Hard Conversations

In which Vicki Sigston looks at the support that exists for new parents during one of the most difficult times..

As an antenatal practitioner I meet hundreds of families every year who are waiting to meet their babies. Some will come to me as parents who have been affected by the previous loss of a pregnancy or who have experienced stillbirth and while often they might prefer to keep this information to themselves, they might also be keen to talk through their past experiences as they prepare to meet their new baby, and of course this is important.

Stillbirth and neonatal death will always be a hard subject for people to talk about, but June is SANDS awareness month here in the UK and I felt it was a great opportunity to open up the dialogue a little.

SANDS is a national charity set up to help support families affected by the death of a baby. They help to raise awareness and provide help and support where needed, as well as putting money into research to help pregnancies be more healthy and to look into what we as a community can do to help prevent infant death.

Rates of stillbirth and neonatal deaths are falling in the UK, but there will still be 15 babies a day who die after 24 weeks of pregnancy or just after birth. So, while, thankfully, most parents and families around us will have no experience or knowledge around stillbirth or neonatal death, for those that do it is important that we talk about it. Not only so that we can work to reduce these instances and be aware of what to look out for to help keep everyone as safe as possible. But also, so we can support families affected by this and help them through these toughest of times.

At many UK hospitals, including my own local, Medway Maritime Hospital, there are specialist bereavement suites where families can spend time with their babies after they have died, as well as take photos and prepare mementos for when the family are ready to go home. Medway’s gold standard suite was completely updated a few years ago thanks to the amazing work by the charity Abigail’s Footsteps, started by Kent couple Jo and David Ward, who sadly lost their baby girl Abigail, who was stillborn in 2009. After their own less than great experience at Medway Hospital where they found themselves in a room not fit for purpose, they now work tirelessly to provide new equipment and training to staff to make sure no one else has the same experience as them.

Because of Jo and David, SANDS and other charities, more and more hospitals have these vital bereavement suites and support networks in place, but still not all hospitals and this must change.

It is important that, as a society, we don’t shy away from these hard conversations. When we speak with families who have lost a child, one of the most common things they say is that they want to be able to talk about their baby and their experience, but that often they feel it is too hard for people to hear so they keep quiet.

They want to be able to use their child’s name, and to hear others say their name too.

They want to be able to remember them on birthdays and other anniversaries.

They want to be able to share their stories.

In Medway we are very lucky to have a local SANDS support group where parents can share their experience of losing a baby with other bereaved parents. The West Kent and Medway Sands group meet in Gillingham every month and parents can attend free of charge. To contact the group or find out more you can email on westkentandmedwaysands@gmail.com or telephone 07474 948 021. 

There are other groups all around the country, you can find full details of where they are here.

The charity also has a bereavement support app you can use. They say:

“The Sands Bereavement Support app contains information and support resources for bereaved parents, grandparents, families and friends, about:

–    saying goodbye to your baby

–    returning to work

–    making difficult decisions 

–    having a funeral for your baby

–    post-mortems

–    sexual relationships after loss

–    another pregnancy

–    how to support children

–    and much more”

When it comes to preventing and reducing chances of stillbirth there is still lots of work to be done, and we will never be able to prevent them all, but there are things we can do and some great places to find help with this. The NHS have some good information here.

There have also been campaigns in recent years about reporting reduced movements from baby during pregnancy, and while it can make some women anxious trying to keep an accurate count of movements, it is important that any changes a woman notices with regards to her baby moving should be flagged to a midwife or doctor and checked out as soon as possible. 

If you have any concerns at all about your baby during pregnancy or after birth please do consult with a health professional as soon as you can, I promise they would much rather give everyone a check up and give you the all clear than know you are sitting and worrying.

If you have been affected by anything in this article please do reach out for support, SANDS are available as listed above, as well as these other charities:

Tommy’s – Support for miscarriage, stillbirth and premature births.

The Miscarriage Association

Bliss – For babies born premature or sick.

TAMBA – Twin and Multiple Birth Association – bereavement support

Vicki Sigston is an Antenatal Practitioner and Breastfeeding Counsellor currently living in Medway. She and her husband have 2 boys that they home educate with support from Medway’s incredible home ed community. You can follow her work life on Facebook and Instagram.
Vicki has a website called
Mum of 2 Boys that she likes to post (hopefully) useful bits and pieces on too. She also suffers with a chronic condition called Endometriosis and she shares her journey with all of that here.

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