Infant loss: A friend’s perspective

“Charlie was born on August 11, 2009. He was our third beautiful son. Our life was perfect, complete. Charlie came home to meet his big brothers on August 12. We spent the most precious 24 hours of our lives together. Our 'perfection' came to a very sudden and unexpected end when Charlie stopped breathing at home on Thursday, August 13. Despite our desperate attempts to resuscitate him, tests, scans, tubes, drugs and prayers from hundreds of people around the world; Charlie died in our arms two days later on the pediatric Intensive care ward in the Leeds General Infirmary,” Davina Mortimer said.

There have been many times that I have been asked to write or talk about the story behind The Little Star, and I have always felt the need to start with words from Charlie’s parents. You see, The Little Star doesn’t tell my story, it doesn’t share my experience and it doesn’t lay open the pain of my loss for everyone to see.  I vividly remember cradling my daughter to my chest, when she was just five days old, with tears streaming down my face. At that point I just couldn’t possibly imagine what Davina and Steve had been through. I couldn’t comprehend never holding my little girl again and being left with the “what ifs” of a life that would never be lived.

I have always been in awe of the way that Stephen and Davina have turned such a heartbreaking tragedy into an opportunity to help others. Their friends and family have worked extremely hard to raise money for the Charlie Mortimer Fund that was established in 2012. At the time of Charlie’s death, his parents struggled to find resources to support their elder boys Harry and Adam. The Little Star is my attempt to keep Charlie’s memory alive, raise money for the Charlie Mortimer fund and support families who have to face the daily reality that their little one has died.

As I mentioned earlier, this is not really my story to tell. I am one of the friends watching from the sidelines, grieving with people that I care for, while acknowledging that I’ll never truly understand their loss. Davina has told me many stories about how those around her have handled Charlie’s death. She’s explained how she has had to realise that everyone deals with grief in a different way, at a different pace. At times she has struggled to deal with the actions of others and once described a scene where someone she knew crossed over the road to avoid her, obviously not knowing what to say. While writing this book I have also heard other health care professionals and social workers describe the responses of well meaning friends and family and how their words have caused much unintended hurt. Sometimes when we are unsure what to say we can end up saying something that does more harm than good.

The Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity (Sands) have produced a helpful booklet “For Family and Friends” which gives the following advice when supporting a bereaved parent.

“Here are some examples of what to avoid: However well meant, anything that is intended to reassure bereaved parents is likely to be unhelpful.

  • Avoid saying anything that implies that a baby is replaceable. For example, “you are young, you can always have another baby,” or, “At least one of the twins survived.” Each baby is an individual, and having another now or in the future cannot possibly compensate for the baby who died.
  • Unless you too have a baby who died around the time of birth, avoid saying, “I know how you feel.”
  • Avoid saying anything religious, such as, “The baby is with God now,” or, “God has sent this to test you,” or, “God loves your child so much that He wants your baby to be with Him,” unless you are absolutely certain that the parents share your beliefs. Even if they do, remember that their faith may have been shaken by their baby’s death and comments such as these may add to their pain and distress.
  • Any sentence that begins with “At least…” is likely to be unhelpful; for example, “At least you already have a child.”
  • Other statements that are intended to be comforting such as, “You will get over it soon”, or, “It was probably for the best” are also likely to be unhelpful and distressing, even if the outlook for the baby would have been poor if he or she had arrived.”

If you, like me, are trying to support a friend through one of the most difficult experiences they will ever face, then I hope these words have been helpful.

One of the most precious gifts that Davina and Stephen have given me is the valuable lesson found in these words:

“When someone is going through a storm, your silent presence is more powerful than a million empty words.”

Thema Davis

Kay Moorby, author of “The Little Star”, currently resides in Sheffield, UK. With a background in primary education, Moorby was deputy head teacher before shifting her focus to becoming a self-employed writer. “The Little Star” is her first writing project and is in aid of the Charlie Mortimer fund, an organization that helps bereaved families. Moorby is happily married with two children.