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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.

We support all bereaved parents who have lost their babies, before, during or shortly after birth.

Six years ago I was blissfully happy, looking forward to the birth of my baby. My daughter, then 5, was also very excited, as was my husband. The year before I had miscarried at 8 weeks but everything had went well this time. I went into labour on 21 January 2001 at 40 weeks and 3 days and headed off for the hospital. We knew what to expect this time!!

On arrival the usual checks were made, the first scan machine wasn't working (no heartbeat) so the midwife went and found another one. Then a doctor came, then another doctor. The words the second more senior doctor said to me in the hospital will forever ring in my ears "Your baby is dead".

Kealan was born 4 hours later. The midwives had prepared us for the silence. No words can explain the pain. Our son was dead. Kealan's death was an unexplained stillbirth - no-one could give us a reason. We have good memories of how the staff in the hospital helped us in the short time we spent with our son. They told us it was normal and OK to hold our dead baby, to take photos and to bring our daughter to the hospital to say goodbye.

It was much later that I found out the blanket, gown and cap which we had been given to wrap Kealan in was donated by Sands so was the disposable camera, memory booklet and the Moses basket we laid him in.

In the weeks and months that lay ahead I had lots of time to grieve. Loneliness, tears, empty arms but by far the worst of all was people to face. What can people say, should you mention a dead baby? Yes, by far the best thing to say is "I'm sorry to hear about the loss of your baby". It hurts so much when people don't acknowledge a dead baby. A card, a phone call say it - whatever way is easier but make time to say it. It's never too soon and it's never too late. Grieving parents will always like you to acknowledge their baby. Please also remember that the baby's father is grieving often fathers are forgotten. They have lost their child too. They don't have the physical symptoms but the emotional scars are there. They often have to be the strong ones, the first ones to face the world.

Returning to work after losing Kealan was very hard. There were 4 in the office pregnant that year. I was very lucky many of my colleagues travelled to my home, rang me, sent cards, flowers etc to acknowledge their sorrow at our baby's death. It was so much easier to face going back knowing my friends were around me. They had found it hard to approach me, especially the pregnant ones, but most of them just said how sorry they were or that they just didn't know what to say to me - even that was enough. One of my fears returning to work was around facing customers who might unintentionally upset me by asking about my baby. It wouldn't be professional to cry! My senior manager took the time to talk to me on my return and reassured me that he certainly wouldn't mind if I cried and that customers were human too and would understand.

I would like to share a few of the things not to say to bereaved parents, things that hurt even though they are often spoken in ignorance.

Looking back I could not have survived this time in my life without Sands. I joined a support group made up of other bereaved parents; these were people who truly understood, people who had the time to listen, people who had survived a similar experience. When friends, family and work-mates had forgotten my dead baby, my friends at Sands still listened and allowed me to remember the precious missing member of my family.

My first meeting was terrifying, I hadn't phoned or contacted anyone, I just needed to talk. My family were all 40 miles away and I was so alone with my grief. I was assured of the confidentiality of Sands and initially just sat and listened to the parents telling me their story before gaining the confidence to tell them what had happened to me. It is difficult to describe what I gained from my first meeting. I understood that my feelings were normal and that this terrible grief which seemed to engulf me was something which would ease with time. The meeting gave me hope as some members had gone on to have babies. Most of all it offered a much-needed crutch of support which would be there as long as I needed it. I received loads of books and Sands newsletters which allowed me to read about other parents' experiences which really helped. My self confidence was very low and just meeting new people who cared about how I felt inside boosted me up and gave me strength to go on. No matter how many times I attended Sands meetings I was always free to talk about my son, people always wanted to listen and just knowing that I could was often enough - sometimes at the meetings we just talked about what was going on in our respective lives. Sands, and my involvement in it, keeps Kealan's memory alive and allows me now to help the parents who come after me because their hurt is the same as mine.