This year’s theme for Baby Loss Awareness Week - from 9 to 15 October - is wellbeing. Katie James-Manning and Helen Mallison, who were impacted by their experience in different ways, reflect on what personally helped them.
I’m Katie. I think if you’d asked me this question after my first loss in June 2020, I would have struggled to say anything. Even more so, after my second loss in December 2020. After both losses, it was too incomprehensible to imagine a time moving forward without pain. But the more I reflected, I started to think about what actually helped pull me through this first year. These are a few of my thoughts.
For me, the one thing that I didn’t want to hear was that “time is a great healer.” It seemed too hard to take when getting through every day felt so excruciating. With that, I am pretty sure I muddled through all the stages of grief and then back again. Ultimately, what really helped was realising and accepting that my grief would always remain part of me.
In that way, it took the pressure off thinking I could grieve only for a set period of time, at the end of which I would move on and that would be it. I now know I can think about it, talk about it, cry about it at any point in my life when I need to - and that’s ok.
Good to talk
Being able to talk about loss openly was really important to me. I needed to be able to talk about my experiences, about how they affected me: physically, emotionally and mentally.
Daring to hope
This included processing some questions that I didn’t know if I would ever find the answers to, such as: why me? Did I do something wrong? Will it happen again? Can I dare to think of myself as a mother?
I needed to be able to process these questions so I could regain hope for my future. I did this by talking to friends, family and a counsellor. I also needed to talk to people with shared experiences because my isolation, confusion and loneliness made it incredibly difficult to process the losses.
This is one of the reasons why in March this year, I set up a Baby Loss Support Group within the Cabinet Office. It has helped me to connect with others by providing a safe, non-judgmental space to find support, advice and guidance from people who have had similar experiences.
I wanted to be able to remember our babies and commemorate their lives. As my losses were early, it meant that I had nothing to say that they ever existed and I found that very difficult to process.
My husband James and I decided to give our babies names. Our first baby is called Charlie and our second, Jesse. For us, it helped to use their names in conversations and to keep their memories alive.
We also decided to create a quiet, tranquil space in our garden that acts as a living memorial to them. It’s a place where we can go to feel connected to them and it’s our way of showing them that we think about them and love them, always.
I’m Helen. I lost my baby, Amber, at term. Her heart stopped beating inside me at 39 weeks over 10 years ago. This doesn’t mean it’s less painful, but I’ve had a full decade of managing my grief, and celebrating her life.
Katie is right - nothing ‘helps’ when you've lost something so precious. I struggled to accept the finality of her funeral and the scattering of her ashes. I didn’t want Amber to be forgotten - so I found things that I could do in her memory. I wanted to celebrate the life Amber should have had, and that we should have enjoyed with her here.
When Amber arrived, we read stories to her. On what should have been her first birthday, we had over 100 friends and family reading stories all the way through the night in her memory, raising money for Tommy’s, a pregnancy and baby loss charity. The year she should have started school, we donated books to the school library in her name. Each year on her birthday, we read stories by candlelight in her memory with our two living children.
I didn’t have many ideas for Amber's first birthday. By her second birthday, I knew I wanted it to be a celebration. So ever since, I’ve made her a birthday cake to mark her day. I found this really therapeutic, thinking about her, thinking how old she should be, what things she might be into, what cake would make her smile.
These are my two favourites of all the cakes I’ve made for her. On her 6th birthday, I was lost - I didn’t feel I knew what a six-year-old girl would enjoy. I settled on a weird mix of batman/princess/unicorn.
Amber’s special place
We scattered Amber’s ashes somewhere special with meaning. We return each year to read her special story and leave a flower (the children leave raisins or sweets). These are not sad trips, but special shared family moments. We smile, we laugh, we play. The visits usually encourage questions from the children that maybe haven’t occurred to them before, and seem to help them feel comfortable talking about their feelings about the older sister they never got to meet.
I find the run up to Amber's birthday tough. I’m not as emotionally resilient. But once it gets to her birthday, that’s usually a happy day, with amazing memories of holding my first born baby girl. I remind myself each year to be gentle on myself and to take time out if I’m having a wobble. On her birthday, I allow myself to wallow in my memories - it’s not for everyone - but allowing myself that time works for me.
Want to find out more? Civil servants can contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Comment by Sally Creasey posted on
Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I've had a little cry reading this blog. Our twins were lost in a silent miscarriage at 13 weeks and we definitely felt all those feelings. I remember the twins every day in my Buddhist practice - which makes them feel close to me.
My husband struggles to speak openly about them, I really wish I knew how to help him or that he worked here to be able to access the amazing groups that wonderful people set up to support others.
It's so important for both women and men to talk about their feelings around baby loss, whether it is a loss at 4 weeks, 15 weeks or at term. So thank you again for speaking so honestly about your feelings.
Comment by Claire posted on
Thank You Katie, what a lovely haven you have created to remember Charlie & Jess, and to you Helen, I truly believe that somewhere where our minds allow us to dare wonder, Amber is super proud of the efforts you've made & continue to make in her memory.
Our children, whether here with us or not , will always be our children, and we will always be their mummy.
Thanks for breaking the silence, StillBorn, but still born
Comment by Richard Boyd posted on
Thanks to Katie and Helen for sharing their story. It's been great working together to support bereaved parents, and I have been grateful for their contributions to the growing network of fertility and baby loss support across the Civil Service.
There is a library of resources for different types of pregnancy loss on the Knowledge Hub site. This includes links to the different events running this week in the Civil Service to mark Baby Loss Awareness Week. https://khub.net/group/cross-government-working-groups-fertility-at-work-and-pregnancy-loss-and-death-of-a-baby
More events across the country and online are available on the Baby Loss Awareness Week events page: https://babyloss-awareness.org/events/
You can hear Katie, Helen and other members of the wider network speak about their experiences and advice by registering for the Civil Service Mental Health Conference and accessing the on demand sessions to catch up with this talk and others relating to grief and bereavement: https://foryoubyyou.org.uk/info-and-resources/mental-health/mental-health-wellbeing-conference-2021
Comment by Pamela posted on
amazing that you have shared your stories, having suffered loss on two occasions i absolutely feel connection to both your stories, we all deal with loss in our own personal way.
Comment by Anna Payne posted on
Thank you so much for sharing your stories Katie and Helen. Hearing you/others open up is such a support, and, so warming to hear how you keep going, and how you remember your little ones.
Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on
May I commend Katie and Helen for sharing their story. I am truly sorry for their loss.
I am glad that Katie and Helen have been able find ways to help them to come to terms with their loss, and ensure that their little angels will never be forgotten.
I really do hope that by sharing their experience, they will offer some element of comfort and inspire others to reach out for support and guidance. No one should feel isolated or alone.
I will certainly be lighting a candle at 7pm on Friday October 15th, in observance of #WaveOfLight