It must be so hard from people to imagine a time when there was no help for the mothers of stillborn babies: no realisation of the scale of the loss, no advice for fathers, no real sympathy for family members, no understanding of the effect grief can have for years. After all, how can such issues be addressed if they are never acknowledged, let alone spoken about?
That is how it was at the end of 1975, when my second son was stillborn at full term. Looking back I can remember a terrible silence – and the evasive looks of medical staff who seemingly could not bear to admit that this ‘thing’ had happened: an over-turning of the natural order of events.
As a journalist I was able to pour my grief into words – and tell the readers of the Guardian how it felt to bear a stillborn child. The rest is history.
Hazelanne Lewis got in touch and soon the Stillbirth Society was formed – and now we can all look back and give thanks that society is so much more enlightened.
In 1975 I gave birth to a baby boy who was stillborn. At the time, partners were not encouraged to be with you during labour. Maternity units acted on an ‘out of sight, out of mind' basis, with the stillborn baby being whisked away and out of the room before the mother could see him.
Partners were told to register the birth and grant permission to the hospital to bury the baby. There was no room on the death certificate for the baby’s first name. They were advised not to talk to the mother about the baby as that would upset her. Never mind the fact that fathers also had feelings. There was no support or guidance for professionals too.
It’s difficult to mourn your baby with no tangible memories, and people cross the road to avoid talking to you and there is no acknowledgement of the need to mourn. The thought of the next baby was offered as a sticking plaster to cure the pain of the loss.
I reached out through the press (no social media then) to try and gain support for educating professionals on the needs of bereaved parents. The response from bereaved parents was overwhelming and indicated a clear need for support. From that I went on to found Sands.
I am stunned by how Sands has grown into the effective, influential organisation it is today. I had hopes 40 years ago that it would be a viable organisation, but never dreamt it would be as powerful as it is.
Rob Allen, founder of the very first Sands United FC team in Northampton, grew from grief after Charlotte and Rob Allen’s baby daughter, Niamh, died on 9 October 2017 at 39 weeks and 3 days. To honour their daughter’s memory and ensure her legacy lives forever on, Rob’s love of football led him to organise a football match at Northampton Town FC in aid of Sands in May 2018.
Since then Sands United has grown to more than 30 teams across the UK.
The role of Patron will be vital in raising the profile of Sands United, to champion this unique way of offering bereavement support, and help more bereaved families come together through a shared love of sport and a network where they can feel at ease talking about their grief when they're ready.
Rob says: “I’m honoured to take on the role of Patron of Sands United and I’m excited to have this opportunity to work closely with Sands to make sure more people know about this unique way of offering bereavement support for anyone affected by the death of a baby in pregnancy, at birth, or during infancy.
“Sands United means so much to me personally. The very first football team helped me find a way through grief after the death of our baby girl Niamh in 2017 and I know it was a lifeline for all the players who joined that team and those that have formed across the UK since then.
“It’s a cliché but it’s true that many men who’ve been through pregnancy and baby loss simply don’t want to talk about it. At Sands United there is no pressure to talk if you don’t want to – simply being around other people who’ve had a similar experience can be an enormous help. If someone wants to share how they’re feeling it’s a totally supportive safe space to do that, but if people simply want to play together that’s ok too and sport can make a big difference to your mental wellbeing.
“My dream for Sands United is that it becomes a lasting legacy for Niamh and all the babies whose lives ended far too soon. In the future I hope that anyone who needs bereavement support can find a Sands United team wherever they live in the UK, and that this grows beyond football so that anyone who has been affected by the death of a baby can come together through a shared love of sport.”
Genelle Aldred has worked as a newsreader for ITN, ITV and the BBC for over a decade, communicating both the toughest and also the most joyful news.
She has helped to break the silence around baby loss for many years, following the death of her daughter Sade-Rose at 40 weeks and 10 days when Genelle was just 19-years old. A loss brought on by not being listened to by healthcare professionals, and compounded by poor care.
Her first book on Communication, which will be published in June 2021, looks at how people can become confident in speaking about many of the social justice issues they face, to bring about real change. This strong belief in the power of communication led Genelle to start GA\C - a consultancy that aims to train people to become confident communicators; focusing on communicating with the media, on camera, as well as complex conversations around diversity and inclusion. Genelle has a Masters degree in Broadcast Journalism.
