Firstly, I am so sorry you are here and reading this blog post. My name is Rebecca and I am auntie to two angel nephews, Bobby Newell born 21 weeks in March 2020 and Oliver Newell born 21 weeks in September 2020. When my sister lost her first son Bobby I scrambled. I googled everything to try and find what I could do to help, most of it was largely useless, just a few feathers in baubles and it was March. I also knew no one else who had ever lost a baby who I could speak to for advice. When Oliver died I felt much better equipped to help having been in the same place before.
Since my nephews died I have been relatively public about how their losses have deeply affected my life with a few posts on social media and speaking openly about it to friends and strangers. Recently, a close friend contacted me to let me know that her niece had received a fatal diagnosis at 19 weeks and was having a compassionate induction and wanted to know what she could do to help her sister in the coming grief filled minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years. I leapt to help her, texting frantically all of the resources myself and my sister have collected in our arsenal over the last year, hopefully some would help her and her sister get through things with less confusion we did.
So here it is, my guide as a grieving sister to help you help your sister, daughter, best friend, cousin and their partners through baby loss. Everyone deals with the loss of a baby differently so take from this what you want and leave what you don’t. I have broken it down into sections of time after diagnosis/the death of their baby in hope that is helps you wherever you are at, be it in the early days or later down the line.
- Just listen and give them love. There are no words that will bring comfort, don’t try and fill the void. Also take nothing personally – they aren’t ignoring you and they will update you when they are ready to. I found not being able to be with my sister impossible, 30 minutes without communication was agonising.
- Contact ‘Aching Arms’ Charity – see if the hospital where your person is delivering their baby has their bears. These lovely soft teddies fill the void in your person’s arms – if their hospital doesn’t have any they will send you one. Each bear is named after another angel baby – they bring a small amount of comfort which helps some mummy’s and daddies.
- If they are having a TMFR (compassionate induction some people prefer to call it) – ARC can be very helpful in the hours after the news of a fatal diagnosis.
- The charity 4 Louis makes memory boxes that are stocked in most hospitals, if their hospital doesn’t them contact the charity and see if one can be sent, it includes tools to make hand and foot prints for their baby and two teddies – one for your person and one for their baby. These boxes are so special and again will make your person hopefully feel less alone.
- Don’t say “It wasn’t meant to be” or “at least you can get pregnant” or anything like that, it’s easy but it doesn’t help. Nothing that you say will help, be okay with that fact.
- Check if they have been given the details of their local SANDs ‘befriender’ (somone who works for sands and has also lost a baby). Emma and Terri were my sister’s befrienders and they changed her life, made the transition from pregnant to angel mummy better than it could have been without them (it’s never good but they made it less bad). Having people to talk to who understand what you are going through is gold dust.
- Ask if there’s anyone who they would like you to contact for them – some people it’s just too hard to say “my baby has died” too– so see if there’s a list of people they would like you to contact or appointments they need you to cancel – their boss, their MOT, their hairdresser, the last thing you want a week after your baby has died is a shitty text from your nail technician that you have to pay a 50% no show charge.
- Informing your person’s workplace can also be a big task – my sister was very lucky to have an understanding boss who has been nothing but helpful. Taking over the role of informing their workplace of what has happened will massively decrease the burden on your person. It was so hard for my sister to tell her boss “My baby has a fatal diagnosis and will die”, an unimaginable task, so having someone else do it is helpful.
- If your person’s baby is born under 24 weeks and sleeping they are only entitled to 7 days sick pay (insane I know) so for more time off they will need a Doctor to certify that they need more time off of work – calling a doctor in the first few days after your baby has died isn’t an easy task, so making this call if they need the time can also be helpful. If the death is over 24 weeks then your person can have maternity leave and then parental bereavement leave.
- Take food to their house, just easy things, macaroni cheese, pasta bake, lasagne. Comfort foods that can be whacked in the oven or microwave. If you live apart, you can always order them a takeaway – if they enjoy pizza send them one. When you have lost a baby cooking feels pointless. Everything feels pointless, dishes feel pointless, so hot food and no dishes helps.
- Alternatively offer to do the food shop, for months after both losses my mum would do my sisters food shop – my sister never gave my mum a list, but if there was some quiche and salad in the fridge it would be eaten. Just easy, healthy, yummy foods.
- Buy them and yourself a copy of Zoe Clark-Coates books, starting with the baby loss guide. They helped my sister enormously and I later read them all too, as a relative who wasn’t there when their baby died they help you understand the trauma and get through each day.
