Grief does not respect the holiday season and for bereaved parents who have lost their baby it can be a particularly hard time. Fiona Finch learns how Val Isherwood’s sorrow at the stillbirth of her daughter led her to create a very special charity.
Christmas is a time for family and fun, for celebration and hope.
But life doesn’t always deal that card.
For those who were eagerly looking forward to their first Christmas with their new baby, but instead find themselves grieving for a miscarried or stillborn baby, it can be a bewildering and sorrowful time.
It was this knowledge which led Val Isherwood to set up the Tigerlily Trust.
The charity, provides comfort and support to those in north Lancashire and south Cumbria who grieve a lost baby.
Val and husband Patrick lost their only child Lily, when she was stillborn at 32 and a half weeks in 2011.
A year later Val founded the Tigerlily Trust naming it after her daughter.
She said: “At that point there was very little support available locally and I really struggled. I was desperate to speak to another bereaved parent. Just over a year later, round about what would have been Lily’s first birthday, I decided to do something - so that other parents do not feel like I did.”
The charity was born on December 12, 2012 .Val recalled: “We did a fundraiser and all the money was put into purchasing things to make a remembrance box. We got our first boxes into three local hospitals in the Morecambe Bay NHS Trust area.”
These included the Lancaster Royal Infirmary and Val recalled: “We put things like identical teddies so one can stay with the baby and one can stay with the parents.”
Val drew on her own experiences and feelings, remembering also how her husband had tried so hard to find an identical teddy bear for them.
She continued: “Then I found myself thinking is it OK to have a picture of my baby up at home or is that weird? I thought no - she is part of our family and always will be.
“We put a beautiful porcelain picture frame in the boxes. That encourages parents to say it’s fine to have a picture of the baby.”
A porcelain candle holder is also added with a tea light which can be lit when the bereaved get home.
A bookmark with forget me not seeds is included which can be planted in honour of the baby.
Val has also tried to provide gifts in the box which will help comfort the mother - including what she describes as a ‘Bath T muslin bag’ which can be used in the bath or as a fragrant keepsake. She said: “I worked with an aromatherapist to design a special blend of essential oils that are good for grief and healing. You put a muslin bag full of rose petals and different flower petals impregnated with essential oils. It can be used in a bath, dried out and kept .
She said: “It’s also about healing that relationship with your body. As a woman I felt my body had failed me - it took time to restabilise and connect with my body. To help women again I also put in rose-scented soap - it’s all about calming, soothing and reconnecting.”
The charity’s next step was to develop a miscarriage care package: “It’s a similar thing and more discreet.Bearing in mind it might be a very recent loss, that now can be given out to anyone across Morecambe Bay who suffers earliest loss.”
Tigerlily volunteers make crochet star angel blankets, knitted cribs, crocheted hearts and butterflies and small angel cribs for the smallest of babies to help families at their time of loss.
The charity also runs three support groups in Lancaster, Barrow and Kendal and said Val: “We offer one to one support and we do training for midwives and student midwives and any hospital staff who would come into contact with a bereaved parent.”
An annual remembrance service is held each October to coincide with International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day.
Some of the people Val has helped have become good friends and she says: “You can lose a lot off friends when you lose a baby and that can be another grief , but you gain friends from other places. I let people know that’s normal as well.
“Right from the start I know what they are feeling, what they are thinking , what they are going through. I just hold their hand and let them know they are not going crazy, this is normal and just give them ideas about what helped me.”
But Val is aware that this time of year is especially hard for the bereaved:“Christmas is so difficult for everybody and the first Christmas throws up so much and is so triggering of grief. Often bereaved parents don’t really do much at Christmas time. I know that was the same for me.”
One of Val’s suggestions is to create new traditions. She said: “Think of doing something new at Christmas in memory and honour of your baby. It could be a special walk you’ve never done before. We went to a Christmas Tree festival we’d never been to before and they did a carol singing and a candlelit procession through the streets and now that has become our tradition.
“Parents often like to create their own tree,there’s the normal tree and a separate little Christmas tree all decorated in memory of their baby.”
Another initiative and fundraiser for Grange over Sands-based Tigerlily is for people to create or commission a decorative Remembrance baubles.
This year’s creations are are now on display at the annual in the Christmas Tree Festival at St Mary’s Church, Dalton where the charity has a tree with the theme “Reminds Me of You”.
Val explained the baubles are made at a creative grief workshop, adding: “ It’s just a lovely way for parents to get together,and support one another while making a beautiful tribute to their baby or babies.”
* The Tigerlily Tree will be displayed at the Christmas Tree Festival at Dalton St Mary’s church, every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in December. Funds raised will go to local charities
* Contact details and information about the work of the Tigerlily Trust can be found at www.tigerlilytrust.co.uk