Baby Loss in the UK
Every day in the UK an estimated 15 babies die before, during or shortly after birth. Yet despite the figures being so high it is still deemed a taboo subject, with many people finding it hard to start conversations around baby loss. This can leave parents feeling uncomfortable about sharing their feelings, and as a result they often suffer in silence. Not being able to talk about their child, or the way that they feel, can lead to feelings being bottled up, and this can have a huge impact on a person’s mental health.
The Psychological Effects of losing a child
It is estimated that around 4.2 million women are struggling with depression related to losing a baby and according to a UK study, the psychological impact can last years with many women struggling with anxiety and depression long after the death of a child. New research by the National Institute of Health suggests that even women with no history of depression are at high risk of suffering with the illness after losing a baby.
Father’s often feel ‘Helpless’
Another subject that isn’t often talked about is how baby loss affects men. However more fathers are coming forward about how it has affected them, with Gary Barlow recently speaking up about his battle with depression after losing his baby girl Poppy. He talks about this in his latest autobiography sharing how he felt in the first hours after her death. ‘There’s no sadder sight than seeing a mum with her dead baby in her arms, willing it back to life with all her being.’ He shared. Many men report feeling helpless after the loss of a baby. Gary admitted that in the wake of Poppy’s death, he was caring for everyone else except himself, and as a result he suffered a mental breakdown.
Why do stillbirths happen?
Around half of stillbirths are linked with complications to the placenta, however there are many reasons stillbirth can occur, reasons beyond the control of the parents, such as genetic or developmental problems, trauma in childbirth, infection, pre-eclampsia and cord prolapse. Though sometimes stillbirths can be explained, for 6 out of 10 stillbirths no reason can be found. This can make it difficult for parents to understand and can lead to a lot of anger, pain and confusion.
Even when there is a reason, it doesn’t make the hurt and pain any easier to process and parents often blame themselves. Charities such as Sands have dedicated funding towards expert research to understand why stillbirths happen, and how to prevent more deaths from happening. They also support and encourage parents to talk about their loss and commemorate their child.
Life After Loss: Nicola’s Story
In Loving Memory of Paul Collins
On May 16th, 2016 Nicola, and her partner Jamie lost their beloved baby Paul. Their son Theo, lost a baby brother. Paul was stillborn. I spoke to Nicola about Paul, her experience and the affect this had on her mental health since it happened…
How would you describe your life after losing Paul, how has it impacted you and your family?
Our life as a family since loosing Paul has changed dramatically, It feels as though we have our life before and then our life since. Personally my outlook has completely changed and I trust in myself a lot more. I believe that I am strong because being faced with loosing a baby is a hard thing to go through.
Now I feel like I can take anything head on. I don’t second guess myself either anymore. I am a lot more confident. If I get something wrong or make a bad decision then I think ‘Oh well! What’s the worst that can happen?’ As it already has! I’m a lot more grateful for the people I do have in my life and I spend more time with family and my close friends.
When I wake up it’s there, when I’m sat having a cup of tea it’s there, when I cook tea and set out three plates it’s there. Birthdays, Christmas, you name it it’s there. The hole will never be filled you just learn to cover over it.
I like planning day trips holidays short breaks, anything to get together as I want to make so many special memories for my boy. I realise how lucky we are to have him. There’s also an element of sadness, arguments crop up that never did before, moods dip out of nowhere, I can cry at the drop of the hat. So you see the emotional side is like a roller coaster, and that’s sometimes tiring.
Life with the emotions taken away is exactly the same, like Paul didn’t exist, like nothing happened. Sometimes I feel like it didn’t. We’re still a small family and we do the same things, go to work school etc. but there is always this feeling of loss or something missing, an empty hole that never ever goes away. When I wake up it’s there, when I’m sat having a cup of tea it’s there, when I cook tea and set out three plates it’s there. Birthdays, Christmas, you name it it’s there. The hole will never be filled you just learn to cover over it.
What is the hardest part?
