'I want to break the silence': Brave Leeds woman's bid to reduce stigma around baby loss after stillbirth of son Ollie

An inspirational Leeds woman hopes to reduce the stigma and loneliness around baby loss by producing care packages for bereaved families - as a lasting, positive legacy to her son Ollie who was stillborn last year.

By Joanna Wardill
Thursday, 17th March 2022, 4:45 am

Hayley Storrs, 33, of Colton, says she is determined to “break down barriers” around the topic of baby loss and try to provide some comfort to other parents who also sadly “don’t get to bring their babies home”.

Hayley and her partner Reece Watson, 29, lost their baby boy Ollie James Watson on October 16 2021 after Hayley suffered a placental abruption - where the placenta separates from the uterus - at home when she was 40 weeks pregnant.

The devastated couple are still waiting for answers, five months on, as to why the tragedy occurred but in the meantime, Hayley has thrown herself into helping others who have suffered similar losses.

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Hayley Storrs, from Leeds, pictured with her mum, Angela.

Together with her mum, Angela Storrs, 66, Hayley has created ‘OJ the Octopus’ - handmade toys named after Ollie - which she sends to other bereaved parents as part of a care package, in return for a small donation to the baby loss charity Tommy’s.

Each octopus is sent out along with a personalised footprint, a poem, Ollie’s story and a handwritten note - and as word has spread via social media, more and more orders have been coming in, from all around the world.

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“We can't believe how well they have been received,” said Hayley. “We’ve made around 52 and have another 15 on order. We’ve sent two to America, one to Portugal, one to Canada, as well as Scotland and Ireland - so we’re going international.”

She said: “We want to make a positive impact. We want Ollie’s memory to be associated with positivity as opposed to negativity.

“We just want to bring comfort and break this stigma attached to baby loss. By spreading the word and with OJ [the octopus], it’s slightly breaking those barriers down.

“And it's a good way to get Ollie’s story and his memory and legacy heard by as many people as I can, because I promised him that’s what I would do for him.”

She recalled: “People didn’t know what to say to us. They didn’t know how to act or interact. It made us feel really lonely and isolated. That’s why I’m working so hard to break the silence that surrounds the loss of a child.

“I think by creating this octopus and all the other things we are doing, it makes people feel part of a community, rather than isolated.”

Hayley and her mum have also developed £12 ‘bereavement boxes’ - with all proceeds going to Tommy’s - which people can buy, sponsor or gift to those who have lost a child.

She has also created a leaflet with advice on how to support bereaved parents and is working with Calderdale Hospital, where Ollie was born, on creating a memory garden to babies and mothers who have lost their lives.

OJs are also going to be added to the memory boxes which are given out by the hospital to other bereaved parents on the loss of a baby.

Hayley said: “They are all individual, all handmade, they’re quite cute, they have a smile.

“When they open it they might forget about what’s happened for maybe five seconds, it might make them smile and feel included in something.”

Hayley, who works for NHS England, said she just knew Ollie had died even before doctors confirmed the devastating news that there was no heartbeat.

He was born a few hours later, weighing 7lb 10oz, and Hayley said he is “missed every single day”.

She bravely shared how she and Reece made the painful decision not to see Ollie after he was born - something she still struggles with now but she hopes by speaking out, it may provide some comfort to others who make the same decision.

“Reece and I decided we couldn’t do it. We didn’t feel able to do that but I know the majority of women and families do find comfort from that. It’s a decision that me and Reece still struggle with.

“I feel guilty - the guilt is crippling that I didn’t see him but I know I couldn’t. It was self-preservation.

“I wouldn’t say I regret it but it’s something I have to live with. It’s done and I can’t take it back.

“If we had been in our right minds, then maybe we would have made a different decision. But it was that trauma.

“I have found comfort speaking to others who made the same choice as me.”

In the depths of her raw grief after losing Ollie, Hayley said she knew she “wanted to do something” and first began writing a blog before developing OJ and its spin-off projects.

She said: “It gives me a purpose and keeps me busy. I am working but on a phased return. It helps us feel like we’re doing something, and it’s positive and helpful.

“It’s all I have left to give him, sadly, so it’s important that I do that for him and for all the other babies who didn’t make it home as well.”

Follow Hayley on Instagram @hayleyjadex16 and her blog is at www.olliejwats16.com.

To donate, visit Hayley’s fundraising page at www.justgiving.com/ojtheoctopus.

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