Tragedy gave birth to lifeline: A thriving charity is the memorial to three dead babies. Chris Arnot reports

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Indy Lifestyle Online
It was 11 years before Judy Ledger felt strong enough to visit the grave of her three dead babies. Offers of support were declined. She wanted to go alone and stand for a while in London Road cemetery, Coventry. 'It was a miserable day,' she recalls, 'and it took me a while to find where they were buried.' She stayed for half an hour, staring at a little patch of earth.

One baby had been stillborn, two had died before they were a day old - and all within two years. No medical explanation had been forthcoming, but she was led to understand that better monitoring equipment might have made a difference.

The response of Mrs Ledger, a former nurse, was to set up Baby Lifeline. Since 1981 it has raised well over pounds 1m to supply sophisticated equipment to maternity hospitals in the West Midlands. Now this local charity is going national. Baby Lifeline, Mrs Ledger admits, became a personal obsession. 'It was the only thing I could hang on to. It gave me something to live for.'

Two years after she lost her third baby she discovered she was pregnant again. It was not planned and she considered an abortion. 'I just sat and cried for a whole day. I felt I couldn't go through with it all again and I was frightened of dying myself.'

But she did go through with it. The result was Richard, now a healthy 11-year- old. 'I felt so tearful when he was born, having waited all this time.'

The relief, though, was not enough to save a marriage which had been put under intolerable strain. 'Since losing the babies I had become quite remote. There had been no counselling. Everybody seemed very embarrassed and my in-laws didn't want to talk about it. I had all the milk and all the little problems that new mothers have, but no baby. I just felt dirty.'

She met her present husband, Tim, when he won one of her raffles. He is a solicitor and she went to consult him over her divorce. They have had two children together - Jamie, seven, and Sara, four. Both were problem pregnancies and births, alleviated by equipment paid for by her own charity. But the most traumatic incident in Judy Ledger's life happened in May 1990, when Jamie was nearly four.

He was left alone in the bath for a few minutes while Judy popped downstairs to see what was happening in the FA Cup Final. 'Suddenly I had a feeling that something was wrong. I called up and there was no answer. Tim went to check and I heard him yell. Jamie had had a convulsion and gone under. It was the first indication that he suffered from epilepsy.

'I took one look at him and was hysterical. He looked dead. But Tim was so calm. He began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. I was the nurse but I just couldn't do it. My screams brought the neighbours rushing round. I heard one of them say that it was too late. I was just inconsolable. Thankfully, Tim carried on and he came round.'

Jamie returned home after two nights in hospital, but Judy remained devastated. 'It shook me harder than anything else and forced me to face up to my life.'

She went to counselling for six months with a therapist who made her confront every birth and death, as well as her unhappy teenage years when her parents split up. Judy was fostered at 15 and left school soon afterwards with no qualifications. 'The counselling seemed quite brutal, but I felt a much stronger person afterwards and better able to take criticism.'

There has been plenty of that since Baby Lifeline was set up. One consultant at a Coventry hospital accused her of becoming 'too big for her boots'.

But the former nurse is no longer intimidated by doctors. 'If we hadn't adopted a hard-headed business approach we wouldn't have survived the recession. We've tripled our income this financial year and local groups keep 95 per cent of the money raised to put into their own hospitals.'

But is it right for a charity to be funding vital medical equipment? Shouldn't it be provided by the National Health Service?

'The equipment is costly and quickly becomes out of date. In an ideal world it would be financed by taxation, but no government could provide it all,' says Mrs Ledger. In the real world, the survival of new-born babies can depend on raffles and rattling tins - and one woman's determination.

Baby Lifeline is staging a gala concert at the Royal Albert Hall, London, on Sunday, with Bill Wyman, Sacha Distel and other artists; for tickets telephone the RAH box office, 071-589 8212, or Ticketmaster, 071-344 4444. For information about Baby Lifeline telephone 0203 422135.

(Photograph omitted)