A WOMAN who lost her baby just four days before the delivery date has pleaded with grieving mothers to avail of counselling and bereavement services.
Marian Gabriel, 26, lost her baby, Robbie, on July 22, 2010. She said a special memorial service each year is now a treasured way of remembering her stillborn son.
"I will never be able to have a birthday party for Robbie. Mark and I will never have a Holy Communion or a Confirmation for him. We will never get to see him walk down the aisle," she said.
"But we can remember Robbie every year at this service -- and share my experiences with others who have gone through the same pain."
Hundreds of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles will travel from all over Ireland to attend the infant-loss remembrance service in the Church of the Sacred Heart, on Cork's Western Road, next Sunday.
The service, now in its fourth year, is organised by Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH) to remember all infants lost to stillbirth, birth complications or miscarriage.
Marian told the Sunday Independent: "Years ago, I suppose it was swept under the carpet -- the loss of an infant was something that people just didn't talk about.
"But I think the bereavement services that were offered to me were hugely important and the counselling was a great support."
Robbie was the first child expected by Marian and her husband Mark, from Kinsale, Co Cork, and was only the first grandchild due for either of their two families. She has since given birth to another son, Joey (16 months).
In July 2010, Marian was scheduled to go into CUMH for observation. But she felt that something was wrong.
"I got a feeling something wasn't right. I didn't notice any movement," she said.
A scan revealed that Robbie -- who was scheduled to be delivered in four days' time -- had died when his heart inexplicably stopped beating.
Marian was so traumatised that she went into labour within a few hours. But the bereavement team -- led by midwife Anna-Marie Verling and consultant Keelin O'Donoghue -- helped Marian and advised her to spend time with her little boy.
"I have his handprints and his footprints. And I got to spend a lot of time with him before the funeral. I have my memories of Robbie," she said.
"Years ago, people didn't get to spend this time with their children. I definitely think having memories helps the grieving process."
CUMH chaplain David Nuzum said that such services cater not only for the grieving parents, but also for the extended family, including grandparents, aunts and uncles.
He added: "The loss of a child just doesn't affect the parents -- it is a devastating experience that affects the entire family."