Next month, Hilary Grierson will make a pilgrimage to a tree on the Parkland Walk to remember her lost baby, who would now be 10 years old.

She and other families who have experienced the traumatic ending to a pregnancy will find their babies' names on wooden tags, listen to music and readings, or quietly reflect at a spot that has become a place of remembrance and comfort.

"You can't plant a tree on the Parkland Walk so we found this beautiful big oak that is set back and hold walks every year to bring the community together," said the Crouch End mum, who organises the walk during Baby Loss Awareness Week.

Islington Gazette: Messages and wooden medallions inscribed with baby's names on the oak tree in HighgateMessages and wooden medallions inscribed with baby's names on the oak tree in Highgate (Image: Courtesy of Sands)

Hilary started the walk five years ago, at first making a 'tree' using branches, with tags for people to write their messages, and posting about it on social media.

"It's unbelievable the number of people who reached out when I posted about the tree," she said. "A Haringey councillor got in touch to ask if we wanted something permanent and our tree was dedicated in 2020. We've fundraised for a bench and plaque, with the names of babies engraved into wooden tags."

Islington Gazette: Walkers on October 9 will listen to a song and readings, write messages and sit and reflect on the memorial benchWalkers on October 9 will listen to a song and readings, write messages and sit and reflect on the memorial bench (Image: Courtesy of Hilary Grierson)

It's a decade since she gave birth to son Hamish at the Whittington Hospital. While in labour at more than 41 weeks, routine checks revealed his heart had stopped.

"My whole care while pregnant was great. I was being looked after under a consultant, I was overdue, but had a scan the week before, and the day before, his heartbeat was strong."

Hilary had to give birth knowing there was no hope. A post mortem revealed signs of Hamish fighting an infection but no other explanation for his death. She went on to have Walter nine, and Fergus, six, both born at The Whittington by planned caesarean.

Islington Gazette: The annual walk to tree takes place during Baby Loss Awareness weekThe annual walk to tree takes place during Baby Loss Awareness week (Image: Courtesy of Hilary Grierson)

"My midwife who saw me through having Hamish was lovely. She knew me, she talked through my options, and said: 'I don't think you can do it, (give birth) it would bring back too many memories.'

But the immediate aftermath of Hamish's death "was a blur."

"I was exhausted anyway but I dealt with grief through sleeping. We spent a lot of time going back and being with him."

That's when she discovered the Whittington didn't have a "cold" or "cuddle cot".

"It's a special refrigerated cot that creates the temperature of a morgue. Without one it meant that after 20 minutes they would gently suggest we had to give him back. We've fundraised for two in memory of Hamish, and there are Moses baskets with little freeze packs in the bottom for premature babies, so parents can spend as much time as they need."

Baby loss ranges from late miscarriages, to stillbirths and cot death.

"We try not to distinguish," says Hilary who is a local volunteer for Sands (Stillbirths and Neonatal Deaths), a charity founded by two bereaved mothers.

"Before Hamish I had read about baby loss and thought it was really sad but didn't realise how common it was," she says. "When I posted about it I had people of my parents' generation reaching out saying: 'My first baby died and I have never spoken about it.'

"Slowly there has been more media coverage and Sands has worked to break the silence, and make sure fewer babies die due to errors in maternity care."

Sands also campaigns for better bereavement care, and Hilary holds an annual quiz to fund training for nurses and student midwives.

"We had a chance to hold Hamish, to give him a name, take photos and footprints, but some of the stories are traumatic. One mother had a little boy taken away and didn't know where he had been buried. Bereavement care is a bit of a postcode lottery and sometimes it's pot luck that someone has had training. Midwives and the NHS are under a lot of pressure, but every mother should be treated with respect."

She feels "fortunate" that family and friends have helped keep Hamish's memory alive – but that's not true for everyone.

"Some people feel very angry that their child has been brushed under the carpet. I haven't let it be dropped. I use my social media to make sure everyone knows it's Hamish's birthday and we are going to his special tree. When I had Walter, people would ask: 'Is this your first baby?' I would say 'no'. You get some reactions, there were some baby groups I didn't go back to. But I've opened up the conversation and I will keep it going, to make sure it's not a taboo subject, and let people know we do want names mentioned and messages from friends."

She believes baby loss is a particularly painful grief: "As hard as it is, we expect to lose parents, but losing a baby feels unnatural. We feel we have been robbed of the memories and the time they should have had. Even now, Hamish would have been starting year six and through the children we know of NCT friends, we can see what he would have been doing.

Islington Gazette: The Baby Loss tree on The Parkland WalkThe Baby Loss tree on The Parkland Walk (Image: Courtesy of Sands)

"My boys think he would have been very naughty! The key thing is to talk about him. We've always said he's in the stars, he was sick, and he couldn't tell me. That's why he died."

The walk to the Baby Loss tree meets at the entrance to The Parkland Walk, Holmesdale Road, Highgate at 3.30pm on October 9. North and East London Sands hold a monthly support group.