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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Thu 09-Oct-14 11:22:00

Guest post: Baby Loss Awareness Week - 'I'm a mother, but my arms are empty'

Today marks the start of Baby Loss Awareness Week. MN blogger Leigh Kendall, who lost her son Hugo in March, describes what it's like to be a mother with no baby

Leigh Kendall

Headspace Perspective

Posted on: Thu 09-Oct-14 11:22:00

(30 comments )

Lead photo

'Bereaved parents suffer enough without also experiencing awkwardness and insensitivity'

I am a proud Mum.

I am also an empty-armed Mum.

My son Hugo, my only child, died in March of this year.

Hugo was a much-wanted baby, conceived after two years of trying and a round of fertility treatment. Tragically, when I was just 24 weeks pregnant I was diagnosed with the rare, life-threatening pregnancy complications preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome. The only thing to do was to deliver the baby: without that, both me and Hugo were likely to die.

My super champion boy fought so hard to live, but died in my arms aged 35 days. He was just too small. Hugo spent his life on a ventilator and in an incubator. I never got to bring him home.

Since Hugo's death, I have been overwhelmed by love and support from family, friends, and strangers. People who know how much Hugo means to me, who are always willing to listen to my stories about him and agree that he was a gorgeous baby. They make me feel included and accepted as a mother.

Sadly, such attitudes and responses are not universal. Death in general and baby loss in particular is still a taboo in this country. Many people like to think that death does not happen if it is ignored.

Grief can make the bereaved feel withdrawn and isolated, and the way some people have reacted to Hugo's death has made this worse. During small talk with a stranger, the conversation might come around to babies: I will mention Hugo, and say that he sadly died. I can sense their discomfort immediately - their eyes dart away and their body language changes. It is clear they would rather be doing anything other than talking to the bereaved mother about her dead baby, and they move the conversation along.

I feel awkward about raising the topic with strangers, and this makes me so cross - why should I feel reticent about bringing into conversation the baby whom I love with all my heart, to protect the sensitivities of others?


This is rude and insensitive, and it saddens me because I know that if everything had gone to plan and Hugo was tucked up in his pram, the same person would be cooing over him, eager to talk about babies and motherhood.

As a result there are times, especially when I am feeling low and hypersensitive, when I felt awkward about raising the topic with strangers. This makes me so cross - why should I feel reticent about bringing into conversation the baby whom I love with all my heart, to protect the sensitivities of others? Think how much the conversation of ‘normal’ mothers revolves around their children.

My partner and I were so ready to welcome a baby into our lives. We were, in a funny sort of way, looking forward to the sleepless nights, pooey nappies and all the challenges that having a baby brings - and to the endless conversations with other parents about them. We knew it would all be worth it. Having no baby to care for has left a gaping chasm in our lives.

Hearing other parents talk about the normal babyhood and childhood activities and challenges fills me with sadness because they emphasise my loss and everything I will never experience with Hugo. Not being able to join in with their ‘normal mummy’ conversations is difficult.

When I am feeling strong I say ‘stuff it’ to the awkwardness – I am so proud of Hugo, and want everyone to know it. I tell myself to put it in context – that their discomfort will last for just a few moments, while my heartbreak will last a lifetime.

I understand that some people may think it is better to say nothing, because they worry about saying something that will upset me. To those people I would say - the worst has already happened, and it would be difficult to cause me further distress. The best thing to say is "I'm so sorry," and perhaps ask the baby's name. Bereaved mothers and fathers are just as proud of their babies as the parents who have their babies in their arms. We love talking about them. It helps keep our babies alive in our minds.

My baby lives on in my heart. Not having Hugo physically in my arms makes me feel like I have to prove I am a mother. I wear an imprint of his hand and footprint on a pendant around my neck. It is a visual way of showing how proud I am of Hugo.

Despite my empty arms, many people see me as 'Hugo's mummy', and this, at least, makes me happy. I talk about him and write about him a lot, and it keeps his memory alive. But there are many other bereaved mummies who do not feel able to talk about their babies because of the taboo. That's why we need Baby Loss Awareness Week, to encourage people to be more open about the topic. Bereaved parents suffer enough without also experiencing awkwardness, ignorance and insensitivity.

By Leigh Kendall

Twitter: @leighakendall

RettyPriddle Thu 09-Oct-14 12:56:13

Thank you for writing about this subject. I hope it helps to raise awareness about the feelings of parents who lose their babies. You are rightly proud to be Hugo's Mum.

