The members of the Sands Older Loss Group are sad to share the news that our long-term friend Betty Birch has passed away aged 96.

Betty was a very special part of our group for a long time. She came to Sands after a time grieving for her first child, a daughter, who was stillborn in 1946. As was the norm then and for many years, Betty left hospital being denied the right to see or hold her precious baby or know where she was being buried. The only evidence she had was that her mother actually briefly saw the baby and said she was very beautiful. No explanation was given as to why the baby had died. As with so many people in those days she did what she was told and went home being advised to forget what had happened and have another baby which would ‘fix things’. She went home to a community where people did not talk about or acknowledge the baby. Husbands too were expected to keep strong and silent, to “be a man”. All of this left both new parents unsupported and abandoned in their grief. Betty grieved in silence for a long time before telling her subsequent 3 children in their adulthood.  

After her husband passed away, Betty expressed the wish to her daughters that she would like to know what happened to her beautiful baby but didn’t think it was possible. So they eventually managed to contact Sands and came along to the Older Loss group who listened to her story which was so familiar to them and they then encouraged Betty and were able to give her clues towards her search. 

After a long search her baby was found in an area of Springvale cemetery where many hundreds of babies had been buried in similar circumstances without their parents’ knowledge. Betty was horrified to see that the area had not been looked after and in her words “just looked like a paddock”. Being the determined lady she was, she contacted the cemetery management and campaigned for the area to be cleaned up and beautified, even picking out particular plants such as camellias and gardenias which were her favourites.

When the work was finally done and Baby Birch’s plaque was in place, the group held a service commemorating Betty and her baby (whom she could always only call “Baby Birch”) and all the other unknown babies buried there. This was such a special day for us to share with her and we celebrated after the service with a chicken and champagne picnic in that area. Betty would be very happy to see the beautiful area there now with her chosen trees growing and many other plaques now installed.

Betty became a special member of the Older Loss sharing her story and encouraging many others to do a similar journey to find their babies. She became part of the phone support and also attended our memorial services, even contributing her own special poem which she read with much pride and feeling at a service. This poem is shown at the end of this article

Betty’s family held a beautiful memorial service last Monday and in the coming future will honour her great wish that some of her ashes will be spread at her daughter’s grave and invited us to be part of that day which will indeed be an honour.

It’s Never Too Late. Rest in Peace Betty

A Letter to My Daughter

Written by Betty Birch for her daughter born 24 May 1946
So long ago
So many regrets
So much pain
So much anger
So much sadness.
Not to have seen you,
Not to have held you and nourished you.
Your grandmother told me how beautiful you were,
She laid a posy of violets on your tiny still body.
The going home without you
My arms empty
Empty inside
Empty house
Meeting people all smiling, "Isn't it a lovely day?"
Nothing had happened, am I dreaming this - I wish it were sol
I think of you today as a woman.
Who would you have been?
What would you have done?
You have lost so much also.
Never known the special love of a father,
The giving, sharing, joy of belonging to 'your' family.
You have two sisters and a brother,
You were the 'big girl'!
So sad
So sorry
So long ago.
My love forever.