‘The pain never goes away’

Karren Whitren, left, and Kim Weir are starting a new support group for those who have experienced a stillbirth.    Picture: Ian Hargreaves (11245-1)
Karren Whitren, left, and Kim Weir are starting a new support group for those who have experienced a stillbirth. Picture: Ian Hargreaves (11245-1)

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Always loved, never forgotten. It’s a saying that Kim Weir lives by because it sums up how she feels about the death of her son, Michael.

The words are tattooed on the side of her foot and she wears a wristband bearing the same message. Neither of those things are hidden from view – but for a long time Kim couldn’t be open about her own experience of losing a child.

Michael was stillborn at 36 weeks on September 23, 1988.

But it wasn’t until she began to see a counsellor that she realised how his death 23 years ago had shaped her as a person.

Now she has trained as a befriender for the stillbirth and neonatal death charity, Sands, to help others going through the same trauma.

‘It’s only this year that I’ve acknowledged that this is a huge part of my life,’ says Kim. ‘I’ve realised the way it has made me feel and the impact it has had on everybody else so it has been good for everybody.

‘We are never going to understand fully what has happened but we can understand the impact that it has had.’

Kim was just 19 when she and husband Steve found out they were expecting their first child. After a normal pregnancy, with no worries, they were excited about the prospect of becoming parents.

But in the later stages of her pregnancy, Kim began to think something might be wrong when she felt a pain in her stomach and began to suffer from an intense itching.

‘I thought “I need to sort this out” and went to see my doctor,’ she explains. ‘I remember that he was very young and he used an ultrasound to hear the heartbeat and there was nothing.

‘He said “I’m sorry but I can’t hear a heartbeat”. He looked awful. I remember that, I remember his face.’

As the news that her baby had died in her womb was broken to her, Kim knew she’d still have to give birth.

‘They wanted me to go into hospital that day but I needed a night at home,’ she adds.

‘I pretty much collapsed. Like all pregnant women I used to touch my tummy, but from the moment I knew Michael had died, I couldn’t do that.

‘I went in the next day and I’m just glad things have changed so much since then. They put me on a normal maternity ward and I could hear other babies being born. I was given an epidural and was started off because I wasn’t ready to give birth. I got to hold my baby and they took a picture for me.

‘Now they have all these pictures taken and Queen Alexandra Hospital has just got a new suite where families can stay and I’m glad things have changed in that respect.

‘Once I had given birth and held Michael I was stuck round the corner and I could still hear the babies crying.’

A post mortem couldn’t explain what had happened. But Kim has since found out more about the scratching she suffered and wonders if it may have played a part.

While itching during pregnancy isn’t uncommon, it can sometimes be a liver condition called obstetric cholestasis. And, left undiagnosed and untreated, it can result in premature birth and even stillbirth.

These days a lot more is known about the condition and women who suffer from it have it included in their medical notes. But when Kim was pregnant with Michael there wasn’t much information available.

‘I can’t say for definite that is what I had but I think it’s important that people know about it,’ says Kim. ‘I started to scratch when I was about to give birth to my daughter and thought “Oh no, I can’t do this again”.

‘It would be so bad that I’d draw blood. We went to the hospital but they didn’t know anything about it.’

Kim and Steve have gone on to have three daughters – Paige, 20, Brooke, 17 and 14-year-old Bronte.

The girls know about their brother and the couple have been open with family and friends about their loss.

But 42-year-old Kim, from Gosport, says she didn’t grieve properly for Michael. She didn’t talk to anyone else who’d been through the same experience and kept a lot of what she was feeling inside. The knock-on effect was a creeping sense of depression.

‘It has been difficult for all of us, for the girls and for Steve,’ she adds. ‘It wasn’t until I went on the befrienders course that I realised I was normal.

‘Leading up to Michael’s birthday is hard. I get bad and quiet and on the day I cry. When the day has gone you start again. But it wasn’t until the course that I understood how I behaved and how difficult it’s been for everyone else.’

Singer Lily Allen and actress Amanda Holden have both suffered stillbirths this year and Kim believes that it’s important that the issue gets talked about.

‘I don’t want anyone to go through what I’ve been through but it does happen,’ she adds. ‘It has happened recently with Amanda Holden. When it happened to me it was Annie Lennox from the Eurythmics who was going through it and I saw her on TV talking about it.

‘I thought “Oh god, it happens to famous people as well”. It is one of those things you think will never happen to you.

‘People sometimes think it’s a miscarriage but you give birth to a baby at the end of the day. Unless you have kids I don’t think you can understand that.’

The pain of losing Michael has never gone away and Kim often wonders what life would be like if things had worked out differently.

She’s a mum of four – but that can be a hard thing to explain to those who don’t know what’s happened.

‘It’s very difficult when people say to me “You’ve got three girls, I bet you wish you had a boy”.

‘I did have a boy, I’ve had four children.

‘When people say “I bet you wish you had a little boy” you don’t want to make them feel bad by saying “Actually I did but he died”.

‘But you don’t want to do your child a disservice by not acknowledging him.

‘People who know us know about Michael but now I think as long as we’ve acknowledged him it’s OK not to make them feel bad.’

As a result of becoming a befriender, a new Sands support group will open in Fareham next month (see panel) and Kim is pleased she might be able to help others.

‘Michael would have been 23 this year. He’s with me all the time. I feel happy to be more open about it. It’s making people aware that it does happen.

‘There is hope, you can get on, but you don’t forget the child that you had.

‘Losing a baby is one of the worst things in the world but the more people who talk about it then maybe we can stop it.

‘We have one of the hightest rates of stillbirths in Europe – there’s no reason for it.’

VARIRTY SHOW

On Sunday July 31, Kim Weir will host a variety show to help raise funds for the local Sands group.

In her role as the principal of Gosport-based Bekims Theatre School, she and her students will put on a performance at Fareham’s Ferneham Hall.

Pupils will sing, dance and act, with a percentage of the proceeds going to Sands.

To find out more about the show log onto bekims.co.uk

CHARITY

In the UK, 11 babies are stillborn every day.

Britain’s stillbirth rates put us second from the bottom out of 35 other countries.

While countries like Australia have invested heavily in research and been able to bring their rates down, the numbers have stayed the same in the UK for the past 10 years.

Stillbirths can be caused by anything from infection through to problems with the placenta.

Sands raises money to help pay for research and also runs support groups for families who’ve lost a child.

Kim Weir and Karren Whitren will launch a new group in Fareham next month.

Henry Cort Community College, in Hillson Drive, has donated the use of a meeting room and the first gathering will take place on Wednesday, August 10, between 7pm and 9pm.

‘The meetings are for everybody and I think that’s really good,’ says Kim.

‘I’m looking forward to it. It’s a positive way to help people so that they don’t go down the same path as I have done in keeping it all in. I’ll never get over it, it’s been an ongoing process but when you are ready to talk it helps.

‘I’m so excited about doing all of this but it is bittersweet because I wouldn’t be doing it if Michael hadn’t died. But this is my way of doing something for Michael. This is our time.’

To be put in touch with the group, or to find out more about Sands, call 020 7436 5881 or 020 7436 7940.

You can also log onto the charity’s website at uk-sands.org