Lottapianos Thu 09-Oct-14 12:57:56

Thank you for sharing your story. A dear colleague lost her little girl at full term a few years ago and it was utterly heartbreaking. I can't imagine the sadness and loneliness you must feel.

It's so true - a lot of people just cannot seem to cope with other people's feelings, especially pain. I agree that its rude and insensitive to move the conversation on to something else - as if that's supposed to take your mind off what has happened! I think the problem is that a lot of people have difficulty holding anybody else in mind - they are only thinking of themselves in that moment, and their own awkwardness and embarassment.

Your pendant showing Hugo's hand and foot imprints is a lovely idea. Hugo is a lovely name choice too. I hope it has been helpful for you to share your story here x

blizy Thu 09-Oct-14 13:09:13

Thank you for sharing your and Hugo's story.
My dd was stillborn at 41 weeks almost 4 years ago. I am 24 weeks pregnant with my rainbow baby, and the "is this your first?" Questions have started. I say no, my daughter died at birth. I get the awkward looks and people can't get away fast enough, it's sad. The subject of baby loss should not be taboo, it happens and sadly will continue to do so.

thegrowlygus Thu 09-Oct-14 15:02:19

My own Hugo was stillborn at 26 weeks, nearly (gulp) 14 years ago now. I can't believe where that time has gone, and that I should have a sulky, smelly teenager kicking around the house.

The awkward looks remain awkward, even after this time. I asked after I had him, why stillbirth wasn't really discussed antenatally when something like early miscarriage was. I was told "pregnant women don't really want to hear about things like that!" No - no one does really - but sometimes we have to hear things we don't really like so that we can potentially do something about it.

The other thing I found difficult is that everything about the pregnancy seems to need to be "deleted" - I felt awkward talking about anything about his pregnancy and delivery as though I wasn't allowed to have an opinion about that either anymore. And still now, I get the awkward looks when I mention the "normal" delivery I had with him vs the caesarean's I had with my later 2 boys.

So from one Hugo's mummy to another...be proud! (it's a great name after all!)

shakinstevenslovechild Thu 09-Oct-14 15:14:05

I have been living with the awkward looks and people brushing my children aside like they are an inconvenience for many years.

Both my son and daughter died and the shit people have come out with over the years is ridiculous.

'At least you are young enough to have more'

' At least you have another child'

'Its Gods will' ( or some other fate related bullshit)

The one that gets me the most is 'If it was my child who died I wouldn't be able to.... ' like I didn't love my children enough because I still manage to get up every day.

I hate the fact that I am allowed to be proud of some of my children and have to treat the others like a shameful secret.
I am very proud to be a Mum to all of my children and I will speak about them all day long, and, quite frankly, if it makes anyone else feel uncomfortable they do not deserve to hear about my babies and they can fuck off.

thanks thanks thanks to you for sharing Hugos story xx

WinterBabyof89 Thu 09-Oct-14 18:43:22

Baby loss awareness week wasn't even on my radar last year. Last October I was actively trying to conceive my second child and it was the month that we were finally successful smile
Sadly In July of this year my daughter died as a result of severe placental abruption in labour at 40+5.
What should have been the happiest time of my life was actually the most devastating. But I still want to talk about her. She existed - I see the section scar and stretch marks that she gave me daily! Not only did she set up home in my womb for 9months, she carved a special place in my heart just for her.

My best advice to those who haven't experienced the loss of a child is to simply ask what our babies name were. Let me tell you that she had the same nose as her brother, and that she had ridiculously podgy thighs. Hell, I'll even show you her picture which sits alongside her brothers on my keyring so you can tell me how gorgeous she was (which I obviously already know! smile
Her name was Ivy Florence, and she was 8lbs 1oz of perfection.

Love to all of those who have lost babies, and thank you for sharing yours & Hugo's story (gorgeous name btw!) xxx

Our story: livingwiththemashiters.wordpress.com

TestingTestingWonTooFree Thu 09-Oct-14 19:05:46

Thank you all for sharing your stories.

HugoBright20 Thu 09-Oct-14 19:54:54

Thank you all for your kind words on my guest post, and about my Hugo. To the other bereaved mummies, I'm so sorry for your losses.

