Words: Hayley Caradoc-Hodgkins

For most, the death of a life barely yet begun is a thought so taboo, so uncomfortable, that it is rare that we will ever have to discuss it. This is a problem – we need to talk. It is thought that one in five pregnancies end in miscarriage. The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK, and this number does not cover those lost through late terminations due to unforeseen medical conditions.

What you thought was an uncommon occurrence, is in fact the opposite. It happens every day, to people of all ages, to people you know.

These statistics held little relevance to me, until I became part of them. I lost my son at 26 weeks earlier this year, and since then have been trying to come to terms not only with the reality of such an ordeal, but also with how this loss was going to define me. I say ‘define’ because this is what it felt like. I was the lady who had lost her baby.

Before this happened, I had known of only two women in my life that had contended with such devastating circumstances. These women and their experiences were spoken about in hushed tones. Suddenly, I had to address the fact that no longer were these experiences a distant occurrence. They were happening to me.

I also had to come to terms with how this loss was going to define me. I was the lady who had lost her baby

I quickly realised that I had never truly understood what had happened to these women. I could only wish I had been more educated and prepared in order to serve them better as a friend, and in order to later understand my own predicament.

Nothing can prepare you for the crushing despair and loneliness that follows the death of a baby during or soon after a pregnancy. It not only affects the parents, but the family and friends that so desperately want to help, but who feel so helpless. It is understandable that this is a subject seldom tackled until you are faced to face with it. I am a very private person, I do not wear my heart on my sleeve and don’t often ask for advice from others. Since that day in May, I have realised the this is one thing I don’t want to keep to myself.

I tried, like many others to contain my grief within my four walls. I locked myself up, and shut down. I stopped seeing friends, and went about trying to understand how I was going to fix myself, and my family. When my boyfriend had to finally go back to work, I tried to occupy myself but the ever present feeling of being alone was too much. I decided soon after in order to get through it I had to face what had happened to us. I had to talk about it.

I started speaking to friends, telling people what had happened to our son. I told them that we wanted to talk about it, and not to tiptoe around the subject. In doing so we made the first steps in overcoming it. I went back to work. I won’t pretend it was easy, that I didn’t flinch when people asked me about how my baby was, but I was prepared. I told them as honestly as I could what had happened, and although it was tough, it was never as awkward or as painful as I had expected.

I went about trying to understand how I was going to fix myself, and my family

A huge amount of my anxiety after the birth was that everyone knew I had been pregnant. I couldn’t hide from it. One way or another, people would find out. This initially filled me with a sense of shame and embarrassment. For such a private person it was difficult imagining that I couldn’t keep this to myself. It is only now, six months on, that I understand that I should never have felt like this. Sadly it is drilled into us from the moment we find out we are pregnant that we should keep it a secret until the elusive 12 weeks has passed. I went along with this. Judging the women who told earlier, as if this somehow it added to their chances of complications.

I now realise how damaging this is. Yes, the chances of miscarriage reduce significantly as the weeks pass, but by suggesting women keep it a secret for the first three months I can’t help but feel that we are breeding fear and an over-bearing sense of enforced silence for those women who do encounter problems during their pregnancy.

We need to start addressing the issues surrounding the death of a child, not hiding from them. It should not be something that looms over expectant mothers, but rather something that is talked about openly and honestly – so that we have a better understanding of this sadly common experience. I also discovered that a lot of people did want to talk about it, but just weren’t sure how to begin. Once I had decided to open up, I was quite astounded by the response. Friends, family, work colleagues, and people I had only ever conversed with on email, began sharing their experiences with me, many of them first-hand.

The death of a child should not be a prospect that looms over expectant mothers, but rather something that is talked about openly and honestly

Their openness was inspiring, but I was saddened when I realised how many people I knew had had shared stories, and yet we had never discussed them. I would like that to change.

I want to talk about it – not just with specialist midwives, or anonymous helplines. These play a hugely important role, and help a lot people though some very tough times, but I want us to start talking to each other. The more we educate ourselves, the better partners, parents and friends we can be to those affected. The more we talk about it and face our fears of such a traumatic subject, the less deafening the silence for those experiencing it first-hand will hopefully seem.

I know I shall never truly get over the death of my son, however much time passes. But by being able to speak about him openly, and by not keeping his memory to myself, I am coming to terms with it a little more every day. He will always be our first child, and one I am proud to say existed even for a short while.

More in Features

Writers Bloc #1 Val McDermid

By , 25th September 2018
Features, Regulars
From imposter syndrome to plotting, in a new series for Marie Claire authors give me chapter and verse on how the writing process works for them - starting with multi award-winning crime writer Val McDermid, who has written 32 books in as many years

The Lives of Others #6

By , 23rd July 2018
Education, Features, Regulars, Travel
Georgie Higginson moved from the UK to Uganda 14 years ago. After losing their daughter to stillbirth, she and her husband were inspired to build a lodge on the banks of the River Nile, overlooking Murchison Falls National Park - an area once occupied by LRA rebels

Global Village #6

By , 9th July 2018
Design, Features, Regulars, Travel
Designer Kate Pietrasik lived in London, Edinburgh, New York and Byron Bay before moving to a town near Biarritz when her daughter was four years old. She reflects on life as a 'blended family', running her own business, and the joy of being rootless