Parents open up about the healing process after a enormous grief of losing a baby
Everyone's experience of grief is unique and no two people will react the same way to a loss, according to Brenda Casey, clinical midwife specialist at the National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street in Dublin.
Brenda, who has been working for the last 20 years as a midwife, has spent the last two co-ordinating support services for people who have lost babies. She says while many people tap into the hospital's services, most rely on the help and support of friends who can sometimes be at a loss to know what to say in the circumstances.
"I would say if there's help being offered, take it. When someone asks you how you are, you put up your guard and say 'I'm grand.' But you should accept any support you can," she says.
Brenda says that, often, the grief parents feel can literally ambush them and events like the birth of another baby in the family can bring up lots of feelings of grief. "It's minute by minute, hour by hour. Mindfulness is a buzz word at the moment but it's so important to stay in the moment."
She says grief can make people feel like they are losing their mind. "It's so important for people to normalise their grief. Sometimes when women hear it's normal, it makes them feel normal. I've seen their shoulders relax and their faces change when they hear that."
And she says it's important for women who have experienced loss to take comfort in doing something they love, be that immersing themselves in nature or just doing something they enjoy.
According to Marie Cregan of Féileacain, the stillbirth and neonatal death association of Ireland, it's only in recent years that people are coming to terms with how huge a trauma stillbirth is. And she says the reverberations of loss are felt through all the generations of a family, from parents, grandparents and siblings.
She says the best way to support a couple who have lost a baby through stillbirth is to acknowledge the loss. "This is the worst thing that will ever happen that family and it's not going to go away any time soon. It's a significant trauma," says Marie.
In trying to offer support to a couple, she says people should give them time and if they want to talk about their baby, talk. "You are not the one who's upsetting them. They are upset already. They will have days when they want to talk and days that they won't.
"Don't expect them to be okay. They could be in shock for the first year. Remember the hidden anniversaries of the heart - the first Christmas, the due date - all these anniversaries are hard," she says.
Deirdre Pierce McDonnell, of the Miscarriage Association of Ireland, says it's important for people to give themselves the time and space to grieve. "It's really about recognising your grief and giving yourself time. If you feel like talking, talk to family or friends or phone the Miscarriage Association," she says.
Deirdre stresses the importance for women of learning to live in the here and now. "Try not to look too far into the future. Try to stay in the present. Give your body time to recover," she says.
Her own experience of miscarriage led Kildare woman Kate Carbery to begin writing a book about the subject, which she hopes will be ready for publication this time next year. Her daughter Elizabeth is now six, but she lost her second baby at 11 weeks four years ago.
"I felt at nine weeks I wasn't pregnant anymore. I kept saying 'I don't feel pregnant.' On the December 21, 2012 ,I had a scan. The baby had died two weeks previously," says Kate.
"I had a D&C and I remember I had been really practical the whole way through. I left the hospital thinking 'I can't believe I'm leaving what is left of the baby in there.' You just get very emotional and your hormones are all over the place," she says.
Kate recalls that Christmas as being a time of deep grief for her and a time when nobody could comfort her. "Miscarriage is a very lonely experience for most women. You were the one with the physical connection to this being. It was your job and you feel like you have failed your baby".
Getting pregnant again became a focus and Kate had a baby boy, David (who's now four) in November 2013. The experience of miscarriage and of feeling that nobody she knew had gone through the same thing prompted her to begin writing the book. But when she delved a little deeper, Kate found that she did in fact know women who had had miscarriages - they just hadn't talked about it. The project has seen her interview 40 other women who had experienced miscarriage and Kate hopes that the book will become a resource for Irish women to help them through a dark time in their lives.
According to Krysia Lynch, of the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services - Ireland (AIMS), if the new National Standards for Bereavement Care following Pregnancy Loss and Perinatal Death are fully implemented and resourced, it will affect how people recover.
These new standards, launched by Health Minister Simon Harris, last August clearly define the care parents and families can expect to receive following a pregnancy loss or perinatal death.
The HSE said the standards will be implemented and applied across the health service in all appropriate hospitals and settings.
And Krysia says if health professionals really want to be helpful to women, they would have a continuity of care where women were not asked the same standard questions nine or 10 times during what is often a highly emotional time for them.
INM is putting together a dedicated section on Independent.ie where women and men of all ages can share their stories of miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death. The section will serve as a testament to the women and men who share their stories, a memorial for the babies lost and as a resource for other people who have gone through or are going through the experience. Your stories can be anonymous or on the record and nothing will be published in any format without prior consultation with you. If you would like to be part of this and tell your story, email Yvonne Hogan at firstname.lastname@example.org