I'm sorry to read of the tales of insensitivity. I'm committed to breaking the taboo about baby loss. We should feel able to talk openly about the babies we are so proud of and love deeply, and without fear of people saying silly things to us.

I've been blogging about Hugo and my grief at headspace-perspective.com

Love to you all xxxx

IamHelenaJustina Thu 09-Oct-14 20:15:11

I have two friends who both have daughters they will never see on earth again. To me those children are a name, a date and a picture BUT THEY ARE STILL PART OF MY CIRCLE and as the friend of their parents it is my job to remember that they existed. I mention their names in messages a couple of times a year at significant points and I remember them. I don't think that's enough really but not being in day to day contact with the parents that's all I feel able to do.

It is mumsnet and hearing what bereaved parents have to say on this site that has enabled me to do this little thing. I am 100% that if I had not read what I have here I would have thought it better not to mention them in case I upset the parents more. Better just to think about how they have gone on to have another child so the loss that one doesn't matter as much. I too would have said all the stupid hurtful things that people say.
Because of this site and what has been shared here, over the best part of a decade that I've posted, I know better.

Which is why posts like the Op's and the others on this thread are so important. You've done a good thing here today and helped the parents who are still to come and suffer the loss of a baby. Baby loss awareness week and talking about this shattering bereavement is important and will help the parents who follow you.

Thank you for sharing the stories of your beautiful children. I will remember both Hugos, Ivy and all the other babies this week.

TheBabyFacedAssassin Thu 09-Oct-14 20:16:16

Another bereaved mum checking in.

Katy is my first child. My story is slightly different in that we found out at our 20 week scan that Katy had a condition which was incompatible with life so we knew that we wouldn't be taking our baby home from the hospital.
I'm in Northern Ireland where termination of pregnancy even in the case of fatal foetal abnormality is illegal, and due to delays in diagnosis I missed the deadline for self referral for a termination in England. So I had no choice but to continue with the pregnancy. Katy was born sleeping when I was 35 weeks pregnant back in May this year.

Bereaved parents like us have so much to deal with never mind the fact that so many people are uncomfortable with baby loss. I love to talk about my daughter, for me it keeps her spirit alive. I agree 100% that the taboo needs to be broken.

Thank you all for sharing your stories.

MrsVamos Thu 09-Oct-14 20:48:41

Much love to all.

My second son would have been 11 now.

Born sleeping. I feel proud to be a Mummy who really does have an Angel.

I feel we should talk so much more openly about baby loss. When you are pregnant it is almost as if you are sheltered from it, until it happens.

Thank you so much for sharing your stories. xxx

fustybritches Thu 09-Oct-14 22:01:51

Thank you for this post thanks

Friends of mine are going through this, it is heartbreaking. You are all such brave, amazing parents flowers

AndHarry Thu 09-Oct-14 22:05:07

Thank you OP and others who have shared their stories about their babies. Just after I had DS a colleague I worked with sometimes had a stillborn baby. She took leave and came back to work around the same time as me. I didn't know what to say and was worried about saying the wrong thing so said nothing. That was several years ago and possibly causing her further hurt by not acknowledging her baby is something I'm sure I will always regret. Thanks to posts like yours, that will never happen again.

Isabeller Fri 10-Oct-14 00:21:49

Just sending love and a few tears xx

AngryBeaver Fri 10-Oct-14 00:27:24

People feel awkward.
I understand.
I felt desperately sad for the woman in my nct group who lost her daughter 2 days after I had delivered mine safely.
I cried and cried for her.
But I was scared to talk to her incase I said "the wrong thing".

When I lost my 2 nd daughter, Hope, I found that people distanced themselves from me.
I didn't mind. I was angry and picked apart even the most innocuous comment from a well meaning friend.

No one likes to talk about her now. They find it upsetting.
My mum can't hear it.
If I mention her name, she says "oh don't" and fills up.

A friend got me a heart plaque with the word HOPE in the middle.
It's in a special box in the cupboard. I do can't have it out because...well, it hurts to be reminded.

I think we all just do what we can to get through our lives as painlessly as possible.

Greyhound Fri 10-Oct-14 09:00:39

I'm so sorry about Hugo's death.

I lost four babies to miscarriage before my DS was born.

I mentioned my losses at my antenatal class and the response was embarrassment and awkward silence.

I think it's one of the main reasons I never really bonded with any of the other women there.

