We are privileged to be able to share some of our clients’ stories, below:
Lyn & Tom
“We are now able to see that surviving stillbirth has given us a surety that we can survive anything”
This is the story of Lyn, Tom and Pip.
Our journey to Petals was a long one. Having tried to start a family for 4 painful years, we eventually went through IVF and fell pregnant. We spent the next few months excitedly preparing for the birth of our first child as expectant parents do; buying everything we needed, decorating the nursery and attending birthing classes. We hadn’t wanted to know the sex of our baby – and so we affectionately referred to my bump as ‘Pip’. It was a healthy, uneventful pregnancy and as the time edged closer to my due date I felt ready, knowing we were as prepared as we could be for a natural and happy experience.
Unfortunately, it was not to be. Having laboured through the night we were finally asked to attend The Rosie early in the morning. Laden down with bags for our planned water birth, we entered one of the birthing suites where, for a time, our world stopped turning. Pip’s heart had stopped beating, and life as we knew it shattered into a million tiny pieces.
When we heard those words I think we both expected some kind of dramatic action to ensue, an urgent rush to save our baby and all the dreams we’d held so dear. But there was nothing – of course, that they could do. We had fallen through a crack in the universe into an alternative reality that no-one ever contemplates in advance, that no one can prepare you for and there we might have stayed if it weren’t for the incredible support and guiding lights we were blessed with in the Bereavement team at The Rosie and, later, Petals.
Both birth – and death – are life changing experiences and in the case of stillbirth, it is one that magnifies the other, throwing the pain into sharp relief against the ‘usual’ backdrop of a new arrival.
Once the formalities were taken care of, we were sent home empty handed. Just the two of us where there should have been three, in the car where so many memories are normally made of that first journey home.
In the weeks that followed, through a fog of grief, we continued to give thanks for the support that we received – by the NHS services in our area and of course our devastated friends and family; but there was so much that we knew we would still have to face. A whole ‘new normal’ to navigate and no idea how to do so. Until we sought help from Petals.
Neither of us had ever seen a counsellor before – but nor had we ever faced a trauma like this and so it felt right to reach out for guidance; Karen was our guardian angel. She led us gently, with huge empathy and compassion towards a new path out of our all-encompassing grief and towards a future; whilst a changed and very different to the one we were expecting – a future all the same.
The process wasn’t easy, but a deep shock coupled with deep grief was never going to be a walk in the park. What we needed – and found in Karen was someone we could both unburden to. A neutral, calm and knowledgeable person who deftly steered us through the emotional turmoil just by talking, asking questions and offering us a space to speak completely openly without worry or concern for her emotional welfare. A relationship that is impossible to find within your personal circle – particularly with such an emotive subject – but one that is invaluable in a counsellor.
We attended sessions mostly together as a couple, where we were able to talk through our experiences and feelings, which were by their nature, so different. There were aspects and subjects that I am sure we never would have tackled without the gift of her guidance and safe space to do so.
Sometimes, I attended alone which was equally helpful. Karen had a way of untangling a web of emotions and thoughts, bringing calm where there had been confusion often with just a simple turn of phrase; they were lightbulb moments which I then took away with me (and still hold onto now!)
Petals gave us the tools that we needed to begin the long journey towards a positive future. The experience of losing Pip has taught us so much. It has, of course, changed our lives forever but we are now able to see that surviving stillbirth has given us a surety that we can survive anything. Many people go through their whole lives with a fear of change, of the unknown, even of grief and yet we were given a gift in Pip that has shown us we don’t need to be afraid. There are people to guide you, and show you how to live again – people who show you that you are not alone – and those people we found in Petals.
We’ll be forever grateful; more than words can say, for him and for them.
Sonia & Dan
“Our counsellor helped us to find strength in each other”
This is the story of Sonia, Dan and Lyra.
There’s something uniquely isolating about your baby dying. Death is such a taboo in our society and the death of a child is the natural order turned on its head. People care, but don’t know how to show it. Everyone is terrified of making it worse (which they really can’t). But I don’t care about such things any more. A leaky-eyed conversation about someone you love is to be cherished There’s no shame in showing the world that you loved them.
So here’s my story. I’m writing it partly because it feels good to be strong enough to share it, but also because raising awareness and prompting discussion is important.
