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Charity supporting parents grieving for lost babies debuts new film

Abigail’s Footsteps trains midwives, supports bereaved parents and raises funds to create bereavement suites and provide cold cots in hospitals.

10 October 2022

A charity that helps midwives support women who have lost babies has launched a new film following bereaved parents during a second pregnancy.

Abigail’s Footsteps, based in Rochester, Kent, was set up in 2011 after parents Jo and David Ward lost their daughter Abigail, who was stillborn in 2009.

The charity began by making improvements at Medway Maritime Hospital where Abigail was born, with a suite for bereaved parents completed in 2016.

Medway Maritime Hospital Entrance
Medway Maritime Hospital (Alamy/PA)

The charity’s first film, The Deafening Silence, shows a stillbirth through a mother’s eyes. It has been watched nearly 450,000 times on YouTube and hospitals around the world use it to train midwives.

On Monday Abigail’s Footsteps debuted its second film, Say My Baby’s Name, which follows parents who are about to have a second baby after their first son died at three days old.

Speaking at the screening was Jo Hanlon, who was supported by Abigail’s Footsteps after her son Jaxon died in 2020, and has recently given birth to her third child.

She said: “The film really took me back – parts of it were really relatable for me. It’s really important to remember the baby before. Quite often it can be thought ‘you’re pregnant now so you should be OK’, but really you’re more vulnerable than ever.

Jo Hanlon, left, who lost her son Jaxon in 2020 and is one of many bereaved mums supported by charity Abigail's Footsteps
Jo Hanlon, left, lost her son Jaxon in 2020 and is one of many bereaved mums supported by Abigail’s Footsteps (Abigail’s Footsteps/PA)

“It’s just important to treat everybody as an individual – I was really lucky to have a bereavement midwife on my side in my second pregnancy and it was really helpful to have someone I could talk to.

“There were midwives who hadn’t read my notes so didn’t know about my baby before, and I was told I couldn’t have certain scans when previously I’d been told I could, so for me that was really overwhelming to have to explain your history to every person – it’s like reliving the trauma every time.”

Mr Ward, who has children aged 12 and 10, said the launch of the film during Baby Loss Awareness Week was no coincidence.

He said: “My wife and I were very lucky to have two more children and even they talk about Abigail – we have balloons and flowers on her birthdays so we’re lucky we’ve always spoken about her.

A Q&A panel hosted at the debut screening of short film Say My Baby's Name by charity Abigail's Footsteps
The screening heard from actor Stefan Asante-Boateng, scriptwriter Guy Ducker, bereavement midwife Sharon Hurst, Abigail’s Footsteps trainer Paula Abramson and mother Jo Hanlon (Abigail’s Footsteps/PA)

“We’re quite unique, other families like the one in the film don’t talk about it because they don’t know what to say, so they don’t say anything at all, and it can be devastating to feel like you’re not able to mention the name.

“Recently I built a climbing frame for my children and when my wife Jo came outside she started crying because Abigail is never going to use it. I don’t think people understand the pain doesn’t go away.

“Expecting another baby soon after a loss is so hard because you’re going through the same thing again, and what if it goes wrong?”

While the charity began as a local one, focusing on supporting Kent families and improving local bereavement facilities, as demand has grown Abigail’s Footsteps has worked with hospitals in Surrey, Sussex, south London and Essex.

The charity provides fully funded bereavement training for midwives, and has raised money to place cold cots – which keep a baby’s body at 4C to give parents more time to say goodbye – in four hospitals so far.

Next April the charity will take a three-hour training course built around Say My Baby’s Name to hospitals across the country.

Mr Ward added: “We realised we need to take this nationally because there’s a massive demand for it.

“As a charity we wish we never needed this sort of support – we wish there was no need for this film.

“We had the same issues with the notes 12 years ago that Jo had so maybe we need to do more.

“Deafening Silence is still being used nine years on and I’m sure it will be the same for Say My Baby’s Name.”

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