One in four pregnancies ends in loss — miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death. Yet it’s still a taboo subject. In Baby Loss Awareness Week, we ask why
When do you become a mother? Is it when you hold your baby in your arms for the very first time? Or is it the moment you see that blue line on the pregnancy test and know that you will do everything in your power to keep the tiny life inside you safe and protected?
From that moment onwards, you map out your future with your baby in it. Yet, for so many women, that future is shattered.
This week is Baby Loss Awareness Week — a time to remember the lives of babies who died during pregnancy, at or soon after birth, and in infancy.
Every day in the UK, nine babies are stillborn. Many more are lost during pregnancy or shortly after birth.
Heartbreakingly, however, there is still silence and shame around baby loss.
Jane Brewin, CEO of the charity Tommy’s, which funds research into baby loss, says: ‘It is our duty as a society to talk about this and support those who have been through it. Pregnancy loss is surprisingly common and so it should be common to talk about it. The people it affects really do suffer — the impact on their lives can be devastating.’
It’s little wonder that the emotional impact of losing a baby is associated with depression, anxiety and even post-traumatic stress disorder.
Jane says: ‘Knowing you’re not alone — that someone else has felt the way you feel — relieves some of the guilt and shame you can feel, and the notion you must have done something that caused your baby to die. Such emotions can fester in silence. But keeping it to yourself does not prevent a loss from happening, nor does it protect you from grief. It cuts you off from practical support and advice.’
It can be hard to know what to say to someone whose child has died. But if we can talk about baby loss openly and honestly, we can help each other feel less alone, and also pave the way for greater awareness and more research to stop it happening.
Elle Wright knows this only too well. Her son Teddy died at three days old. Elle, 33, from Surrey, is sharing her story to help other grieving parents, their families and friends.
She says: ‘Teddy was born after a full-term, healthy pregnancy. He was perfect. But that night he stopped breathing and had to be transferred to a nearby neonatal unit. After three days, we learnt that he was too poorly to survive and his life support was withdrawn.
‘Surrounded by his family, and all of the doctors and nurses who had tried so desperately to save him, my husband and I read the book Guess How Much I Love You as he slipped away.
‘It was the most heartbreaking moment of our lives and changed us forever.
‘Coming home to an empty nursery, and with empty arms, was soul-destroying. It was as though I had been pulled under by waves of darkness. My milk came in and I struggled with the mixture of grief and post-pregnancy hormones. Looking back, I don’t know how I got through it. I have never felt so sad in all of my life.
‘Our families were as heartbroken as we were. One of my best friends told people, so that we didn’t have to, but it was difficult seeing neighbours for the first time. I didn’t know what to say or where to look. I’d gone from being heavily pregnant to not, and I wasn’t pushing a baby in a pram. Each time I broke the news to someone my heart broke all over again.
‘The biggest help in the weeks after Teddy’s death were the things we did to distract ourselves. We started fundraising for the neonatal unit who had cared for him. I’m proud to say that two years on we have raised over £100,000.
‘I always say to other mothers who have lost a child: “You’re going to get through it. It doesn’t feel like you are, but I promise that you will.
“It may seem as though no one understands what you are feeling, but so many people understand because they have been through it too.
“Talk to other women who have experienced this type of motherhood. It will help you realise that you aren’t going mad and all of your feelings are perfectly normal.”
And Elle’s advice for those who know someone who has suffered loss is simple: ‘Ask their child’s name, say their child’s name and talk. Nothing is more deafening than silence.’
Edited by Zoe Pinks
For support and information, visit tommys.org. To read more of Elle’s story, visit her blog at featheringtheemptynest.co.uk. Her book Ask Me His Name is available on Amazon for £10.16.