With Easter approaching later in March - a traditionally family-centred time - we know that many in our community will be remembering their baby with an especial sense of sadness and longing.
Different holidays hold different memories and meanings for all of us and we encourage you to reach out to us for support if you're finding the Easter holiday a difficult time to cope.
On Easter Sunday we'll be offering our Facebook community the opportunity to contribute an Easter message of hope or healing to those whose hearts are also aching. We'd love you to participate on the day. Follow us @Sands.Australia and look out for our post on Easter Sunday - 1 April.
We wish you a peaceful holiday and hope that you are able to find the time and quiet space you need for memory and reflection.
2018 is a year of growth and change for Sands as we consolidate our services across Australia under the governance of one national body with the aim of supporting more bereaved parents in the vulnerable weeks, months and sometimes years after the death of their baby.
This opportunity for growth is good news for newly bereaved parents across Australia, who will benefit from increased access to information and support services.
However, this necessary growth is underpinned by some very sobering facts.
This year alone more than 1700 more families will experience a stillbirth and over 700 more will suffer the death of their baby within the first few weeks of life.
Add to this the statistic that 1 in 4 known pregnancies end in miscarriage and the potential loss of life and hope expands to tens of thousands more.
Offering comfort and understanding to those who've experienced this unfathomable loss is at the heart of everything we do at Sands.
For immediate information or support, please visit our website or reach out to our Volunteer Parent Supporters by phone, email or live chat. Visit sands.org.au/support.
The Sands Team
We received a record-breaking number of calls to our National Support Line during the first month of 2018 with our volunteer parent supporters providing support to 412 bereaved parents from across Australia - when and where they needed it most.
This is an increase from 144 callers during the same period in 2017, indicating that more bereaved parents than ever are trusting Sands to provide the understanding and support they need.
On behalf of the whole Sands team we thank you for entrusting our compassionate volunteer parent supporters with your story.
Why reach out to us? We believe our peer-to-peer support services to be unique and different to any support offered by friends, family or other professional counselling services.
As bereaved parents who have themselves experienced the death of a baby, our volunteer parent supporters can listen and understand in a way that ensures you feel understood, no matter how complicated or confused your feelings and emotions may seem.
No matter what gestation your loss occurred, no matter how long ago, we're here to help.
Please call 1300 072 637 at any time of the day or night to speak to someone who understands what you're going through.
Chloe Douglas has been a support group facilitator with Sands since 2016. Alongside fellow volunteer parent supporter, Jo Castille-Roberts, Chloe has helped facilitate a face-to-face local support group for bereaved parents in Warragul, West Gippsland - just over 100km southeast of Melbourne.
While currently taking a break from her volunteer duties to focus on looking after her sons, 2-year-old Harry and 6-month-old Albert, Chloe is no less passionate about the value of Sands support groups in helping bereaved parents feel less alone in their grief.
"As a group facilitator, our role is really to open up a safe space for bereaved parents to talk about their baby who died," Chloe explains.
"No one is under any pressure to tell their story, but many parents do. Sometimes it can really feel like such a weight lifted to simply say their baby's name aloud when there might be few other opportunities for them to do so."
"Others might find the simple act of attending the group meeting - just sitting in the room surrounded by people who understand what they're going through - enough. It's different for everyone."
Sands' face-to-face local support group meetings are not formulaic in nature, rather each group takes its lead from the participants themselves.
"Each month we have different people coming along. Some are regulars and some will be there for the first time so what we talk about and what we do changes in response to what those parents are needing at the time," Chloe says.
"We always like to start the meeting off by lighting a candle to honour all the babies whose memories parents have brought into the room."
This includes Chloe's own baby daughter, Sophia, who died as a consequence of her extreme premature birth after Chloe suffered a placental abruption, 19 weeks into her pregnancy in 2014.
Like all Sands volunteer parent supporters, Chloe is able to draw upon her lived experience of pregnancy and infant loss to relate to what other bereaved parents might be going through.
"Sometimes people will ask how I felt, or what I did in a similar situation. To take on this role I've had to become very comfortable talking about my experience and I'm happy to share if I think it will be helpful to what a parent is going through."
In fact, there's much Chloe herself takes home from each support meeting.
"There's the very satisfying sense that I've played a part in supporting others, which is what brought me to Sands," she explains, "but having this commitment also carves out a time once every month that I get to be Sophia's mum - where I can dedicate some time outside of my day-to-day life to think about her and remember her."
Sands' Warragul local support group is one of 7 face-to-face groups that meet throughout metropolitan and regional Victoria and one of 20 that operate Australia-wide.
As well as being a fellow bereaved parent, each group facilitator undertakes training in grief and bereavement support.
Attendance is on an as-needs, casual basis. There is no requirement to commit to attending in the long term.
"If you're thinking about going to a support group meeting but feel unsure, give it a go," advises Chloe. "Everyone feels unsure at the beginning but there's comfort in knowing you're not alone."
For information on local support group locations and details on how to attend visit sands.org.au/local-group-support
Consistently high rates of miscarriage, stillbirth and newborn death in Australia mean that Sands' mission to ensure bereaved parents have access to best practice bereavement care, accurate information and ongoing support is more crucial than ever.
Sands is a not-for-profit organisation that relies on the generous financial support of our passionate community to offer services that make a real difference to the lives of families grieving the death of a beloved baby.
By joining our 2018 Regular Giving Campaign, with a gift of just $10 a month, you will help fund our 24/7 National Support Line and online support services, ensuring bereaved parents always have someone to turn to, even in the darkest of hours.
Will you help us show parents they're not alone by setting up a regular donation to Sands from your nominated bank account or credit card?
For more information on our Regular Giving Campaign visit sands.org.au/donate or call our fundraising team on 03 8652 5020.
Improving bereavement care for parents whose babies have died is a key priority for Sands. We were therefore delighted to welcome a passionate and dedicated group of medical professionals to our recent forum in Victoria to help us identify what more can be done to provide better access to bereavement information and support for parents in hospitals and other healthcare settings.
The group included midwives, GPs, obstetricians, social workers and funeral home directors, with each participant asked to think about the opportunities and challenges they faced in ensuring bereaved parents get the timely, compassionate and comprehensive care they need to cope with their shock, distress and grief.
60% of parents who responded to our Sands Bereaved Parents Survey in 2016 said they felt cared for and supported by hospital staff after the death of their baby, recognising that there are already many great doctors, midwives and allied health professionals providing compassionate, informative and trustworthy bereavement care to parents at the time they need it most.
However, we want to work towards a future where excellent bereavement care is the rule instead of the exception in maternity hospitals right across Australia.
General Manager Improving Bereavement Care, Anita Guyett, said the participation of health professionals is crucial in any discussion of how to improve outcomes for bereaved parents.
"We need insight into and feedback about some of the challenges medical staff face in implementing suggestions for improvement so that we can work with them and support them in providing the best possible care in every circumstance," she said.
"Along with the memory of their baby, parents also carry memories of how they were cared for or spoken to at their time of greatest vulnerability and distress," Anita said.
"It's crucial that we get this care right the first time as those memories last forever".
Feedback from the Professionals Advisory Forum and from previously held Parent Forums will inform Sands' work in developing best practice principles for bereavement care to be used in healthcare settings across Australia.