AugustRose Fri 10-Oct-14 10:02:38

Thank you Leigh for your post and I am sorry for the loss of precious Hugo. Baby loss is so close to my heart after losing my 4th baby Finlay five years ago.

My feelings over how people react are torn, looking back I know I distanced myself from the outside world but at the same time I am angry that those I thought would care, stood back. Some of the people closest to me now I hadn't known very long but they are the ones who stepped forward, asked my sons name and looked at his photos.

I understand that people can feel uncomfortable but it is nothing to how a greiving parent feels and all it takes is a small and simple acknowlegement that a baby has been born, that they existed.

I will be wearing my Babyloss Awareness badge this week and lighting my candle on the 15th at 7pm for the Wave of Light and ask you all to join in to celebrate they all too brief existence of our beautiful babies.

Thank you once again Leigh for being a proud mummy and sharing Hugo's story thanks

SpaghettiMeatballs Fri 10-Oct-14 10:03:08

I'm so sorry about Hugo's death.

My friend's baby died the same month my DD was born. I want to tell her I will think of him until the day I die and that I cry for her and him every time my DD has a birthday or does something for the first time because he should be here too. I wish with all my heart he was.

I'm frightened to tell her. I'm frightened she will think I'm rubbing her face in it and I'm insensitive. I'm frightened I will make her cry as I am now even typing this. I don't know her pain but I know what she has lost.

Please don't think there aren't women out there who don't feel the same about Hugo. We are just the cowards who are terrified of making it worse. Even that is an arrogance. How can I have the cheek to think I could add to her pain with anything I might say after what she has been through?

Perhaps I should woman up but I'm terrified I'll lose her friendship.

IamHelenaJustina Fri 10-Oct-14 16:13:34

Spaghetti - I am sure she would appreciate knowing you remember her baby. I am absolutely certain that she will not have forgotten how close in age your children should have been and I don't think you need to make that point to show her you remember. This week is a good opportunity actually - send her a message or call her and just say 'as it's baby loss awareness week I wanted to make a point of telling you I've never ever forgotten <<son's name>> and I never will'

evelynj Fri 10-Oct-14 16:57:31

That's a lovely idea iamhelena.

I'm so sorry for all your losses x

thewomaninwhite Fri 10-Oct-14 19:46:40

So sorry for the loss of your son Hugo. There are no wise words. I too have lost a child and it is impossible to describe. With love to you and remembering Hugo with you.

AngryBeaver Sat 11-Oct-14 02:23:42

Leigh, I'm dreadfully sorry. I was sure I had expressed my condolences for the loss of Hugo.
After reading my post again, I see I did not.
I certainly thought it.
My thoughts to you all who have felt this indescribable suffering.

Spaghetti, I also agree you should use the opportunity to tell your friend. You sound lovely. Be brave thanks

fackinell Sat 11-Oct-14 14:57:37

How very sad to hear that others have suffered too. I've lost 3 babies to miscarriage and the only thing I can imagine more painful would be to lose a baby when you could hold them and see what they look like, to kiss them and hold their tiny hands.

I'm now 43 and pretty much having to accept I'm probably never going to be a mother of a surviving child. People struggle to find what to say but I pretty much don't discuss it. The physical and emotion strain has come out in the form of panic attacks that I'm trying hard to deal with. My DP has a child with his ex and this can be exceptionally hard for me although I'd never let her see that. It isn't her fault.

Congratulations to all you other mummies who have gone on to have successful pregnancies. I know you will treasure your lost babies along with the ones that you can hold close. thanks

Homebird8 Sat 11-Oct-14 21:04:48

When we lost our first little boy at 16 weeks (total loss of amniotic fluid) nobody told me that my friend (who is the sort of friend that you can not be in touch with for years and then it's just the same) was even pregnant until they had to on her baby's due date. He was born 2 days from when our little one should have been. I look now at that little boy (a not so little 13 as of yesterday) and my second boy (a year younger almost to the day) together and in my eyes it is how it should have been.

My friends all know about my first DS, even friends I made a decade after he died. I'm not great at picking up cues that I'm innappropriate in my subject matter and throw snippets into conversations whether they like it or not. Turns out they like me enough to accept my conversational foibles and my family with all its delights and scars.

That taboo around talking about dead babies, and the living ones to the parents of those of us who are empty armed, needs to end. Thank you so much for your honest and open post. I'm sure you will make a difference.

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