“Noah was the most beautiful, perfect baby,” smiles Hayley Groden. “He was 7lbs 1oz and had jet black hair and rosebud kissable lips, a button nose, perfect fingers and toes. When he was born he was put straight onto my chest, where I cuddled and cradled him.”
But unlike other mothers seeing their new arrivals for the first time, Hayley’s experience was one steeped in sadness – for her baby was stillborn.
In the wake of her loss, Hayley – who has three other sons, including one born after Noah – recalls how some people failed at the time to see her as a “mother” to her stillborn child.
“I am proud to be known as Noah’s mummy,” she explains. “Most of my closest friends and family [did see me like that], but a lot of people because they didn’t get to see him, maybe couldn’t. They didn’t know how to act.”
A new survey by 5 News and pregnancy charity, Tommy’s, has shed light on the differing attitudes grieving parents face following a stillbirth, of which there are nine cases every day in the UK, from those who don’t know what to say, to others who make comments such as, “you’ll have another one” or “at least you can get pregnant”.
Of the 317 people who took part in the survey, almost three-quarters (71%) said their relationships with family and friends were negatively affected by their stillbirth, with nearly half saying that family and friends stayed away after their loss.
A staggering 90 per cent of parents said they felt isolated and alone.
The survey results were revealed in a special programme on 5 News, which features interviews with nine women forever affected by stillbirth.
Watch the trailer for Stillbirth: Still a Taboo here:
For Antonia Mitchell Glynn, who lost her daughter Shoshana in 2015, the sense of isolation in the wake of her loss was acute, particularly as she and her husband were living in Australia at the time, thousands of miles away from close family and friends.
There were some within her support network who Antonia says were “fantastic”, bringing over meals and taking the time to talk with her about her daughter.
But there were others who made comments that made Antonia feel uncomfortable.
“People said: ‘She didn’t breathe, so she didn’t count. You need to get over it’.
“On one occasion there was a pregnant women I knew and I saw her at an event. I went to give her a kiss hello and she recoiled from me, she made me sit at a different table to her, she wouldn’t say goodbye to me.
“It was absolutely heart-breaking, I went home and just sobbed my eyes out, because I [felt] lesser because I had lost a child.”
She adds: “We have lost a significant number of friends over this. They just couldn’t connect with us or care when it was hard for us. They didn’t hear the screams. They just left us to it.
“Without those who did connect with us, we would have absolutely sunk under the pressure of our loss.”
Rosalind Levine was half-way through her labour when doctors told her that her daughter, Alexandra, had died. She had to endure another 12 hours of labour before finally seeing her baby for the first time.
“I didn’t even recognise the sound of my sob. I’d never cried like that before,” she tragically reveals.
Of the reactions she received, one comment in particular had a strong impact.
“People said to me, ‘you can have another baby’. Firstly, that wouldn’t have brought Alexandra back and secondly, how do they know that? We had to have IVF to conceive her and another six rounds before we had another baby. Not everyone gets that opportunity.”
She was also saddened to receive derogatory comments on Facebook from someone after she posted a picture of Alexandra on what would have been her first birthday.
“Why should I hide her away?” questions Rosalind. “Other people don’t hide their babies. She’s not a dirty secret. It’s an upsetting picture to see – but stillbirth is a reality.”
Elayne Halpern, who lost her daughter, Rivka, in 2013, also opened up about the impact on one’s mental health following a stillbirth.
“I completely shut down afterwards, emotionally and mentally,” reveals Elayne. “I didn’t want to talk to anyone, I call screened and I had to have ten months’ of therapy before I could go out and about.”
The other women also reported suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety for years after their loss.
For all of them, there is never a day when they don’t think about the “missing” child of their family.
Hayley adds: “Noah is the first thing I think of every morning I wake up and the last thing I think about at night. I think about him all the time, every day.
“Every time we do a family holiday or special occasion or just going to get school clothes or shoes, dentist appointments, he’s not there, but he’s so in my heart.
“They say time is a healer and it is, but I’ll always be a little broken inside.”
Stillbirth: Still a Taboo. A 5 News Tonight Special is available to watch at facebook.com/C5News/