At the beginning of 2018 I was 45, the mother of 3-year-old Dylan, and had sailed through my pregnancy. Then three days before my planned c-section, I woke in the morning to realise that the baby wasn’t moving. I didn’t want my partner to worry, so let him go off to work as normal, then ate a mountain of jam on toast & lay down, waiting for the baby to move. Nothing. Weird! Usually the flip flopping would have started immediately – this was a kicky baby! I rang the Rosie & they said to go in straight away. I can remember clear as day my slow saunter to the car – to me this just meant the c-section happening a few days early. No bad thing! I called my husband Dan as I entered the Rosie saying he really didn’t need to come yet, and not to worry or make a fuss. The doctors would sort it. I cannot thank him enough for ignoring my words.
I remember the shaking hands of the trainee midwife, as she tried again and again to find a heartbeat. Me telling Dan, brightly, when he arrived, ‘Oh, it’s okay, they’re just struggling to find a heartbeat. It’ll be fine – she’s a trainee – I don’t think she’s very good!’
But she was right. No heartbeat. Which meant it was over.
After it all came crashing down, I am still blown away by the kindness of the NHS staff. You hear such stories, but to personally experience such genuine heartfelt compassion was incredible. The Rosie Bereavement Team talked us through every aspect of what was to come, both while we were in the hospital and afterwards, and I’ll be forever grateful to them for their support.
People know so little about what actually happens when a baby is stillborn. After we found out our baby was dead, we went home, as you do! After copious Google searches, we found the words to tell our son what had happened. The directness and simplicity of language that is required to explain death to a 3-year old is shocking. Your mind screams don’t talk about our baby like this! But euphemisms protect adults, not children. And what did Dylan say at the news? He looked around the room and his eyes lit upon something tempting on a table nearby. ‘Chocolate cake?!’ Pure delight! No news can compete with the unbridled joy of chocolate cake, let’s face it. Now, looking back on that moment, it feels symbolic. Just seconds after the toughest words I’ve ever said, I was laughing. Laughing at my funny, gorgeous boy. It’s impossible to stay sad all the time when you have kids, no matter your circumstances. Dylan has been a huge part of our healing.
That night, at home, I had to decide whether or not to stick with the c-section or be induced and give birth ‘naturally’. I thought about it all night and finally knew that I didn’t want the doctors to cut me open and deal with our ‘problem’. Terrified as I was, I delivered our daughter naturally and am so proud that I managed it.
Dylan’s little sister Lyra Rose Attwell was born on 19th January 2018. She was 5lb 2oz, had dark hair like her big brother and long legs like her dad (the kicky ones).
All labours are unique, all painful, mostly joyful. Mine was joyful too, believe it or not. I treasure the memory of the time we spent with our daughter. But then we left the delivery ward, and walked past a proud new dad, striding in with his car seat. We returned home, full of love, but with a cardboard ‘memory box’ in our arms.
And then there’s the other part of our story. The Bereavement team at the Rosie warned us of this on the day we left the hospital. There are two sides to this struggle: our own struggle to accept what’s happened, to re-orientate ourselves again in this new shattered existence. But the other struggle is with everyone else. The silence, the awkwardness. Who knows, who doesn’t? Who is it safe to talk to about this? This most personal and private agony that consumes your every thought. It’s exhausting being with other people because a large part of your brain is taken up with your own horrors. You don’t bring up it up because you don’t want to depress the people around you, who don’t bring it up because they’re worried of upsetting you, and you get caught in this ridiculous cycle of not saying anything! It’s incredibly unhelpful. And then there are those precious conversations with your true friends, who’ve made the time to be with you and talk with you … but you just can’t open up in that moment. It’s jammed too tightly inside & you can’t express a damned thing.
Enter Petals. Sue, our counsellor is one of the few people in our lives who really gets how we feel. She’s helped me find some words to navigate those awkward conversations, and to just forgive myself when I can’t do it. She guided us through the funeral, the post mortem, the lengthy investigations and ‘what if?’ questions that followed. Sue helped us to find strength in each other, to find the things that made us happy and to focus on doing them more. Build up the joy around the pain and it helps to lessen the pain over time. Make new happy memories, because even though the shadow of the person who isn’t there will always follow you, happy memories are what keep us going.
Six months later, I felt I ‘should’ return to work, but was scared. After such a public loss, returning felt huge. I felt notorious. But my line manager and HR put great thought into how to ease my return. They asked me what information they should share with my team beforehand, allowed me a phased return, and didn’t give me work with hard deadlines. I was able to pick up jobs from my colleagues to help them out, rather than having my own specific projects to juggle. That helped me gain confidence as it increased slowly to a full workload.
