When a baby dies….
I have never lost a baby to miscarriage or stillbirth – so I feel immensely under qualified to write this blog – but it needs writing as I want to recognise those women that are talking so bravely and openly about their losses during Baby Loss Awareness Week.
Through sharing their stories, bereaved women in the UK hope to raise awareness of the devastation of losing their baby upon themselves and their families.
As Jennifer Canvasser explains “Losing a child shakes your foundation. Your entire being is changed forever. There is no moving on or getting over the depth of child loss. The loss is for a lifetime.”
As doulas, clients often share their history of pregnancy loss – and I am always so saddened when they say “I was only x weeks or months pregnant” – as if they feel obliged to cover their pain.
I totally recognise how devastating that “only” is.
These were often long planned for pregnancies that bought so much joy to the couple upon finding out they were expecting. Sometimes they were unexpected pregnancies that the parent had been shocked by. But either way – within just days of confirming a pregnancy a couples perspective of their lives together changes as they start to plan for the future, imagine their growing family, accept the responsibilities that they will each take on, as well as considering the different roles they will fulfil.
With the death of a baby those dreams and expectations are shattered into millions of pieces and strewn across the parents futures forever.
Some of our couples find it very hard to enjoy or even accept a subsequent pregnancy until long after the point at which their previous baby died. The loss can lead to the mother losing faith in her own body, and for late loss pregnancies this is sometimes nigh on impossible until their new addition is safely in their arms. For these women the next birth may be terrifying (especially following an unexpected stillbirth) and these mums should seek support from a bereavement midwife in ensuring their birth plan is flexible and supported by the unit should they request a caesarean at any point.
Others find the opposite – they are trying to plan a normal pregnancy and birth, but are continuously reminded by friends, family or doctors of their previous experience and are labelled as “high risk” – often reducing their options for birth significantly. We are commonly told by mums that they have been told they cannot birth at home or in a birth centre because of previous miscarriages – this is simply untrue and we suggest they contact the midwifery manager directly to discuss their options.
Many women talk about expecting a “rainbow baby” – a gift of beauty and light that follows after the rain – and will hope to help “heal” their emotions, although of course they will never forget the older brother(s) or sister(s) that are still part of their family story.
Supporting a couple after they have lost a baby
There are of course no “rights” or “wrongs” to how the parents feel following loss – everyone will feel and behave differently – and the best thing you can do to help a parent in this situation is simply to listen. Parents often report that no-one spoke of their loss – maybe out of fear of upsetting them, or just not knowing what to say – but whatever the reason, this makes them feel that people want to dismiss their experience. Couples often want to talk about their baby, about the really raw details of the loss, their baby’s appearance, or about any time they may have been able to spend with their baby in the case of stillbirth or neonatal death.
Try not to “mend’ the situation – there is truly nothing you can say to make this feel better – apart from letting the parents know that you are there to hear them if they want to talk. Be sure to use the babies name in conversation, and don’t be scared to mention them in the future and ask about any keepsakes or photos they may have. For these families these precious memories and details will be all they have and they may want to share them with you many times.
At 7pm local time on 15th October I will be lighting a candle as part of a worldwide “Wave of Light” in memory of babies lost in pregnancy, during or soon after birth” – I hope you will join me.
Further information and support can be found through:
Sands, an organisation which supports families affected by stillbirth and neonatal death. They have a range of information and practical support available for the entire family, including children, friends, and grandparents – helping them to understand the most appropriate way to help.
Alexandra’s Angel Gifts was set up in memory of baby Alexandra Grace and provides unique ways to create lasting momentoes.
Antenatal Results and Choices – is a national charity helping parents and health professionals throughout antenatal screening and it’s consequences. Offering non directive information and support to parents making difficult decisions about continuing a pregnancy when told their baby has an anomaly, and helping them to cope with complex and painful issues after making a decision, including bereavement.