What is it like to give birth to a perfect son who is forever sleeping? What is it like to discover that your baby’s heartbeat has stopped, bringing them into this world silently having had a cord accident, only to experience the exact same eventuality with your next baby? What is it like to haemorrhage and see your daughter’s still heart on a screen?
These are the stories of four women, four mothers – Julie, Lou, Mel and Michelle – and their families, alongside others, as woven together in a feature documentary written and directed by Debbie Howard of Big Buddha Films. A story of loss, love, and new life as families rebuild their lives after a loss of a baby.
I think this is to date the most emotional post I have put together on the blog, and I can not explain the depth of my feelings as I have read their words and tried to find out…what it is like to have loved and lost…as part of the What is it really like series…
Life after the death of your baby is…..
(Julie) Life after the death of your baby is like living through hell! To hold your dead child who never took a breath, never cried, never opened his eyes to look at the parents who wanted him so very much is a pain no one should endure!
You live your life like you are in a river, at first the current drags you under the water and you can’t get your breath, the water weighs you down and your heart is crushed! As days turn to weeks and weeks into months you raise your head up above the water, you get closer to the shoreline, you step out and feel the shore…. Then a ripple pulls you back, you’re constantly swimming against the tide.
You carry on living, the pain in your heart is constantly there, it’s unbearable at first and over time it softens and you can remember what it is like to smile, to laugh! But you carry the pain constantly, it can resurface at any point for any reason and for no reason at all. Our lives are incomplete, they will always will be; no firsts for our children, no firsts for us to witness and be proud of or be angry at.
Life is different, it’s changed beyond recognition. It always happens to other people, we are now those other people and it hurts like a bitch…..
Above everything, what has been the single hardest thing about your loss?
(Michelle) The circumstances of our son Louie’s death. Louie’s died very unexpectedly at the end of labour due to medical negligence. It has taken four and a half years for the hospital to admit liability for his death. These years of legal action have been extremely upsetting and stressful and is something parents in our situation shouldn’t have to go through.
All we ever wanted was an independent investigation into our son’s death but sadly stillbirths are not reported to the Coroner and Coroners have no jurisdiction to hold an inquest for a stillbirth leaving us with the only option of litigation.
Michelle, Paul and Louie pictured above
Do you think a parent can ever fully “move on” from the loss of their child?
(Mel) In all honesty? No. Initially I thought it was possible. I was determined I wouldn’t pass through the grief cycle, that with hard work and using all the skills I had as a therapist, that it would be only a short time before I was “better”. I really struggle with the terminology people use. I hate the words moving on, getting over it. There seems to be an assumption by the wider world that not only is this possible, but that you want to.
It hurts so much when you find life continuing after your whole world ends. It hurts so much when you find yourself laughing again, dreaming again, hoping again. Everything in you just wants to cling to your baby. The passing of time is so cruel.
I think people expect you to be better after a year. They want it to be easier for you. But they don’t realise that getting better, moving on means leaving your baby behind.
Eventually I worked out that maybe it was possible to work on easing the pain, while keeping the memory. I found a way to build Finley, who I lost, into my life, my work, my dreams that meant I could move forward, while taking him with me.
But six years on, there are days where it hurts as much as ever. In fact last year was probably as painful as the first year was, for several reasons. There is more life between the painful bits, more joy and happiness. But I don’t think we ever forget – which is what other people seem to think “moving on” should look like.
I speak with people who lost their baby 20, 30, 40 years ago. They never forget, even though so much time has passed.
Mel with her son Finley pictured above
What has surprised you about the way you have dealt with the loss?
(Louisa) I have dealt with my loss by throwing my heart and soul into the Derby Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Support Charity. It doesn’t surprise me that I got involved with the group just one month after my loss, as I was desperate to meet others who had been through similar. But after that first meeting, I knew I had to do something to help others in that situation, it was almost as if my baby Lauren, who I lost, was urging me to do so.
Within a couple of months I was making positive changes on the labour ward (e.g. providing memory boxes to bereaved parents) and shortly after that joined the committee, becoming Chair in 2011. I have supported so many families through their loss, at times, giving up every spare moment I had. Derby Sands became an obsession: it made me feel close to Lauren and it helped me to make sense of Lauren’s death if I could help others.
Louisa with her son Finn pictured above
Why did you decide to make this film?
(Debbie) I had made a short drama previously called Peekaboo (watch it here) which looked at stillbirth. I had to come to know a lot about how families deal with losing a baby and after making Peekaboo, I realised that I needed to make a feature length documentary, as it would reach so many more people than a short film.
I felt that their stories were so much more powerful than anything I could write. I had also become incredibly passionate about breaking the silence around stillbirth and baby loss, and was well aware of how often this still happened. In so many cases the loss of these babies could have been avoided.
Was agreeing to take part in Still Loved a big decision for you? And why did you ultimately agree to do so?
(Julie) Yes!! To let strangers into our home to discuss our boys was a hard decision, Jay didn’t want to do it at all, we talked at length about it, fors and against, we agreed to share our boys story as a tribute to them and to show them how incredibly proud of them we are that they chose us as parents.
Julie and Jay at Harrison’s grave pictured above
What is the key thing you hope that people will understand from watching the film?
(Louisa) That just because our babies never lived outside of the womb, just because we never brought them home, it doesn’t mean that we can just forget and move on within a few months. And even if we are lucky enough to go on and have another baby, that baby does not replace the one that died, the new baby does not erase the heartache, in fact, it brings a whole new wave of difficult emotions.
Those whose baby / babies are born asleep never ever forget. We remember our babies every single day and think about what should have been. Birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas are so incredibly painful, milestones such as the first day at school bring yet more heartache.
That is what I would like everyone to understand.
Some of the parents featured in the film at the Wave of Light event on International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day pictured above
What was the most surprising thing about making this film?
(Debbie) I think it was how close I became to the families in the film. I was totally blown away by their strength and their spirit. I learned so much about grief and about how there is no right or wrong way to grieve, how people have to find their own way and do what’s right for them. We shouldn’t judge others about how they grieve.
I learned that as a society we are really bad at talking about death and grief. We need to open up about this. We need to not be afraid to ask people how they are feeling and not to avoid saying the name of the person who has died for fear we’ll remind and upset them. We won’t remind them, because they never forget.
What impact do you think this docufilm will make in terms of creating a dialogue about baby loss?
(Michelle) I hope this documentary stimulates discussion around stillbirth and the impact it has on not just the parents but the wider family and friends. Also the high number of stillbirths in the UK and that more needs to be done to lower this number.
If you could describe Still Loved in five words they would be…
(Mel) Groundbreaking, heartbreaking, captivating, honest, important.
**The Still Loved film has been made with the support of thousands of people making donations via crowdfunding campaigns. If you would like to support the last phase, raising the money to get this completed film out to cinemas on people’s screens, please make a donation here. Every penny goes into getting this film out to its audience. Thank you.**