What to say if you know someone whose baby has died? If you’re glad to see them back at work, tell them so! I’ll always remember the brave soul who was the first to approach my desk & say that. It was good to hear. Ask the baby’s name. Use it. To others the idea of a baby is easily dismissed (it has no character, no lived experience, has made no relationships) but to those parents it was a person with a network of family connections, a huge part of their future. Find a quiet time to talk to them. Ask specific questions and move on to the bigger, more open ones. For me, the most impossible conversations opened with ‘How are you?’ There’s just no way to answer that question when you’re holding on by your fingernails. Specific questions are far easier: ‘How are you settling back into work?’ or ‘How are you doing physically?’ (labour is traumatic for the body, whether the baby lived or not!). ‘How’s your partner/child/mum dealing with things?’, then maybe, ‘… and how are you, really?’ or ‘Do you want to talk?’
Be brave. Believe me, that person will be grateful that you asked! I am so so grateful to those amazing friends and colleagues who were fluent enough in grief to talk fully with me. You know who you are, ladies!
Alyx & Jonny
“I honestly don’t know how parents cope without this kind of psychological support”
This is the story of Alyx, Jonny, and Skye.
Our daughter, Skye, was born dead at full term.
Just those words alone make many people incredibly uncomfortable. They may make you feel uncomfortable now, reading this. But try to imagine how uncomfortable they make my husband and me. And then imagine what memories we have. What we’ve seen, what we’ve felt, what we’ve gone through.
The shame, guilt, anger, grief, sadness, fear, panic and devastation that all come with losing a child are utterly overwhelming. Most people choose not to imagine what it would be like. And why would you? Why let yourself dwell on something so horrific when it is so unlikely to happen to you?
As it turns out, 1 in 200 pregnancies ends in a stillbirth. 1 in 4 end in miscarriage. In 2017 – when our daughter was stillborn – 4,822 babies were either stillborn or died within 28 days of being born. I had no idea of this before I fell pregnant, and to be honest if I had I probably would’ve thought “those poor women”. Not me. It won’t happen to me.
But we aren’t just a statistic. We went to hospital one night after a healthy pregnancy and were told her heart had stopped beating. We saw it on the screen. A perfect circle with four chambers, completely still. She had been such an active baby, and loved kicking me in the ribs. 36 hours later I gave birth to our dead child. We are still trying to find out why.
I knew straight away, instinctively, that her death had changed us. I knew that it was like an earthquake in terms of all of our beliefs, our dreams, and where life would take us. In a single moment, entire continents had shifted. And we had fallen down the cracks, plunged into darkness, in searing pain and unable to see a way out.
But what I didn’t know was just how complicated it would be. How it wasn’t just intense grief and anger that I’d need to deal with, but also trauma. How I would feel so ashamed, as a woman, that almost 3 years later I still struggle to look people in the eye. How I didn’t know whether I still ‘counted’ as a mother. How I didn’t anticipate friends disappearing, their silence only making my shame sink deeper. How we completely shut out the world and everyone in it so that they couldn’t hurt us with thoughtless comments and looks of pity. How hardly anyone asked me ‘normal’ questions like how the birth was, what she looked like, why we’d chosen that name. How the sound of mud hitting the top of her bamboo coffin would haunt me. How I would now look at pregnant women or parents with babies filled with anger and jealousy. How I would develop an intense disgust and mistrust of my own body. How deeply depressed I would become when subsequent fertility treatments kept failing. How intensely anxious our next pregnancy would make us. And how I couldn’t go anywhere busy, loud, or in any way demanding social interaction without panicking.
But one of the main reasons I’m sitting here writing this blog is Petals. Our bereavement midwife referred us to them immediately after Skye was born and we received a phone call from Karen – Petals’ founder and lead counsellor – within 3 days.
My husband and I went to most of our counselling sessions at Petals together. At first the time was spent mostly going over what happened and wading through the fog of emotions we were suddenly completely lost in. Understanding how differently each of us was feeling. Eventually, we were able to recognise the trauma we’d experienced and the impact that was having on us.
Over time, Karen helped us to process that trauma. Going back over traumatic memories in fine detail is like reliving it all over again. It’s incredibly distressing and painful. But it was necessary for us to be able to become unstuck from those dark places.
