Mark and Veronika’s son, Christian, died when Veronika was 32 weeks pregnant due to undiagnosed pre-eclampsia. They were supported by Child Bereavement UK in Milton Keynes after Christian’s death and during Veronika’s subsequent pregnancy with the couple’s daughter Erika.

“I was at work when I lost Christian,” says Veronika. “My boss drove me to the hospital and when I got there the midwife told me that there was no heartbeat. I just looked at her and I thought: ‘That’s it, there is no more’.”

 Finally, after all the attempts to get pregnant, we were members of this exclusive club. Then 32 weeks later we got kicked out.

“Christian was an IVF pregnancy. When you’re pregnant you’re basically set on a life path; everything changes, all your previous identity is gone. You’re going to be a mother, and that’s what’s going to happen. Finally, after all the attempts to get pregnant, we were members of this exclusive club. Then 32 weeks later we got kicked out. It felt so unfair: I just broke down, I lost my confidence, I couldn’t even talk to Mark.

The support at the hospital was brilliant. We had two midwives who stayed beyond their shifts for the birth. We were in the bereavement room which was very comfortable with a sofa, ensuite, and a double bed. But the problem is you still listen to babies being born.

Over the course of the weekend we asked the midwife to bring Christian to us in the cool cot. She dressed him and made him look beautiful. We were appreciative of her approach, she didn’t treat him like an object.

We held him and we don’t regret it, we’ve got beautiful pictures and we had his feet cast. They also cast Erika’s feet too and they hang next to each other in the nursery.

When we came home, Mark and I just lay down together and cuddled. Mark’s mother came in every few days and brought food, because we didn’t think about food, we didn’t think about showering. We just planned the funeral, which was something we’d never imagined ourselves doing.

This vastness of life without the baby, which I’d wanted so much, felt desperate.

We didn’t realise how profound it would be. We thought we’d just take a week or so off and we’d probably be able to continue. However, Marks week off was coming to an end and I just about mustered up the confidence to say to Mark: ‘I need you here with me, please don't go back to work yet’. I could stay on maternity leave but this vastness of life without the baby, which I’d wanted so much, felt desperate.”

 “My employer was pretty good,” says Mark. “I think I had at least three weeks off. Veronika is from the Czech Republic so we just packed up, booked tickets and took her home for a week to spend time with her family and get away from everything.

 “I was on leave for a good seven months,” says Veronika. “I went for walks, meditated volunteered at a local charity shop and came for support with Child Bereavement UK. I tried to eat well and be kind to myself. I said to Mark: ‘I’ll do whatever to get through this, I don’t want this to define me.’

 For seven months I was in a bubble. Everyone knew what had happened and some people stopped talking to us, so you have your loss and you have double loss because people around are not comfortable talking to you.”

“They just don’t know what to say,” says Mark. “And that makes you feel quite isolated as well. Someone just needs to say: ‘I just don’t know what to say mate, but if you want a beer, if you want a chat, if you want to go for a bike ride, go for a drive, I’m about.’

 “If you don’t know what to say, say something, don’t be a stranger, that’s the worst bit because you feel so lonely,” says Veronika.

 When Veronika returned to work, she was already pregnant with Erika,

 “My loss happened at work so going back was very hard. I couldn’t use the rest room because that was where it happened. On the first day, I opened my email and the first thing I saw was an email from someone announcing that they had had a baby, that was so hard as it should have been me saying that.

Also, a customer came in who hadn’t seen me for a long time. He started saying, ‘How is your little one?’ I replied, ‘Unfortunately, he didn’t make it’. People respond very well to that, if you say the word ‘died’ or ‘passed away’, they don’t know what to say. He talked to me for almost two hours about his two-year-old, and how great it is to be a father. I stood there and every bone in my body was saying: ‘Leave, leave, leave. Protect yourself,’ but it was also so beautiful to see him being so happy. It was bittersweet because it could have been us.

My work was so good to me. When I came back and said I was pregnant they immediately put me on reduced hours, four days a week. I had multiple appointments every week due to stress, I went to Child Bereavement UK and attended a support group for baby loss. If I didn’t feel well, I could say. ‘I’m not feeling well’ and go home or say, ‘I’m going to get checked at the hospital’

It was my decision to seek help because I just didn’t want to be defined by what had happened, but I didn’t see a way out. I was referred for counselling but then the service called me and suggested that Child Bereavement UK would be a better option for me. I came on my own at first; the bereavement support practitioner spent time to understand what I’d been through and then she took me through a process that allowed me to let all my feelings out.

