Dianna McDowell tragically suffered the loss of her twin girls seven years ago, when Molly was stillborn and Mia passed away after 17 minutes of being born. Brave mum Dianna now works tirelessly to raise awareness and support for families across Northern Ireland who have lost a baby.
Dianna McDowell knows only too well the untold grief and heartbreaking impact of losing a baby, after her twin girls Molly and Mia died in 2009.
Talking about the death of a baby remains one of society’s few taboo subjects, but Dianna is determined to address the issue and reach out to other families across the province through the charity she helped establish.
Named after her beloved girls, The Molly and Mia Foundation organises annual spa days for mothers, in addition to counselling sessions, and has also built a memorial garden for families to visit and remember loved ones in a positive way.
Dianna, who is from Armagh, said: “My pregnancy with my twin girls had been an extremely difficult one, with lots of complications.
“However, I was 30 and a half weeks pregnant and thought I was on the ‘home straight’.’’
Sadly, however, Dianna went into labour and was rushed to hospital for emergency treatment.
Dianna was then told the tragic news that both of her babies may not survive.
“I was told that Molly was dead and that Mia would be born but would need to be worked on,” Dianna recalled.
“After she was born, Mia was worked on for 17 minutes, but tragically also passed away.
“The doctors told me that my placenta had burst, killing both babies.
“They explained that although ordinarily twins have their own placenta, because Molly and Mia were identical twins they shared one between them.
“They told me that this meant their pregnancy had been extremely high-risk.
“If you know someone who is an identical twin, cherish them because they are so rare.”
Dianna added that in addition to losing her twins, she almost died herself.
“I was so close to death that I actually remember a rising sensation, as though I was going towards the light. I was so traumatised and upset at what had just happened, that I felt happy to die.
“Afterwards I felt so ashamed, because I felt I had no right to feel that way.
“I had three amazing children at home to look after.”
Dianna spent five days recovering in hospital after her ordeal, but explains that this allowed her valuable time to spend with Molly and Mia.
She said: “Because of my operation, I was in hospital for quite a long time and was able to spend that time mourning my babies.
“I had them placed in a cuddle cot beside my bed.
“When people came to visit me, some of them were quite shocked by this, but it was my way of dealing with it and spending that time with them.
“Sadly, a lot of women who get in touch with the foundation say that not having enough time with their babies in hospital is their biggest regret.
“Not having that chance to cherish your baby would be very hard to deal with.”
With this in mind, the Molly and Mia Foundation recently supported Sands NI as they fundraised to provide memory boxes to ensure that the precious moments each parent has with their child are remembered forever.
Dianna is also campaigning for further changes to the law, which she believes will make a difference for women in the immediate aftermath of losing a baby.
“I had a caesarean section, which meant that I wasn’t allowed to drive for six weeks. Then all of a sudden I got a letter telling me that if I didn’t get my babies’ deaths registered that I would be fined.
“The process was extremely difficult, not only mentally but because they had not dealt with my particular situation before - because whilst Molly was registered as a stillbirth, Mia was a neonatal death.
“They didn’t know what to do and it was all very confusing and upsetting.
“If someone had of been able to take that issue out of my hands, and deal with registering their deaths for me, it would have really taken the burden off.
“A woman shouldn’t have to deal with that herself so soon after losing a baby.”
The Molly and Mia Foundation is working closely with local business, Todds Leap, who has received funding from Prince’s Trust Armagh to push forward with plans to provide every hospital in Northern Ireland with an emergency hospital bag. The bags were designed by a member of The Mia and Molly Foundation, Caoimhe Corr, in memory of her son and daughter.
It is anticipated that the emergency bags will eventually be placed in every gynaecology and maternity ward in Northern Ireland, so that women rushed into hospital in an emergency have one less thing to worry about.
Dianna explained: “Caoimhe came up with the idea to provide women with a bag of emergency toiletries, which will make them that little bit more comfortable if you ever find yourself in the unfortunate situation of being rushed into hospital.
“They will contain all of the little things you need, such as shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, pads and also an information booklet all about the Molly and Mia Foundation.
“We understand that when you are in hospital, surrounded by people, you are inundated with leaflets and literature. So we wanted to make sure we added the booklet discreetly so that the family can take it home and read in the comfort of their own home, and get in touch when they are ready.
“It will all be done in memory of Caoimhe’s babies, as we feel it is so important to give credit to the incredible people doing such good deeds for others, especially in name of their children.”
Dianna has urged anyone who feels they would benefit from being involved in the Molly and Mia Foundation to get in touch.
“The Molly and Mia Foundation is designed so that both mum and dad have somewhere to turn, and we warmly welcome all women who have suffered the loss of a baby.
“We want people to know that everyone is welcome, including early miscarriages. We understand that if you miscarry at an early stage, you may not have even began telling people, and if you lose your baby it will feel very lonely to go through that on your own. We don’t want anyone to feel this way.
