Please note there is a trigger possibility as this post talks about the impact of baby loss.
by Holly Bremner
As communications professionals it would be safe to say we all hold lists of awareness weeks that are appropriate for our organisations to put their name and voices to, and we see the importance of ensuring these days, weeks or even months are marked appropriately.
To date, there have been a handful that have held personal significance for me. But this year, there is one awareness week that holds more personal significance than I could have ever imagined – Baby Loss Awareness Week (9th – 15th October 2021).
Baby loss isn’t really a subject that comes up in daily conversation – it is such a deeply personal experience I totally understand why it is not openly spoken about. However, I know from my own experiences of baby loss, the lack of conversation about the subject can make you feel truly isolated and alone when it happens to you. Which is why SANDS (the charity for stillbirth and neonatal death) established this week 19 years ago – to open up the conversation and form a community of support.
Everyone’s experience of this situation is very different. But, I wanted to share some of my story as part of Baby Loss Awareness Week, to create awareness for the possible impact this trauma can have, in the hope it might help any family that is sadly having to face this, and maybe provide some guidance to those who are trying to offer support.
I have lost three babies and have never been fortunate enough to have a live birth- that is one of the hardest sentences I have ever written. In fact, it really is the hardest thing I have ever faced in my life.
I actually didn’t know I had lost my first baby at the time, as I didn’t realise I was pregnant. It was only when I actually had a confirmed pregnancy later that year, and then subsequently lost that baby, that I realised what I had experienced a few months previously was a miscarriage.
I don’t think it would be a revelation to anyone to say that realising you are losing your baby brings with it a tidal wave of emotions – disbelief, sadness, anger, and those emotions certainly don’t dissipate as the physical pain subsides.
I remember a friend telling me after I joined that awful club that to lose your baby, no matter what stage of pregnancy, is a pain like no other – and I have never agreed with her more.
Putting it into words
I was overjoyed to find out I was pregnant and friends and family knew quite early. Looking back, I actually think them knowing I was pregnant made it easier to tell them what had happened – I didn’t have to start with “so, I found out I was pregnant a few months ago and…”
My employer also knew. We were starting the return to the office post-lockdown and I had to do a risk assessment. But even though they knew, one of the hardest things for me was actually telling them what was happening. Writing an email felt very different to writing a text message and seeing the words in front of me, on the screen ,and reading, clearly that I was now, no longer expecting was the first time I actually acknowledged what was really happening to us.
It took me two hours to compose the message. For someone who writes for a living I just couldn’t find the words. My husband offered to tell them, but I was insistent it came from me. To this day I don’t know why and I now look back and wish I had just let him do it.
I knew I worked for a good employer, but hadn’t really appreciated how good until then. Their response to my message was to just take my time and come back when I was ready – and I knew they were genuine.
Just because you are a Head of Communications doesn’t mean you are superhuman!
I was Head of Communications at Rutland County Council when I lost my babies. I have reflected on why I struggled to write the message to my bosses, who I had a brilliant relationship with, and I think it was actually tied up with how I expected a Head of Comms to be – infallible, unwavering in a crisis.
But, I was now living our own crisis and I was definitely wavering. I think this has been one of the biggest revelations for me – I am human, shocker! But above all, no matter what your role, what your expectations of yourself actually are, being human means, you feel and, in this situation, feelings were all I had. This has genuinely changed me, and I actually think for the better.
Having space to ride the rollercoaster
I ended up taking four weeks off work. I have never been one for being sick and this was certainly the longest I had ever been off. I was signed off by the Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit after the scan to confirm the baby was no longer there. At the time I didn’t think I would need that long, but I did.
For me, the emotional rollercoaster caused by the grief, mixed with the sudden and dramatic change in hormones, brought with it a tiredness I had never experienced before.
When I returned to work, I did so on a phased return, as advised by my doctor. Again, I thought I would be fine to just go straight back to it. But the tiredness lingered, and although I was feeling emotionally stronger, by midday each day, after a morning of Teams calls, I was glad to log off and go back to sleep for a few hours. This lasted for the first few weeks of me being back at work, then one day just went – like it had never been an issue!
