Start a Conversation about Baby Loss

Since the death of my baby son Hugo earlier this year I have been overwhelmed with love, kindness and support from family, friends, strangers I have met and new friends I have met online.

Hugo and I enjoying a cuddle

Hugo and I enjoying a cuddle

Very few of these lovely people were able to meet Hugo. My baby was born 16 weeks early and spent the 35 days of his life in a neonatal intensive care unit on a ventilator.

However, all of these lovely people know exactly how much Hugo means to me. They say his name, listen patiently to all the stories I have to tell about his spirited and mischievous character, and look at the many photos I have of my gorgeous son. They admire him, and agree that he was a wonderful baby.

For those few minutes, I feel my face light up and I feel like any other proud new mum showing off my amazing new baby. For those few minutes, I am able to forget that I am a mother bereaved. For those few precious minutes, I treasure the feeling of what it was like to feel happy, and full of hope.

Sadly, not everyone feels able to listen to a mother talk about her dead baby. Our culture has a fear of death. It is not a subject that is talked about openly. Death, grief and bereavement are all taboo topics.

Recently, a lady told me the main topic of my blog – dealing with the loss of my baby – is a ‘conversation stopper’. The lady was pleasant enough and I am sure she didn’t intend to be hurtful or insensitive. Like a number of people I have met in the months since Hugo died, she just didn’t know what to say.

While that lady was the only person to have explicitly said that my son’s death is a conversation stopper, I have felt it on other occasions. I can see it in their eyes, and in their body language. I can see they would like the ground to swallow them up, or to have an urgent appointment elsewhere. Anything other than having to talk to the bereaved mother.

The bereaved, whomever they have lost, suffer enough without also feeling like a social leper.

Cheeky Hugo, kicking away and grabbing his wires.

Cheeky Hugo, kicking away and grabbing his wires.

If you are one of those who is stumped for something to say when talking to someone who has been bereaved, a really simple thing to do is just ask to be told the name of the person they have lost. Start a conversation.

I love saying Hugo’s name. I love that name. It suits him perfectly – it means ‘bright in mind and spirit’, and he really lived up to it. I love talking about all the things he got up to. I love talking about how proud I am of him. I love talking about how much I love him.

If you are someone who is worried about causing further upset to a bereaved mother by talking about their baby, please don’t be. A bereaved mother has already endured the worst thing anyone can possibly imagine.

For me, not talking about my baby causes more hurt than talking about them.

I know that if everything had gone ‘to plan’, those same people who find my grief uncomfortable would be likely to be cooing at Hugo in his pram, asking me about his sleeping and feeding patterns, and whether he is meeting his developmental milestones.

Another lovely cuddle with Hugo

Me and Hugo enjoying a cuddle

I would do anything to be able to have Hugo in my arms, to be suffering sleepless nights and be changing endless pooey nappies.

It breaks my heart that I can’t. It breaks my heart that I have to enjoy my son through memories, photos and videos. It breaks my heart that one of the ways I am now able to show my love for Hugo is by tending to his grave.

The way that Hugo lives on is through my writing, and through talking about him.

I will never again lose my voice. I am now even more determined to talk about my special son. I will continue to talk about Hugo with those who love to hear about him and speak his name.

I will also find a way to talk about Hugo to those who would prefer to stop the conversation.

If, after reading this, you are still uncomfortable with hearing about dead babies think on this: your discomfort will last for a couple of minutes. My heartbreak will last for a lifetime.

46 responses to “Start a Conversation about Baby Loss

    • Hello Leigh. We never met as we arrived at St George’s a few days after you left but we’ve heard lots about you. Me and my wife lost our baby girl last year after she was born at 23+3 weeks. She was with us for seven precious days before she passed and not a day goes past when we don’t think about her. I know what you are feeling and I wanted to try to reassure you that you are strong enough to deal with what’s happened and it does become easier to handle. Time really is a great healer. We fell pregnant again towards the end of last year and once again we gave birth at 24 weeks (hence why we are now at St George’s). Our Son has a fight on his hands but is now 80 days old and defying all the odds. I guess what I wanted to say is that what you are feeling now is completely normal but things will get better, it just takes a lot of time. Keep strong and keep tight with those you love the most. Lots of love, Rob xxx

      • Hi Rob, thanks for your comment. I’m so sorry about your little girl. I’m sorry you have cause to be back at SGH (it’s a fantastic unit, but no parent would ever wish to have a baby in any NNU). I wish you and your wife all the very best. I know all to well how terrifying that incubator-side vigil can be. I’m so pleased your son is defying all the odds, long may that continue and you get to take him home. Everything is crossed for you. I think I know who has told you all about me, I’m coming back to SGH soon and am hoping to be able to catch up with her. Hopefully we can have a hug too. Lots of love, Leigh xxx

