Supporting Grieving Parents at Christmas

No matter what time of year a baby dies, or how long ago it happened, Christmas often looms large for bereaved parents as an intimidating trial to be endured rather than a happy holiday to enjoy.

Sands CEO Andre Carvalho said that the lead up to Christmas often heightens feelings of sadness, longing, and loneliness for parents who’ve experienced miscarriage, stillbirth or newborn death as it’s traditionally a time of family, celebration and reflection.

“One of the cruelties of pregnancy and infant loss is that the list of actual losses parents experience continue to grow long after the death of their baby,” Mr Carvalho said.

“The loss of innocence, the loss of hope for the future, the inability to relax and enjoy family occasions as they once did.”

At this time of year, many parents in Sands’ community report that the weight of those losses can make them feel like there’s an invisible barrier between them and the rest of the world.

NSW mother Emma Porter, whose baby son Conor was stillborn in 2012, said that Christmas time could be a very lonely time for grieving parents.

“Sometimes it’s the littlest things that serve as the biggest reminders of what you have lost,” she said.

“Decisions like whether to include your baby’s name on family Christmas cards suddenly become loaded because you worry about how they’ll be received by others.”

Helping bereaved parents find a meaningful way to acknowledge and keep their baby present during this difficult time can ease the pain of the season.

“Acknowledging a baby’s place in the family is sometimes the best Christmas present a bereaved parent can receive,” said Ms Porter.

Ms Porter’s two other children, 4yo Manni and 2yo Milla, are beginning to find their own way of including their older brother in their Christmas excitement and celebrations.

“We have a specially-chosen ornament on our tree with Conor’s name on it. Sometimes we buy a gift for a child in need who would be Conor’s age and sometimes we make a Christmas donation in his memory.”

Since Conor’s death, Ms Porter has become a Volunteer Parent Supporter for Sands, answering calls on the National Support Line from bereaved parents across Australia.

“Sands peer-to-peer support model means that every time you call the National Support Line you speak to a parent who themselves has experienced a miscarriage, stillbirth or newborn death,” Ms Porter said.

“We understand what they’re going through.”

This Christmas the many volunteers and staff of Sands Australia remember those families whose babies have died, and wish them a peaceful few weeks ahead.