The support services we offer for bereaved parents are provided entirely by volunteers, who each draw upon their own lived experience of miscarriage, stillbirth or newborn death to help others experiencing the grief of pregnancy or infant loss feel heard.
Sands volunteers undertake training in bereavement support before stepping into support roles on our national phone line, email or live chat services or in our local face-to-face support groups.
We also have volunteers engaged in helping with administration, fundraising, and event management.
Whilst they come from all walks of life and hail from right across Australia, what our volunteers have in common is a passion for ensuring that no bereaved parent feels alone, isolated, or misunderstood in the grief they feel for their baby who died.
Meet our volunteers
Emma Porter is one of our newest Volunteer Parent Supporters. When bereaved parents call our national support phone line, Emma is one of around 30 volunteers who together provide 24/7 support and understanding to callers who’ve experienced the death of a baby.
Alongside her phone support role, Emma is a working mother of three. She has Manny (4) and Milla (2) at home. Emma’s baby son, Conor was stillborn in 2012. Emma said that even her background in midwifery could not have prepared her for Conor’s unexpected death, 24 weeks into her first pregnancy.
“Conor would have been five this year. He would have been starting school. Growing up. We still feel his absence in our family deeply, and each of us has built a different relationship with him and his memory over time, including his younger brother and sister.”
Emma says that volunteering with Sands as a Parent Supporter has given her the chance to connect with Conor’s memory in a new way. “I consider the time I spent talking to other bereaved parents as time spent with Connor, away from the busyness of everyday life.”
“It also gives me an opportunity to give back to the community where I found understanding and support. There’s still such a stigma around talking about stillborn babies and it means a lot to me to be able to provide a safe and understanding space over the phone for parents to talk about their babies.”
Although only a few months into her role at Sands, Emma says that the most important thing she’s learned from the experience is how important it is to be present with someone in their grief.
“Allowing people to remember their babies is so important. Parent Supporters are trained to listen to, reflect and acknowledge all kinds of stories and all kinds of grief. When you call our 1300 line, our focus is on you and your experience, whatever that may be.”
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."
After an absence of over 15 years in New South Wales, in late 2017 Sands began to re-establish a presence in the state in response to a growing need for bereavement support services.
With 465 stillbirths, 196 newborn deaths and an estimated 32,000 miscarriages occurring each year, NSW has the highest number of perinatal deaths of any state or territory in Australia – more than the ACT, NT, TAS, SA & WA put together.
As a result of the time, energy and hard work of a small group of passionate volunteers, Sands now operates three face-to-face support groups in the state – in Rozelle, Lalor Park and in Kariong on the central coast.
Parents who’ve experienced the death of a baby can attend Sands local support groups confident in the knowledge that they offer a safe, inclusive and non-judgemental space in which to meet others who are walking a similar road.
Volunteer parent supporters Catherine Gregory, Louise Gavidi and Danielle Jenkins co-facilitate our Rozelle group in the inner-west of Sydney.
“We hope that by attending our group bereaved parents will be able to find support, understanding and perhaps, hope for the future,” Catherine explains.
On the last Wednesday of each month the facilitators endeavour to create a friendly, informal and welcoming space for parents at the Hannaford Community Centre.
“There’s always someone there to greet you at the door, offer you a cup of tea or coffee, and generally help put you at ease,” says Catherine.
Having a lived experience of pregnancy or infant loss themselves means the group facilitators understand that for many parents wishing to attend, walking into a room of strangers at such a painful and vulnerable time is not an easy thought.
“I vividly remember sitting in the car outside the first Sands meeting I attended not even knowing myself if I had the courage to go in, but I’m really glad I did,” she said.
“Twenty one years on I’m still in contact with some of the girls I met all that time ago.”
Attending the Rozelle support group is therefore not a formal or intimidating affair.
“We don’t expect anything of you when you come along. The group can be anything you want it to be. At the end of the day it’s just a safe space to tell your story or simply to listen to others and draw strength from their experience.”
“You can go away from the evening knowing that someone else is feeling like you’re feeling. Feeling heard and understood for the first time can be such a powerful thing,” Catherine continues.
Being able to listen, honour and respect the experiences of other bereaved parents is something Catherine herself finds immensely rewarding about her role.
“Providing parents with the time and space to reflect and to remember their baby is so important. It can be hard to see the world continue to turn when your life has fallen apart. We open the door, if only for a couple of hours, to allow your baby the space to exist.”
Volunteering with Sands also provides Catherine with a special opportunity to remember her own two daughters who were stillborn – Molly in 1997 and Poppy in 1998.
“To be able to use the sadness of our own experience as a positive way of doing some good for others? I’m glad I’m able to do that as others once did for me.”
“I really encourage parents to come along and join us.”