BABY LOSS AWARENESS – Speaking out about the heart-breaking experience

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I regularly count my blessings for being a mother. Don’t get me wrong, I count the minutes until they are in bed too! It’s certainly not all a bed of roses. Parenting is tough and fortunately, we now live in a society where it’s easier and more acceptable to say those words out loud. However, I do firmly believe that every child is a blessing. Not only are we there to teach our children, but they have also taught me things along the way.

One of the hardest lessons that being a parent has taught me, is how fragile life is. Those heartbeats I was so lucky to see at my twelve week scans are not a reality for one in five mums who lose their babies to miscarriage before then.

Unfortunately for some, the twelve week and then 20 week scan, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re in the clear either. 20% of miscarriages occur after twelve weeks. There are 2.6 million stillbirths globally each year and in the UK, one in every 227 births end in a stillbirth. One in five women will have a miscarriage at some point in their life.

October 9-15th is Baby Loss Awareness Week, which culminates with the “Wave of Light” on the Sunday. Sunday 15th is also International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Anyone wishing to honour this is encouraged to light at candle at 7pm local time and leave it burning for at least an hour, in remembrance of the little lives taken too soon.

Vice Chairperson of local charity Baby STEPPs Louise Maclaren shared “Every 15th of October, Baby STEPPs organises a “Wave of Light” ceremony to remember all babies, infants or children lost and I take pride in forming part of this event. There’s no need to grieve alone when there are many out there who will genuinely understand what you’re going through and will acknowledge the heartache you’re experiencing. At the Wave of Light, some parents will opt for sharing their stories whilst others get to light their candle and sit in a far corner in a pensive mood. There is no right or wrong way to grieve but it is always “nice” to see family and friends support the grieving parents at this event. Remember, the loss of a child affects brothers, sisters, aunts and grandparents as well, and all are welcome to attend the Wave of Light event.” This year’s event is taking place at the Wooden Huts by Westview Park from 7pm to 8pm.

Louise herself knows only too well the pain of losing a child. “The hardest part of grieving the loss of a child is the fact that it is something you have to live with, day in, day out. Whilst it’s not something you can easily forget about, grieving parents learn to live with this grief and the heartache of not being able to hold or have their child by their side. Not only does this deepened sorrow engrave itself in your heart and feelings, the many emotions of anger, guilt and helplessness sail closely beside the grief.

“My son passed away at 17 days old after a very premature birth and this happened seven years ago. My grief has lived with me since and it’s almost like having this invisible friend who pops up at the most inconvenient of times. It pops up when I hear someone call his name, even though they’re calling someone else. It pops up when I see twins down town, because Owen was a twin. It pops up on the twin’s birthday, every 2nd of September, the most bitter-sweet day of the year. It pops up on Owen’s angelversary, every 19th of September and it pops up when I hear about other parents who have also lost a child. The grief saddens me but it also makes me smile because I’ve got this special guardian angel who’s with me at all times. I may not see him, but I carry him in my heart every day.”

Aside from raising awareness during Baby Loss awareness week, Baby STEPPs provide numerous different forms of support to both expectant parents. The team also organise regular events, such as the now annual “Mother’s Day Mission” funday and several awareness campaigns throughout the year. So far, the funds they have raised have allowed them to procure items such as bereavement support ‘memory boxes’ and a ‘cold cot’ for the Maternity Ward, as well as the provision of pregnancy guide books and prematurity support packs.

Baby STEPPs is particularly focussed on developing support for new parents when things don’t go to plan. Finding your newborn is facing a serious medical condition and probably needs to travel abroad for extended periods of time for treatment gives rise to emotional, practical and financial difficulties that need addressing. Likewise, the taboo subject of maternal mental health and the impact it has on the community at large despite being an all too often hidden issue. Together with Elaine Caetano, Baby STEPPs established a “Beyond the Blues” therapist lead support group for those suffering with postnatal depression or pregnancy-related anxiety.

Baby STEPPers Fran, Kath, Kate, Louise, Michelle and Genevieve know first-hand the joy of parenting and between them, have experienced most of the lows too – it is this joint experience that makes them work hard to raise awareness, funds and support systems in their quest to make every birth a happy, healthy one.

“Whilst Owen’s passing has left a huge whole in my heart, that rollercoaster of a journey I experienced has also shaped me into the person I am today. His legacy lives on through the Baby STEPPs charity that I helped found and my work there I do in memory of him. Whilst others remain quiet and prefer not to talk about their loss, I believe in breaking the silence and speaking out about my experience.”