Friday, 11 April 2014

Some thoughts on grief

Until it happened it didn't occur to me that our daughter would be stillborn. I'd worried about a difficult birth; 4-day labours; emergency c-sections; brain damage and so on. It didn't cross my mind that when we arrived at the hospital there'd simply be no heartbeat.

Stillbirth turns out to be relatively common - around 1 in every 200 births in the UK. This rate hasn't fallen in the UK for over 20 years despite significant improvements in other aspects of maternity care. As 90% of stillbirths have no congenital abnormality it should be possible to reduce the rate significantly with better screening.


I suspect part of the reason for the lack of investment in stillbirth research - and lack of media attention - is because it's very hard to talk about. The absence of the paraphernalia that usually accompanies a death reduces the number of opportunities to engage with friends and relatives - leaving instead a almost complete lack of activity in a household prepared for the exhaustions of a newborn. And unlike other deaths, where you can share stories about the deceased from happier times, there's no hook for positive conversations.

Which is why so many of the messages we've received contain words along the lines of "words are futile at this time" or "there are no words" or "I know nothing I can say can make anything better". Of course this isn't true. For me at least the hundreds of messages we've received have been very helpful in processing what's happened. Without them we'd have had almost no communication at all outside of our immediate families. And the box of cards we now have are pretty much the only thing we have to remember her by.


I've found the process of grieving much as one would expect - it comes in waves and there are increasingly long periods - hours at a time now - where I feel pretty normal (and then feel guilty for feeling normal). But everyone's grief is individual and there are some odd quirks which I think are less common. After the horror of the initial few days I've held it together pretty well. The only times I've really felt myself going to pieces was after someone has done me a significant and unexpected kindness. I don't know why - perhaps because it reminds of the enormity of what's happened?

The most noticeable thing has been the difference in the way my wife and I think about her. Because I never had the chance to meet her I think of her in terms of lost possibility; the girl - and woman - she could have been. My wife, though, had a physical relationship with her over many months - making the loss much more visceral. She thinks of her by the name we chose. For some reason I can't.


At some point in the future we'll be holding a fundraising event for Sands, the UK's stillbirth charity, in honour of our daughter and to help pay for research that will hopefully stop other families going through this.


  1. Sam, I felt desperately sad when I heard about your loss. My wife and I suffered a similar blow when our first baby was stillborn. We held him for a few hours, named him (Jake), sang him songs and told him stories. He would be 20 now, had he lived, and we still think of him, frequently and with longing. Unless one has been bereaved in this way, it is difficult to realise just how much an expectant parent lives in the future, building hopes and aspirations around the life of one's child like a pearl grows around a grain of sand. Having this future ripped way is cruel and deeply wounding.

    We found solace in friends and family and in the lives of the two children who followed. Jake's death changed us irrevocably, but the experience left us surprisingly strong (although it did not always feel like it). We met other parents through SANDS and they helped us talk through and share our mixed emotions and experiences. Grief, as you point out, is not simple or predictable. It ebbs and flows and sometimes doesn't feel like grief at all — don't be too hard on yourself if you sometimes don't feel the way you imagine you ought. I send you and your family my heartfelt condolences and best wishes. You will get through this. Keep strong.

    Ian (@justified_left)

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