Baby loss awareness week 2020 runs from Friday 9 October to Thursday 15 October in a bid to raise awareness of the one in four women in the UK who will lose a baby during pregnancy or birth.
When parents experience pregnancy or baby loss, they each have individual ways of coping with their grief and honouring the memory of their children.
On Thursday 1 October, Chrissy Teigen revealed that she had suffered pregnancy loss, saying that she and her husband John Legend "are shocked and in the kind of deep pain you only hear about, the kind of pain we've never felt before".
“On this darkest of days, we will grieve, we will cry our eyes out. But we will hug and love each other harder and get through it,” Teigen said.
The Independent spoke to bereaved parents about acts of comfort that helped them find solace following their losses:
Some parents who are going through pregnancy or baby loss may experience the upsetting disappearance of friends and relatives who are not present for them in their time of need.
While those who feel uncomfortable speaking openly about miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal loss may assume distancing themselves will provide the bereaved parents with space to grieve, talking to them about their baby may help them find comfort.
Katie Ingram, whose baby Ottilie Eve Ingram was stillborn at full term in April 2019, says that talking about her daughter with her husband Ben has been the “biggest part” of the couple’s healing process, as it has helped them understand that it is ok to grieve in different ways.
“I can see how not talking could be destructive in a relationship,” Katie says. “You might not be in the same place at the same time and unless you can communicate that it is likely that you won’t understand why your reactions are different.”
Alice Bailey, a 32-year-old paediatric nurse, and Dave Bailey, a 32-year-old IT professional, similarly found solace in talking about their daughter Vera, who was stillborn at 38 weeks in 2016.
“Having the people who were very close to us talking about her helped,” Alice says. “We still say that now, if we’re having a bad day, we talk about her.”
Participating in counselling
According to a report published by stillbirth and neonatal death charity Sands and the Baby Loss Awareness Week Alliance in October 2019, 60 per cent of bereaved parents who wanted additional psychological support after experiencing baby loss were unable to access it on the NHS.
Dr Clea Harmer, chief executive of Sands, emphasises the importance of the government and the NHS providing free specialist psychological support for bereaved parents, stating that counselling services “should be available on the NHS wherever and whenever they need it”.
Following the death of their daughter Vera, Alice and Dave took part in regular counselling sessions with baby loss counselling charity Petals, an organisation that they describe as a “saving grace”.
“Petals offers six free sessions, but Dave and I had 21,” Alice states. “You go into a room which is really calm, a non-baby related room. I remember Karen [Burgess, CEO of Petals] being sat there, and for the first session, which was an hour, she just said, ‘Can you tell me a bit about what happened?’
“I remember at the end of that session I said to her, ‘Are we going to be ok?’, and she said, ‘Yes, you are.’ That was the first time I thought maybe we will recover from this.”
We are so pleased with our lovely new counselling room at Princess Alexandra Hospital (PAH) Harlow 🌸 . Huge thanks to their Associate Director of Operations, Andrea Phillips, for organising the lovely furniture. It has transformed what was a clinical room into a comfortable calm space for Petals clients 🙏 . A great example of collaborative working between the NHS and Petals in the interest of bereaved parents . Thank you to all who have made this happen ☺️ . . . . . #babyloss #counselling #mentalhealth #babylosscounselling #harlow
A post shared by Petals (@petalscharity) on Jun 28, 2019 at 11:10am PDT
Nicola Rash, a 33-year-old lab manager from Suffolk, also took part in counselling sessions with Petals after experiencing two miscarriages. The first, a missed miscarriage, occurred in October 2018, and the second occurred at the end of March in 2019.
Nicola explains that after her first miscarriage, she started suffering from anxiety and was unable to sleep at night.
“I was functioning but not very happy. So that’s when I contacted Petals and heard back in a few days,” she says. “It was just very nice to have someone to talk to about everything, someone who understood. They helped me to deal with things and rationalise things more, to understand how I really felt.”
Meeting the online community
Alyx Elliott, director of strategy at Petals, experienced the stillbirth of her baby daughter, Skye, at 37 weeks in 2017. The baby loss online community, which she had previously been unaware of, helped her meet other bereaved mothers who have since become integral components of her life.
“I met them online first of all. We’ve had a WhatsApp group ever since, and we still speak every single day,” Alyx says. “I think for me, it was the counselling and the online community that helped me find any kind of way through the emotions that I was feeling and the trauma that I’d experienced.”
