Every year thousands of people in the UK are affected by the death of a baby or experience pregnancy loss. Yet it is still often treated as a taboo subject. To highlight Baby Loss Awareness Week (October 9-15) Claire, 36, has shared her experience. Her daughter lived for just 49 minutes.
‘It was the perfect pregnancy. No one tells you that you might not be coming home with a baby, why would they?
“I didn’t for one minute imagine that at around seven weeks before my due date things could go so terribly wrong.
“When our daughter was born there was a flurry of activity as she was handed to me, but she didn’t cry. There was just silence. They took her away from me and I could see lots of people around her.
“After a while everyone stopped, there was quiet, and they wrapped her up in a blanket and handed her to me.
“She was gorgeous, just beautiful. She had dark hair, she just looked perfect, like she was asleep, wrapped in a blanket. She was small but not the tiniest baby that has ever been born and survived.
The hurt never goes away. You never get over it. You do learn to live with it, though, I call it a ‘new normalClaire
“Then you’re back in your room - being offered so much tea and toast like it’s a cure. I rang my family, the most heartbreaking phone call I have ever made. To tell your parents your baby has died is unimaginable, something nobody should ever have to do.
“My mum and dad and my sister came to see her and we cuddled her for hours. I told her I loved her and I remember kissing her over and over because I knew it was my only chance, even though I still speak to her now.
“In those hours she was smothered with love. And then you have to say goodbye, you hand her back to the midwives and she’s gone.
“We left the hospital just 24 hours after we arrived. A five-minute journey home feels endless when you have left without your baby.
“There are so many formalities, and because of this her funeral was about two-and-a-half weeks after she was born. You are occupied in that time, planning the unthinkable. Your head is spinning, it’s a constant white noise in your head.
“The hospital made a memory box for us. They took pictures of her and a lock of her hair and handprints and footprints. That’s what you come home with; that’s all you have got when you should have a baby.
“Family and friends came when we were ready for them to come but some people stayed away, probably because it was too difficult for them.
“Her funeral was a celebration of her. Everyone wore pink and we laughed, probably for the first time. It’s a really weird juxtaposition. I remember laughing with people and thinking, how are you doing that? You feel guilty, so guilty. Then you have to really start dealing with it. My mum used to come round and coax me out of the house. My family were, and are, my rock - their unwavering strength and love amazes me every day.
“I went back to work around 16 weeks after I had had her. I visited to try to get that awkwardness out of the way. I was petrified. You know that everyone knows. You feel like everyone’s watching you. There are some people who are there to look after you and ease you in and there are others who just avoid you.
“The hurt never goes away. You never get over it. You do learn to live with it, though, I call it a ‘new normal’.
“If you know someone who has been through this just reach out to them, just tell them you are sorry. Don’t walk away from them. Let them know you are there even if just to cry with or scream about how unfair it is. And if you can find it within you, ask about their little ones - what was their name? How much did they weigh? Speaking of them doesn’t remind them of what has happened, they will never forget that. But it does reassure them that their baby is not forgotten.
“I don’t want her to be forgotten. She is a precious part of this world. For however short a time, she was here, that matters.
“We now have two more daughters. They talk about her too. They don’t understand it all yet but they will one day. She is very much part of our family.
“If I see a rainbow I believe it’s her saying, hello. We go on holiday and write her name in the sand. Every Christmas there’s a candle for her and a special cracker and a tea light.
“I have a different group of friends now, in addition to those who were there for me. We have lost children at the same time so we go through that journey together.
“I volunteer for a charity called Aching Arms now - they provide a comfort teddy bear for parents who have lost a baby. If it wasn’t for my experience I would never have become a part of their fantastic work which ensures that people know they are not alone. It’s also another way I see of my beautiful little girl living on.”
To find out more about Aching Arms visit: Aching Arms
Claire was talking to Fiona Evans
Baby Loss Awareness Week
Now in its 16th year, Baby Loss Awareness Week is an opportunity for bereaved parents, families and friends to commemorate babies’ lives and break the silence around pregnancy and baby loss in the UK. Sands, the stillbirth and neonatal death charity, is one of a coalition of more than 60 charities working to raise awareness of the key issues affecting those who have experienced pregnancy loss or baby death in the UK, and is taking part in activities throughout the week.
The charities are calling for tangible improvements in care and bereavement support and highlighting help and services available for anyone affected by the death of a baby at any stage. Dr Clea Harmer, chief executive of Sands, said: “Baby Loss Awareness Week is a unique opportunity for parents to commemorate their babies who have died.
“Pregnancy loss or the death of a baby is a tragedy that affects thousands of people every year. It is devastating for parents and families, and it is vital they get the bereavement support and care they need, for as long as they need it.” Throughout the week bereaved parents, their families and friends are uniting to commemorate the lives of babies who died during pregnancy, at or soon after birth and in infancy. Buildings and landmarks across the UK are being illuminated in pink and blue. The week culminates in the global ‘Wave of Light’ on October 15 which is also recognised as International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Families across the world are invited to light a candle at 7pm local time and leave it burning for at least one hour to remember all babies who have died too soon.
For more information on Baby Loss Awareness Week visit: Baby Loss Awareness Sands’ National Helpline is free to call and provides a safe, confidential place for anyone who has been affected by the death of a baby.
Call 0808 164 3332 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit: Sands