The Gifts of Grief: Saying Goodbye to Lost Babies

Andy & Zoe Clark-Coates with their Youngest Daughter
Andy & Zoe Clark-Coates, Founders of Saying Goodbye, with their youngest daughter

This Saturday in Exeter Cathedral sees the first ‘Saying Goodbye’ service of remembrance for babies lost at any stage of pregnancy, at birth or in early years. This is the first of seven cathedral services this year, with up to 22 services planned by the end of 2013 in the UK.

The Saying Goodbye services have been created by Zoe and Andy Clark-Coates, who have personally suffered the loss of five babies. They are now blessed with having two vibrant little girls, one aged three and the other just 12 months.

Grief is something that is poorly understood, tolerated or managed in British culture. As a woman who is childless-by-circumstance, I understand how it feels to grieve for an absence, a family that I would have had. For those women and couples who have lost a baby through miscarriage, early term loss or when very young, their grief is also ‘unrecognised’ by others – sometimes even by themselves.

Indeed, Zoe says that with her first miscarriage, her “way of coping was to almost pretend it hadn’t happened. I didn’t want to be one of those statistics which state that up to 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage, and surely if I didn’t acknowledge it, it didn’t really happen!” 

Denial is a classic response to loss, and perfectly natural. But the other stages of grief need to acknowledged and worked through to in order for grief to complete its healing of our souls.

Grief, it seems, like love, needs the loving and understanding presence of others souls for it to reach its full expression. The Queen has said that “Grief is the price we pay for love,” which is true, but I would also like to suggest that grief is the gift of love. Grief may break our hearts, but it does so in order to leave our hearts even bigger than they were before. Grief changes us – if we let it. The work of grief is to take a wound and turn it into a scar – something that will be with us forever, that will act as a reminder of what we have lost – but which we can live with. Grief is not about ‘getting over’ something, but about healing around it.

This is why I believe that the work of Saying Goodbye is so incredibly important. It’s breaking the taboo of grief and loss by making visible the losses that so many women and couples have experienced, and are experiencing, right now. It’s also doing so in a way that is dignified, ritualized and within the context of our culture. It’s a celebration of love.

When asked by people “why cathedrals?” Saying Goodbye say “because our babies deserve to be honoured in wonderful, awe-inspiring places,” and I agree. Grief doesn’t deserve to be hidden, it’s an aspect of love and just as love is celebrated in a public ceremony, so should loss be. And anyway, hiding grief doesn’t work anyway, because grief is patient and kind and waits for us. It waits until the environment is right and the support is there and then it heals us. No matter how long ago the loss, grief keeps the loss ‘present’ until we are ready to allow it to pass through us, change us and move on.

As Saying Goodbye says on its website: “Grieving is essential when you have lost a baby, and sadly the world can often impose a limit to the depth or length a person should grieve, we are trying to change this, and also change the taboo nature of loss.”

The cathedrals which Saying Goodbye have chosen are ones which are used for secular events as well as Christian services, and the services have been created for people of all faiths or none. The very public and participatory nature of the services also makes it possible for other family members and supportive friends to join those who are mourning. For brothers and sisters to mourn the loss of their siblings. For supportive friends to finally have something they can ‘do’ for their grieving friend. For grieving fathers who are so often seen as the ‘support’ to their partner, but whose own grief is rarely acknowledged, or allowed a space.

The first Saying Goodbye Service is this Saturday, 15th September at Exeter Cathedral at 3pm.

Each of the services will follow a similar format and will include music by the resident choirs, international singers and musicians, poetry and readings, multimedia presentations, personal messages, prayers, a message of hope and more. The Saying Goodbye services are structured in such a way that it is possible either to take an active part, or simply sit and listen and allow yourself to mourn in the peace and beauty of the moment.

The Saying Goodbye organization is a beautiful tribute to the five babies that Zoe and Andy Clark-Coates have personally suffered the loss of. And it is organisation that the public has immediately taken to its heart. It already has over 10,000 followers on Twitter, and is represented by Ambassadors that are well-known in British public life such as Prof. Lord Robert Winston, Prof. Lesley Regan, Nigella Lawson, Julie Etchingham, Prof Cary Cooper OBE, Jo Elvin, Ruby Hammer MBE, Dr John Sentamu Archbishop of York, Gabby Logan and Jools Oliver, to name a few.

As Lord Winston says: “I hope that these services will be a turning point in the nation, and through this new organisation miscarriage will become more widely understood, and families will know that their pain and loss has been heard and recognized.”

As well as the public ceremonies, Saying Goodbye also acts as a portal to support and counselling services for grieving parents and the Saying Goodbye website is becoming the first port of call recommended by doctors and health-care practitioners. In all areas, Saying Goodbye has already had a phenomenal impact, and that’s even before the first service of commemoration on Saturday has taken place. And not just in the UK – the response to Saying Goodbye has been so overwhelmingly positive that they are already planning to create services of remembrance in the USA and Canada very soon.

The pain of miscarriage and early term loss is something that is taboo to discuss or write about, but Zoe Clark-Coates has written movingly of her own experience of six pretty harrowing pregnancies on the Saying Goodbye website. At one point, in hospital after losing a baby, she was asked to fill in a form by medical staff that included such questions as “would you like a post-mortem” and “would you like the remains back?” Questions which, as she wonders “can any mother ever be prepared to answer? In medical terms, those who die in utero within the first 24 weeks of life are termed as ‘retained products of conception’… but to me and my husband, it was our child, not just a potential person but a person, and he deserved to be acknowledged as such.”

Zoe and Andy Clark-Coates have come through all this with two delightful young girls: one aged 3 and the other just 12 months. To have turned their heartbreak into a way of sharing their love for their own lost children into a way that others can mourn their own, exactly the kind of gift that grief can give. As the Global Directors of their international events company CCEM they have thrown their considerable expertise behind the organisation of the commemorative services, and all bases have been covered. Having watched Zoe reach out to new followers, night after night, on Twitter over the last few months, I have been moved to see her love and compassion in action.

“We created the Saying Goodbye organisation as a legacy in honour of our lost babies. We hope the services will help thousands of other people who also feel a need to acknowledge their babies, and to recognise their wonderful lives, however short they were. To just stand in a room with hundreds of other people who have all been through a similar experience, knowing everyone is there to support one another, will be such a powerful moment, and we hope it will be life changing to many.”

Saying Goodbye is their gift of love to others. Their gift of grief. I’m sure their two little girls will be very proud of their parents when they grow up.

www.SayingGoodbye.org

  • Exeter Cathedral, Exeter, Devon – Saturday 15th September – 3pm
  • St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh, Scotland – Saturday 22nd September – 3pm
  • York Minster, York, North Yorkshire – Saturday 29th September – 1.30pm
  • Birmingham Cathedral, Birmingham, West Midlands – Sunday 28th October – 3.30pm
  • LLandaff Cathedral, Cardiff, Wales – Saturday 3rd November – 3pm
  • St Paul’s Cathedral, City of London, London – Saturday 24th November – 5pm
  • Bristol Cathedral, Bristol, Gloucestershire – Saturday 8th December – 3.30pm
  • 2013 dates on website.

No tickets are needed for any service, first come, first seated.

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Saying Goodbye is delighted to be supported by the Association of Early Pregnancy Units, and is working in partnership with Tommy’s, The Miscarriage Association and Bliss.

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This article was also published on The Huffington Post (UK) on 13 September, 2012. Click here to read on HuffPoUK

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Photo of Jody Day, Founder of Gateway Women (UK)Jody Day is a writer and the Founder of Gateway Women: an organization she created in 2011 to support, inspire and empower childless-by-circumstance women to live fertile, passionate, meaningful lives. Holding a certificate in  counselling and in training as an integrative psychotherapist, Jody runs groups & workshops for Gateway Women, and also offers one-to-ones for women looking to explore issues around identity, maternity & fertility. She speaks regularly at events and is always looking to share her empowering message with new audiences. If you would like Jody to speak at one of your events, to consult with your organisation about the concerns and issues facing the 1 in 5 women 45+ who don’t have children, or perhaps to guest blog for your site, or write for your publication, please contact her at jody@gateway-women.com

For priority booking for all future Gateway Women events, please join our mailing list by clicking here.

About Jody 91 Articles
Jody Day is a British author, trainee integrative psychotherapist and the founder of Gateway Women, the global friendship and support network for childless women. She’s a founding member at AWOC.org (Ageing without Children) and a former Fellow in Social Innovation at Cambridge Judge Business School. She's the author of 2016’s 'Living the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Future Without Children' (Bluebird/PanMacmillan). Gateway Women hosts online communities, workshops, retreats, courses, social events and private sessions for childless-not-by-choice women. Jody lives alone in London with her cat, a stereotype that she warmly and humorously subverts.
Contact: Website

4 Comments on The Gifts of Grief: Saying Goodbye to Lost Babies

  1. Beautiful post, Jody.

    When our alpha pregnancies ended there was no where to seek solace and no societal acknowledgement of our losses … which made an already painful time of heartbreak and sorrow even worse.

    I especially appreciated this thought: Grief is not about ‘getting over’ something, but about healing around it. Thank you for shining a light on a topic that makes many uncomfortable. it’s only in learning about the impact of these losses that we grow greater empathy and bigger hearts.

    • I am sorry to say that for me this is an extremely delicate issue and one i feel very ambivalent about. Jody, in your reply to Sophie in the comments to the next blogpost you claim to offer “the only organization in the world” (I am sorry to say that i found this claim really a bit too much in itself) to offer support to women/people childless-by-circumstance (as opposed to childless through medically diagnosed infertility, i read it. Is that not right?).
      Now in this blogpost you stress the fact that there is little support for those who have lost children through miscarriage, early term loss or when very young. That is right and it’s great that initiatives like “Saying goodbye”-services are slowly getting started. I don’t mean to demean the fact that there is a lot of grief out there with these people and it needs some sort of answer/a way for society to deal with it.
      All of that means that there is not much, but at least SOME support for those who have lost children through miscarriage.
      BUT my personal feeling is that for those of us purely childless by circumstance, we are once again excluded. I have never experienced how it feels to be pregnant. I mourn the loss of the opportunity to be impregnated by the man I loved with his child. I have been through months and years of TTC and had to deal with my hopes and dreams crashing down on me month by month by month. Moreover I have to deal with idiot comments like “oh well you started too late” or people suggesting that i didn’t go “all the way” (whatever that means: sperm bank, egg donor, becoming a sngle mom, as if that was easy and great fun).
      One really big issue is that I feel excluded from society. Every person who once had sex at the right moment in time to conceive and carry a baby feels entitled to voice an opinion about children or young people while I have been a youth work expert for 15 years and sometimes am indirectly or even bluntly made to understand that I am not really supposed to voice any kind of opinion about children/youngsters since I dont’ have an on my own.
      Now there are opportunities to recognize and work through grief for those who have lost children through miscarriage or early term loss etc. AND I AM ONCE MORE NOT INCLUDED. It’s not a child I lost at a very early stage I am mourning. In society’s eyes, there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING there i could mourn. Nothing but my dreams and ideas. That is not recognized at ALL. When my grief is so huge.

      • Dear Elena

        The unrecognised nature of your loss absolutely sucks, as does the lack of status that you, and all of us childless women have, as adult females in our culture.
        It must be particularly galling to have your insight, knowledge and compassion deemed ‘second best’ to, as you say “every person who once had sex at the right momemnt in time to conceive and carry a baby’.

        One of the aims of Gateway Women is to bring our unseen losses out into the open, so that we can both mourn it for ourselves, and have our right to grieve acknowledged in the culture.

        Your opinion matters to me, thank you for commenting.
        With a hug
        Jody x

        PS: And yes, as far as I know (and I would be happy to be wrong), Gateway Women is currently the only place offering groups and workshops for women who are childless by circumstance (which includes those who never conceived). Any sister organisations or websites that I know of are listed on the blogroll on the website. If anyone knows of any individual or group not mentioned on the blogroll, please let me know as I would love to hold hands across the world with everyone working to make the world a fairer, kinder and more compassionate place for childless women).

What's your experience?

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