Three couples who have experienced stillbirth have shared their journeys of recovery in a moving documentary. Despite the UK having one of the highest rates of stillbirth in the developed world, these bereavements are rarely talked about, often leaving parents feeling isolated and alone.
Filmed over two years at UCLH and the Rosie Hospital in Cambridge, ‘Child of Mine’ – narrated by Amanda Holden who experienced a stillbirth herself in 2011 – hopes to bring the very real crisis of stillbirth in the UK to the forefront.
Vicki, who features in the documentary, was told when she was six months pregnant that her daughter, Ruby, had died in the womb. “If one in 200 two-year-olds died every year they would do something about it because they’re out in the physical world,” says Vicki. “But because she was in my womb and not in the outside world it doesn’t matter.”
Executive producer Brian Woods said they made the film because it’s clear there’s a still a significant taboo around stillbirth – and as a result, parents suffer alone. “Family, friends and sometimes healthcare professionals, don’t know what to say, and so say nothing,” he said. “We hoped to find couples willing to allow us to share their experience, and we were able to win the trust of three extraordinary couples, who let us go with them every step of the way.”
Fiona and Niall also feature in the documentary, after their daughter Matilda was stillborn at 41 weeks. After grieving this loss and receiving counselling in the months that followed, they were pleased when they became pregnant again.
“It’s really difficult for us because the way things changed with Matilda changed really quickly,” says Fiona. “We did have a scan the day before and she died overnight... a key thing for me is just making sure that I’m feeling movement all the time.”
The reality of stillbirth and its emotional impact on parents is a key message in this film. So how can you support a friend or a loved one going through this?
Acknowledge The Baby Has Been Lost
Kristy McGurrell, from stillbirth charity 4Louis, says you should acknowledge the baby, rather than avoiding the situation. When talking to the parents, she says to use the baby’s name and if you feel it’s appropriate, ask questions about the baby. Ask why they chose the name they did, what did the baby weigh, what colour was his/her hair? Did he/she look like mum or dad? “Don’t ignore what has happened,” she says.
If you’re unsure how or when to do this, the best thing to do is to follow the parents’ lead, advises the Lily Mae Foundation. “It’s okay to ask parents what they are comfortable with relating to the loss of their baby,” the foundation advises. “But acknowledging their loss is paramount. If you sense that the parents do not wish to talk about their loss it is okay to talk about other things.”
Be There To Listen
One of the most important things you can do to support someone going through this is to listen to them, rather than feeling like you need to fill silence with words. “There is no need, you just need to be there,” says Kristy.
Of course, listening to their needs is vital. “Losing a baby is a unique form of grief. Please don’t assume that you have all of the answers,” advises the Lily Mae Foundation. “Listen to them and be honest with them – if you don’t know what to say, ‘I’m sorry’, or even explaining that you ‘can’t find the words’ is so much better than avoidance.”
Choose Your Words Carefully
Certain responses to the loss of the baby can undermine a parent’s grief and even worse, belittle their upset. Whilst bereaved parents understand that sentiments are used to create conversation, sometimes these are extremely unhelpful. The Lily Mae Foundation advises that responses such as “you’ll have another baby” or “at least you know you can get pregnant” are not helpful and can increase the parents’ sadness. “Don’t assume that another baby will be a replacement for the lost child,” they add.
Also, the foundation advises that words which tell someone what they should be doing, or feeling, aren’t usually helpful and might make them feel more alone and insecure – as if what they’re feeling isn’t normal.
Encourage Them To Seek Support
Joanne Edwards, from stillbirth charity Finley’s Footprints, says often when people have a stillbirth, they may find it hard to speak to family and friends – but they still need to talk about it. “Sometimes it is easier, perhaps more comforting speaking to a stranger, somebody not connected,” she says.
Encourage them to reach out online to support groups, use the hospital’s services, charities or support groups in your local area.
Remember Their Baby
As time goes by, some parents feel they’re expected to “move on” and stop mourning their baby. “Many parents don’t feel this is possible and their grief stays with them every day, regardless of whether they go on to have healthy children,” says Lily Mae Foundation. “Grief is something you live with and has no time limit. It can come in waves and hit you at any time.”
Years can go by and the parents may still need the support. Parents may not recover or forget, and there may come a time when they might remember their baby with joy, as well as tears, and want you to share this.
‘Child of Mine’ is on Channel 4 on Thursday 18 October at 10pm.