Genelle is passionate about helping others find their way through grief and wants to help people think about how they can be advocates for mums during pregnancy and especially labour.
Matt Allwright first came to prominence in 1997 as an investigative journalist on the flagship BBC consumer affairs programme Watchdog. Since 2001 he's been the iconic presenter of the highly successful programme Rogue Traders, plus starring in Just the Two of Us.
Matt became involved with us as an Ambassador after the death of his best friends' twin boys, Finlay and Cameron.
Malin Andersson was born in Sweden to a Sri-Lankan mother and Swedish father. She moved to England after losing her father to skin cancer, and was involved in the pageant scene and worked in cabin crew for four years until appearing on Love Island in 2016 and becoming a successful social media influencer. Shortly after Love Island, Malin lost her mother to stomach cancer and then became pregnant with a baby girl. On 23rd December 2018, Malin’s daughter, Consy was born seven weeks early in December and was cared for by Great Ormond Street Hospital, but sadly died on 22nd January. Malin now positions herself as a mental health advocate and body positivity campaigner, who works hard to use her platform to raise awareness of mental health issues and provide guidance to her following. Her raw honesty and openness in discussing her personal battles has proven to capture the hearts of many. Malin constantly encourages her followers to take a positive outlook on life and is big on promoting self-love.
David Haig has had a varied acting career on stage and screen including roles the hit British film Four Weddings and A Funeral and the BBC television sitcom The Thin Blue Line. He won an Olivier Award in 1988 for his performance in Our Country's Good. More recently he has filmed My Boy Jack, his own screenplay about Rudyard Kipling and the death of his son, Jack.
David became involved with us after his daughter Grace was stillborn in 1996. He supports us as an Ambassador in many ways, including by writing a foreword for one of our books Fathers Feel too. David lives in London with his partner Julia and their 5 other children.
Influencer KSAVI, is a trained makeup artist and certified life coach.
She found comfort, motivation and gratitude in celebrating both inner and outer beauty following the devastating loss of her second son, Shivai. She used the coping mechanisms learned on her own personal journey through grief to find happiness, and to talk openly about overcoming adversity, to help others.
Her purpose centres around kindness and she set up growing online community 'Lipstick Power' to help women support other women through life, experiences, trauma and loss. She also launched her Virtual Makeup Session Fundraisers to help raise money for India's Covid Relief. Her uniqueness is in the open and frank way that she shares her vulnerability, remains real and balances a successful career, with being a mum.
Professor Gordon Smith
Professor Gordon Smith is head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Cambridge and theme lead for Women’s Health at the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre.
His internationally recognised research is looking for better ways to predict problems in pregnancy so babies and mothers get the care they need.
Professor Smith has supported Sands for more than a decade with expert research and clinical advice, and has helped us in successful campaigns to highlight the need to reduce baby deaths.
As an Ambassador, he has a special focus on promoting work to save babies’ lives and improve the range and impact of perinatal research.
Professor Smith’s collaboration with Sands includes The Pregnancy Outcome Prediction (POP) study that seeks to accurately identify which babies are at the highest risk of stillbirth or neonatal death and means that treatments can be better targeted, this also means that families whose pregnancies are healthy can be reassured they are also low risk.
Rakhee Thakrar is originally from Leicester. On a last minute gap year she decided to give the acting profession a try. In that year she auditioned for Silver Street the BBC radio soap and got the part of Roopal Chauhan. That gap year was in 2004, it stretched a little bit. Since then her credits include Page Eight, Holby City, Bollywood Carmen and most recently EastEnders. She's also born on a leap year.
Rakhee says: "I knew I wanted to be involved with Sands from my very first research meeting there with Erica Stewart, Sands Bereavement Support Services Manager. I play a character called Shabnam in EastEnders and Shabnam and her partner were to experience a stillbirth. I heard in great detail how complicated, devastating and utterly heartbreaking it is for your baby to die and in the months that followed I learned even more. During my research and endless phone conversations with Erica, I felt compelled to help in any way I could - it was an instinct. A natural progression from working together on the storyline for EastEnders. I was touched and honoured when I was asked and agreed without hesitation. I look forward to working with the fantastic team at Sands."