The death of the twin son of Cristiano Ronaldo and Georgina Rodríguez during childbirth which was announced on Monday, has been received with worldwide sympathy. But experts say there is still too little public perception of the devastating impact of stillbirth, neonatal death, miscarriage and medical termination on parents, as well as their families and friends.
What most parents who have lost a baby want and need is to hear their baby’s name. Yet the loss of a baby is so rarely discussed in today’s society that it’s practically taboo, grief counselors say, leaving parents alienated rather than supported.
“While parents’ lives are irrevocably changed by the loss of their newborn, even bereaved family members can end up saying the wrong thing,” said Jen Coates, director of the bereavement support charity. Beach. “Anything that starts with ‘At least’ is usually incredibly pointless and hurtful. This can be a particular problem with twin loss, where one twin dies and the other lives. There is no ‘At least’: her baby died and that’s devastating.”
Nicky Rygielski, trustee of Sophia’s Pregnancy Loss Support, agreed. “When a baby dies at any stage of gestation, the lives of her parents change irrevocably. Your longed-for baby will never be ‘replaced’, no matter how many children you may have in the future. If she is supporting a grieving parent, she shouldn’t be afraid to talk about losing her. Help them find a new normal, including their lost little one.”
If, as in the case of Ronaldo and Rodriguez, there is a surviving twin, that makes bereavement particularly difficult, said Sharon Darke, bereavement support coordinator at twins trustwho lost his twins 22 years ago.
“You have the joy of the twin that is alive and doing well along with the utter devastation of the twin that died,” he said. “How do you deal with those parallels?”
In 2020 there were 2,231 stillbirths and 733 infant deaths born at 24 weeks in England and Wales, a rate of 2.7 deaths per 1,000 live births that has remained stable since 2016.
“The loss of a baby is a unique experience, but it differs from the normal grief that we feel when we lose a close friend or relative,” said Amy Jackson, co-founder of the Lily Mae Foundation, named for the daughter he lost in 2010 as a newborn. “We do not regret a life that has happened where that individual has accomplished so much. We mourned a lifetime for a missed opportunity and memories we planned to make with our baby.”
When Jackson left the hospital after Lily Mae’s birth and death, he left “with nothing but a broken heart and our small but precious memories.” His charity now helps parents create a keepsake box to store precious items.
“As a parent, you want to protect your child; when you lose a child, you want and need to protect their memory,” he said. “By providing parents with a starting point and ideas, we will hopefully make the difficult task of memory a little easier and give them something beautiful to look back on and remember their child.”
Ben Moorhouse, co-founder of the Kallipateira Moorhouse Foundation who lost her newborn daughter at birth, said that while her “shock will last a lifetime with an hourly pain,” the pain can be overlooked.
“It is the highest form of devastation and anguish that you can experience,” he said. “But as a father I was treated very differently from my wife. She was expected to be strong. Even now people think I’m fine when I’m not: they often forget about dads.”
Grandparents and siblings can also be forgotten: “Grandparents are not only grieving the death of a grandchild, but also their child’s grief over the loss of a baby,” Coates said, adding: “Siblings Minors will go in and out of grief because they can’t stand those feelings of sadness and may need to focus on other things for a while.”