Baby Loss Awareness Week took place last week. Sadly, one in four mums will suffer miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss at some stage.
I am one of them.
My second daughter, Grace, was diagnosed with a serious heart defect at my 20 week scan and she passed away only twenty four hours after birth. There are no words to describe the grief and emotions my husband and I experienced and continue to experience as a result of losing our baby.
Our friends and family have been incredibly supportive and I am grateful every day to them for the love they give us.
I recently started to wonder how it must be to be the friend of someone who has suffered such a loss.
We saw a grief counsellor after we lost Grace. He said something about other people's reactions to baby loss that I will never forget.
He said, 'Firstly, at least one person will tell you not to worry because you can have another baby. Secondly, there will be at least one friend you will never hear from again because they don't know what to say. And finally, there will be one shining star - someone you didn't really consider to be a close friend but who will go above and beyond in their support for you.'
He was absolutely right on all three counts.
If you have a friend who is grieving the loss of a baby and you are finding it difficult to know how to show your support, here are some things I have learned that might help.
1) Just be there.
There is really nothing you can say or do to ease your friend's pain. Just being there to listen, hug and talk about the loss will be a big help.
My friends came to see me almost every day for the first few months after we lost Grace and just knowing that they were there was very comforting.
There have been a couple of friends I haven't heard from since Grace died. I understand that it must be difficult to know what to say and do. Perhaps they found it easier to say nothing at all. It seemed unfair that after losing my baby I lost friends too, but I have tried my hardest to understand.
Honestly, there is nothing anyone can say or do. Just being there is more than enough.
2) Talk about the baby
Sometimes it may seem kinder to talk about something other than the loss because you don't want to upset your friend further. Believe me; your friend will want to talk about her loss.
Look at scan pictures and pictures of the baby with her and any other memories she has (such as a lock of hair, hand and foot prints and hospital tags). She may have nothing tangible at all to remember her pregnancy by; perhaps you could help her create a memory book or other memento.
Grace's life was so short, I want her to be remembered and I want to show people the photos and memories we had of her. By talking about her and sharing our memories it enables us to keep her alive.
3) Don't mention trying again.
After losing a child, the last thing your friend will want to think about is trying again.
One person remarked (shortly after Grace's death and as the counsellor had predicted) that I shouldn't' worry because I could have another baby.
While I'm sure she was just trying to help, having another baby was not something I was ready to think about for a long time after losing Grace. And even now, three years on when I have a third baby, he will never be a substitute or replacement for Grace.
4) Don't forget
Your friend will never forget her loss and will grieve for her child every single day.
While it's very important to be there in the days and weeks following the loss it is equally as important to be there for the long term.
Your friend will need your support forever. If she has days when she seems down, odd or not herself, always remember that she is still grieving and may need a shoulder to cry on (however long has passed since her loss).
She may well change from the person she was before, try to understand and accept the changes. I know that I am no longer the same person I was before my pregnancy with Grace.
I have a friend who mentions Grace on every Christmas card she sends us. She writes our names and then underneath she adds 'also remembering baby Grace at this time of year'. It means so much to me to know that she too is remembering Grace at times of the year when her absence from our family is even more palpable.
5) Support her through future pregnancies.
Subsequent pregnancies will be difficult for your friend. There are a mixture of emotions that she will feel - guilt, worry, excitement, happiness and sadness.
I found my third pregnancy very difficult at the beginning - I felt guilty for 'moving on' and terrified that something bad would happen again.
It's also important to acknowledge the baby that she lost. At the beginning of my third pregnancy, a friend asked me how it felt to be having a second baby. I had to point out that it was actually my third baby. This obviously caused her some embarrassment. I'm sure she just didn't want to upset me my mentioning my second pregnancy.
I carried Grace for 8 months. And I spent twenty four hours with her before she left. It's ok to acknowledge that - it won't upset me. On the contrary, talking about Grace and her place in our family is very important to me.
6) Remember the anniversary.
It will mean a great deal to your friend if you always remember the anniversary of her child's birth and death. Sending her a card or even just a text on the day will let her know that you are remembering too.
7) Help her to celebrate her child's life.
You can ask her if she would like any help arranging the funeral or, if she is thinking of fundraising in memory of her child, offer to help. I have a friend who threw a fundraising party to help us with our fundraising efforts in memory of Grace. This meant so much to me as did the support of all of my friends that came along to and helped out at the fundraising events we organised.
8) Don't forget her partner
He will be feeling the loss just as much. When you see him, give him a hug and ask him how he is coping. He will appreciate knowing that you are there for him as well as for your friend.
9) Life goes on
If you are pregnant or become pregnant after your friend's loss - don't hide it from her. Share the experience with her as you would with your other friends. She won't want to feel left out or that you are treating her differently.
A few weeks after I lost Grace, a friend announced she was pregnant. I'm not going to say it was easy to hear her news, because it wasn't. But I was genuinely happy for her and grateful that she shared her good news and pregnancy milestones with me.
I hope these tips are helpful if you are trying to support a friend through baby loss. I understand how difficult it must be, seeing someone you love suffer so much pain and grief. You can be the shining star that she needs and she will always be grateful for that.