Our precious daughter Sarah was stillborn on a Saturday and we had to say goodbye to her the following Thursday as funerals happen quicker where we live in Northern Ireland.
My wife, Julie, and I were given various Sands booklets and a memory box during our time at the hospital. The booklets helped to set out what may happen next with advice from people who had experienced what we had gone through. The memory box had a small kit in it so that we could get handprints and footprints – possessions that mean the world to us now.
Sarah was born in a bereavement suite in the hospital. It was quite large and we were able to stay there for a couple of days. This meant that our family and friends were able to come to the hospital and spend time with us and Sarah. Looking back I think that was crucial in enabling us to talk about Sarah with them as they had witnessed first-hand the tragedy of it all.
While we were in hospital we were given the details of a bereavement midwife, who was able to meet us in a different hospital to the one where Sarah was born. That was important as it would have been almost impossible for us to have walked back in there again so soon after leaving without Sarah in our arms.
The bereavement midwife was fantastic. She was able to talk us through the practical side of what had happened and also act as a councillor. We were able to have as many meetings as we wanted with her, either as a couple or separately if we wanted to. I found this to be very worthwhile – being given attention to our needs as a couple. It reinforced the feeling that my wife and I were going through this as a team.
Our friends and family were very supportive and many travelled from around the world at short notice to be at Sarah’s funeral. There were a few awkward comments like “time will be a healer” but I think people just don’t know how to respond because this is, thankfully, the first time most of them have experienced the death of a baby in their lives. Any bereavement can leave some people lost for words and losing a baby feels so much more difficult to talk about.
Many of our family and friends have young children and we didn’t want them to feel that they couldn’t have their children around so we made a point of saying to bring them to our home as soon as they could. And we’ve continued to keep Sarah’s memory alive by involving those children in talking about her, and celebrating her birthday with a family and friend’s picnic and a small birthday cake.
I made the decision quite early that I would never deny Sarah her place. She will always be our first child. When people ask if I have children, I always make sure to reference Sarah in my answer, explaining that she is no longer with us.
Sarah will always be a massive part of our families’ lives therefore talking about her is the most natural thing to do. It may make some people feel uncomfortable, but I realised very quickly that the awkwardness is not my responsibility. Besides, whatever uncomfortable feelings others may have pales into insignificance when it come to the grief of losing a child.
I only went to one Sands support session as shortly after Sarah died we were overjoyed to discover we were pregnant again and our second daughter, Elizabeth, was born alive 11 months after Sarah.
This was the scariest 9 months of our lives. The constant fear and the fact that the normal milestones of 12 weeks, 20 weeks etc. meant nothing to us. The bereavement midwife was amazing during this time. She set us up with a consultant and we had scans practically every other week.
Julie was so strong during this time, but my own fears were compounded by the fact that I couldn’t get the same level of reassurance as obviously I could not feel the baby move in the same way she could. We just kept in constant contact while at work. If we were worried that something was wrong, we went straight to the maternity ward for a check-up. Peace of mind was paramount at this time.
My employer, Allen & Overy, were brilliant after Sarah passed. I was off for two months, and during that time my manager had taken the time to read up on material about dealing with staff who had gone through baby loss. This was greatly appreciated and much of the material was from Sands. When I came back it was clear that I wasn’t coping well, worrying about leaving my wife at home during day. I had many conversations with my manager and we both decided that I needed more time out so I was able to take another month off.
I feel it was vital to talk to my manager honestly about what I was going through and how I was struggling, and I appreciate not everyone does want to be so open in work, but I think this is something all employers need to consider, in how they can best support anyone who has been affected by the death of a baby. My performance in work was beginning to suffer, and only through these conversations and support was I able to take a bit more time off and come back strong enough to carry on.
I am still finding my way. My wife, family, friends and little Elizabeth help me do that every day. This is only possible through talking about your child, your situation and your needs. I talk about how Sarah had her mummy’s hair and (unfortunately for her!) her daddy’s nose. About how she was perfect to us. About how so many people were devastated that she had passed away. About how she will always be in our hearts. And in this sense, by talking about her, it’s maybe Sarah who helps me find my way the most.