As part of my mission to support Baby Loss Awareness Week 2020, I published a survey to help me gather together the experiences of families who have gone through the hurt of losing a baby. For some, it was a one off; others a recurrent event. Lots went on to have their rainbow baby; some didn’t; some are still waiting, some decided they simply didn’t want to try any more. In this blog post I’m going to explore some of the key themes that were raised by both women and men who were brave enough to share their story.
Things that can trigger you afterwards
Baby loss is something that can affect you for months or even years after the event. For me, in the weeks afterwards, I found things like my clothes feeling tight would upset me. My clothes were supposed to be getting tight for a happy, exciting reason but, no, it was because I was eating my emotions and just putting on weight. And having never imagined that I would have a set of twins growing inside me, the first time that I then saw some adorable twin toddlers brought tears to my eyes. Actually, one of the worst things that triggered me in the weeks afterwards, was finding out that one of my friends had lost their baby who’d been born prematurely and had apparently been doing well only to take a dramatic turn for the worse. I felt somehow connected to them because they’d announced the birth of their baby boy on the day that we found out we’d lost ours and then to find out that they were experiencing the pain that I could only conceive as being a million times worse than mine because they’d got to actually meet their baby and hold him in their arms.
I asked other families what triggered them emotionally after the loss of their baby. Here were some of their responses:
- For a while, everything. Pregnancy announcements were hard.
- Trying for a new baby; we worried that maybe we can’t.
- Other babies, pregnancy announcements, puppies, kittens, anything baby-related. I couldn’t go near the baby aisle in the supermarket.
- Having to return baby things we had bought.
- My stepson’s birthday was hard, as my husband was obviously celebrating the birth of him and I had never experienced that.
- I had a friend who announced her pregnancy who had shared the same due date as me. Anything to do with the due date really triggers me.
- Being around other women with kids.
- Seeing mothers in the bus with their newborn babies made me cry. Seeing mothers watching in cinemas with their babies made me cry. Seeing mothers post their newborn babies on Facebook made me cry.
- My sister-in-law was due 3 days before me and my next door neighbour a few weeks before me. It was very hard watching them progress and holding my niece was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
- One Born Every Minute
- My work (working on the neonatal unit)
- Initially seeing pregnant women, especially when in hospital having the bad news. It’s unbearable to be in the same section as women with healthy pregnancies.
- Talking to friends after my fiancé and I had split during a deep depression. My sense of grief and loss was overwhelming.
- When telling potential new partners, especially those without children, as they would be looking to have a family of their own.
- Hearing about someone else’s loss – you feel their pain and it brings back memories.
- I had two friends and my sister-in-law tell me they were pregnant within about two weeks. That was absolutely brutal. It was all still so raw and I felt like the whole world was against me. I became so depressed and really resented my friends.
- Had a mini meltdown while waiting in the car for my husband who went to the chippy about why this baby had a chance to live while the other ended up in a surgical container. Also I went back after a month to work on the maternity ward which was hard. I found myself judging whether women deserved their babies which wasn’t fair (might I add, I never let onto the women anything of the kind!).
- Not much. I tend to block it out. Not very healthy probably.
An image from Remember My Baby
Words can be really insensitive
Within a week of my miscarriage, I’d been asked if Oliver was my only child and I stuttered and wanted to say no and explain what had happened, but instead I chose politeness and awkwardness and just quietly said yes. Who’d have thought a question as simple as that could be triggering for someone whose loss was so fresh in their mind? I think it’s important to include this section for educational purposes because, in all likelihood, the comments people make may be said for the purpose of trying to make us feel better or are just innocent questions that they don’t understand the impact of for that person.
I’ll start first by mentioning one of the key bugbears amongst families who’ve experienced miscarriage: the matter of fact, medical speak that you get in hospitals. Bereaved families don’t want to hear about pregnancy tissue, fetal poles, cells, evacuation of retained products of conception – this is their baby! – acknowledge their loss and be supportive by using kind words and compassion. And don’t ever, ever try and play down a loss.
Here are some of examples of things that people who have experienced baby loss have found insensitive:
- At least you know you can get pregnant.
- ‘It’s such a shame you couldn’t finish the job’ was one I nearly lost the plot at!
- Everything happens for a reason. When you have another child you’ll be grateful as they wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t lost your baby.
- ‘Don’t worry, you’ll have more.’ But what if I don’t?
- ‘You should have told us that you were pregnant, we would have prayed.’ Why do they think they have a closer relationship with god?’
- It’s not as bad as losing a baby already born.
- It’s done now; it’s time to move on.
- At least you were in the early stages/It’s OK, it wasn’t a proper baby at least/It was just cells.
- Why are you having a funeral? It wasn’t really a baby yet?
- Go home and try not to think about it.
- There was obviously something wrong with the baby so it’s good that it happened early.
- Why are you so upset? You already have two children.
- Being asked why I chose not to have kids
If in doubt about what to say, simply acknowledge the family’s loss and let them know that you’re there if they need anything. Here are some ideas and suggestions:
- Express how sorry you are. Just listen.
- ‘I’m so sorry for your loss. Can I help you at all?’
- Don’t be scared to speak to them about their babies.
- It may sound silly but I liked it when people sat with me and just said ‘life is shit, isn’t it!’ or where they would just accept that it was a horrible situation with nothing that could make it better.
- Try not to pry too much; just listen if they want to talk.
- ‘I’ve lost a baby too. Anything you need to talk or are ready to talk, I’m here for you.’
- Is there an appropriate thing to say? Sometimes a silent hug speaks a thousand words.
- ‘Let yourself feel. Let yourself grieve.’
- ‘No matter the age of your baby, it is still your baby, much loved and much wanted.’
- ‘Cry.. long and loud. Don’t bottle it up.’
- Chocolates and flowers seemed to help a friend of mine recently, with a note that said ‘Thinking of you and I’m here if you want me.’
There’s not enough emotional support
This was the biggest one for me. Nothing can prepare you for the pain of losing a baby, no matter whether you were just a few weeks into your pregnancy or you got to hold your beautiful baby in your arms. You still feel love, excitement, anxiety over what your future now holds. Yet 22 out of the 23 women and men who responded to my survey said that they were not offered enough – or worse still, any – emotional support from the NHS following their loss.
The first face-to-face contact I had with an NHS medical professional after our miscarriage began was with a sonographer who showed zero compassion and was, quite frankly, rude and argumentative. I had to make a complaint to make sure no other family could be made to feel the way she made us feel at one of the worst times of our lives. Other families who’ve gone through the experience questioned where they were too early to be considered bereaved and suggested that it was only by the time they were experiencing recurrent miscarriages were they signposted to organisations and charities that could provide them with emotional support.
Last night, I recorded a session where I spoke to a trustee of Footsteps Counselling & Care, a Gloucestershire charity supporting families who experience pregnancy-related issues, including baby loss, and between us we hope to better educate people on the emotional impact of baby loss and signpost you to where you can get that much-needed support. Keep an eye out for this as a blog post and more #BLAW2020 content over the next few days.
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