The hardest part is definitely not having a sibling for our little boy Theo. I never thought I’d have an only child. I hate seeing him play alone, or asking for one of us to play with him because he’s bored. I grew up with one brother and one sister, and my whole childhood was filled with memories from doing things with them both. I feel like Theo is missing out every day.
He can sometimes be spoilt and I blame it on he fact that he doesn’t have a brother. I know that’s an irrational but mind set, but I get a feeling that he’s going without, and I keep thinking I couldn’t provide him with what he needs. I worry about who he’ll have if something was to happen to mummy and daddy. I know there are lots of families with one child but it’s just how I feel because we had it, then it was gone.
How did the hospital help and support you?
In that moment, she wasn’t a midwife, she was just another woman hugging a mum who had lost her baby. I’ll never forget that
Ah the hospital was great, every single person was very supportive. From the moment we found out that we lost Paul to the moment we left to go home. I had a few different midwifes who were involved in our care after wards and they were all amazing. They held my hand through every part of news that came regarding what had happened, they couldn’t do enough for me.
I remember waking up in a room in the hospital at night all alone, and the baby was next to me in a cold cot, this gave us a chance to have a bit more time with him and say our goodbyes. So one night I woke up and I just looked at my baby who’s face was so perfect, almost as perfect as a doll, and I lent over and kissed him and he was cold. I freaked out, I honestly for a moment forgot what had happened, I started screaming. It just really hit me that we lost him and that I couldn’t take him home.
The midwife came in and sat on the bed with me, She cuddled me and held my hand until I stopped crying. She didn’t say anything, she was just there for me. In that moment, she wasn’t a midwife, she was just another woman hugging a mum who had lost her baby. I’ll never forget that. That was my turning point moment I think, the moment I began to realise what had actually happened. The hospital provided us with a memory box, which had been donated from the 4louis Foundation, the midwifes took foot prints of our boy and a few other things and put them all in a box for us.
At the time I did think what’s the point? But now I am so, so grateful for the memories. They arranged for a charity to come to see us called ‘Remember My Baby’ who took photos of us with Paul. Those photo’s are now our only proof that he did exist.
Did losing Paul have an impact on your relationship?
Most definitely, it changed the very moment we came home. I think we loved each other more. My partner held me up when I fell and cuddled me when I wanted to scream, he did things around the house to enable me to sit and cry all day. I will never forget how supportive he became.
It also created lots of cracks in our relationship. We could argue now over anything and everything, we both feel frustrated or upset at things but it’s never the same time. I could be feeling like, right I’m going to make the most of what we do have, and then my partner wants to lock himself away and watch TV. So then I’m shouting at him because he doesn’t want to come to the park or to visit family.
Or it could be the other way round, I’m sat in bed crying and he wants to go to the pub to watch the football. So then I’m thinking how could he? So it feels like our feeling of loss never match. I feel like we’ve learnt so much about each other and we’ve almost become a punch bag emotionally for the other one. Which has then created a world of blame. You said this, you did this. It’s hard to keep up sometimes. Through all of the arguing and breaks and make ups I don’t ever think I could be with anyone else for an easier life. So it has made us stronger.
How has this affected your mental health?
My mental health as you can tell by now is unreliable. I never know what mood I’ll wake up in. I am wonder woman some days and some days I can’t get my child dressed for school. I do get tired of it and I long for an inner peace or to feel well rested, but I just can’t. I don’t want to forget “move on”, I don’t want to be completely happy as it means we’re so far away from the moment he went. As time goes on I question it more. Why isn’t life perfect like we planned? My head space feels full and there isn’t a way to empty it.
Are there certain triggers?
Gosh yes, anniversary’s, birthdays and Christmas, but the lead up to these are always worse. My sleep pattern always changes and I become really irritable and probably hard to be around. My patience with my son goes, I shout at him for not putting his shoes on the right feet or something trivial which makes me feel guilty. I don’t actually deal with these triggers I just get my head down and try to get through to the other side. I don’t ever think ‘Oh you handled that well’.
What helps the most in these moments?
