bereavement · Childbirth · childloss · grief · infantloss · Labour · miscarriage · pregnancy · stillbirth · Uncategorized

In the midst of 400 people.

Understanding Baby Loss and Bereavement Support Conference
4th February 2017

His heart beating for only 35 weeks and 1 day meant that the 4th of February 2017 was one of the days I had come to dread – a trigger day. The 4th of February 2017 was the day on which my little boy had been ‘gone’ longer than he was here – it was 35 weeks and 2 days after his heart stopped beating.
Unbeknownst to probably 99% of people who walked past me that day, I was hurting. I stood with a smile on my face as I told people about the organisation I have set up in my son’s memory; I spoke about our memory boxes and how vital sibling support is to the many people who came to ask; and for some reason, not once did I think to mention that it had been 8 months since he died, and that right then, in that moment, on that day, he had been dead for one day more than he lived.
But I knew I needed to be there.
Not only for me, not only for the thousands of bereaved parents I have come to know, not only for raising awareness of Otis and Friends, but for my son.

There was something remarkably bittersweet about sitting in that room, in the midst of 400 people.

Some of those people being health professionals with an interest in what is essentially my ‘new normal’, some of those people being charity workers, and some of those people being other bereaved parents.
It’s difficult to put in to words how it felt. It was almost like an ‘out of body experience’ … I was there, but I didn’t feel like I was there. Does that make sense? I was completely aware of everything going on around me, and I was completely aware of what people were saying to me, but accepting that I was attending as both founder of an organisation and a bereaved mother – it was another acceptance of my little boy not being here. That part was really, really difficult.

I carried my little boy for 34 weeks before finding out he was going to die before birth, or shortly after. Then we went home. And I carried him for 7 more days after that, before he closed his eyes for the last time and his heart stopped beating inside me. Then I birthed him. And I carried him in my arms, lifeless, for 3 days. Then the funeral director picked him up. And I carried him in planning his funeral. Then we buried him. And I will carry him in my heart for eternity. And the people in that room, they wanted to know how they could help carry parents through the harrowing experience of losing a child.

Every single person sat in that room is somehow affected by the loss of a child, be it through stillbirth like myself, through miscarriage, through neonatal death, through paediatric death … or be it as a professional supporting parents through it.

There was something incredibly humbling about sitting in that room, in the midst of 400 people.

After Otis was born, I hoped that he would be the last. Is that silly? I hoped, with every fibre of my being, that no more parents would experience the heartache of giving birth to a child born sleeping. I hoped that no more parents would experience the trauma of saying goodbye to their baby before having the chance to say hello. I hoped that no more parents would have to endure the long, painful journey of losing a child.

Heidi Eldridge from MAMA Academy spoke about how they try to make this a reality – how they try to prevent as many stillbirths as they possibly can through spreading awareness, information and being in touch with parents.

But I’m not stupid. I knew he wouldn’t be the last.

And that’s where some of the other charities and organisations who attended, step in.

Friends of Serenity and 4Louis with their provision of amazing memory boxes and miscarriage keepsakes to parents – something that may seem like only a small token to some, but become our most treasured possessions as they home the few memories we do have of our children.

Sands with their wealth of information for parents and families.

Remember My Baby who take precious photos of our sweet babies and provide us with a lasting keepsake of moments that cannot be relived or replaced.

There were so many amazing people sat in that room, in the midst of 400 people.

I say to myself and bereaved parents around me often, that ‘simply surviving is enough’ and I wholeheartedly believe this to be true … And the health professionals sat in that room who have an interest in caring for bereaved parents were there to ensure they know how to best help us do just that – simply survive.

It does have to be said that some of the bereaved men and women sat in that room after suffering such tragedy don’t just survive – they go above and beyond.

Take David Monteith, for example. It takes a strong person to speak about the reality of stillbirth. It takes an even stronger person to speak about THEIR reality of stillbirth. The silence in the room was almost deafening as he spoke about wanting to feel the same pain as his wife felt during her labouring of their perfect sleeping daughter Grace, by digging her grave with his own hands … You could hear a pin drop as David went right in to the depths of his heart and soul, and poured it out to us, simply to play his part in helping doctors, midwives and student midwives about this reality – his reality – and what they can do to help.

And then there is Kirsty. Kirsty Nguyen. A mother, a midwife, a friend, a bereaved parent. Simply, a warrior. Speaking from both sides of the coin so honestly after only losing her sweet girl Holly only a few months ago. Her standing up there and speaking in front of those 400 people speaks volumes, not only about her bravery, but about the sheer need for this information and our stories to be heard.

The pain that comes from the death of a child isn’t something that is universal. Everyone is so individual on their journey of grieving. Every bereaved parent is at a different stage on their journey and this is something that needs to be stressed. By having numerous people from different walks of life, at different stages of their journey, who lost babies at different gestations ALL speak to the SAME crowd on the SAME day in the SAME room … it really highlighted that.

Constantly on my mind throughout the conference was the thought of the midwives who care for parents and their babies after a loss, the doctors who have to sit and tell parents the devastating news that their child no longer has a beat in their heart, the students who will one day walk in to a room to be told they are delivering a dead child that day, the sonographers who welcome happy parents in to a room to look up at their screen and see stillness … they need support too. This was made clear by both Jacque Gerrard, the Director of the Royal College of Midwives and bereavement midwife, Julie Key.

And then of course, there is the heart and soul of the conference – trustee of Our Angels and Henry’s daddy, Chris Binnie.

Chris speaks about his little boy with such pride. Named after a childhood friend who passed suddenly, Henry is moving mountains from the stars. His daddy ensures that with every breath he takes, he takes one for his son. With every step he makes, he makes one for his son. Though not breathing Earth’s air, Henry is changing lives, through Chris. Hearing his story from start to now (I would say ‘end’ but Henry’s story is never ending), for the first time properly since becoming acquainted with Chris and his wife, Briony, moved me to tears. This little boy holds a more than special place in my heart. I only ‘clicked on’ during Chris’ presentation that I actually sleep in Henry’s bedroom whenever I stay over in Harrogate (I’m not sure why I never noticed before), and to know that they trust me enough to do so, it’s (dare I say) humbling.

And his warriors – Natalie Turner, Gemma Brice, Jess MacMillan, and Beth Bolton.

Realising the need for bereavement training; understanding there is a void that needs filling; having the passion to make movements to plug that gap – they are the reason the conference happened to begin with.

These people are the voice of the parents of the 3600+ babies who are stillborn annually in the UK.

These four amazing student midwives realised another study day wasn’t enough. This battle needed something more, something bigger. They knew this needed to be tackled head on. They poured every ounce of their very being into this event.

These people are making changes, they’re slowly (but surely) helping end the silence surrounding stillbirth, and in turn, will have a part to play in the reduction of stillbirths in the UK in the coming years.

Call it misplaced pride, because it certainly isn’t any of my doing, but I am proud of them. On behalf of every bereaved parent who has ever been told ‘it is just one of those things’ … we are proud of you. On behalf of Otis, Henry, Amber, Holly, Grace, Jude, Aidan, and all of their angel friends … we thank you.

What a humbling event to be involved in.

Natalie Oldham
Founder of Otis and Friends
Trustee of Friends of Serenity

First and foremost – mummy to Maisie, Cora and our sleeping angel, Otis.


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