Wave of light: Baby loss awareness week (9th-15th October)
In our society, we expect our children will outlive us and that modern medicine will be able to cure any problems. It can be very shocking, then, for a baby to die.
Every year, thousands of parents go through the death of their baby in pregnancy, at birth or in infancy and many of these will require support with complicated grief or trauma. In a recent survey, ‘Out of sight, out of mind’, 60% of bereaved parents felt they needed psychological support but had trouble accessing it.
With the loss of a baby, we lose our imagined future with that child, whether the death has come through miscarriage, sudden unexpected death in infancy, termination for medical reasons (TFMR), stillbirth, illness or accident.
The death of a child is a lifelong loss as parents may think about what their child would have been like at each milestone; first steps, starting school, going to university, getting married and having children and onwards.
Although bereaved parents can learn to live with their grief, it is not something that is exactly ‘got over’. Levels of grief can rise and fall over time, even years later - especially around anniversaries and important occasions.
It can be very isolating, as friends and family may also be in shock at the death and do not know what to say.
What can I say to someone whose baby has died?
If you are wondering what to say to someone, the most important thing is not to stay silent for fear of saying the wrong thing.
Here are some pointers:
- If you know the baby’s name, say their name.
- If you don’t know what to say it’s OK. Just acknowledge the loss simply; "I’m so sorry your baby died."
- Ask them how they feel today because grief changes every day.
- Offer space to talk but accept that they may need to withdraw, especially at first.
- Accept how they are feeling and try not to take it personally, for example, if they are angry.
- Accept that they may not wish to be around other babies in the family. But ask them what is right for them, don’t assume.
- Offer specific help as it may be hard for them to think or know what they need, such as picking up shopping, helping with childcare or household chores.
- Don’t say ‘At least…’ It is not helpful to say this or offer empty reassurance; don’t say that they can have another child.
- Even if you don’t hear back from a bereaved parent, your message may have been appreciated. Keep in touch, especially when the initial period after the death has passed and support may be waning.
What is Baby Loss Awareness Week?
For bereaved parents, it is important for the loss to be acknowledged. Every year since 2002, several baby loss charities raise awareness with Baby Loss Awareness Week, 9th-15th October.
The hope is to unite with bereaved families in commemorating the babies who have died and encourage people to talk together and learn more about we can do to try to reduce the number of families affected by this loss and how support can be given. You can follow the hashtag #BLAW on social media.
Baby Loss Awareness Week finishes on October 15th (which is also International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day) with a 'Wave of Light'. At 7pm, you are invited to light a candle and leave it burning for an hour to remember all the babies who have died too soon. You can even take part digitally on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram by uploading your picture at 7pm and using #WaveOfLight.
Several charities have a network of befrienders where you be put in touch with other families who have experienced a similar loss or you might like to speak with a counsellor to gain support no matter whether the loss was recent or years ago.
For more help and support, there are baby loss charities that you can get in touch with
You are not alone.