Published: 06:00, 09 October 2020
| Updated: 16:07, 09 October 2020
Three mothers who endured the heartache of losing their babies are urging others to share their experiences to help combat the crushing loneliness while grieving.
Sarah Rooke, chairman of East Kent Sands, which has a base in both Broadstairs and Ashford, says the isolation felt when having a stillbirth or experiencing a neonatal death is devastating but has been made worse by the pandemic.
The charity runs support groups every month, where parents and family members share their grief with others who have lost a child, but these face-to-face meetings were suspended in March.
On Wednesday, October 14, which falls in Baby Loss Awareness Week, they are due to resume and Mrs Rooke is encouraging people to come along.
"Losing a baby is so lonely and isolating. It's devastating," she said.
"People don't like talking about babies dying.
"It's different if it's a grandad. People can relate to that, they've had a life. But a dead baby is not something people find easy to talk about.
"You often get 'you can have more' or 'it'll be good again'.
"It's such an lonely experience and if you have gone through it during lockdown it's even more isolating and lonely.
"You can't have people come to visit, you can't go to Sands meetings. The pandemic has made isolation even more widespread in all areas of life. So to lose a baby you feel even more on your own."
Mrs Rooke, 46, knows the heartache only too well.
Her daughter Harriet died during labour 14 years ago due to medical negligence at a hospital in London.
"Losing a baby is so lonely and isolating, it's devastating..."
"I was full term and they hadn't picked up that she was struggling until 15 minutes before she was born," she said.
"It was heartbreaking.
"I was 40 weeks, everything had been fine. She got into difficulty - but when they were monitoring her they were picking up my heartbeat instead of hers.
"When she was born it was chaos. They weren't expecting it. They were like, 'how did this happen, she should be alive'.
"My life carried on and about five years later I decided to become a Befriender at Sands because I wanted to help and support others going through similar situations.
"To be a Befriender you have to have lost a baby, because you can understand what they're going through.
"It is really helpful to speak to others who have gone through the same thing - they know what you're feeling.
"I think for me, that was massive. I got so much support from that."
Mrs Rooke is now the new chairman of East Kent Sands. She and colleague Emma Dimond run the support group in Margate.
Mrs Dimond lost one of her twin daughters days after giving birth four years ago.
"We had different experiences and it happened at different times," said Mrs Rooke.
"One of things people like to see is that we've come through it. They can see that we've carried on with our lives.
"You can get through it. It doesn't mean that you failed. You are able to carry on and survive."
One mother who went through the trauma of losing her child took part in a skydive fundraiser for Sands earlier this year, raising £1,220 to help support the organisation's outreach.
Carys Groombridge, from Boughton, said: "I just remember looking down at my legs and thinking, I'm in the middle of the sky right now'...it was amazing."
The 22-year-old lost her son Toby six months into her pregnancy.
Since then she and fiancé Nick have had a second child, Lily, described by Miss Groombridge as their 'rainbow baby'.
Both feel it is incredibly important to break down the taboo of baby loss by openly speaking about the experience with others.
She said: "Until I lost my son Toby, I myself was probably quite ignorant. The word 'stillbirth' would have never crossed my mind.
"What I've learned as the years go on, people are happy to talk about their grandparents who have passed away, but the minute you mention a baby dying, suddenly people don't want to know, they clam up like it's a taboo subject.
"It just think that's so wrong. It's still a loss. As far as I'm concerned Toby was still a person, he still had a life.
"I really just want to help break the silence around stillbirth and help others through it."
Miss Goombridge also believes raising awareness and bereavement support has progressed in the three years since she lost her son, due to charities such as Sands.
She said: "I found out he'd passed away at the William Harvey Hospital and we were put in a bereavement suite, which at the time was just a side-room on Folkestone Ward.
"I could see and hear women leaving with their babies."
The Ashford hospital has since opened a Twinkling Stars suite, a dedicated space for mothers who have lost their baby and where the family can spend time together to say goodbye.
Miss Groombridge also writes a blog tracking her experience of losing her son and raising her daughter.
She hopes the blog will encourage other parents to seek help and openly speak about their own difficult experiences.
The Sands meetings in Thanet are held on the second Wednesday of every month at St John's Church Community Centre, Margate, from 7.45pm to 9.15pm.
In Ashford they run on the third Wednesday of every month at Ashford Volunteer Centre, Berwick House, although one-to-one is currently on hold.
For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org or click here.
The Thanet helpline is 07888 967463 and Ashford 07547 195791.
To read Miss Groombridge's blog, click here.
Additional reporting by Oliver Kemp