Alyx explains that she and her husband, Jonny, became “hermits” after Skye’s death, as they didn’t want to “face the awkwardness and the pity” of other people. When she first discovered the baby loss online community, Alyx didn’t know what to say.
“And then I saw reams of people just saying exactly the way I was feeling, and finally I was like, ‘I’ve found my people, I’ve found the people who will get everything, all the crazy emotions I’m going through’.”
Katie similarly found solace on social media, although using hashtags such as #babyloss, #stillbornawareness and #breakthesilence on Instagram has resulted in the platform sometimes generating pregnancy advertisements on her feed. “I made the decision to set up a separate account for all things baby loss to give me some control over when I interact with those accounts, making it less overwhelming,” she says.
Being given heartfelt gifts
For parents who have gone through baby loss, the time they were able to spend with their babies before saying goodbye is fleeting. Therefore, being given heartfelt gifts that memorialise their children can provide them with comfort for years to come.
Following the death of Skye, Alyx received a blank note book from one of her closest friends, which read “Notes for Skye” on the front cover.
“I’ve been writing letters to Skye in there ever since,” Alyx says. “It’s not quite as often now, but especially at the beginning, I wrote a lot of letters to her. I wanted to cling onto everything I possibly could about her. Every memory, every thought. Because that’s all I’ve got.”
Alyx adds that she also has a handful of photos of her daughter, and a piece of her hair that she wears in a locket around her neck every day.
“That’s all I’ll ever have. Anything like that is a comfort. It’s funny because it’s a comfort, but it’s also a source of anger at the same time. You’re like, this is all I’ve got. I have her grave.”
Another touching gift Alyx and her husband Jonny received was a piece of artwork made by a friend, which featured Skye’s name written in the stars. “Beautiful things like that, that I can keep forever, show you that they were thinking of you, and that they’re thinking of Skye.”
Katie received a Loss Box as a gift after the death of her daughter Ottilie. The package contains a booklet and a variety of calming, herbal products, which Katie says she found “useful”. “The words in The Loss Book were some of the first that I read that resonated with my grief,” she adds.
Receiving practical help
When parents are trying to process the devastating loss of a baby, the support they receive from their friends and family can bring a small sense of stability to their lives, Petals CEO Karen Burgess explains.
“Certainly in the early days, parents are quite traumatised. So they’re not really present, their brains have gone somewhere else,” Karen states.
“They need stabilising, so the people around them can come in and do those practical things and keep the routine going, the day-to-day operation.”
These acts can include things like offering to cook them a meal, doing their grocery shopping or picking their children up from school, Karen outlines.
Following the stillbirth of her daughter, Katie and her husband, Ben, received an ongoing supply of food for several weeks.
“I will be forever thankful for the nourishment it provided when I had no resolve to feed myself,” Katie says.
“From outside food being brought into hospital to home-cooked meals being frozen and dropped on our porch, frozen food deliveries and vouchers, we felt loved and supported in the most simple ways.”
Being shown kindness and compassion
In the short period that Alyx and Jonny were able to spend with Skye, the compassion and care their bereavement midwife showed towards their daughter “meant everything” to them.
“The bereavement midwife treated her almost as if she was a living baby in terms of how gently she held her, and she was the first person to say Skye’s name other than us,” Alyx says.
“The compassion that she had meant everything to us and made us feel like we weren’t at fault.”
In the days following Skye’s death, the bereavement midwife and her team helped Alyx and Jonny visit their baby in the chapel of rest, organised her funeral and took her hand and footprints.
“You can’t put a price on the memories that creates for you, and what it means to you, not only in those moments but in months and years to come,” Alyx states.
“Just to do little things like look at her toes and hands in detail, because we were never going to get to hold her after a few days, never see her again.”
Kate Pinney, a midwife for baby charity Tommy’s, says that she when she is supporting parents who have experienced baby loss, she places all of her focus on how she can support them.
“I bury anything that I may be feeling or thinking, I’m just focused on the support I can provide for them,” Kate explains.
“It is emotional as a practitioner, because that time that you spent with those parents, you’re a part of such an incredibly personal time. You hope that you’ve helped as much as possible within the circumstances as a midwife.”
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can contact stillbirth and neonatal death charity Sands on 0808 164 3332 or email email@example.com. The helpline is open from 9.30am to 5.30pm Monday to Friday, and until 9.30pm on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
You can contact the Miscarriage Association helpline on 01924 200799 or email the charity at firstname.lastname@example.org. The helpline is open from 9am to 4pm Monday to Friday.