In a perfect world we wouldn’t need to have Baby Loss Awareness Week. But the world isn’t perfect. Baby Loss Awareness Week will be marked across the UK next week with over 40 charities coming together. It’s an opportunity to mark the lives of babies lost during or soon after pregnancy, and to raise awareness of what people who have lost a baby might have be facing.
Mairi Rodgers is a BBC broadcaster working in Inverness, and in 2016 she lost a daughter, Annie, when she was five months pregnant. Bravely she has used her skills as a broadcaster to create a moving and uplifting documentary telling her story. ‘Labour of Love’ will be broadcast on BBC Alba on Tuesday evening at 9pm, and I can’t urge you strongly enough to set your tellybox recorder and make a date with your sofa.
I can’t imagine the pain of losing a baby, but as a mother of two I know that a baby doesn’t have to have taken a breath to be loved. The 3rd of December is a date that always resonates with me; not because it’s a birthday or an anniversary, but because it’s the date my first baby was due. From the moment we saw the faint blue line appearing on the pregnancy test we were parents. At that moment we became a family.
Although she was no larger than a peanut, we already had hopes for our child. What would she look like? Who would she become? That Christmas would be our baby’s first, with extra presents under the tree and a tiny stocking to fill. As my pregnancy progressed we shared our news and acquired tiny clothes and a cot, a pram and a car seat. The physical evidence that a baby was coming was obvious from my growing body and from the paraphernalia gathering in our flat. But those physical changes were nothing to how we felt emotionally.
Mairi Rodgers didn’t have the slightest inkling that anything was amiss when she went for her five month scan one Friday, but the news was devastating. After an agonising weekend wait and an induced labour, she and husband Lachlan held their daughter. They took photographs and prints of her impossibly tiny hands and feet. A prayer was said, and Annie’s name was entered into Raigmore’s book of remembrance. In time Mairi papered over the emotional cracks and went back to work.
Creating ‘Labour of Love’ has, she explained, helped her to heal, and also to talk more openly about her loss. The film takes her back to the room in which she and Lachlan spent those precious few hours with Annie before handing her into the care of the staff. She talks to midwives and the hospital chaplain, and to the funeral director who arranged for Annie to be cremated. And she talks to others who have lost babies, to find out how they have coped. Eventually she opens up to a psychotherapist, whose advice has helped lighten the burden of the grief that she carries.
Mairi is still grieving– there won’t be a day when she doesn’t think about Annie. But it gets easier, and just knowing that she is not alone in her experiences helps enormously. Annie’s memory box, given to her by the charity Simba, is precious.
The documentary has given her strength to talk more openly about her daughter, and she now feels closer to her. And she also feels more able to help others in a similar situation.
Miscarriage and stillbirth happen every day. They are part of life’s cycle. But pretending a loss didn’t happen or belittling it with suggestions that a woman can ‘try again’ doesn’t help. Why should the loss of a baby – at whatever stage of gestation – be kept quiet? Certainly, it helps to spare the feelings of friends, neighbours or colleagues who might not know what to say, but is it right for a grieving couple to carry that burden themselves? Not in Mairi’s book.
If you know someone in this situation – whether their loss was last month, last year or a decade or more ago, offer them the opportunity to remember their baby. And if you have lost your own baby, give yourself permission to examine your feelings and to grieve. But follow Mairi’s example and give yourself permission to take pleasure from life again too. And whatever you do, watch and share this wonderful documentary.
Labour of Love is on BBC Alba at 9pm on Tuesday 9th October 2018.