When you’re going to have a child, you start to have a million ideas about what their life will be like. The possibilities are endless for what sort of person they’ll be and what paths they’ll travel down on their own journey. Even before they’re born, you come to love them.
That’s why losing an infant is one of the worst things that can happen to a parent, even though they’ve only “known them” for a short time. It’s can be the sort of thing where the pain never fully goes away. But for one mother, the pain would be brought back fresh decades later, along with a slew of other emotions…
Back in the ‘70s, Lydia was a 26-year-old Scottish woman with a baby on the way. It was to be her third child so as challenging and unlike anything else in life having a child is, it was nothing new for her. At least it wasn’t until her water broke just 34 weeks into the pregnancy.
“I’d never gone into labor early,” she said. “I was fearful of what would happen to my child.” She was right to be concerned since giving birth 6 weeks early would increase the risk of complications for the baby as well as the mother…
Lydia’s doctors thought the best option for mother and child would be if they performed a Caesarean section. The procedure was a success and after Lydia’s child, a boy named Gary, was born, he was immediately taken to a special care unit.
“They did not feel it was wise for me to see him,” Lydia said. “They didn’t let me hold him. That’s the way it was in those days.” The hospital also insisted she remain in bed to recover from the C-section but Lydia was having none of that…
Repeatedly, Lydia would leave her bed and go into her son’s room, holding Gary’s little hand and speaking to him with the love only a mother can possess. “He actually used to open his eyes and look at me,” she said, his beautiful little eyes just a bit more brown than her own.
But all wasn’t well. The hospital was “taking pus off his stomach with a needle day after day,” Lydia said. Six days after his birth, Gary had to be transferred to Edinburgh’s Royal Hospital for “surgery on his gut to remove the catheter that a doctor had left in him,” Lydia said.
That surgery didn’t go well at all. “They said his heart stopped 3 times on the table. They told me he had traumatic brain damage,” said Lydia. “They said he couldn’t recover.” When they asked Lydia to take him off of life support and she “just went along. We were all very ignorant in those days. I was a young mom.”
But later, the hospital put Gary back on life support without explanation. Shortly after that, Lydia Reid got a visit from the police in the middle of the night, telling her Gary was dead. When she refused the hospital’s request to perform an autopsy, things started to get strange…
I Want To See Him
Lydia insisted on a private showing at the funeral home, bringing a shawl her mother had crocheted and a rosary for Gary to be buried with. “I went to the undertaker’s and was met with resistance,” she said. “They told me I couldn’t see Gary but I wanted to put my son in his own baby clothes. I insisted.”
Not My Baby
Eventually, they brought out “a huge child with blond hair,” Lydia said. It didn’t look anything like Gary, the small premature baby with dark hair. When she told them it wasn’t her baby, they gaslighted her, saying she was confused by “postnatal depression.” “Everybody told me that,” she said. “I started doubting myself.”…
When the day of Gary’s Burial came, Lydia was still unsure if the right baby was in the coffin. Then, when she began to carry the coffin to the grave herself, it was far too light. “I know what it feels like to hold a baby,” she said. But everyone dismissed her concerns and under the pressure, she just went along, but said “It haunted me for years.”
Decades later in 1999, a scandal involving hospitals all over Britain was exposed and threw Lydia’s world into chaos. Since at least the ‘50s, hospitals had been secretly removing the organs of deceased patients, usually infants, for medical research, often without the knowledge or permission of the children’s parents or with the misleading pretense of taking a “tissue sample”…
Tip Of The Iceberg
When the scandal first broke, it was announced that nearly 170 babies at Bristol Royal Infirmary had been “buried incomplete.” But as it became apparent that the practice was routine in many British hospitals, those numbers swelled immensely.
While the total numbers aren’t known, at least 104,000 organs and body parts of young infants and entire bodies of fetuses and stillborn babies were uncovered at 210 sites. When Lydia heard the news, she was in denial. There was no way, in her mind, that Gary could have been one of those children…
I Have To Know
But when she thought back on the weirdness of how the hospital had handled Gary’s death, the strange baby at the funeral home, and coffin that felt too light, she knew she had to find out for sure. For years, she fought for permission to have Gary’s body exhumed to find out the truth. When she finally got it 42 years after her son’s death, Gary’s coffin was empty just as she had suspected.
Justice for Innocents
Lydia requested Gary’s medical records and organized “Justice for Innocents” to get medical records for other parents whose children’s organs were taken. Many times, the records would come back with critical information redacted. She said hospitals told them the practice was kept secret “for our own good.”…
Not About Money
Outraged, a number of the parents sued. “Most of the parents weren’t in the least bit interested in compensation,” said Margaret Brazier, chairwoman of the Retained Organs Commission that oversaw the return of tissue and organs belonging to the deceased.
It’s Just Wrong
They sued because they wanted their children’s organs back and to get laws in place that would stop this sort of thing from happening again. Eventually, some organs were returned to parents but usually one organ or body part at a time…
Not a Trace
In Lydia’s case, none of Gary’s organs were ever found, despite a government investigation that said they’d been harvested. She didn’t even have a body. “Even if he is lying in a jar in a hospital somewhere I want to know,” she said. “If it is possible to get my son back, I want my son back.”
“The grave is empty, but it’s all I’ve got,” Lydia added. “I’ve got those flowers boxes there for Gary. He’s got to get his flowers. But it’s just a horrible, desolate place now. It just doesn’t feel the same any longer. It just feels awful.”