June is SANDS awareness month, a charity that, as you well know, is close to my heart. There is so much that I could tell you about this charity, about how they work tirelessly to raise awareness of stillbirth and neonatal death, how they offer support to bereaved parents and how, most importantly, they campaign to ensure that the stillbirth rate, which currently lies at 100 babies each week, is lowered. I could tell you that donating to this charity could make a big difference to the lives of others, to a parent missing their child, to a baby, clinging on to life. I could ask you to donate, just a small amount, and yet I know if you are anything like me you will be inundated with these requests, from friends running marathons, charity bike rides, jumping out of planes and a whole variety of sponsored events. And so I suppose that all I can tell you is this.
To those of you with children, or those who care to imagine, just for a moment think back to your pregnancy, about the joy that you experienced when you saw those two blue lines appear on a test, the fearful excitement that your whole life was about to change. Remember how it felt when your baby kicked in your stomach, when you saw their little face on each scan, lovingly chose a name, began to imagine what your child would be like. Think about those days leading up to the birth, how you had already forged such a bond with your baby, how your whole life was set to centre solely around them. Remember how you had decorated the nursery, how the Moses basket lay next to your bed, how the babies clothes, nappies, toys filled your cupboards, your drawers, the baby lotion sat waiting in the bathroom. Think about your labour, how excruciating that pain was and how in those moments when you felt like giving up, you didn’t because the thought of your baby spurred you on, made you push even harder, because you knew that in the end it would all be worth it. Remember that moment when your baby was placed on your chest, how they opened their eyes, let out the most precious of cries, and how you knew right there and then that you would die for this child, that you could never imagine a life without them in it. Remember the day that you took them home, the proudest parents in the whole world, how you burst with pride with every stranger who cooed over your baby in their pram, how you lay awake each night simply watching them breathe, pinching yourself that this little one was really yours, how you had a whole lifetime waiting ahead of you.
And it was amazing wasn’t it? The best feeling in the whole world.
And at the same time imagine that, during those last few weeks of pregnancy, you lay in a sterile hospital room whilst a doctor placed a sympathetic arm on your shoulder and told you, “I’m sorry, your baby has died”. Imagine having to go through a gruelling, 35 hour labour, absolutely terrified, fighting against the urge to push, knowing that at the end of it all you would live your worst nightmare. Imagine the silence as your baby was placed on your chest, knowing that they would never open their eyes, that in just a short while their body would grow cold, that you would have to prepare to say your goodbyes. Imagine trying to fit an entire lifetime into just twenty four hours, to make as many memories as you possibly could, holding on to your little one and trying to memorise every single detail, the curve of their nose, the softness of their skin. Imagine leaving the hospital empty handed, the silent drive home, returning to your freshly painted nursery, to drawers filled with clothes that will never be worn, to a pram that will never see the light of day. Imagine laying in bed, looking at the empty cradle, and feeling that your heart was shattered into a thousand pieces, that you would actually die with the pain. Imagine seeing your child for the very last time in a funeral home, sobbing at the state of their body, at the haunted expression on their face. Imagine knowing that, as you left, you would never see them again, that the following day you would stand beside your husband as he held your baby in a tiny white casket, watch as it was lowered into the ground and covered with a mound of earth. Imagine having to face the world, to go about your daily life, and see pregnant women everywhere, cradling their bumps, holding their healthy babies, your breasts still engorged, your arms physically aching to hold your own.
Imagine that. And I can promise you that however heartbreaking it may be to even consider, for us parents, the reality is a million times worse.
Because there is nothing, absolutely nothing that I can think of, that could compare to the loss of a child. There is nothing more physically or mentally enduring than having to wake up each morning, to take a breath, to put one foot in front of the other, and try to work out a way to survive. I have been asked repeatedly over the last decade, “How did you survive it?” and my reply is always the same, “I’m really not sure that I did. ” Whilst I may have survived it with my life intact, as sadly there are some who do not, those first months, even those first few years, were simply an existence, a reluctant passing of time, a limbo like state of not knowing whether to live or die. And there are so many things that did not survive our loss, my marriage being one of them. It may shock you to learn that following the loss of a child, 80% of marriages end in divorce, and whilst I am loathe to become a statistic, slowly but surely I did watch my marriage crumble.
There are so many parts of me that did not survive the loss of our son either, deep voids left inside of me that neither time nor hope will heal. To say goodbye to our child, when we had only just met, destroyed me as a person, destroyed my faith, my hope, my beliefs. To hold my baby in my arms and know that this was it, their whole life right there in that moment, that kind of thing is impossible to get over.
And whilst at first everybody flocked round to offer their support, slowly but surely they went back to their normal lives, oblivious to the fact that I could never do that, that my world had changed irreversibly. And it was during those days, the times when I felt so desperately alone, that I turned to SANDS and they offered me a lifeline.
Simply to have someone tell me, “It’s okay to feel that way.”, to reassure me, “That’s completely normal.” was all that I needed to hear. A channel to vent my anger and utter devastation, an opportunity to talk about my son without feeling judged or with the knowledge that I was making others feeling uncomfortable. And it saved me, in the darkest of times when I genuinely believed that I would never get through it, the support and the care that the SANDS team showed me absolutely contributed to the fact that I got through it and am still here to tell the tale.
And a decade has passed, and perhaps for some the pain is less, but for me, every year that passes is simply another reminder of all that we lost. I can’t look at my children together without knowing that one is missing. I can’t hear a newborn cry without the memory that my son did not. I can’t look into my children’s eyes without wondering what colour Josephs would have been. I can’t be the person that I was, because she exists only in a time before Joseph, in a time that feels like a whole world away from here.
SANDS is absolutely a charity close to my heart, but it is also a charity close to the hearts of many. Those who have lost a child, a grandchild, a niece, a nephew, a friends baby who they would have loved with all of their hearts. And although I am hosting the SANDS Summer Soiree, which you can read about here, for those who can’t attend I have also created a Just Giving page, here, where you can donate, even the smallest amount in Josephs memory, your own childs memory, a missing family member or simply with gratitude that you never had the need for this charity in your lives at all.
I’m turning orange for SANDS, I hope that you will join me.