As part of Baby Loss Awareness Week, Tendring District Council Chairman Jeff Bray opened up about his story in an effort to get more people talking about the issue.
While Tendring District Council (TDC) has supported Baby Loss Awareness Week for several years now, for the authority’s current chairman Councillor Jeff Bray this was a civic moment he was exceptionally keen to get behind.
Started 19 years ago by a group of bereaved parents, Baby Loss Awareness Week is supported by more than 60 different baby loss support charities and groups. Beginning on 9 October it ends on October 15, internationally recognised as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.
In Clacton a ribbon display will be held along the seafront memorial gardens, to remember lost children, and Jeff will be among those adding a ribbon to the display to commemorate his daughter Terrie.
Stillborn in 1987, Jeff said the tragedy brought up a whirlwind of emotions.
“This issue is close to my heart because I’ve been there,” Jeff said. “It’s one of those things that never leaves you. You move on with your life but it’s never not there.
“It is devastating, it does change everything for a considerable period of time and probably changes the way you think forever.
“At the time you feel disbelief, anger, start questioning yourself – what did I do wrong, is there anything I could or should have done, or not done? And of course the answer is no.
“You have all the excitement of a coming child – and then everything you had hoped for the future, suddenly it’s not there anymore.
“Going back into that empty room is probably one of the biggest things. You create a nursery, decorate it nicely, murals on the wall, teddies, things hanging from the ceiling. The culmination of that is baby arrives and goes in the crib, and that’s the bit that doesn’t happen.
“We spent a lot of time turning the spare room into a nursery; when my wife came out of hospital I wanted to make sure that was not there, and I’m enormously grateful to my sister-in-law for her help. That was a really tough day.”
Aside from the obvious heartbreak of losing a child, Jeff said one of the hardest things to deal with was the reactions of some friends.
“There are a lot of people who suffer the same fate, but no-one talks about it. It’s almost a taboo experience, and it shouldn’t be.
“One of the things I found most shocking was close friends who would cross the road rather than speak to you, they’d rather avoid you. They weren’t being cruel, they just didn’t know what to say and were so terrified of saying the wrong thing and upsetting you more they said nothing – which is one hundred times worse.
“If you know someone who has experienced this then don’t be afraid to speak to them. A few people did talk and say the wrong thing, but it is better to say the wrong thing than nothing.
“You’re dealing with a couple suffering possibly the worst tragedy, there’s not much you can say that can make that worse. And if you do say the wrong thing, get over it and get perspective – they have just lost a child. You will be forgiven, we all say the wrong thing sometimes, but be there for them.
“Perhaps that is why it is not talked about so much, and we need to talk about it louder.”
Jeff believes that Baby Loss Awareness Week is an opportunity to widen understanding and break those taboos.
“Hopefully awareness will make people understand a little better. You need your friends and family there, and if you can support them then do.
“I’d also plea that people don’t forget the fathers. People say ‘your wife lost her child’ but actually so did you and I think that is perhaps not quite as recognised. The woman has unquestionably suffered the most, but all too often it’s treated as almost nothing has happened to the father.
“Certainly back then men weren’t allowed to cry, you had to be strong and carry on going, ‘it’s all going to be OK’ – when you’re not sure it will be. Hopefully we have moved on now and opened up as a society.
“I’m really pleased about the ribbon display. Go and look – you will be staggered at the amount of ribbons and it makes you realise just how many people are affected. It’s far more common than you think.
“You feel like the only person in the world this has happened too, and the ribbons remind you that you’re not. Everybody probably knows someone who has been through this, even if you don’t know it.”
“The awareness week also demonstrates what support there is out there. There wasn’t so much about in the ‘80s, though our GP was exceptional and the health visitor was very supportive too.
“That support option is there from a number of organisations now and I hope people use them.”
As he adds his ribbon to the display, for Jeff it is a moment of reflection and looking forward.
“Placing a ribbon is strange. This is not something you ever forget, but the ribbon brings it back – and in a good way. I can’t really explain it but it’s almost as if it was not for nothing. It’s sad but also helpful.
“Terrie had a proper burial at Colchester Cemetery, and especially in the early days I felt the desire to be there a lot. The funeral did bring a level of closure, and we did go on to have other children; we were lucky enough to do that – some are not that lucky.
“I am immensely proud of what they have achieved, and you sometimes wonder what would Terrie have done – your children are a positive reminder.
“I just hope that people can learn from my story; if you have been through it yourself then find comfort and support. If you have not, then please look out for those who have and be there for both parents.”