- Unfollow or mute pregnant celebrities or friends on social media. It will help with you with not feeling too triggered – when I would see people posting about their pregnancy I would feel jealous, then sad, then angry then depressed and then I’d want to throw my phone at the wall, “Why are they able to have healthy children when my nephews are dead?!”, TWGGE have a great episode on the “ugly feelings”.
- Does your person have other children? Some of whom may have been excited about the arrival of their new sibling – there are some lovely books which can help them to understand what has happened to their family.
- Adult colouring books or crosswords can be nice, something to do to fill the grief filled early days.
- Candles…need I say more? Nothing more therapeutic than that gentle flickering flame.
- Zoe Clarke-Coates The Baby Loss Guide
- Shopping list suggestions:
o Salads, Quiche, pizza, filled pasta, fruitsalads, oven ready meals…
o Loo roll, pads, bubble bath, tooth paste, bodywash, face masks, pillow sprays…
- My sisters house became her sanctuary – it was along time before she left it – to encourage her to cross the boundary I bought a little book and filled it with vouchers. I spent about £150 on a pedicure, facial, her favourite restaurant vouchers and a haircut for her husband. Collectively with my parents we also put together enough money for them to have a weekend away. I am very privileged to work in a well-paid job where I am able to spend money like that and I know not everyone else is. Alternatively, you could text a list of things you can do to help and say “Tuesday at 4 I am coming around to do your dishes and hoover, does that work time-wise?” or “I’m Dropping off a coffee for you on my way to work at 9am, I’ll leave it on the door step”. Just tell them what you are doing and not ask them. My sister found me asking “what would you like for lunch” too overwhelming and would drop the phone in tears.
- Don’t forget about your person’s other half they will be struggling too.
- Start listening to TWGGE, it will help you gain a deeper appreciation for what your person is going through. Look for episodes that are similar to what your person has been through to help gain a deeper understanding and get advise from others who have had similar experiences.
- The miscarriage association are another fantastic charity for help and advise.
- Give any support needed with funeral arrangements – do they need help picking flowers or baking some cupcakes?
- Consider the terminology you use to talk about your person’s baby, some people are religious other aren’t, we say that Bobby and Oliver are ‘Angels’ even though we aren’t particularly religious, we just like to imagine that they are safe and in a beautiful paradise-like place – it also feels kinder than “your dead baby” or “your stillborn baby” – its kinder language for a bereaved parent. Or just call them by their name.
- TWGGE podcast – Spotify or apple podcasts.
- Local salons, spas, barbers
- Instant coffee and a travel mug
- Send them love on their firsts, first mothers day, their original due date, Christmas, birthday etc, think of them and show it in a text, even “thinking of you today”, or even just a heart emoji and“love you” it means the world that you care.
- We discovered a few Esty shops that sold baby loss clothes – our favourite being Sam from “The Little Angel Mama Collection” She has a t-shirt called “The Tobias” which has “a piece of my heart is in heaven” on the breast, we live in them, have them in every colour. I don’t know why it helps wearing these tops but it does. You can also now buy “the Bobby and Oliver” named after my nephews which is a top for angel daddy’s.
- For baby loss awareness week you can buy a baby loss pin badge to wear in support of your person, baby loss awareness week is in October.
- Look at doing something to fundraise for a baby loss charity that has helped your person. Since Bobby and Oliver have died we have raised over £3500 for Sands, Petals and 4Louis in their names. Ordinarily I would have bought both Bobby and Oliver lots of gifts but I don’t get that blessing so donating in their name helps a huge amount.
- BLAW pin badge only £1
- Ask if they want to do anything to commemorate their baby. For Bobby’s first birthday we went to the gardens where his ashes are scattered with a birthday cake. My sister read him a book and we sang happy birthday, we all cried but afterwards you feel lighter. Celebrate the life of your persons baby if that is what they want to do. Oliver’s first birthday is on the 2nd of September 2021, two days before my wedding so we have planned to spend the morning at the memorial garden with cake, stories and songs before travelling to my wedding.
To conclude, baby loss is a shit show. It is the worst of the worst and really nothing will ever make it better. But being there for your sister or friend is all that matters. I hope that even one thing from this post helps you, the baby loss community is not something you want to join but it’s the most loving and supportive community you will ever find. This baby will leave their footprints on your heart forever and you will never forget them, ride the grief, don’t bottle anything in.
ALL my love to you, your sister, your daughter, your friend, their partner, and of course, their angel baby,
Auntie to Bobby and Oliver
I’m @bexjosephine on Instagram, my sister Victoria is @mummy2angels
(Nothing in this has been sponsored, just an honest collection of my experiences in grief).