“At the Molly and Mia Foundation, men like to get involved in the more active side of things.
“A lot of the men would help with the gardening at the memorial, or help take down the Christmas tree every year - and that is great because that is their way of contributing and getting involved.”
Dianna has also emphasised the importance of supporting one another after losing a baby.
“You feel very nervous about getting pregnant again, and the Molly and Mia Foundation is great because it provides you with a support network of women and families going through the same thing.”
Dianna, who is mum to Jack, 13, James, 12, Johnston, 9, and Jacob, 6, added: “I lost Molly and Mia seven years ago, on November, 25 and we remember them all the time.
“We were so delighted when I got pregnant with our little miracle angel, Jacob. He has been the light at the end of the tunnel.
“They say it’s good to talk, and some people contact us straight away or even after another baby.
“But some people might wait for a long time before they get in touch and that’s okay.
“My advice to anyone that knows somebody who has lost a baby is to let them know that you remember their baby and ask about them. Ask how they are feeling.”
Dianna is now hoping to appeal to local businesses who may wish to fund a full-time employee: “We would really love to have a full-time member of staff to help with admin, and act as a special awareness officer to help get our message across to as many women as possible throughout Northern Ireland.”
To get in touch with Dianna, you can contact +447711826358, or visit the Molly and Mia Foundation Facebook page.
‘I thought long and hard before taking on this challenging story’
Dianna believes now is a particularly apt time to highlight the importance of seeking support after the loss of a baby, following Coronation Street’s recent emotive storyline about miscarriage.
The soap tackled the difficult subject of late miscarriage when the character Michelle Connor lost her baby Ruairi at 23 weeks.
Actress Kym Marsh, who plays Connor onscreen, took on the storyline due to ‘gut instinct’ after she lost her son Archie seven years ago when he was born prematurely in 2009.
Marsh has said that she hopes the storyline will help to encourage women to talk about their own experience after suffering the loss of a child.
“I thought long and hard before agreeing to take on the challenge of this storyline. It is obviously a cause very close to my heart having lost my beautiful Archie at 21 weeks and 5 days.
“I discussed it with my family and friends, all of who were very supportive.
“In the end I felt it was an important story to tell in order to raise awareness of something which affects thousands of women every year.
“I have had to go to some very dark places in my mind whilst filming these heartbreaking scenes but my family, friends and colleagues have been incredible.
“Losing a child is something that never leaves you so to revisit those feelings as Michelle has been challenging.
“Coronation Street ensured that I had a counsellor on set at all times to go to after filming the scenes but for me the best tonic after a hugely emotional day was to go home to my kids and be reminded of how lucky I am to have them.
“I am very proud of what we have done with this storyline and I hope it helps raise awareness and helps people to talk about their own experiences.”
The storyline has brought fresh controversy to the law, which states that if a baby dies before 24 completed weeks of pregnancy, you are currently unable to register his or her birth at a registry office.
“All of these things make what you are going through even more difficult,” Dianna said.
“Small things like making parents sit in a hospital ward where they can hear other babies crying shouldn’t happen.”
‘It’s important to have somewhere to go and remember your baby’
The Molly and Mia Foundation reaches out to women and their families across Northern Ireland.
Dianna explained: “We hold an annual Spa Pampering Remembrance Day at the Galgorm every year on October 15, in which we bring in different counsellors for the mums and hold a beautiful lighting of the candles ceremony in memory of our babies we have lost.
“It is very special, as it is held in the special room where weddings are held, and each mum can read a poem for their baby,” Dianna explained.
“We also have a special Memory Garden in Fivemiletown, where families can dedicate a bench or plant a tree in memory of their loved ones.
“Mums approach me all the time to tell me that this is the perfect way to pray and come to pay tribute to your baby, without having to visit their grave.
“We also hold community integrated balloon releases. These kind of events are a good way to remember your baby, as many women suffer from the fact that they never have a proper funeral or send-off for their baby.
“That can be very difficult, as obviously normally when someone we know and love passes away we have a funeral or a ceremony to mark their life.
“So this can provide some closure, whilst having somewhere to visit and pay your respects really makes a difference mentally and emotionally.”
Dianna added that the events she organises for families across Northern Ireland has made her realise just how widespread the issue is.
“We spread awareness of our foundation mainly through word of mouth and social media. During just one event, I tend to come away with several names of women who approach me asking for help.
“It makes you realise just how many people have been touched by the loss of a child, be it yourself directly, or brother, sister, friend or cousin.
“Social media has also proven incredibly helpful for us in spreading our message. I also frequently get messages from women I would have met earlier at an event who may not have wanted to reveal their personal story in front of others. But it’s great that they can then approach me afterwards and get the help they deserve.
“It is so important to have somewhere to go and remember your baby, and to feel safe to talk about your feelings.
“That is what we are all about, our ethos is to remember your baby in a positive way.”