Managing my message
Returning to work was something I thought about a lot. Working for a local authority at the time I came into contact with lots of people each day, and I knew many of them had been asking where I was and would be asking me if I was feeling better when I returned.
I didn’t want to have to face that question. My chief executive asked me what I wanted to do, how I wanted to come back to work, and I made the decision to manage my own message (as any good communicator does in a crisis). I worked with him, HR and two colleagues to ensure my wider colleagues knew why I had been off in advance of me returning. This wasn’t about a big announcement, just quiet conversations with the right people to ensure word got out to where it needed to.
Looking back now, it was one of the best decisions I made. It stopped people asking me awkward questions, but also had a very positive and unintended consequence – it suddenly opened up the conversation about baby loss and as a result made me realise I was not alone in my experience. Within a week of being back at work, I had had a number of colleagues reach out to me to share their experiences. Until then I had felt quite isolated and it was so helpful to know that what I was feeling and experiencing was totally normal and to be expected.
Sadness was replaced with loneliness
Real loneliness is something I had never truly experienced before my loss. I had never previously known what it was like to be surrounded by people, but feel totally alone.
For me, this feeling came from a number of places – I no longer had my little friend with me who I had spent the previous months talking to and sharing moments with. People who hadn’t experienced baby loss also didn’t know what to say to me and, to be honest, I didn’t really know what to say to them. I had lots of people come forward and message me to say they were there if I wanted to talk, but I found myself thanking them and telling them I was ok – I really didn’t know how to articulate how and what I was really feeling.
My cousin had recently experienced a number of bereavements and suggested a book called “Its ok not to be ok” by Megan Divine. The book was about grief and I am really glad she recommended it. It stopped me feeling guilty for being unable to manage other people’s emotions and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is experiencing grief, no matter what the cause.
Love and support meant the world
Although the sadness I felt was replaced with loneliness, once people started to share their experiences and, through that, I started to challenge the misplaced guilt I was experiencing, I suddenly realised I was surrounded by love and support. My friends and family were amazing, but something I hadn’t considered was how amazing my professional network would be.
Over the years I have got to know a lot of people in the comms industry, some of who I consider friends, others I have worked alongside or just met at conferences. Once word got out I was totally overwhelmed by the unexpected messages and flowers I received. If I didn’t thank you at the time, please know that I was and still am genuinely grateful for all the support.
But, for some people it is just too much – and that is ok
There were, of course, in both my personal and professional life those people that couldn’t cope with what had happened to me, which I totally understood. It’s not a nice thing to talk or even think about and, for some, it truly is easier to disengage and not even acknowledge it happened.
A constant reminder
When I was pregnant, I had obviously done a lot of Googling – prams, cots, tips and advice. I hadn’t considered however that this was all stored in my Cookies and when I finally felt like I wanted to be online again, I was bombarded with targeted messages for expectant parents. This was a real blow and it took me a few days to remember that I could control that by clearing my history and cookies.
Falling into a hole
I realised a few months after my loss that I was not in a good place. Initially, I convinced myself that I would never feel the same again and that was ok. But it wasn’t, I didn’t like being in a black hole and I needed some help to get out of it. I contacted a counsellor a friend recommended and she was brilliant.
Therapy works differently for everyone, but her approach worked – it was focused on processing the emotions rather than talking about what had happened and how I felt about it and in a just a few sessions I was out of my hole. Don’t get me wrong, I still felt sad about what had happened, and still do, but could focus on life after our loss, which was important.
So, that is my story. If you are going through this, your experience may be very different to mine, so take your own journey and approach this on your own terms.
If you are trying to support someone, whether a mother or a father who has lost their baby, take your steer from them – ask them what they need from you. It makes it easier to navigate and, for me, gave me back control.
If you are an employer, why not consider signing the Baby Loss Pledge this Baby Loss Awareness Week to create a supportive work environment that meets the Miscarriage Associations standards to support parents back to work positively after baby loss.
Holly Bremner is head of communications at CITB. You can say hello on Twitter at @Holly_HBcomms
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