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In 2013 in the UK, one in every 137 babies was either stillborn or died in the first 4 weeks of life

Here in N. Ireland, over 3 babies a week are stillborn or die in the first 4 weeks of life.

Janice & I lost our beautiful daughter Elizabeth 18 years ago on 6 January 1989 when she was stillborn. She was a chubby red head with looks that resembled her Grandma and cuddling her dear little body as the tears streamed down our faces was the most deeply sad moment of our lives. The events of that day are still so vivid that it could have been yesterday - it was a life-altering day that will never be forgotten.

We felt our lives had been stopped in their tracks and we found it difficult to restart them again. The feeling of isolation, the involuntary shedding of tears for no apparent reason and the feeling that the sun will never again shine in the world, were all feelings that clouded each day. It just didn't seem fair and the whole thing was more than we could bear.

We were just dazed and on autopilot for the first few weeks. Our only outings were to the Chapel of Rest or the grave and we just couldn't cope with seeing people. The funeral on 12 January was deeply sad. It was just us, Elizabeth's Mum and Dad, a tiny white coffin and the Priest. We invited no one else, as no one else had seen her or known her and we felt they would be an intrusion on that day. We couldn't even cope with their kind words and expressions of sympathy.

In terms of a strategy for survival, we didn't have one - we just limped along. It is only now in retrospect that we can look back and see what helped. It was the times when we specifically did something to remember her and it was speaking together about Elizabeth and not forgetting her that was important.

The realisation that many people didn't fully understand came very quickly - and even those who did understand more, often couldn't find the right words. Most avoided speaking about Elizabeth, but we couldn't get up the energy to speak about trivia and we found it easier not going out. We really couldn't do anything at all for months. It was at least a year before we could begin to socialise again. We couldn't get up the strength to accept invitations to meals or parties. We needed to be alone - together - and it was easier not to meet with others and make small talk. All we wanted was our beautiful baby back and anything else was just wholly unimportant.

However, we have survived and we know the old adage "time does heal" is a true fact. It never heals totally and in many ways we don't want it to. We need to remember our dear little one always and it is in that continued remembrance that some of the healing process works.

Talking about your baby does keep their name alive and that is the most important thing of all. We have a friend who lost her twins shortly after birth and we ring her each year around their birthday. She also rings us near Elizabeth's birthday.

Keepsakes are also important. Elizabeth was only one day short of full term and we were expecting to go to the hospital for a very different event from the one we experienced. So we have photos, we had the camera for a quite different purpose of course. We also have a special flower. The nurse was very kind to us and put a peach coloured carnation in Elizabeth's cot. From that point that has been her special colour and her special flower. This year she had 18 on her grave.

We always make a point of keeping the 6th January free. We cannot celebrate a birthday in the way others can, but we have always done something to recognise Elizabeth's birthday each year. A day out by the sea; a shopping trip to buy something for the home in memory of Elizabeth; this year we sponsored fundraising for SANDS in remembrance of what would have been Elizabeth's 18th birthday. It was a comfort for us to know that others had remembered her at that time and you will find the same is true when others remember your baby.

By keeping the name alive you build memories around the baby you were never able to get to know. We expect death to rob us of the past and when it robs us of the future there is something uniquely extra sad about that loss.

It took a long time to come to terms with such a world-crushing event but the pain does lessen as time goes by. Eventually we found the right "place" for Elizabeth in our lives, not the debilitating grief that robs you of being able to function normally, but we are able to think about her more easily and almost with a fondness. In the dark days immediately following Elizabeth's death we would never have believed this to be true or that we would have welcomed such a thought, thinking this belittled our grief.

Coping is different for everyone, but it is important always to remember the little baby that you never got to know and keep his or her name alive on special dates and talking with those who do understand. It is possible to survive this and in time return to the normality of living that will finally help you turn the corner. Now that will seem impossible, but in time it will seem natural.

Philip & Janice