  1. Hi, I also lost my little girls Tara and Darcey at 24 weeks and 25 weeks. I can totally understand what you are talking about that some people feel uncomfortable with the topic but it helps bereaved parents to talk about these special little angels as they have made an impression on our life’s and remain part of it, ur pictures of little Hugo are beautiful, it reminds me so much of our stay in neonatal,xx

    • Hi Siobhan, I’m so sorry about Tara and Darcey. Beautiful names. Thank you for reading about Hugo. We will always remember our lost babies and celebrate how special they are to us xxx

  2. I’m completely heartbroken for you reading this post. The picture of you and Hugo having a cuddle is the most perfect example of a mother’s love. It is sad that so many people struggle to know what to say when all they need to do is ask you to talk about your son. Hugs Mrs H xxx

  3. My friend lost her baby oliver at 23 weeks. She said then that people she’d known all her life would cross the street instead of talking to her. Unfortunately, I lost Gabriel at 20 weeks , and twins Nathan and Luke at 14 weeks too. People still don’t know what to say, but , my opionion is say something.! Grieving parents want a chance to say their babies names and know that they’re not forgotten. Yes it’s painful but so is losing someone you love. XxX Hugo♥ Gabriel ♡Nathan ♡ Luke♡

    • Oh my goodness, Gabriel, Nathan, Luke, Oliver and Hugo. I’m so sorry for your losses, and for your friend’s losses too. Wish we could have a big hug. Absolutely, people should always say something, and we will never let our precious babies be forgotten xxx

  4. Amen! I had no idea about this in the “before” (the before my baby died) and I’m now working on getting this message out too! I had a friend who recently met the mother of one of the Sandy Hook victims and she told me because of reading about how I like to talk about my daughter, she made sure to mention this mother’s daughter by name and how much she and her son enjoy the playground named after her daughter. I read that comment about the conversation stopper on your previous post and I totally cringed! As if we dont already know how the air changes when we speak of our dead babies? We know no one is comfortable with death, let alone death of a child. But we have to live with that discomfort everyday. I’m glad you wrote this! It’s very well written and I’ll say whats been said above already- Hugo is such a great name! I love it. He is adorable and I”m so impressed how you were able to get such cute photos with him on the vent- I feel like I can really see what he looks like! (I have many vent photos of my daughter too, but I felt like she looked so different after taking her off, but then again, their faces change after they are gone)

    • I’m so sorry about your baby, and thanks so much for your comment. Mabel is such a beautiful name. Hugo is a great name, but I’m biased! I love looking at the photos and videos I have of Hugo and his gorgeous face. My one regret is not having a photo of his face after, without all the things stuck to it – it just didn’t feel right – but you’re right, their faces do change after. We bereaved mummies will always say our babies’ names, and we will never let them be forgotten xxx

  5. Leigh,

    I’ve followed your family’s story through My friend Louise. I’ve never commented before, but I had a dear friend lose both her children and she often references this quote. I never wanted to avoid the conversation, I simply didn’t want to make her sad. I think what you’ve written is a form of therapy and perhaps it’s the best kind. I love reading about your pride in being a mother, Hugo will never be forgotten because you keep his memory alive . The quote below is from Elizabeth Edwards, who lost her 18 yr son to a car crash.

    Blessings to you and your partner,

    Calla

    “If you know someone who has lost a child, and you’re afraid to mention
    them because you think you might make them sad by reminding them that
    they died–you’re not reminding them. They didn’t forget they died. What
    you’re reminding them of is that you remembered that they lived, and
    …that is a great gift.”

    • That is a beautiful quote Calla, I lost 4 babies in my second trimester and not a day goes by that you ever forget. Thankyou Leigh for writing about Hugo, I am sure all our beautiful children are playing in an amazing playground somewhere just waiting for us to come see them. Gerard, Millie, Dot and Thomas are watching over their little brother who we are so blessed to have with us now.

      • I am so sorry to hear about your losses. I’ve no doubt your babies are playing with Hugo. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment xxx

  6. Reblogged this on The Tangerine Owl Project and commented:
    Acknowledgement means so much – this is proof. It’s uncomfortable for some, but it can aid in healing for those who wish to share. Hugo inspires happiness in remembrance to his mother, even if accompanied by a bit of sadness, it is likely so much better than saying nothing.

  7. YES, yes, yes. My son was born at 24 weeks and died after 26 days in the NICU, so I feel a kinship to you – and I have some very similar pictures! I agree that the nicest thing people do after hearing that my son died is ask his name (Anderson) and then ask a kind follow up like how we chose it. We mamas want to say the names of the babies we lost because we chose perfect names for our little ones and we don’t get to say them everyday!

