Babyloss awareness and ways to help
My birthday always coincides with the start of babyloss awareness week (9th – 15th October), which is not ideal, but I always feel it is a subject I would like to acknowledge since it is something that is so close to the heart of our family.
In 2015 we lost out first son, Gabriel, when I was 22 weeks pregnant. Gabriel should have been born in November, but instead he was born on July 24th. He should have started school in 2020, as one of the oldest in his year. He should have been adding to the chaos in our house with his siblings. Then there are always all the inevitable “would-have-beens”, the “should-have-beens”, the “what-ifs” that make my head hurt when I get onto thinking about this subject: “what colour hair would Gabriel have had?” “would he have had lovely blue eyes and dark brown hair like his Daddy?”, “would he have been a sweet and cheeky little boy like his little brother?” etc.
I realise that I am just so lucky to now have 3 beautiful children here with me on earth, it’s a dream that my husband and I have always had, and I am so grateful for this. I know that so many families long for what we have. But the battle to get here was far from easy. With 21 months of infertility, treatments and then our loss at 22 weeks pregnant, then the pain, and the questions of “do we go through it all again?” “Are we strong enough?” “Will this pregnancy end in the same way?”. Those years are something I will never forget: a fog of emotion and pain, the limbo that we found ourselves in, wondering whether we would ever achieve our dream of a healthy sibling for our daughter. I also found it really hard as I can’t cry in front of people..so even when our beautiful, kind family and friends were around us and came to give their support, I was unable to show my emotions as I felt I should have been able to. I think everyone deals with grief differently though and I guess that was just my way of dealing with it: in the early hours of the morning, when no-one was looking.
It is amazing though, once you find yourself in a terrible situation that you never dreamed you would be in, how you suddenly find out just how many other people have been through the same thing. People come forward and speak to you about their experiences because they suddenly feel they can share with you, that you will understand. Because unless you have been in that situation it is really hard to appreciate what it feels like to go through infertility or to loose a child, no matter what gestation or age. You are not just losing a pregnancy, you are losing the dream of a family, of a sibling, of a lifetime of dependence, affection, unconditional love, of calling their name at the school gates, of play dates and birthday parties.
There are invaluable charities who were a truly amazing source of support for us when we were in our dark hours of unbelievable sadness and confusion. I would truly recommend SANDS or ARC if you ever find yourself in need of them (and I truly hope you don’t). Sadly due to the current situation we find ourselves in worldwide, I think their support is probably limited to online resources, or via telephone, however at the time, as well as these lines of support, SANDS provided us with a beautiful memory box, matching teddy bears (one to leave with Gabriel and one for us), and other beautiful suggestions and keepsakes to try and ease our pain and grief. And of course, there was the wonderful SANDS peer support group run by volunteers in Bath. So if you ever get the chance, please do consider donating to these wonderful charities, as their work is so important.
There also happened to be a lot going on in the media and in soaps on TV around raising awareness of baby loss during the year we lost Gabriel. There was even a storyline on something like Emmerdale, depicting a family who lost their baby through the exact same, rare condition that Gabriel had. Needless to say, I avoided watching this, but I heard it was done very well, and thought it was good that they were covering this subject. The coverage seems to have reduced since, or perhaps I am just less aware of it these days, but it is of course, really important to continue to raise awareness of the subject and how to support those that go through it.
It is always good to talk about the son that we lost, but it is hard to do so out of the blue, to a new friend, or even an old one, without the fear of seeming a little odd. I often feel though that I want people to know that we’ve had four children, not just those who you can see with us. We had a son called Gabriel, who would have been 5 this year. He was real – I gave birth to him, we held him in our arms for 24 hours, then had to leave him. It was the hardest thing we have ever done. He was not just a figment of our imagination, despite often feeling these days like he might be. And he will stay with us forever, and affects who we are today. So if you know someone who has lost a baby, however long ago, it is always a lovely thing to do, to ask them about their experiences, about the baby they lost and if they want to speak about it. You may assume that they would prefer not to, but I think in reality a lot of people would love the opportunity to talk about their baby who never got to grow up, and they would find it really lovely that you should ask because that is an acknowledgement that they existed, that you know they were real.
As you would expect, our experiences over the past years definitely impacted on us as a family, and naturally we have struggled with our mental health and anxiety at various times, but one thing it has definitely done is made us value our time with our children more, our time as a family, and thankfully, our relationship. I think this in turn, is what has increasingly drawn me to the documentary side of photography, as I am compelled to notice the emotions, the pure love, the dependency and the beautiful everyday moments which I do not get to have with Gabriel, but I do get to experience with our three precious children here on earth. Life is real, chaotic and hard, but it is beautiful. Little hands in yours, precious cuddles, sleepy kisses, little moments of excitement or discovery, the joy, the wonder of life – those are the moments I want to capture and keep safe for parents because they are so amazing, even the sad moments, because you are able to comfort them, you are able to hold them in your arms and make them feel better, something I will forever wish I could do with Gabriel.
I will never forget our little angel. He is always with me, in my heart. I often play with the idea of getting a tattoo in his memory, something permanent to show the world he was here, but I’ve never quite decided what would be fitting. Perhaps one day I will get round to it. In July this year, on the 5th anniversary of his birth I wrote some words that sum up how I feel and they are still very relevant now, and always will be – I will leave you with them below, but before I go, I just wanted to say, that if you are going though any of what I have talked about in this blog, please do not feel alone, please do reach out for help. There are a lot of resources out there, and a lot of people who have been through the same thing. You don’t have to go through this alone. Speak with your local doctor and contact the organisations I have listed below that feel relevant to you. The grief does get better with time, little by little. I’m not going to lie, it will never completely go away, you wouldn’t want it to, but you will learn to live with it and adapt to your new life, and believe me, you will come out the other side a stronger person.
To our little Gabriel:
“I see you my darling boy, in the little robins that appear whenever we go on a family day out somewhere beautiful.
I see you in the delicate butterflies flitting around when I sit down on a walk.
I see you in the feather that twirled down from heaven and landed at the foot of the pram when I was sitting in the church yard.
I see you in the rainbows after the rain.
Five years ago. And I still see you. I still feel you. A beautiful presence in our lives, heightening our appreciation for your siblings here with us. Making us count our blessings for each other, and those we have here on earth. Making the most of the time we have. And waiting patiently for the day that we will see you again and hold you in our arms.”
If you are touched by any of the above and would like further support feel free to reach out to me if you would like and I will try my best to help, or alternatively, I have compiled a list of professional organisations below, who can support you. Babyloss awareness
Babyloss Awareness Week 9th – 15th October
ARC – Antenatal Result and Choices
Helpline: 0207 713 7486
Remember My Baby – Professional Remembrance Photography
FREEPHONE: 0808 189 2345
Winston’s Wish – giving hope to grieving children
Helpine: 08088 020 021
Cruse Bereavement Care
Helpine: 0808 808 1677
Helpine: 116 123