Coping with baby loss in 2020

A wooden figure with a baby shaped hole stands alone apart from a group

During Baby Loss Awareness Week 2019, I wrote that I believed the taboo surrounding talking about miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal deaths was breaking, partly due to storylines in mainstream soaps, documentaries and the rise of social media.  I acknowledged that my view of these things is skewed by the fact that I work with bereaved parents on a daily basis.  Parents talking about their loss, saying their baby’s name and sharing their grief journey all feels entirely right and natural.  I also mentioned how celebrities being open about their experiences had been hugely beneficial in getting conversations started.

That’s why I was shocked and saddened to read that Chrissy Teigen had miscarried her and her Husband John Legend’s son Jack on 1 October, but found even more upsetting the reaction of some people to her openness about her loss and grief.  Whilst the overwhelming response was one of love, thoughts and support, some people felt that it was wrong to share this on social media – her loss was a private moment for the family and it should have been kept that way.  There seemed to be particular upset that Chrissy had posted a picture showing a small glimpse of her immediate grief.  This made me reflect on whether we have all really come as far as I’d thought.

Thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed.  The baby loss community (and it very much is a community) is one of the most supportive and protective groups I have ever had the privilege to interact with.  They support their own, and the right for people to grieve in any way they wish, with a warrior-like passion. They challenged the views and perceptions of those who indicated that Chrissy was in some way ‘grieving wrong’.

Not everyone will react to loss in the same way, or want to express what happened and the impact on them with the same openness.  However, it is vital that they know they can, free from judgment, if they wish.  Parents need to know that their child mattered, that they were here and had a lasting impact on their lives.  Often, from the moment the pregnancy test says positive, families will start to plan their lives around their newest member, shaping almost every decision made going forward.  When that baby, that expectation of a life together, is cruelly taken away, the impact is devastating whether it be medically named a miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death – it is all loss.  The overwhelming need to have that loss acknowledged is natural, and parents should feel empowered to express and recognise this.

Two phones sharing messages

The response on social media also sought to educate and raise the profile of many wonderful organisations out there who can support parents in ways many simply aren’t aware of:-

  • Remember my Baby (@remembermybaby) is a UK charity which takes remembrance photos of parents and their babies before, during and shortly after birth. The photos are beautiful, poignant and one of the few opportunities families have to create tangible memories of their baby, journey together and their love.  Sharing pictures of your baby is a right of passage for any parent, and this should be no different for parents who have experienced loss, should they want to.
  • Aching Arms (@AchingArms) provide comfort Bears to families who have lost a baby at any stage of pregnancy or after birth. Each bear has been donated by a family in the name of their own child/grandchild/niece etc who has passed away.  They are in approximately 140 Hospitals all over the UK or you can request one online. They have also recently set up Supporting Arms, which is a befriender service.
  • The Legacy of Leo (@TheLegacyOfLeo) holds #BabyLossHour every Tuesday at 8pm. It is a safe space for anyone impacted by or invested in baby loss to share their stories and their views.  Most weeks have a particular topic but the overriding theme is one of support, trust and acceptance. These support networks can be vital for parents and other family members.
  • GBSS (@GBSSupport) has an information and support line for those affected by Group B Strep during pregnancy or after birth. They can also put parents affected by baby loss in touch with one another to help get conversations started and combat the feeling of isolation.
  • Sands (@SandsUK) is probably the most well-known baby loss support charity focusing on stillbirths and neonatal deaths. They have a helpline, mobile support app, online forum, befriender service and numerous local support groups throughout the UK.

If baby loss isn’t talked about, isn’t recognised as something that could impact any of us at any time, it makes the reality that much harder to bear when it does happen.  It means people don’t know where to turn for support, what options and services are available to them and can create misplaced feelings of guilt or shame.  If we normalise talking about loss (though the loss of a baby itself can never be ‘normal’), not only will it equip us with the tools to understand what the ‘right thing to do’ is in response to supporting others in these situations, it will also create a kinder, more supportive and accepting environment.  Things we all need when trying to cope with unimaginable heartache.