    • I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your little boy, Anderson. That’s such a cute name. You’re right, because our babies are gone we don’t get to speak their names often enough, so we fully appreciate each and every opportunity to say them. xxx

  8. I miscarried a baby girl at 21+6, I never got to hold her, I never got to name her. My heart was shattered for months, years and I noticed that people ‘moved on’ as they thought I should too.
    I’m so sorry you lost Hugo so early but I think you are brave in speaking out and keeping his memory alive. For me my little girl lives in my heart and always will

    • I’m so sorry for your loss. My heart breaks for you that you were not able to hold her or name her. We mummies will always remember our babies and keep their memories alive xxx

  9. Five years ago today my first born Bobby died. As I type this, I’m laying in bed next to my sleeping 4 month old daughter Sophie; feeling sad for what I have lost in Bobby but feeling thankful for what I have in Sophie.
    They never leave your mind.
    Yesterday I bought a balloon to place on Bobby’s grave – something I do every year – and was asked if the balloon was going on the floor or the table “it’s not, it’s for my sons grave” I said.
    To me, it’s normal, this is my life; but to others, to have someone stand infront of them and be so open and honest about something as simple as the reason for purchasing a balloon, can knock a stranger for six.
    Keep mentioning Hugos name, for although he is no longer alive in body, he lives through you in spirit.

    • I’m so sorry for your loss of Bobby. What a poignant day for you. A lot of people just don’t know how to deal with us, sadly, especially when making small talk with a stranger. Our babies live on through us. I’m working hard to keep Hugo’s spirit alive xxx

  10. Just read your article. My own little girl was stillborn. I always talk about her. I also made it clear from the moment we discovered she had died that I wanted to talk about her. However I have also found I dont always know what to say to others who have suffered loss. People all seem to react differently. I think more openess about death in general would really help. People also need to be clear about their own feelings and try not to get insulted if people accidently say the ‘wrong’ thing as that seems to lead to more people just avoiding the subject. X sorry for your loss x

    • Thank you for reading our story. I am so sorry to hear about your little girl. Talking about our babies is the way to keep them alive. You’re right, people do react differently. I think just a bit of kindness and understanding goes a long way in these situations, whomever a person has lost. xxx

  11. Thank you so much for sharing this article. I too lost a baby at 41 weeks after a very straightforward, uncomplicated labour and even the post mortem couldn’t tell us why? I miss my daughter every minute of the day and even though it was almost 4 years ago now, there is not an hour in the day when she is not on my mind. My family talk of her often and I also just love hearing her name. Hugo would be so proud of you :)
    Lots of love and healing xxx

    • I’m so sorry about your little girl. We mummies will always talk about our babies and they live on through us. Thank you for getting in touch. Lots of love xxx

  12. I miscarried our first child, Ellis, and due to staff not picking things up right when I first presented at hospital and turning me away, I nearly lost our second, Phoebe, and I was also very lucky too, as they watched me for complications, which never arrived. I have always spoken about Ellis, and I know what you mean about some people not being able to cope with it. I’m glad to find another mother with a voice to remember the lost. They are still our children regardless of if we held them or only held them for a short time. Keep talking. x

  13. Hi Leigh, so sorry to hear about your loss. The loss of a loved one is always hard but particularly when it is a baby or a child. As a perspective parent we have so many dreams and aspirations for that new life. You are right we are all very poor at knowing what to say to someone in your situation. Sometimes ‘hello’ just doesn’t seem to be enough. Also it’s not always the fear of upsetting you, it is dealing with our own emotions and reaction to your situation. I’m one of the very fortunate people who had healthy children and took it forgranted.

  14. This must ring true for most of us bereaved parents. Talking helps me grieve. My baby Luke was born asleep on 9th Jan 2014 at 29 wks. I was critically Ill, docs just managed to save me but couldn’t save Luke. Thank you for sharing this blog. X

  15. I love reading every word you wrote! We in Australia need to Break the Silence in Pregnancy & Infant Loss. Please contact me any time should you want to brainstorm how <3

    Sending you, Hugo and your family so much love xoxo

  16. Thank you for writing this, yes people should just be there for bereaved people. I am so sorry you and all the other Mum’s who lost a baby got tears in my eyes reading it. I did not lose a baby but me dear husband and I can relate to the things you wrote about, death should be talked about and people should just give you a hug. My friends we had as a couple are not there for me and that hurts so much.Hope you will keep talking about Hugo as he came in to this world even only for a short time. My thoughts are with you. and all the other parents. XXXXXX

    • I’m sorry to hear that friends have not been there for you in your loss – they’re not real friends I’m afraid. We should be so much more open about death, meaning we would be better able to deal with talking about it. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment xxx

  17. Our first daughter was stillborn in 1994, we then had stillborn twins in 1999, as a lady says above people used to cross the road rather than speak to us and all we wanted to do was speak of them. We really do need to be more open about death. I love the name hugo xx

    • I’m so sorry about your losses. It’s just so sad. We really do need to be more open about death, and talk about our babies. Thank you for taking the time to comment. xxx

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