Having a stillborn baby is one of the most devastating experiences a family can go through, but even while the grief is still at its rawest there are practicalities to face.
If the baby is 24 weeks or older, then the death must be registered. Many parents also choose to have a funeral service – but how do they dress their babies for their final resting place when conventional clothes don’t fit?
‘We feared a blanket would come unwrapped’
Sandra Van Meurs and her husband were told at their 20-week scan their son Luke had abnormalities that were going to be incompatible with survival outside of the womb.
At about 23 weeks, after waiting for more information, Sandra was told about the potential risks to her own health and the increased chance of maternal death as a result of pregnancy difficulties.
It was then the couple, from Liskeard in Cornwall, made the decision to have a medical termination.
“I had already done some reading and realised how important it was for me to carry to the point of viability – the point at which a baby can be registered,” Sandra explains.
“I also knew this would mean having to plan a funeral but felt this process would help us all as a family to grieve and it would also mean our extended family and friends could acknowledge our son’s existence.”
Sandra had a feticide injection to stop the baby’s heartbeat at about 26 weeks, which was followed two days later by an induced labour.
“I knew our son was going to be small and it then dawned on me we were not going to be able to dress him like we had done with our other children.
“I can’t really explain why this upset me so much. I knew he could be wrapped in a blanket but that did not feel like it was enough.”
As a result of the abnormalities they were told about, Sandra was concerned about Luke’s appearance for her other children and feared a blanket “could come unwrapped”.
This is when she was told by a friend about Little Things & Co, a charity that provides specialist baby clothing to give to parents in Sandra’s situation.
Sandra received a selection of clothing from the “empathic and supportive” charity, as well as some crocheted hats and a blanket from a friend.
“It was only when I sat looking at all the outfits I realised just how important it was for me to be able to dress my baby and how without being able to do that, it would have made a devastating experience even worse,” Sandra adds.
Luke, who was stillborn on 5 May, was dressed in a yellow pocket – a little pouch that’s a bit like a baby sleeping bag.
Sandra says having a special outfit was her way of “still connecting with his body in some way”.
“Although we have photos and other keepsakes, I have realised how vital the physical connection is for me in helping with my grief and healing.”
- In the UK about 1 in 225 pregnancies ends in stillbirth, which is formally defined as when a baby dies in the womb after 24 weeks
- Failure of the placenta is the most common reason for a baby to be stillborn – about half of such deaths are for this reason
- In England and Wales, it’s a legal requirement to register a stillbirth within 42 days. In Scotland it’s 21 days, while a stillbirth doesn’t have to be registered in Northern Ireland
- The body of any baby that dies after 24 weeks must be buried or cremated. It’s up to the parents to decide whether to hold a service
‘I was so grateful to find an outfit for my son’
Sarah Kelly says the day she found out her son George had died and would be stillborn was the worst day of her life.
The midwife informed Sarah and her husband Colin that they could have a funeral for their son.
“At this point, it became so real that George would never come home with us and grow old as we imagined from the day I found out I was pregnant.
After about two weeks, Sarah and Colin, from Seaham in County Durham, “plucked up the courage” to start organising George’s funeral – “something I never thought I would be doing,” Sarah says.
This is when she discovered Little Things & Co.
“I contacted them directly and within a few moments [founder] LeighAnne responded with such empathy and understanding, which alone was very comforting. I explained how old my son was and that I didn’t know if she would have anything to fit my son,” Sarah says.
Two bundles containing a blanket and an outfit were sent to the couple. They also received a handbook full of quotes written by bereaved parents which gave Sarah reassurance that she wasn’t alone in her suffering.
“I was so grateful I had found a lovely outfit for my son so he would be dressed for his funeral,” she says.
“I will never forget what Little Things & Co did for myself, my husband and precious son George Kelly.”
‘Every baby matters’
Founder of Little Things & Co LeighAnne Wright believes every baby “deserves to be dressed with dignity”.
As well as giving clothes to couples, the Plymouth-based charity also supplies 31 hospitals in the UK. Since the charity was founded in 2013, LeighAnne says it has tried to “alleviate the feelings of helplessness and frustration”.
“When a baby dies, parents can have so much taken from their control. By giving them options to dress their child you hand back even just a little of that control.
“Little Things & Co want to ensure no child goes to their resting place without the option of suitable clothing, because every baby matters.”
Other charities that provide a similar service include Dover-based Cherished Gowns UK – which supplies burial gowns made from donated wedding dresses and hand-knitted outfits made by volunteers – and Daddy’s With Angels.
As well as offering knitting pattern guides for people to make handmade outfits for “angel babies”, this Northampton-based charity offers a “safe place” for male family members to open up following the loss of a child.
If you have been affected by stillbirth, the following organisations might be able to help: