We set up a nature retreat in memory of our son

Tom and Laura were heartbroken when their son, Tommy Blue, passed away in 2019 after being born prematurely. To support other parents through the grief of losing a baby, they set up Forever Young Forest, a woodland retreat where families are offered nature-led healing, support and counselling.

Laura really doesn't do surprises. We could sit together buying the kids a birthday present, and she struggles so hard to keep it secret. Only because she lives for sharing magic.

The very same could be said when we decided to find out the sex and reveal the gender of our baby to our friends and family. We are two families that have come together to become a wolfpack. So, this occasion was extra special to us both, because it tied us all closer together as one. 

Our pregnancy was going well

We found out we were having a little boy at a private scan. When we arrived at the clinic, someone else must have had the same news, because I stepped out of the car and straight into blue confetti. 

It was a magical feeling to get the news, but we left with a note from the consultant that Laura had showed very slight signs of a haematoma and to push the query further with her midwife.

We did, and after an extra sonogram, as well as an examination, we were assured that Laura’s cervix was perfectly fine and that there were no longer any signs of the haematoma mentioned. This was a massive relief.

Laura felt that something was wrong

That was until Tuesday 12 November 2019. After feeling discomfort in her stomach all night, Laura chose to drive herself into A&E, while I stayed at home and got the kids fed, watered and ready for school. I honestly expected to soon receive word that all was fine, and that she was just experiencing some standard aches and pains.

Sadly, I was miles off the mark, and after a handful of tests, it was concluded Laura was showing signs of going into early labour at 25 weeks

We had to be moved to another hospital

It was decided they would blue light her over to Derreford in Plymouth because they had better facilities, but I was to make my own way. I remember the day so vividly. The rain was blinding and cold. My head was racing like mad with worry. Laura and the baby were in trouble and heading towards Plymouth, whilst I was diverted via our home in Brixham to sort out the kids and pack their bags to go and stay with family in the Midlands. We don’t have many family members near us, and Laura is the driver, so after packing a hefty rucksack, I set off via a couple of trains and made it just after 11pm in Plymouth to find my darling tucked up in bed.

There we stayed for the next 6 days until Laura's waters finally broke. The doctors decided that they would sit tight until she showed signs of infection. I was frustrated – it was almost as if they thought labour wasn't enough to react, and she would have to get sick instead.

We watched, along with a room of health professionals, as on the sonogram, our boy, Tommy, literally kicked his leg back over and over, down towards Laura’s cervix – with the surgeon joking that we would see a foot in a minute. In hindisight, I now feel that he was giving us a massive clue that something was up.

Tommy wanted out because something wasn't right. This became clear the following day, as after going faint and pale in the shower, Laura was showing clear signs of infection and she was finally rushed down for a c-section.

We sat with Tommy in the NICU

Even though we were fully prepared for a lot of complications, especially because Laura’s placenta had made its way to the front – which made the risks of haemorrhage extremely worrying – Tommy was delivered without a hitch. We watched on amazed as the team from the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) took over and whisked him away for the extra care he now required.

We spent a couple of hours in recovery and then the midwife cheekily helped me steer Laura’s bed through a labyrinth of corridors and into the NICU ward that housed our little boy’s incubator and life support. We sat beside him as he held our fingers. Treasured, unforgettable, irreplaceable moments.

After settling onto the ward, we had agreed that instead of telling family and friends 1 by 1, we would instead share the news with a single post online. I was just wrapping up writing a post when the consultant came behind the curtain with the life-changing news that she didn't think Tommy was going to make it. In fact, she said that time was of the essence, and we needed to get back to him as soon as possible to say goodbye. After everything that had happened, we couldn’t take this news in. We got to the ward and they kindly setup a reclining chair and bought Tommy out of the incubator to rest on his mom, close to the heart he had just spent 25 weeks learning and connecting to its rhythm.

Our son was a fighter

Something that medicine cannot ever attempt to explain happened – on his monitor, all his oxygen levels adjust back into place. He slept soundly, as did Laura, and the consultant crouched at my side and quietly.

With tears in her eyes, she explained that there was not a chance that she could give up just yet, because the monitor informed her that he was showing some fight.

I sat for 4 hours while they both slept and I would have gladly left them, too, if it wasn’t for the midwife staff insisting that we both left the ward and got some rest. I really wasn't okay with leaving him, because from our last experience, things went wrong once we did. They reassured us that all would be okay, and if anything were to go wrong, they would fetch us immediately. 

We were back at the room for no more than 20 minutes when we were called for again – but this time, there wasn't time for explanation. If we didn't say goodbye now, it would be too late.

We made it just in time and he was handed to us, by a standing circle of teary-eyed midwives. It was surreal. Life could never be the same again. 

He passed away, in our arms, on World Prematurity Day. Tommy Blue Barnes.

We set up Forever Young Forest in Tommy’s memory

The trauma of losing a baby affects people around the world every day – and after our own experience of loss, Laura and I decided to set up a charity in Tommy’s memory.

Forever Young Forest is a woodland retreat which aims to offer nature-led healing, support and counselling to couples, people, families, who have walked in the same shoes that we have. We want to offer free nature prescriptions, where we can welcome and act as guardians and care for those that really need it. We also offer online ‘mini retreats’ for those who can’t visit us in person.

Forever Young Forest will also be a space where people can finish their own stay by planting a young tree in memory of the loved one lost. That tree, in time, will go on to grow and offer fresh air for future generations. 

To mark World Prematurity Day and Tommy's 2nd birthday, Tom and Laura are encouraging people to take part in a Walk With Tommy. This is to raise funds for their work, so they can continue to offer support to other parents who have lost a baby. Find out more on their website.