Breaking the silence over infant loss
MADRID: Every year, 2.6 million children around the world die in the womb or shortly after birth but parents say their grief is all too often avoided as a taboo subject.
“You don’t get over a child, a child is for life, alive or not,” Paloma Costa-Jimenez, 38, said during a memorial ceremony in Madrid ahead of tomorrow’s international pregnancy and infant loss awareness day.
Her daughter Andrea died on Feb 13, 2014, right at the end of her pregnancy. Since then, she has had two other children.
“If your husband dies, no one will tell you: ‘Don’t worry, you’re young, you’ll find another’. So why say that about my child?,” she asks.
“For me Andrea is just as real as Inigo and Mateo,” her other two children.
“Since people didn’t see her and she was only with me nine months, some people think ‘it doesn’t count’. But it does, it really does, she’s my daughter.”
Broken by their loss, parents often struggle to find the necessary support.
That was the case of Jillian Cassidy, who lost her first daughter Uma in 2007 in her third trimester of pregnancy.
“Outside Spain, there were lots of resources – information, support, associations, training of health workers. But here, nothing,” said the 42-year-old, who is Irish and lives in Spain.
So it was that in 2009, she decided to create Umamanita, Spain’s first association to help grieving parents.
“Death makes us uncomfortable,” said Cassidy.
“Given all the joy that a baby brings, when he or she dies, it’s even more problematic and taboo.”
Yet speaking about it is crucial, just like any other grieving process, she added.
“If parents talk about their baby, talk to them about their baby. If the baby has a name and the parents have told you, use the baby’s name,” she said. “Many people are scared of hurting them more if they talk about the baby and actually it’s not the case, on the contrary.”
Pilar Gomez-Ulla, a psychologist and co-founder of an association called “The hollow in my belly” that supports them, has experienced that grief as she herself lost three children. She has since specialised in supporting people suffering from perinatal grief and advising health workers on the issue.
“It’s not just about offering them to see their child,” she said.
“It’s about preparing parents to properly take the decisions they want: see their baby, touch him or her, discover them, get them dressed, give them a bath, invite other important people in the family to come see the baby, meet him or her, kiss them, and take photos.”
Given all the joy that a baby brings, when he or she dies, it’s even more problematic and taboo. Jillian Cassidy