Because there is no ‘getting over’ your child’s death: what there is instead is a way of carrying them with you for the rest of your life; of channelling the emotions you feel into your new life in a more manageable way. In my case, that has eventually meant a career change and a complete reprioritisation of how I spend my time. My family is and always will be my absolute priority, and I am totally uncompromising about that now.
We know that we would not be where we are now without Petals’ help. I honestly don’t know how parents cope without this kind of psychological support. And while I wouldn’t say I’ve worked it all out yet, there is a big difference in my mental health between those early days and weeks, and now. I know that I have more of the tools I need to cope on a day to day basis. Skye is with me constantly, but she inspires me, drives me forward, and makes me appreciate every single second with the people I love. I don’t know how I would be able to do any of that without the support we had from Petals.
Oh and by the way – she had blonde hair, blue eyes, her Dad’s nose, and long legs with my wonky toes. Her beautiful little brother looks a lot like her.
Alyx Elliott is now Director of Strategy at Petals. You can follow her @alyxpetals
Sharon & Matt
“The counselling that Petals provides is unique. The counsellors have the professional skills to be able to help process all of the information in your head, without being worried about what you say.”
This is the story of Sharon, Matt, Miles, Elias, Leo, and Esmé
Petals gives you an opportunity to talk honestly and openly, without having to protect anyone from the details that you so often do with friends and family. Petals counsellors understand how to help you through the hardest and saddest pregnancy and baby loss experiences. You will find a way through these difficult times of grief with their support.
If you’d asked either of us how many children we thought we might have, 6 would never have been the answer either of us gave! However, we have indeed had 5 baby boys and 1 baby girl! We’ve said goodbye to 2 babies before birth (Elias and Esmé) and 2 after birth (Miles and Leo), as well as having 2 sons that live at home with us now (Felix and Toby). Just summarising all their little lives in just a few sentences like that, doesn’t do them justice. To explain the trauma and heartache of what you go through in trying to create your family, is almost indescribable.
Petals didn’t exist when we lost our first little boy who was just 10 days old. So it wasn’t until our third baby, our second loss, that Sharon made the call to Petals wondering if counselling would be helpful. Let me (Sharon) tell you, that it will help you! I was sceptical, but I knew that our friends and family didn’t know what to say anymore. One loss was manageable, but we worked through it together. A second loss, that’s tougher. People REALLY don’t know what to say. Losing Elias felt very different to the loss of Miles, plus we had a 1 year old to manage too. We couldn’t grieve in the same way. Then a third loss, a fourth loss…. People will cross the road to avoid you. People won’t say anything – but it would be so much better if they at least acknowledged what you’re going through. Babyloss is isolating enough, without people staying quiet. Babies aren’t meant to die, and certainly not 4! It’s not just ‘one of those things’. It doesn’t ‘happen for a reason’. It’s really sad, and tragic, and somehow we needed to work through all of this and carry on with our lives.
The counselling that Petals provides is unique. The counsellors have the professional skills to be able to help process all of the information in your head, without being worried about what you say. They can handle it! Whilst still being lovely, and understanding, they don’t have the emotional ties that come with friendships that you have. We wouldn’t have managed without our support network, and some friends were particularly amazing and did their best to support us – but ultimately, no one can comprehend what you’re going through. You find yourself protecting them from the full details, choosing what you say and how you say it. Some can cope with more information than others, but they can’t help you process all the trauma and grief in the same way that the Petals counsellors can. It can sometimes feel really hard to open up and be completely honest – but it’s important and helpful to do it, in a confidential space, without judgement or opinion.
We are more than 10 years on now, since we began the journey to have our family. We’ve learnt so much about our strength of character, the way we manage situations, the way others handle our situation – and how we manage them! There are surprises along the way – you gain new friends and you sadly lose others. Friendships will change – with friends and family. They have to – you’re not the same person once you experience these life changing events. These little people give you new priorities, shape how you see the future, and how you live your life, and for that we’re thankful.
If you’re reading this because you’ve lost a baby, or because you are connected to someone who has, you (or they) will get through this difficult time. You need support along the way, and people to show that they care – not just say it. But you will find your way through it, and find a ’new normal’ with life after loss. It does take time, lots of tears, lots of processing (and a lot of cake if you’re Sharon!) but contact someone at Petals to help you begin to work through everything, either by yourself, or as a couple. It’s really important to keep talking, and it will help!