Time out, time away or something to keep me busy or something to focus on. I always seem to plan an event, a family dinner or a get together, nights out. I start to plan, and to make lists and become super organised just to take my mind off things. I try to become in control instead of loosing control.
Did you find people afraid to talk about it?
Sometimes I just wanted someone to say so what did he look like? Because I don’t wanna talk about our loss, I want to talk about him.
Most definitely. People would always ask how are you? and place a hand on my arm, so it was the elephant in the room. It’s not the same as asking my neighbours how are you? People didn’t ever ask any intrusive questions and I knew that they were considering what they actually said. It almost felt awkward for them, as they felt compelled to ask but didn’t know what was acceptable or not. My reply then always matched my mood and still does now. Some days it can be “ oh yeah we’re great” or “struggling”. Sometimes I just wanted someone to say so what did he look like? Because I don’t wanna talk about our loss, I want to talk about him.
Do you feel you were able to express how you felt?
This question is quite hard as some days yes and some days no. Some days we could be out having Sunday lunch and there would be a family with a small baby and I would think ‘Oh we would have a little one that age now’ and I would get lost in imagining what life would be like. I would catch Jamie looking at me and he would say “you ok?” to which my reply was always, yes fine. But In fact I wanted to get up and run out of there and throw my dinner all over them for just being so lucky. I do struggle with saying I’m just having a bad day now, as life has moved on for most people but mine hasn’t. I still wake up missing my baby.
Do you think it’s important to talk about loosing a child?
Yes I do, bottling things up doesn’t help as it will come out eventually, which I’ve learnt. My partner struggles more with talking about it than me. I think as woman we do get the chance to meet up and go for coffee and bring up how we feel, we can be quite in tune with talking about how we’re feeling, but men aren’t. It’s harder for dads to express how they feel about losing a child and this is something that needs to improve.
How important is it for you that people acknowledge Paul?
It is very important. I know people have different views on loosing a baby, but whether it be early stages in pregnancy or still born, it did happen, so acknowledging it is fundamentally the bottom line. Because from there you can build on that. He was our baby, we loved him from the moment we knew he was growing in my belly. We had a whole life mapped out for him.
If you could offer another parent some hope to hold on to what would it be?
Nothing more than to just be kind to yourself and to remember that whatever your feeling is normal. Things do get easier and you do learn to control the grief.
What do you want people to know about loosing a child?
That’s it’s hard. Nothing more than it’s bloody hard but it’s also hard on the surrounding family. People do have a view on how families deal with it. Whether they don’t celebrate or whether they celebrate too much. There isn’t a right or wrong way so please be kind with your views about what’s weird or not.
I’ve heard people having views on it. Somebody told me before that she knew someone who lost a baby and her house was full of photos and her comment was ‘That’s just weird’. I heard a lot of these type of comments and they are really hurtful. No way of dealing with it is weird or right or wrong.
What do you wish People had said to you when it happened?
Nothing. I think people were really kind. People always asked if we needed help with Theo or a cooked meal. Our family and friends were amazing and always said the right things.
What other support did you receive?
We had amazing support from family and friends, something I’ll never ever forget. I feel so much closer to them all. People always rang to see how we were. Like I said earlier people cooked us food, as we didn’t have anything in us to do the normal things around the house. Our family helped with Theo and took him out on day trips which gave us time to cry without him seeing. We really were grateful for every bit of support we received, even the smallest things really helped.
How do you keep Paul’s memory alive?
We talk about him all the time and we let Theo know that he has a little brother. We celebrate birthdays and he always has a little something at Christmas, whether it’s a photo for the house, or a decoration for the tree. Just to feel he’s here.
What do you want the world to know about your child?
That he was prefect, and he was ours.
If you, or anyone you know is struggling to cope with the loss of a baby, there is help and support out there:
Bereavement Helpline: 0808 802 6868
Helpline: 0808 164 3332
Helpline: 01924 200 799
Helpline: 0800 0147 800
Helpline: 020 7733 2653 (24 hour message line)
Helpline: 0845 077 2290 or 0207 713 7486 from a mobile.