Distressed by a miscarriage at 14 weeks, an inconsolable mother held a full funeral for her baby, carrying her tiny body, which was as small as a lemon, into the chapel in a simple white casket, in spite of never having birth or death certificates.
Already part of the family in the minds of Brenda Gabriel and her partner Bradlee West’s from north east London, they were determined that the baby they thought of as a girl and had named Skylar should have ‘the send-off she deserves.’
Publicist Brenda, 36, of Stoke Newington, a mum to K-Ci, 19, from a previous relationship, Joshua, four, and Amelia-Sophia, two, with Bradlee – said: ‘A baby is a baby. At 14 weeks, she would have been roughly the size of a lemon, and her body and limbs would have formed.
‘According to the law, parents can’t be given a birth certificate if their baby is born dead before 24 weeks, so there is no documentation that acknowledges the loss of our baby. But we think Skylar was a real child by that stage, not just a blood clot, and deserved a proper send off.
‘We had decided to name her Skylar Grace Gabriel-West, a name I always loved and which means ‘eternal life’.’
Instead of a conventional funeral with hymns, just Brenda and Bradlee attended, picking songs for their meaning, which then provided a moving soundtrack to the service, held at the Downs Crematorium in Brighton on November 29.
Starting with Keane’s A Bad Dream, they also played Beyoncé’s Heaven, Halo and I Miss You, Luther Vandross’ Dance With My Father, Somewhere over the Rainbow, made famous by Judy Garland, and Rihanna’s Diamonds.
‘I couldn’t believe that, from discovering I was pregnant in August to having my baby cremated, had taken just three months,’ she said. ‘It had been an emotional rollercoaster, going from surprise, to delight and then heartbreak in such a short space of time.’
Brenda’s pregnancy had not been intentional, but when her period was late and she did a positive test, she was exhilarated.
Telling Bradlee, 38, who she had met eight years earlier at a bar in Waterloo, central London, she said: ‘He couldn’t have been happier to be a dad again.’
Deciding not to tell their family until further on in the pregnancy, the couple started preparing quietly for their new arrival.
‘I just had a feeling it was going to be a girl,’ Brenda smiled. ‘And, as the weeks went by, I started to feel really excited. I could feel the little one growing inside me and my mind would wander, thinking about how she would fit into our family.
‘Our younger two are really cheeky, so I was daydreaming as to whether our girl would be like them, or quieter.
‘Bradlee and I had even discussed perhaps moving house, to make more room.’
Brenda missed her 12-week scan and re-booked it for a later date.
But, at 14 weeks on October 13 this year, the couple took their children to Bradlee’s parents’ wedding anniversary celebrations at Brighton’s Grand Hotel, where they were all staying overnight.
‘We planned to tell everyone that weekend about our baby news as it felt like a special place to do it,’ Brenda continued.
But, that morning, she started to experience period-like cramps and got cold feet about telling her family their news too soon.
Having experienced something similar a couple of weeks earlier, Brenda had called a doctor who told her every pregnancy is different, and not to worry.
But in the early hours of October 14, however, the pain had become so severe, she felt like she was in labour.
‘It was like the contractions had started,’ she explained. ‘I knew exactly what that felt like, because I’d had three children before.
‘After about 10 minutes I was curled up in a ball, screaming in pain,’
Bradlee phoned 999 and Brenda was taken to Brighton’s Royal Sussex County Hospital.
‘Bradlee stayed at the hotel, so he could be there when everyone woke up and not to cause alarm.
‘It was a special weekend for my in-laws and I didn’t want them to worry about a bit of stomach pain. I didn’t for a moment think I was losing the baby.’
Sadly, Brenda experienced a whooshing feeling when she reached the hospital, which she later discovered was her waters breaking.
‘I didn’t even realise I’d given birth to the baby,’ she admitted. ‘The doctors cleared the bed away and it all felt like such a blur.
‘When the doctors told me I’d had a miscarriage, I felt in complete shock. I called Bradlee and told him what had happened.
‘That’s when it really hit me. I then rang a friend and was bawling down the phone to her.’
Deciding not to tell her family what had happened until they were home, Brenda was in shock for the next few days.
She recalled: ‘The hospital had given me some leaflets about grief.
‘I got in touch with a bereavement nurse, who asked if we had considered having a funeral.
‘We hadn’t but, as parents already, I felt like each child had their own character, even our unborn child.’
So, the couple decided to host a very personal and private funeral, wearing traditional black mourning clothes and being driven to the service in a limousine, with the casket.
‘The nurse contacted the hospital, who located our baby in the mortuary,’ she recalled.
‘We decided to have the funeral in Brighton, as it is such as special place for us as a family, and that’s where we lost Skylar.
‘It was just me and Bradlee. We didn’t want the kids coming as it was a time for us to say goodbye to our girl.’
Near the tiny coffin, placed at the front of the chapel, they put a knitted baby, that would have been the same size as a newborn baby.
‘We cried throughout the 30 minute service, but just listening to the music, and not having any traditional funeral elements, allowed us time with our girl and together to grieve,’ she said.
‘As Rihanna’s Diamonds played at the end, the lyrics ‘shine bright like a diamond’ really spoke to us and meant so much.
‘We know Skylar will be in the sky, looking down in us.’
The couple, who may turn her ashes into jewellery, say the funeral brought them huge comfort.
‘We both got closure and will never forget our baby girl,’ added Brenda.
‘I believe the babies choose their parents, and I am so happy Skylar was ours, even for the shortest amount of time.’