Helping to make a devastating loss a little more bearable

Photograph for Sands at Whittington Hospital, Highgate, London on Tuesday, August 20, 2013.
Photograph: � Frantzesco Kangaris.

Photograph for Sands at Whittington Hospital, Highgate, London on Tuesday, August 20, 2013. Photograph: � Frantzesco Kangaris.

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Becky Stevenson remembers vividly the day her little girl was born.

She remembers the joy as she held her baby for the first time, the love that filled her heart as she kissed her cheeks and stroked her tiny fingers.

Photograph for Sands at Whittington Hospital, Highgate, London on Tuesday, August 20, 2013.
Photograph: � Frantzesco Kangaris.

Photograph for Sands at Whittington Hospital, Highgate, London on Tuesday, August 20, 2013. Photograph: � Frantzesco Kangaris.

But there was something else too, a niggling feeling.

“I knew that on the day I was becoming a mum, there was a woman out there somewhere getting ready to go home without the baby she – like me – had spent the last nine months planning for and dreaming of,” says Becky.

“That there were women in hospital wards all around the country who, at that very moment, were saying goodbye to the precious children they would never get to take home. I knew because I’d been that woman.”

It’s been five years since Becky, of Loxley, was told the little boy she was carrying – just three weeks from his due date – no longer had a heartbeat.

Photograph taken at Laura Centre in Leicester, Wednesday, September 25, 2013.
Photograph: � Frantzesco Kangaris / Sands

Photograph taken at Laura Centre in Leicester, Wednesday, September 25, 2013. Photograph: � Frantzesco Kangaris / Sands

“I’d gone into the hospital thinking I was in labour,” recalls the 34-year-old.

“What happened after they told me the news is a blur. The doctors induced me and, two days later, I gave birth to my little boy, Harrison.

“I didn’t know at the time that our country has one of the worst rates of stillbirth and neonatal death in the world.

“Seventeen babies every single day that don’t get to go home with their families.”

Becky is one of a number of Sheffield mums currently working to launch a Stillbirth and Neonatal Death (Sands) charity group in the city.

Sands is a national charity, founded in 1978 by a small group of bereaved parents who found there was a total lack of acknowledgement and understanding of the significance of their loss. For more than 35 years, Sands has supported thousands of families whose babies have died, offering emotional support and practical help.

“When this happened to me, I felt so alone, like there was only me in the world going through this,” says Becky.

At that time, the nearest Sands branch was in Chesterfield and Becky says the commute was enough to deter her from getting help and support she thinks would have been valuable.

“I never went to a meeting – having to travel all the way to Chesterfield was quite daunting.

“I felt isolated and I don’t want that for other Sheffield mums. That’s why I’m helping to create Sands Sheffield, to provide local women and their families with something that might just help to make the unbearable, bearable.”

And Becky is quick to point out that Sands doesn’t just look after the women who have lost their children.

“We know it’s not just them who are suffering,” says Becky, who works in marketing at the University of Sheffield.

“There are the men who have lost their children too, and the grandparents who’ve dreamed of holding that baby in their arms, of cherishing every precious momen t they anticipated was coming.

“My sister was with me when I got the news and it really affected her.”

The group already has over 40 members on its Facebook page, and its very first meeting last month was attended by nearly 20 women and men.

“This is still something that is largely not talked about,” says Becky.

“It’s a subject that doesn’t get too much exposure, unless there’s a celebrity going through it, or something like the recent EastEnders storyline to bring it into the fray.

“Since I’ve begun talking about my experience, I’ve discovered this has happened to five people that I know personally. Even my auntie went through it 45 years ago.

“We want people in the city to know that there is help and support available.”

For Sally Rodgers, whose baby died in utero at 20 weeks just last summer, it is still quite raw.

“It’s such a horrible, lonely time,” says Sally, aged 35, of Meersbrook.

“After my baby died, the hospital was fantastic in lots of ways, but the support for women going through this is still somewhat lacking in the city. The only support I was offered was a visit with an abortion counsellor, which just wasn’t the right thing.

“I was referred to Sands and they were brilliant.

“It helped so much just knowing there was someone at the other end of the phone who would understand. And it helped chatting to other women who’d been through the same thing and realising I wasn’t alone.

“This group is so needed in Sheffield. We’re still very much in the process of setting up, building up our network and inviting people to come along and see how the group can help them.”

Ashleigh Corker, the north east co-ordinator for Sands, has been working hands-on with the new group to help them get established.

“This is an incredibly difficult time of the year for bereaved parents. I know this as I am one myself,” she says.

“My baby, my second child, died at full term nine years ago. I’d had a textbook pregnancy and it was totally unexpected, something you never think will happen to you.

“Everywhere you look right now there are ‘baby’s first Christmas’ items and families coming together so it’s always painful when someone is missing.

“I’m so pleased that Sheffield will soon have its own support group for families in the city. When you’re grieving, even leaving the house is a massive step, so to have something more local will hopefully make it easier for people to reach out for help.”

n Email ashleigh.corker@uk-sands.org if you would like to get involved in helping to set the group up, or for details of the next meeting. Contact the Sands helpline on 020 74365881 for immediate help and support.