Navigating the grief and heartbreak of losing a baby in any stage of pregnancy or in infancy
The loss of a baby, says Adelaide mum Annabel Bower, takes over every fibre of your being. Words like numbness, disbelief, shock and heartache offer only a meagre glimpse into what Annabel experienced after her fourth child, Miles, was stillborn in 2018.
One of the sad realities Annabel and, indeed, many women like her, face while navigating the grief and heartbreak of losing a baby in any stage of pregnancy or in infancy, is the heavy silence that often shrouds this loss.
In the moments and months after losing Miles, Annabel chose times of solitude to write about her experience, to make sense of what she was feeling, words that, in time, she started to craft into a project of solidarity, comfort and guidance for others going through what is such a deeply distressing time. This project became a heartfelt book of hope and of support; Miles Apart.
We talk to Annabel about her book and how her son Miles inspired her to support other parents facing similar situations of heartache after the loss of a baby.
Tell us about your family and life as a mum.
I was one of the first in my friendship group to have a baby; now a decade and five babies later I’m pretty much the last one to still be in the sleepless, nappy stage! That said, I love newborns so I’m certainly not complaining.
Since having children I’ve worked from home, running my catering company ‘Food By Annabel’. After baby number three I shifted the focus to food styling, photography and recipe writing for brands.
We have a very loud and busy household to say the least! My eldest children Alfie (10) and Ted (9), are at an age where their sports and hobbies are really starting to take shape. Alfie is an excellent cook and can whip up scrambled eggs and bacon for the family and Ted is footy mad. Bonnie (4) is a tomboy in a tutu and baby Tom just goes with the flow; there’s little choice when you’re the youngest in a big family.
Miles, our little boy who was stillborn is also very much a part of our family. Ted always tells me off if I don’t include him in the headcount. He was diagnosed with a brain haemorrhage in utero and delivered at the end of 2018, almost exactly a year before Tom arrived.
How did you cope in the weeks and months after losing Miles?
The first few weeks and months after losing a baby are truly dreadful. Words like numbness, disbelief, shock and heartache come to mind, but these alone aren’t enough to describe how lonely and harrowing it feels. It’s a loss which takes over every fibre of your being. The saddest thing is that because it’s still not widely spoken of, you then question your response and wonder if perhaps, you’re overreacting or wallowing.
I wrote a lot to try to make sense of what I was feeling and threw myself into work. I was shocked by how many people came forward and shared their stories of miscarriage or stillbirth with me after we lost Miles, it made me realise that there is still a strong stigma attached to baby loss despite so many people going through it. It’s a topic people tend to speak of in hushed tones. It was something I knew really needed to change, we need to normalise the way we talk about miscarriage and stillbirth as suffering in silence just adds to your pain.
Why did you start writing Miles Apart, and what has that process been like for you?
I started writing Miles Apart as I felt that there was a desperate need for an honest, heartfelt book to help guide people through the intense grief which follows the loss of a baby at any stage of pregnancy. It’s a topic people can’t seem to turn their mind to and tend to avoid but that then robs families of support they desperately need.
I wrote it in the hope that those who haven’t lost a baby would also read it and gain a better understanding of the heartache baby loss brings. If we can change the way people respond to bereaved parents, then hopefully in the future they will be cared for with greater empathy and openness.
How do you hope Miles Apart will help grieving mothers and families impacted by baby loss?
I want grieving mothers to know that they are not alone, that their pain is valid and their response completely natural. It’s hard to believe at first that you will ever laugh and smile again, so I share my story to give other loss mother’s hope. It can feel like there’s a lot of pressure to get back to normal after you lose a baby, that there is an expectation that you will ‘get over it’, I want to reassure other mums that it is something you can move forward with, not something which you have to move on from or get over.
This may sound depressing to some but for me it meant accepting that grief and joy can quite happily co-exist. Life does go on and allowing yourself to feel happy again doesn’t take anything away from the baby you lost.
Annabel’s advice on how to best support a grieving mother
- Support is vital, as baby loss can feel incredibly lonely
- Say something – call, text, send a card to acknowledge their pain and the baby they’ve lost
- Let them know there’s no expiration date on your support
- Drop off a meal or some groceries, even if you just pop them on the front step
- Don’t be scared of mentioning their baby, asking his or her name, or when the due date would have been
- Don’t begin any sentence with ‘at least’ or look for silver linings; sometimes there is no positive and people need to be allowed to sit with their sorrow
- Remember grief takes time, in many cases, a lifetime
- Send a gift, a candle, a journal, a donation to a baby loss charity. Giving a gift to a mum who’s baby sadly couldn’t stay acknowledges her motherhood
- Keep being there for your friend, even if at first they don’t respond or even if you don’t know what to say. Nothing feels worse than someone acting as though your baby never existed.
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Images: Urban Safari