Today I bought a birthday cake for my daughter. She turns twelve on Sunday and is having a party tomorrow. I’ll be wrapping her presents later, writing a card. The usual birthday traditions we’ve had each year for the twelve years of her life.
But first I have to pick up another birthday present. Val has made it for me. She has been making the same gift every year for the past 16 years, so I don’t even have to tell her what I want any more, she knows. I’ll go and collect it from her shop on the high street and I’ll take the little white wreath straight to the cemetery to place on my son’s grave. I’ll spend a little while there, thinking about him, remembering the very short time we had together, and then I’ll leave. Another annual birthday tradition.
Some people still remember that today was the day that my son was born 16 years ago, and the day that he died of a Group B Strep infection. They will send me a message to let me know they remember and they are thinking of me, and this means the world to me. Grief over the loss of a child can be a lonely affair, especially after so many years when memories grow hazy and people’s lives move on. Especially as I now have two other healthy children and a happy life. People might assume that the pain is less, that the feelings dull. I can’t blame them, but it is not so.
Losing a child can change everything forever. It changes how you see the world, how safe you feel. It changes your relationship with your other children. It can change your relationship with your partner, how you view the medical profession, how much you trust your own body. It changes you. Nothing is ever the same afterwards, you have to adjust to a new reality and that can be a very difficult and lonely journey to make.
People often say, ‘I can’t imagine what you are going through.’ ‘I can’t imagine having to deal with that.’ I can’t imagine, I can’t imagine. And it is true, they can’t, and they don’t want to. And I don’t blame them for a second. But the fact that people can’t imagine the pain and loss, don’t understand it unless they have been through it themselves or have experience of dealing with people who have, means that parents need specialist support to help them through this specific type of loss and grief if they are to successfully adjust to this new reality in which they now find themselves.
This is why, this year in Baby Loss Awareness Week, we are calling on Governments across the UK to take action to ensure that all parents who experience pregnancy or baby loss and need specialist psychological support can access it, at a time and place that is right for them, free of charge, wherever they live. Thousands of parents experience pregnancy or baby loss every year, many will go on to experience psychiatric illness that requires specialist support, triggered by intense grief and the trauma of their experience. Research shows that too often this support is unavailable, inaccessible or inappropriate. Bereaved parents are falling through the gaps between policy and funding, regularly overlooked altogether.
For more information on what you can do, please visit babyloss-awareness.org. Wear a pin, write a letter, join in the conversation on social media, join in the Wave of Light on Tuesday 15 October at 7 pm.
And if you are someone who has been affected by what I have discussed here and you need help, please reach out. Don’t suffer in silence. You can find a list of organisations that can help you here.