TW: Stillbirth, miscarriage
In NZ we don’t collect data on the number of miscarriages, but it’s estimated that between 13,000 to 15,000 women experience a miscarriage in NZ every year. That means for every four pregnancies, one ends in miscarriage.
Then, there are the babies who are stillborn – who die during pregnancy or in utero after the 20th week of pregnancy. Each year about one in every 200 pregnancies ends in stillbirth.
For something that is not uncommon, it seems bizarre – and sometimes quite cruel – that it’s a topic we so rarely talk about and remains as something quite taboo. It means many women – and men – go through the experience feeling completely alone, often unaware that so many other Kiwis (perhaps even their closest friends!) know just how heart-wrenching their pain is.
Here, in a story we originally ran in October 2020, we spoke to 27 families who had lost a baby. These bereaved kiwi mother’s so kindly and generously shared the things that friends, family and work colleagues did that meant the most.
We thank the wonderful teams at Sands who helped with this story. If you have experienced a loss, you can reach out to the team at Sands. It’s also a great time to support Sands and the incredibly important work they do.
And now, our mothers share their advice:
“Remembering the dates and just a simple acknowledgement goes along way… Mentioning their name and just listening to whatever we want to say about our story of our baby.”
– Kristy Hobbs
“My son’s name being spoken by hospital staff, family and friends was invaluable at such an incredibly difficult time. I also had a lovely care package sent to me from a friend which was so uplifting. It included new pyjamas, calming essential oils and a mother and son ornament to pop by my sons ashes.”
– Candace Trewhitt
“I love it when people say our son’s name and talk about him. It is an acknowledgement that he is our son and he made us his mummy and daddy even though he was born sleeping. It reminds us that he is so loved by so many people and that makes us really proud.”
– Tash Kingsbury
“Ice creations by Ash did castings of my baby girl Liliana’s hands and feet. They also do Ash memorial charms – a lasting memorial.”
– Jessica Spence
“We had a lot of food dropped off, meals, baking etc. I had a c-section so help around the house was great. I was in shock and lost so not having to worry about that was really helpful.”
– Staci Leigh Offwood
“The organisation Heartfelt took beautiful photos of our little boy and us together. I didn’t know if I’d want to look back at photos at the time. But now these photos are so special to me and I cherish being able to pull them up and remember.”
– Emily Tosio
“Huggable hearts – a material heart that is the weight of your baby. My midwife got us one made and it helped me and also my daughter who was eight. Also, Heartfelt for our photos and Karlena from Sands rung me every week checking on me and I am so grateful for these services as sometimes it take someone you don’t know who has gone though the same as you to open up to and share things that don’t make sense to other people. Also the NICU unit were amazing to us help us every step of the way forever grateful to everyone who helped us with Harper.”
– Tami Hem
“Coming up eight years for my twins who have separate birth dates. The one thing I cherish is my loved ones sharing in each anniversary and saying their names. At the time, because there was so much trauma it was a few weeks that went by and things had ‘calmed’ down. I had a couple of friends that would visit and get me out of my pjs, help with my 17 month and would try and get me to go for a walk. I treasure that the most.”
– Samantha Hall
“I have a tattoo of my sons feet and I love when people ask about it and him. Or even just mention his name.”
– Sammy Monrad
“We lost our little girl eight weeks ago and we didn’t really receive any support. Just the usual flowers and cards. To be honest I would rather the hundreds of dollars which was spent on flowers to go to a charity or something, but we really appreciated the gestures. We didn’t know about any options for casting or stuff like that so we only got a piece of cardboard with her hand and foot prints on.
It would have been nice to get help with meals and stuff but we didn’t even get fed on our 26 hour stay at the hospital until we had to ask for some food at 9pm and were told that they would try find some leftovers for us, then told us they’d make sure to bring us some breakfast but never did. I was glad that people respected our space though and didn’t insist on visiting and having conversations before I was ready.”
– Zanne Maria Farrow
“Remembering dates and speaking their names. Bereaved families never forget. So when people avoid acknowledging they existed it really adds to the pain, no matter how long it has been.”
– Mikaela Anderson
“My kids’ primary school sent meals for a week – it was both a great support and a source of stress because we have kids with food allergies.”
– Karen Prisco
“The local Plunket group, whom I had never met, dropped off a box of food that they usually give out to new mums. The fact that they recognised me in that category meant so much. Huggable Hearts went above and beyond to create a gorgeous heart using the best bits of a special outfit for our baby girl.
Life Castings painstakingly created castings of Ivy’s tiny hands and feet. So much effort went into them to ensure they didn’t crumble when being filed down. One of the best things anyone can do is to acknowledge your baby’s existence and ask about them. Our baby may have been stillborn, but she was STILL born like anyone else’s. ????”
– Rach Buckingham
“We found amazing support from friends dropping off food, offering to help with other children and things like petrol vouchers.”
– Krissy Trigg
“Hubby and I are only six weeks deep but have been incredibly blessed by our friends and whanau since baby passed away just shy of 22 weeks in the womb.
