How to deal with the devastating blow of a little one's death
As Baby Loss Awareness Week begins, Lisa Salmon asks Nicola Gaskin, who lost a son and had two miscarriages, how to cope
Every year, thousands of people in the UK are affected by the death of a baby or experience pregnancy loss - one in four women loses their baby during pregnancy, birth or soon after.
To acknowledge this, a collaboration of more than 60 charities run Baby Loss Awareness Week (October 9 to 15) to help raise awareness of what these parents and families go through.
Nicola Gaskin knows only too well the pain of losing a baby, both before and after birth. She lost her son, Winter, the day after he was born, and went on to have two miscarriages before giving birth to a healthy baby daughter, Raven, now aged one.
Gaskin (33) began recording her journey on her blog, One Day of Winter (onedayofwinter.com), and she's now written a book, Life After Baby Loss (Vermilion, £9.99), in a bid to help other bereaved parents and families navigate the huge range of intense emotions that come with the death of a baby.
Here she discusses ways to help parents cope better after the loss of a baby.
1. Know you're not alone
"It's perhaps the biggest cliche ever, but it's so true," says Gaskin.
"Having shared my pregnancy on Instagram, I was also left to share news of my son's death.
"It was only further down the line, as messages and stories from other mums began to arrive in my feed and inbox, that I realised just how many other families go through a similar loss.
"When I spoke about my miscarriages, I was met with countless 'me toos'.
"Although the statistics are undeniably devastating, the discovery of such vast and wide support lifted one of the many burdens I now carried.
"I felt encouraged to share Winter's story and his photographs; my motherhood felt validated and accepted.
"There are many inspirational mothers on Instagram, just tap on the #babyloss hashtag. There's also a Baby Loss Hour that runs on Twitter every Tuesday night, and so many organisations and charities with a wealth of knowledge and compassionate understanding, such as Tommy's, Sands and Saying Goodbye ."
2. Realise your grief is valid and ongoing
"Miscarriage, stillbirth, and neonatal death - baby loss is painful in all variations," stresses Gaskin.
"Once we see the positive test, we imagine our future blossoming before us. When our baby dies, at whatever gestation or age, that future is snatched from us so very cruelly and we instead face a deep emptiness. We grieve the loss of not only our child, but the life together we've been denied.
"We lose first smiles, first steps and first day at school. It's a huge grief to carry, and yes, you're allowed to carry that grief for ever. It will not always be intense and suffocating, but our babies are never forgotten.
"Don't put timelines and expectations on yourself, instead understand that grief is part of your life. There will be endless love and pride and there will also be jealousy and anger - that is grief. Grieving isn't negative, it's necessary."
3. Honour your baby however it feels right
"There's no rules when it comes to remembering your baby, and it took me a while to realise that I could do whatever I wanted, including throwing a huge first birthday party for a baby that was not physically present," says Gaskin.
"It can be hard to confidently decide how you want to include your baby in your life, and I know I often wondered if other people were viewing some of my decisions as weird, but there's a lot to be said for letting go of that fear of judgement and just doing whatever comforts you and keeps you connected.
"If you want to keep your baby private, then do that. If you want to put their photograph on your wall, then do that. If you want to buy them a Christmas present, then do that. Your baby, your memories, your choices."
4. Share how you want to remember your baby
"We're not great at dealing with grief in the western world. We tend to avoid anything death-related and, as a result, we're often ill-equipped to help others in their time of grief," observes Gaskin.
"When my son died, I realised my loved ones were looking for me to take the lead. Perhaps it shouldn't be that way, but people are so afraid of saying the wrong thing or upsetting us unnecessarily that silence ends up the easier option.
"It's okay to say, 'I want to remember my baby. I want to talk about them.' If there's a colour, symbol or animal that's linked to your baby, then sharing that with friends and family allows them to be included in your remembrance."
5. Know love lives beyond death
"I think most 'loss parents' will agree that although their baby's death of course brought great pain, their life brought great joy. Even when our baby isn't physically here, our love for them not only remains present, but it continues to grow," says Gaskin.
"In that sense, we're no different to a mother with a living baby. Hold onto that love - it's a direct gift from your baby, it's unique and special.
"You can find ways to honour your baby by transforming that love into meaningful action. Fund-raising and random acts of kindness are just two ways we can create little legacies for our babies. A brief life still has a long-lasting impact."