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How practitioners can help bereaved parents
A child's birth usually brings great joy. But not always. Tragically, every day in the UK, 17 babies are stillborn or die shortly after birth.
In February 2011, I gave birth to my first child - a beautiful girl called Rose. Born at 25 weeks because an infection caused my preterm labour, and with complications of pneumonia, Rose died about half an hour after birth, just minutes before my husband (who was away in England on business) arrived at the hospital in Glasgow.
Our sadness could not have been deeper. It felt like we had been robbed of the future we had so excitedly anticipated during five healthy months of pregnancy.
In such devastating circumstances, practitioners supporting parents might feel helpless. But there is much you can do. From the support workers at our church who dropped everything to be at the birth when my husband could not reach me in time; to the midwife who spoke so tenderly about how she would look after our daughter's body and give us a photo and handprint as mementos; to my employers who gave me maternity leave so I had time to grieve; to the condolence letter sent to me by my GP; to the community midwife who visited my home several times after the birth offering her support; to my pottery teacher with whose help I made a ceramic tile to commemorate my daughter; to the hospital consultant whose advice and monitoring helped bring my precious son safely into the world just over a year after Rose died - all these people have played a part in my recovery. Perhaps most central of all to my healing have been my befriender at SANDS Lothians, who had herself experienced heart-breaking loss years earlier, and also the counsellor at my church, the two of whom have helped me to regain hope and meaning for my future.
While not all bereaved parents find it easy to talk about the child they have lost, for me it's been important that practitioners don't avoid mentioning the child I lost for fear of upsetting me. I know people often feel awkward around grief - it's the elephant in the room. But Rose is a beloved part of our family, and we find it immensely soothing to hear that other people remember her too. It doesn't have to be a long conversation, just a simple 'I'm so sorry' has often been enough.
Rose's photo sits on our mantelpiece at home, and even three years on, my attitude to seeing it changes day by day. There are days I can't believe she was actually inside me for five precious months, this perfect little person. There are times I am in awe of the miracle of life, no matter how short it was. Other times I look at her picture and feel such shock and sadness. This wasn't something I thought would ever happen in my life - you never think it's going to happen to you. I'd done everything right to get in optimum shape for having Rose, which made it harder to understand what had happened. I think that was a lesson in humility learned the very hardest way- the loss of a child can happen to anyone.
By connecting people, SANDS Lothians (sands-lothians.org.uk) helps parents to see that others have lived through similar, devastating experiences. SANDS has published a new book of bereaved parents' stories, Future Lost, Futures Found. We hope that by reading these stories, grieving families can find courage and hope for their future, and remember with great love the short but precious life of their child.
The ceramic tile I made to commemorate my daughter: 'What small a part of time they share that are so wondrous sweet and fair''
Other articles published in our March 2014 newsletter: