Dubai: “Losing my baby was the most devastating experience of my life,” says Dubai-based Dean Munro, who lost his only son Monte to a rare genetic disease when he was just 10 weeks old last year.
Natasha Hatherall-Shawe, also a parent in Dubai who lost her daughter at birth three years ago, echoes his words.
“As one of the worst things anyone will have to go through, I know I would not have navigated or survived it had it not been for the care and support I received,” she says, adding that some of her team members at Tish Tash Communications, where she is the CEO, have also been through a harrowing time following pregnancy loss.
Loss Through Love
As a unique initiative called Love Through Loss brings those like Dean, Natasha and others together during the ongoing Baby Loss Awareness Week in the UAE, the untold trauma of losing a baby has put the spotlight on a community of people, lending a shoulder to and drawing support from each other.
“We aim to bring stories, lives, loves and losses, seen and unseen, no matter where in the world they are, into the conversation so that no parent need walk through grief alone. Our ethos aims to be a community standing together in open conversation about the harder areas of conception, pregnancy and parenting and support all those who have, are or will experience or identify with a loss in any one of these areas and help them feel seen, heard, validated and supported,” explains Natasha.
“We passionately advocate for women’s health and mental health and so Baby Loss Awareness Week is important to us. It has affected a number of us within TishTash directly, and in different ways,” she adds.
No ‘at least’ that is helpful
Joanne Hanson-Halliwell, another expat resident, who is also part of the Love Through Loss initiative, says, “There is no ‘better’ time to lose a baby. No ‘at least’ that is helpful. No placations that can soothe and no words ample to describe the grief.”
Following the premature birth of her son in 2013, she founded Small and Mighty Babies for a reason. “At the time, there was no support available outside of the neonatal units and Small and Mighty Babies has grown from a small group of friends who met in NICU back in 2013 to a peer-to-peer support group with over 1,000 families, supporting each other with friendship, information and most of all, hope.”
She says the group expanded as did the experience through high-risk pregnancy, complicated births and neonatal admission. She talks of how she was joined by a fellow expat Lala Langtry White following her own complicated pregnancy and premature birth to grow the group to what it is today. Lala, who is also a voluntary bereavement doula, provides bereavement support as well.
“Any loss of your baby through excruciating choice, devastating circumstances beyond your control, whether anticipated, surprise, quick, drawn out, today or years ago, during pregnancy, labour, birth or beyond....if you are grieving a loss, we are a community that recognise it and are here for you. We hope you can find this a safe space to talk about your experience and your baby and access support, signposting and advice in our community of love through loss,” says Joanne.
Both Joanne and Lala support families through neonatal loss and have created what they claim is the UAE’s first ‘Memory Box’, the Love Through Loss Memory Box, to offer it to families that need it.
Deep and primal wound
Reaching out to those in need is also Dubai-based Cassie Destino through her IVF Support UAE group.
“Infertility can be a rough road but we aim to be there for those who require help at every step,” she says.
“Baby loss can be very devastating resulting in a feeling of utter isolation. It can leave those who go through it with a deep and primal wound,” says Cassie, stressing on the importance of the right kind of support to enable them to process grief in the healthiest way. This is especially true in the absence of immediate family and friends, she adds.
Men are allowed to cry too
It’s not just about the mums. Dads like Dean, who know the feeling, are out to lend a shoulder too.
His son Monte was born in April last year and died two months later to a genetic condition called myotubular myopathy, which he was diagnosed with when he was six weeks old.
“Life doesn’t teach you that your children can also pass away and it can be so devastating when that happens,” says Dean.
But determined to keep his son’s memory alive, he began to write a series of books. Six titles, including First Christmas and First Day in School, so far, they are all dedicated to Monte and how life could have panned out for him.
“I would read books to him when he was on a breathing apparatus for four weeks,” he recalls. “So creating these new books on him helped me deal with the worst experience of my life. The books also help me keep his legacy alive.”
He also talks about the dangers of men not giving vent to their feelings of loss. “Bottling things up is not good. Men are allowed to cry, to talk and to express how they feel. For me, that was the biggest thing. And I am willing to share my experience with anyone who wants to listen.”
According to the Love Through Loss community, it’s not just the death of a baby that amounts to a loss. Joanne explains how a blighted ovum, chemical, ectopic, molar pregnancies, vanishing twin syndrome, a miscarriage or termination of pregnancy for medical reasons – all constitute a loss.
Natasha, who cites global statistics, says, “One in four women will experience the loss of a pregnancy or infant and about one pregnancy in 100 at 20 weeks or later will end in stillbirth. These statistics mean it will likely happen to someone you know and it is so important we talk, share and provide support and safe spaces for those who have gone through the trauma.”