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29 August 2012

Saying goodbye

Saying goodbye

by Chine Mbubaegbu

Millions of women have suffered the devastating pain of a miscarriage, still birth and early years loss. Some have never grieved for the babies they lost. Now, a Christian woman who has suffered tragedies of her own is giving thousands of women the chance to say goodbye.

Pregnancy is supposed to be a hope-filled time; a time when you look forward expectantly to new life and all the hope that it brings. But for so many couples, pregnancy can end in tragedy, leaving them devastated, depressed, angry and alone. 

According to the Miscarriage Association, more than one in five pregnancies ends in miscarriage – around a quarter of a million in the UK each year. And it can happen to anyone.

It happened five times to Zoe Clark-Coates and her husband Andy – a Christian couple who lost five pre-term babies, through miscarriage and missed miscarriage: Coby, Bailey, Darcy, Samuel and Isabella all within the space of three and a half years. 

Recalling her second pregnancy, Zoe spoke of the moment that she knew she had lost another child. “We were due to go to a party, but I had been slightly bleeding. So I stayed in bed, constantly doing that maternal stroke of the stomach, which somehow feels like you’re comforting and caring for your child. But when I got up that evening I felt a sudden rush of blood, and I knew my baby had just died.” 

A scan two days later showed that their baby had indeed passed away, and baby Darcy’s heart had simply stopped beating. 

Zoe and Andy are now the proud parents of two little girls Esme, aged three, and Bronte, who is 10 months old, but it’s been a long and painful journey to parenthood. 

To help others who have lost babies Zoe and Andy have set up a not-for-profit organisation called Saying Goodbye, which will run national remembrance services for those who have been through loss. 

Zoe said: “We want to give everyone the opportunity to remember the children they have lost and so we created the Saying Goodbye organisation in the hope we can help thousands of people recognise their children and pay tribute to them, however short their life was. Whether a person loses a baby at four weeks of pregnancy or at any time after, it’s a painful experience for many, and it’s important people’s grief and loss is acknowledged.” 

This year, seven services are being held and due to the overwhelming response from the public, co-operation with local bodies and support from high-profile names such as Professor Lord Robert Winston, 20 services are scheduled for next year. 

Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, is also an ambassador for the organisation. He said: “Love and support from family and friends at such a difficult time is vital. Giving time to grieve in order to begin to come to terms with living with loss needs to be encouraged.
“The Saying Goodbye services give a time and a space for those parents, friends and family to come together, to reflect and to take comfort in each other. It is important that in crisis they know they are not alone. Saying Goodbye is not about forgetting what has gone before us, but life in Christ gives us the strength, courage and hope for a new beginning.” 

Zoe is using her experience of loss to help other women and men who have gone through the same ordeal – no matter how long ago. There are people in the UK today who are still dealing with the pain of having lost a baby, sibling or grandchild decades ago, but who have never had a chance to grieve. 

“Having a faith and going through that loss has just made me realise how horrendous it must be for people who don’t know God,” Zoe said. “I’ve spoken to women who feel their lives are over, people who have lost 10 babies. It’s an admiration for every woman who loses a child and gets on with their lives. 

“We’re delighted to offer people a chance to say goodbye to their children or the children of family and friends. People have said to us that it’s as if their baby never existed; the world just goes on. We’re also hearing from men who feel that they are just a shadow of their former selves after having lost a baby. It’s good to grieve and it’s right to acknowledge your children. If you don’t grieve, it can manifest itself in health and psychological problems, and it’s imperative that people do not get stuck in a cycle of grief.” 

What started just a few months ago as a small-scale plan to hold a service has escalated to a nationwide series of services that are to be attended by thousands of women and men who have been affected. 

Saying Goodbye has also quickly become a go-to organisation for people seeking support and advice for those personally affected by loss, or for those supporting others through the grieving process.

As international event directors and owners of CCEM, a secular event management company, Zoe and Andy are not fazed at all by the quantum leap Saying Goodbye has experienced, as they know the hand of God is firmly on their work, and they are excited at the prospect of helping so many people. 

They are now appealing to local churches to support the services, and also asking people to come forward who may feel led to financially support their work, as funding is essential if they are to maintain the ministry. 

The services are taking place at cathedrals and minsters across the UK, including Exeter, Bristol, Birmingham, York, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London. The format of each will be similar, including music from choirs, poetry and readings, prayers and a message of hope.

Zoe said: “If we can even help one person, then it will be worth it.” 

CCEM is a UK based international events company, run by Zoe and Andy. They have donated considerable funds and recourses to Saying Goodbye. Saying Goodbye’s official charity partner is the Miscarriage Association, who are the leading charity working in the field of miscarriage, and they are also delighted to be working with organisations such as Bliss, the Association of Early Pregnancy Units, cot death charity FSID and many more. 

For more information on the services, their dates and locations, visit their website. 

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