|Louise & Jon’s thoughts on helping others through the loss of a baby|
Whilst we think that in some ways this is an inevitably isolating experience, we have felt very well supported. Overall, we believe that people have done the best they can to understand what we are going through and to support us, but ultimately nobody else can ever understand and also they have their own lives to get on with. We have felt loved and we have felt cared for by the vast majority of people that we know.
We also appreciate that bereaved parents have a very important role to play in making people feel able to talk about their child and able to support them. We have always tried to be open about what has happened and about how we are feeling.
Things others can do, which in our experience have helped:
Things we have done to try to help ourselves:
How people can help
Talking about Eva
People may feel awkward about bringing up the subject as they don’t want to upset us. The truth is that they cannot make us sadder or cannot ‘make us cry’ the tears and the pain are there, they are not causing them. I think we are very afraid of this in our culture, we have noticed that sometimes people from other cultures are not as afraid of talking about death and grief.
We for our part have always tried to be as open as possible so that people can feel comfortable with mentioning her name. Eva is not and never will be a taboo subject.
Sometimes listening is the greatest support. Friends and family have helped by giving up the time to listen to us going through what happened or how we feel again and again as we try to process it.
People shouldn’t feel like they have to come up with words of wisdom or any answers. There are no answers. Sometimes we just need to talk or to cry.
Bereaved parents might want to hear an element of congratulations on the birth of their child. Louise gave birth to a beautiful baby girl and it makes us sad to overlook that in the context of her death. They might also like to hear a ‘well done’ on giving birth, it is no less difficult to carry & give birth to a child that does not survive.
We love to hear from people what Eva has brought to their lives. Many people have spoken about a renewed appreciation for their own children, their own lives, and for the fragility of what we have, or to enjoy the present because we truly never know what might happen.
In the future it will help us if people acknowledge her birthday, to mention they have remembered.
We want people to understand that Eva will always be our first child, our eldest daughter and a member of our family.
Friends and family have done some beautiful things to help us remember Eva – e.g. giving me a locket that I carry a lock of her hair in, giving us seeds for a rose that we can plant and register in her name, giving us a memory box with little notes in telling us what Eva means to them.
Making contact and keeping in touch
Some people offered practical help in the very early days such as turning up with supermarket shopping or a big pot of casserole. Don’t wait to be asked to do something helpful: think of something and offer that. If you live a long way away still offer to call round: even if it’s only for 10 minutes. We found efforts such as these incredibly supportive.
Our friends never hesitated in asking to see us or in inviting us out for social occasions. That was so important. It would have been very hard to find the strength to instigate those arrangements ourselves so it was so wonderful that they were not afraid to ask us. They were also understanding on the few occasions that we didn’t feel up to it and had to cancel at the last minute as we were having too tough a day that day.
It’s vital that people maintain contact. As the weeks and then months go by, friends & family inevitably get on with their own lives: the shock & horror of the baby’s death subsides much quicker for them. However, grief for the parents carries on and it means a lot to us to receive a call / email / text just to say, “I was thinking about you” or, “I was thinking about Eva.” It’s important they don’t give up if the parents don’t get back straight away: replying can take a lot longer than normal.
Our grief and loss
We will never stop missing Eva. Although we may learn to live with the pain of her loss we are never going to stop wishing she was here or imagining what our family would be like with her present here. If we are lucky enough to go on and have other children there will always be someone missing. That is with us for a lifetime. In this way, losing a child is very different from losing a parent or grandparent. The grieving processes may appear very similar from the outside, but when a child dies a full lifetime of plans, up-bringing and a shared future disappear. The natural order of life is turned upside down.
Just because there is no baby in her arms, the mother has still just gone through pregnancy and labour. In terms of her own physical recovery, she needs to be treated the same as a mother with a live baby. Don’t expect her to be up for a game of tennis straight away.
The most unhelpful or hurtful things
To not contact us at all. We can understand it must be difficult to make that first call or to know what to say. Just say you are sorry to hear our baby died and that you want to know how we are doing. A few people in our lives have not felt able to make contact with us. Maybe they are afraid of what we might have become or maybe they just don’t know what to say or how they can be of any help. We would say that just knowing you have friends who care about you is an amazing support.
To tell us ‘Eva is in a better place’ or ‘this is all part of a plan’. The best place for Eva is in our arms and we don’t believe in a big plan but if there is one we don’t want to know about it if it includes the death of our daughter. Do not assume that what comforts you in your faith will comfort us.
Don’t speculate on what happened. If you are not a medical professional who has read the medical notes – don’t comment! It is extremely difficult to process the events that lead to the death of your child without half-informed people offering opinions or advice from a position of ignorance. It has caused us many hours of additional confusion and pain that could have been avoided.
Not considering how something might sound from the perspective of someone who has lost a child, especially when the subject is around pregnancy, birth, babies or children. Bereaved parents are extremely sensitive about these subjects. Do talk about them if they are OK with it, but treat the parents with extra sensitivity and imagine how it might feel for them to hear what you are saying. For example ‘we had such a nightmare, our baby kept us awake crying all night’… we never got to hear our baby cry once.
A poem by an anonymous author (a bereaved parent) which sums up some of what we have said:
Some of the things we have done to help us with our grief
We planted a tree for Eva and invited 50 of our friends and family to share in the occasion with us. We wanted a mixture of reflection and celebration. We hope we will share times with friends and family there in the future.
We bought a beautiful wooden box in which we keep her possessions – the clothes she wore, her blanket from hospital, our hospital scans from 3 and 5 months pregnant, her cot card from the hospital and other items that have meaning for us. It is in our lounge room where we spend most of our time at home.
We have pictures of her in our house and in our wallets.
We printed out all our pictures from the hospital and put them in a photo album so that we can look through our story together.
We made a CD of the music we played at her funeral and gave it to those who were there (our parents and siblings).
We are fundraising for research into birth asphyxia.
We contributed to the hospital’s re-write of the booklet they give to all parents who lose a baby.
We have bereavement counselling together and we have attended some SANDS (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society) support groups and services.