“There is no foot too small that it cannot leave an imprint on this world.”
These words couldn’t be more true for Michelle McGunnagle, a mum of five precious angel babies, and three beautiful rainbow children.
Michelle adores her lovely kids, Dennis, Brody, and Caitlyn, but her heart can ache when she thinks about the babies who were never born – due to early-stage pregnancy loss.
It’s inspired the mum to channel feelings of sadness into gifting special teddies and ‘little bags of love’ to hundreds of other parents who have endured a similar experience. She says it is a way of acknowledging their loss and reassuring them that there are other people who understand.
Michelle’s own experience of heartbreak and baby joy began 12 years ago, when she lost her first child.
Unaware she’d been pregnant when she visited the doctor with cramps and other physical changes, she was told that she’d gone through an early-stage miscarriage.
Bags of love
Michelle was devastated: The painful and unfamiliar symptoms she’d experienced had been a baby she’d lost, before she’d even had the chance to experienced the joyful anticipation of what might be.
A chemical miscarriage, the doctor told her, matter-of-factly. Something that can happen during a first pregnancy. A tiny embryo.
No. A baby. My baby, Michelle wanted to cry.
Her loss seemed to be brushed aside, like a passing illness.
“Hardly anyone acknowledged it,” she says.
“Not even the doctor.”
A few years later, Michelle, from Ipswich, Suffolk, was overjoyed when she gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, Dennis. It was love at first sight. But the labour hadn’t been easy and Michelle lost a lot of blood due to complications during the delivery.
Content with her adorable healthy baby boy, she decided not to contemplate another pregnancy – it could be too risky. Then in 2010, just after she had celebrated Dennis’s first birthday with the wonderful new partner who had come into her life, Joe, she found out she was expecting.
A ray of hope
Aware that the pregnancy could be tricky, at 10 weeks pregnant she dashed to hospital. The heart-sinkingly familiar symptoms had triggered her fears that something might be wrong. Doctors told her that her baby had died and that, smaller than her dates suggested, may have stayed inside her womb – a missed miscarriage, they called it.
For Michelle and Joe, the news was devastating. They called their baby Teagan, which means ‘little poet.’ Although it didn’t heal the loss, it was a comfort to give the child they’d anticipated a name. She chose Tayten – “beautiful happiness” – for her first unborn baby.
Now, Michelle could remember them as little individuals with names, reflecting hopes and happiness, not medical terminology. They bought a teddy bear, embroidered with the babies’ names, and placed him to stand careful watch over Dennis’s crib.
As she recovered, Michelle was inspired to reach out to other parents who’d experienced the heartbreak of early miscarriage. To those who’d been left without a photo from a scan, or any tangible reminder of the little life they’d lost.
“To me, the teddy bear was a simple acknowledgement of my babies,” she says.
“So I began fundraising to help gift a teddy to families, in memory of their own precious babies. I didn’t want other mums to have the same experience as me. I wanted them to feel comfort and acknowledgement.”
Bags filled with love
In August 2010, Michelle and Joe set up Bear for an Angel — a fundraising organisation which provides parents with a small but meaningful token of comfort, after their child has died. By the end of the year, they had funded 80 teddies sent to bereaved families.
When the midwife couldn’t find a heartbeat during the 12 week scan of her fourth pregnancy, Michelle and Joe couldn’t hold back the tears. They called him Zane – “God’s gift”. The midwife hugged Michelle, as she was sent home to wait for “the inevitable” to happen. The pains came. This time, they had a precious photo from the scan. Something tangible to remember by. It didn’t heal, but it helped.
Since then, Michelle and Joe, who wed in 2016, have welcomed two precious rainbow babies to their family. Brody, who’s now three and a half and the newest addition to the family, baby Caitlyn, will grow up to know the names of all their brothers and sisters, including siblings Twinkle and Quinn – both also eagerly anticipated, but lost at early stages during Michelle’s pregnancies.
The wall mural in Michelle & Joe's home
“I think about them each and every day,” she says.
The family also marks their babies’ angelversaries every year.
Although she now has three lively little ones to look after, Michelle focuses much of her energy and generating support for Bear for an Angel. It’s become a social network that supports more than 12,000 followers.
Michelle, with Dennis and Brody
“Knowing we are helping other families like mine, makes me realise that I am not alone,” she says.
Bear for an Angel has also reached out to over 700 families across the UK with its bears and later began gifting them memory bear packages. Each contains a ‘no-sew’ teddy bear kit that families can make together for their angel and include in family photos.
“They can add a few of their baby’s ashes or place a small keepsake into these bears,” says Michelle.
“They can also record the babies heartbeat if they are blessed enough to have it and place it inside the bear.”
In October 2017, Bear for An Angel also began donating ‘bags of love’ to Ipswich Hospital's Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit to comfort bereaved parents, after the loss of baby Quinn in January the same year.
Each thoughtful gift bag contains a tiny teddy bear, butterfly bubbles, tea light, a poem and a little teddy bear charm. The gift also contain a ‘certificate of life’ – a valued acknowledgement of what was... and might have been.
“No parents should go home without anything physical to acknowledge their precious baby’s life,” says Michelle.
“Our mission is ‘comfort in a cuddle’, and each day, I find strength in knowing that my babies live on in what I’m doing.”
- Discover more about how Bear for an Angel could bring comfort to you, or someone you know, at www.bearforanangel.com