expecting her second baby, in May 2010, she was struck by cramps.
She started bleeding and was taken to hospital but a scan could not reveal for certain if she had lost her baby. A second was booked for the following week, but a few days later she miscarried. Grief-stricken, Carlie didn’t know what to do.
“For two months he or she had been part of our lives, we’d wanted another baby so much and yes the baby was a clump of tissues and blood but we still loved it,” she says.
So Carlie emptied her jewellery box and put the baby inside before creeping to the graveyard near her Bedfordshire home and burying him.
But when she later got pregnant again and once more miscarried, Carlie did not face it alone.
The family supported her and this time they made a small cross to put at the graveside.
“I think I have coped much better with my losses than I would have without a grave to go to,” she says.
“Some won’t agree with it, but you only have to see what my mum went through to know I’ve done the right thing.
“I believe that all women should be offered the chance to bury their child.”
Carlie believed she had broken the law by burying her babies’ remains without permission.
But Ruth explains that as her babies were not actually recognised as people in law, she has not performed an unlicensed burial.
She said: “It just sounds so sad for this poor woman.
“We suggest mums who miscarry at home might want to put the remains in a large planter with a flower.
That way they can take it with them if they move house.”