Sharon Luca-Chatha will boast to anyone who asks that she is a proud mum of two.
But there’s an unmistakable heartbreak behind her smile. Her first son Luca, whom she refers to as her ‘angel baby’, was stillborn at almost full term.
In a life plagued by trauma, including domestic violence in a previous arranged marriage and crippling illness which has left her unable to walk unaided, grieving for Luca is described by Sharon as her ‘darkest and most devastating time.’
But none of it has got in the way of her sheer determination to keep his memory alive and, in the year that marks the tenth anniversary of Luca’s passing, Sharon is able to say she has given the ‘gift of time’ to more than 3,000 grieving families through her charity The Luca Foundation.
As well as changing her surname to Luca-Chatha, Sharon, from Coventry, went on to establish the charity in his name which has already raised thousands to fund the purchase and repair of refrigerated cuddle cots for maternity units and eventually, neonatal intensive care units and paediatric wards. She is driven by her vision to fund enough cuddle cots to service every maternity unit throughout the UK and then turn her attentions to cuddle blankets.
Sharon has also launched two books and an eco-friendly clothing line, all inspired by her journey with stillbirth and mental illness.
It’s agonising for Sharon and her husband Jas to know they’ll never have the answers they seek as to the cause of their son’s death. But from that day on, they vowed to help other parents suffering the same tragedy.
Sharon, 46, said: “A parent’s worst nightmare is to lose their child. We were beyond devastated, our world had fallen apart. From the moment he died on the Monday inside my womb, to the Thursday when I gave birth to him, everything was in a daze.
“We were not ready for the next blow – the limited time we had with him, knowing we would then never see him again. After holding onto Luca as long as we could – just a few hours – we had to hand him over to be taken to the mortuary. This caused us such trauma. We just cried uncontrollably.
“As I look back I realise that was the defining moment when I decided I wanted every parent to have access to a cuddle cot.
“The cot acts like a refrigerator so it keeps the body cold which allows the parents then to have up to a week with their baby and, if they wish to, even take them home with that equipment.”
Sharon added: “ ‘Growth restriction’ was eventually given as cause of death. When we got the post mortem results, I was hoping it was going to say they’d found some sort of defect that would have shortened his life and that he would have suffered – something to give me some sense of closure.
“We had exactly the same danger alert for our second son Ky who came up small on the growth chart at 24 weeks exactly as Luca had and that did scare us. But from then on I was monitored weekly and, on my persistence, he was induced early. I couldn’t bear the thought of him going past 36 weeks in the pregnancy because that’s when we lost Luca. He was delivered exactly a week before Luca’s birthday and the cord was wrapped around his neck twice, so if he had gone any longer he would have suffocated in my womb and we’d have lost a second child.
“I just know if they had done the same for Luca he would be here with us now.”
Sharon fell pregnant with Ky, now seven, just a few months after their loss but she has made sure his big brother is still a feature of their lives.
“We toyed with the idea for ages. I just felt so empty,” said Sharon. My arms felt so empty, I felt like I had no purpose in life anymore. I was a mother but nobody saw me as a mother. I wanted a child here that I could nurse. We wanted to be parents to a living child as well.
“My dream was always to have two children which I do have, but one is not with me. It left me heartbroken really that Ky doesn’t have a sibling here. When I do see children with their siblings it tugs at my heart that we weren’t able to do that for him.”
Sharon’s book Angel Warriors is a touching and personal account of the past ten years, with plans to release an audio version of the book, spoken in her own words, by the end of the year, while Why Did Grandad Die? is an illustrated children’s book geared at helping three to nine-year-olds understand bereavement – and is inspired by Ky. It’s already available in schools.
One hundred per cent of the proceeds go to the Foundation.
Sharon said: “We’ve always had photos of Luca in the house so even as a baby he would point at his picture and ask about him. I knew that day would come. We talk about him a lot and he’s a big part of our lives and he receives a present from his big brother every birthday and Christmas.”
She said: “I would like this to very much be a part of mental health awareness for children. It would be a good form of illustration to say ‘there’s nothing to be scared of.’
“The title for Angel Warrior came to me while I was grieving for Luca. The definition of warrior is to keep fighting on and find your inner strength. My son up there in the sky is the angel and I’m the warrior down here having to live my life without him.
“We need such strength to get through the rest of our lives because we’ve gone through the most horrific kind of loss.
“This book took me about a year to write – I struggled to get through the first couple of chapters because they made me emotional.”
Despite battling with chronic symptoms including pain and fatigue, she is determined it won’t impede on her ambitious plans to continue to grow the charity – and business.
She said: “I was very active. I did boxercise, spinning classes, yoga and then the accident happened and everything stopped and changed our lives forever.
“It was really hard on Ky because he can’t understand why, all of a sudden mummy can’t pick him up and have cuddles or bathe him anymore.”
Sharon has come a long way since her darkest days in the weeks following Luca’s death, which nearly led her to take her own life.
“I was so upset when he came home that day and he wanted to know why, so I was honest with him. He cried a lot and asked me to promise him I’d never do that.
She added: “I do often think I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Ky. I don’t think I’d live this life of pain and hurt and heartbreak if it wasn’t for my little son who looks up to me and sees me as a strong mother. I’ve got to be that strong mother so he’ll realise when he’s older, my mum’s gone through all of this but has carried on going. I hope when he has those ups and downs in life he’ll know to keep going so he can get through it, like I have.
“I want him to learn that it’s not the end of the world, that you can carry on but you have to find your inner strength.”
The Luca Foundation: https://thelucafoundation.org.uk/
Why Did Grandad Die? and Angel Warriors are available from Amazon, both £9.99.