Everyone knew what had happened and some people stopped talking to us; so, you have your loss and you have double loss because people around are not comfortable talking to you.

At Child Bereavement UK I could talk about the anxiety. It was like a safe haven, it was the one place I could talk without getting hurt. I was hurting so much anyway that I couldn’t take any more. I needed this safe space to talk, to talk about all the other occasions during the month where I’d been hurt, about what wasn’t working and what my worries were.

The second pregnancy was very hard in the sense that I felt like a ticking bomb to everyone because everyone knew that things could go horribly wrong, very quickly and at any time. At Child Bereavement UK I could talk about the anxiety. It was like a safe haven, it was the one place I could talk without getting hurt. I was hurting so much anyway that I couldn’t take any more. I needed this safe space to talk, to talk about all the other occasions during the month where I’d been hurt, about what wasn’t working and what my worries were.

Child Bereavement UK made me feel normal, that I wasn’t being paranoid; this is a real thing, it has happened, there’s a chance it could happen again but there’s also a chance that it’s going to work this time because you have all the back up.  Child Bereavement UK gave me that direction into the light, and showed me there was a way through it.

Mark started sessions on his own, but with the same bereavement support practitioner at Child Bereavement UK about a year later. Says Mark:

“I lost my Dad less than two years before Christian died. As the executor of his estate I had been super-busy, so had never really had time to stop and grieve. At the point at which I had done the bulk of the task and had time to stop and think I’d spent the year telling people he had died. I wasn’t hit by the shock that Dad had gone because I’d been talking about it for so long. And when we lost Christian, I didn’t really process it, I think it took a long time before I realised I was struggling. Veronika said: “Go and speak to Child Bereavement UK. Try it, if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out.’

The bereavement support practitioner knew the right questions to ask without being probing. I’d say how I felt about something and she’d ask the right things, she’d say the right thing to make you dig into it a bit more, but without feeling you were being pried into.

The bereavement support practitioner knew the right questions to ask to help you to understand your feelings. I’d say how I felt about something and she’d ask the right things, she’d say the right thing to make you dig into it a bit more, asking questions that made you look deeper, to show you why you might be reacting in the way you do. And you very quickly realise that you can just relax and talk to her about everything.

“She took us through a gradual process of letting it out in a structured way,” says Veronika. “It wasn’t a chaotic mess, she elicited you to verbalise your feelings which helped you to process them. “

Says Mark: “As a man you don’t express and think about your feelings as much. You don’t tend to talk about them with other people in the same way as women will, even though you’ve still got similar feelings and you’re still upset by them. For me, a lot of it was processing the grief of losing Dad and how losing Christian had brought it all back and become intertwined with it. So, two years on, I was suddenly grieving for my Dad and grieving for Christian.

Knowing how fragile Veronika was, I couldn’t load any more stress on her; as a man, I felt it was my job to look after her and protect her from things. I felt that to offload on her all the things that were going on in my head was not going to protect her, or to help her. As I realise now, the flip side is that talking about things more, telling her what I was going through, would have made her feel better because she would have felt less alone.

Women share to make themselves feel better, men hold it in because they feel they have to protect,” says Veronika. “At first, you’re in this black hole together but, as we moved along, Mark might have a day when he was happy and I’d be as miserable as hell because I’d seen pregnant women or women with babies everywhere. And I’d be angry with him because why wasn’t he grieving?  Then on other days it would be the other way around.’

 “We’d advise other people in our situation to come to Child Bereavement UK. but you have to be ready,” says Veronika. “Give it a shot, what have you got to lose? It might not be for everybody but for me it worked. It’s not invasive; you sit there and whatever comes out is fine.”

Coming to Child Bereavement UK helped me to make sense of various bits and why I react the way I do. That the way I’m reacting isn’t that odd, it’s conditioned into me and isn’t strange. That the way I’m dealing with my grief is different, but it makes sense, which in turn helped me deal with it because I understood the way I was dealing with it.

 “Coming to Child Bereavement UK helped me to make sense of various bits and why I react the way I do,” says Mark. “That the way I’m reacting isn’t that odd, it’s conditioned into me and isn’t strange. The way I’m dealing with my grief is different but it makes sense, which in turn helped me deal with it, because I understood the way I was dealing with it.”