My friends sent us a weeks worth of beautiful care package of meals + desserts from Angel Delivery! Kids Korowai have been incred. Hiria made our baby a korowai within a day which is no small feat. I wanted to gift my midwife a korowai also after having baby and Hiria made it happen! We were gifted some beautiful oils and Kawakawa balm from Be + Humble The best advice we’ve received is to grieve how we need to and to not compare to anyone else’s journey. Grief (and everything else that it comes with – shame, guilt etc) is raw and deep and painful and to not shy away from identifying what you’re feeling, cry it out – do what you need to, BUT identify it, sit with it and experience it! Then when you’re ready, head up! Go and experience the miracle of creation. Go to the beach, put your feet in the sand, feel the cold water and listen to the waves crashing!! It’s epic! It’s been incredibly healing for us! Watch A feel good show. Schitt’s Creek was recommended fo us and oh my Lordy – all emotions in this show – hilarious, tear jerker and sooooo engaging! Easy feel good, no brain capacity or energy required.”
– Kahu Iupati
“I had a friend who lived in another town from me and spent over $100 on a Countdown delivery that was filled with yummy food and alcohol. It was so thoughtful. It’s made me realise that what I remember the most following our loss, alongside the hurtful comments, is actually the moments of thoughtful actions too, they are so important.”
– Rebecca Clarke
“The most amazing thing we received at the time was baby cards rather than sympathy cards. We got so many flowers it was awful.”
– Laura Hurley
“We had wonderful friends who came over and helped get our house ready for all of the friends and family who came to see our baby at home. They cooked, cleaned, brought food and cooked so that we could spend every minute possible with our little Axl. Most of all though, our friends and family talked about how beautiful Axl was, noticed his long feet, and talked about him as they would talk about any newborn baby.”
– Amy Jane
“We had amazing support. We had workmates pruning trees and washing windows; other people brought over baking, chocolate, meals etc. We got lovely big gift baskets with lots of goodies, vouchers for lunches out when we felt up to it. We got a delivery from Angel Delivery. On the non food side, a star named after her from Star Register.com. We had a number of plants and flower arrangements; remembrance jewellery from KJdesigns Handstamped Jewellery with her name on it, and vouchers for similar. A Marlee + Jo book for miscarriage and stillbirth to write down all her details.”
– Melissa Haylock
“Friends and family that were just there, to hoover, to do the washing, to make a cuppa tea, to talk or not to talk, to get out the house with. As years go on, mentioning their name and acknowledging them in Christmas cards etc.”
– Tanya Lorraine Harrison
“People who asked me to tell them about my son ????”
– Nicola Bright
“Best thing someone said to me was… ‘I don’t know what what to say’ because it gave me the chance to say what I needed and expected, instead of some people who did and still to this day either ignored me or avoided me. And people using my son’s name . Some people gave me a necklace or bracelet which is priceless. And those that turned up to my house and just sat with me and either said nothing or acted normal was amazing. This very few special people whom remembered and said thinking of you during Mother’s Day, Christmas and year anniversaries were amazing and those very few who let me talk about my son, let me share his story and say his name Chase.”
– Aleesha Waistell
“Helpful things were being informed and having information, ie through brochures etc, being referred to support groups and counselling services and being given information around miscarriage by medical professionals. I also found just having a hug and the little gift bags from Sands and Miscarriage Matters to be helpful. Being given cards of condolences and people sending a message to check in and see how I am without pestering me or just popping in.”
“A kind and helpful gesture by our friends and work colleagues was to organise a ready-to-eat meal delivery schedule through Take Them A Meal and they asked for cardboard/foil packaging so we didn’t have to clean and return dishes. I was grateful for the people who said anything to acknowledge our daughter even if it was simply, ‘I don’t know what to say.’ And I really struggled with the people who crossed the street to avoid me. I get that it’s a hard topic to for people to talk about. It’s harder to feel alone while you’re going through it though.”
– Alexandra Pickles
“The things that I found really helpful were: How respectful all the hospital staff were, they treated our wee girl with so much love & care and gave us space when needed, cried with us when we needed someone to lean on. The photos & castings which were taken while we were in hospital are something we will treasure forever & not something we would have thought to organise ourselves.
The people who thought to bring us groceries were a life saver, it was a long time before I felt up to facing people in the supermarket so bringing things like washing powder, sugar, coffee etc was so thoughtful. Anyone who acknowledged our loss and our daughter, even just saying ‘I don’t know what to say’ because we know there are no words that will ever make it better.”
– Vicki Ingram
“Most of the hospital staff were amazing with us as was my midwife. The funeral directors went above and beyond coming to the hospital each night to pick my son up and returning him to us the next morning as I wasn’t able to sleep or recover with him their overnight but i also wasn’t ready to fully let him go either. Someone arranged for Heartfelt to come and take photos which I now treasure and my partner’s family fully cleaned the house before we got home. It’s nearly been five years since my son was stillborn and helpful things are people remembering his birthday and mentioning his name.”
– Jess Shaw
“The friend who said, ‘I’m no good at this feelings stuff, but it (the miscarriage) really sucks.’ Then gave me a big hug.”
– Shannon Creighton
You can support the wonderful folks at Sands by visiting www.sands.org.nz