Dad spends 45 hours getting giant tattoo in memory of his five lost babies
A father has had his back covered with a giant tattoo in memory of the five babies he and his partner tragically lost, including a son who lived only 27 days.
David Bennett, 54, was able to hold his son William, who was born with bowel and heart complications from Down’s syndrome, just once.
Now, in his honour, William’s likeness has been tattooed on his father’s back as part of a larger piece, which took 45 painstaking hours and over £2,500 to complete.
David, who also goes by Benny, helped tattoo artist Kayley Henderson design the piece, which shows his family looking up at William, with four babies he and his wife Katherine lost to miscarriages also represented as stars.
It was Benny’s partner, full-time mum Katherine, 43, who first hit on the tattoo idea for the dad’s 50th birthday.
When she posted a picture of the tat on Facebook to mark World Down’s Syndrome Day on March 21 this year, the response she got was overwhelming.
Katherine, of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Tyne and Wear, said: ‘People were saying it was stunning artwork. It was great to get nice feedback.
‘William is buried nearby with my mum Mary Cowey, who passed away aged 45 from cancer in 1997. I just said straight away, “I want William with my mum” – that’s where he had to be.
‘We kept putting off engraving his name on the headstone. We will have to do it this year after the response to the tattoo and with Covid causing people so much heartache.’
Fuel company delivery driver Benny – who has two adult children, travel agent Kayleigh, 33, and chef Daniel, 29, from his first marriage – had a vasectomy at 25, thinking at the time that he did not want any more children.
However, things changed when he met Katherine in 2003, and had the procedure reversed a year later.
Even though he was told he’d only have a 15% chance of becoming a father again, Benny and Katherine went on to have four children who survived – twins Josh and Steph, 15, Cameron, 13, Hannah, 11, and Alexander, four – as well as William and four miscarried babies.
According to Katherine, you couldn’t find a more loving father than Benny, who’s still struggling to come to terms with all their losses – especially that of little William.
She said: ‘He wanted something so he could feel close to William forever.
‘We have a little memorial patch in our garden and a cherub statue, but he wanted something else.
‘We decided on the tattoo – but it took an awfully long time to complete, as we would run out of money and have to stop, save up, and then Kayley would carry on with it when we could afford some more.
‘But she was very kind, because when she heard our story about our losses she agreed to do it for a reduced price of £2,600, when she normally charges £500 a day.
‘He had quite a lot of long sessions. It also has to heal between sittings, so it took about six months to complete from start to finish.’
Katherine’s four miscarried babies are represented as stars on the tattoo, which also shows her cradling ‘rainbow baby’ Alexander – who was born after she and Benny lost their babies.
The piece shows her four older children looking up at William as an angel in the sky at sunset, as well as Benny’s two eldest children.
When William was born, the couple thought of him as their ‘miracle’ baby after the miscarriages, which were for unknown reasons.
But it was discovered that he was suffering from a ‘double bubble’, where his bowel was not joining his stomach, and he had a hole in his heart.
Katherine said: ‘I was already 35 weeks pregnant when a routine scan first picked up the double bubble, but even then no one mentioned Down’s Syndrome.
‘I googled it and saw the two things often came together, so then I had a test and the Down’s was confirmed.
‘The doctors offered to terminate the pregnancy and said I was allowed that up until labour. I was obviously devastated and cried for days, as I didn’t know anything about Down’s syndrome.
‘But then people with children with Down’s started contacting me and when I met one of them, I realised it didn’t matter. I wanted to have William and it wouldn’t make any difference to how much I loved him and cared for him.’
Katherine was induced a week early at 40 weeks, and William was born weighing 9lb 8oz.
At just one day old, William had to have surgery on his bowel and four days later, when a problem developed with a heart valve, he had an emergency heart operation.
Five days later, he was transferred from the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle to Leeds General Infirmary, while his father had to stay in Newcastle to look after the other children.
Not long afterwards, William needed more surgery on the hole in his heart, but his organs shut down. He passed away just three days before his operation was due, leaving his poor parents to register his birth and his death on the same day.
When they first started trying, Katherine and Benny struggled to conceive.
She said: ‘To our delight, after 18 months of trying, and six weeks after we got married, I got pregnant with twins Josh and Steph, who we had in 2006. Then we had Cameron after that and Hannah in 2009.
‘I didn’t get pregnant again, even though we weren’t using contraceptive, but we knew there had been a complication when Benny had his vasectomy reversed, so we thought that was it.
‘Then I suddenly fell pregnant out-of-the-blue by accident, which led to my first miscarriage at 18 weeks. Then I lost twins at 13 and 15 weeks, and a fourth baby at 12 weeks. All of them had appeared healthy at the 12-week scans.
‘Even though I hadn’t wanted more than four children, with each miscarriage, I became more determined to have another healthy baby.
‘Then William came along seven years after my fourth child, Hannah.’
In their grief after William passed away, the pair vowed to try for one more baby and, 13 months later, Alexander came along in December 2016.
Katherine said: ‘Now we are one big happy family together.
‘We go on holidays with Benny’s eldest daughter, Kayleigh and her children, who are 13 and 13 months. We were even pregnant at the same time.
‘But William is forever in our minds.
‘We have a patch in our garden dedicated to him with a cherub statue and a plaque that says “William’s Garden”.
‘He is also buried with my mum with another cherub, but we are now planning to have the headstone engraved with a special message for him.
‘Benny’s tattoo sums up our family and we love it, but because of the British weather hardly anyone gets to see it as he doesn’t get his shirt off.
‘I get more comments for my tattoo of just a fairy, mushrooms and butterfly, which goes from my arm to my back.
‘But when Benny does show it occasionally, people just go, “Wow”.’
Meanwhile, Benny will always cherish his tattoo as a reminder of the babies he loved and lost.
He said: ‘People have been so kind to us. One Christmas we had 16 motorbikes turn up with the bikers dressed as Santas, bringing dozens of presents for our four children, because they heard what had happened with William after one of my family’s friends told his mates in the Easy Riders North-East group.
‘I would cry alone after losing him and I wondered what he would be like.
‘But now I hope he is looking at my back now and thinking, “Daddy did that for me”.’
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