Dying Matters Awareness Week
Dying Matters Awareness Week
8-14th May 2023
A step towards breaking the taboo of baby loss
The National Centre for Creative Health (NCCH) and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing (APPG AHW) are undertaking a Creative Health Review to gather evidence of the benefits of creative health to address the major challenges facing the health and wellbeing of the UK population.
End of Life Care and Bereavement is an area where we know creativity can have a real impact, helping people to process and express emotion, maintain human connection and to make sense of their experiences. However, death, dying and bereavement can be difficult subjects to talk about, and societal attitudes can inhibit open discussion.
Losing a pregnancy or a baby is a devastating trauma. Statistics show that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in loss, yet the issue remains taboo. Many parents suffer in silence and feel isolated in grief without guidance to process their emotions. The Whitworth, an art gallery in Manchester, have partnered up with Sands, the Stillbirth & Neonatal Death Charity, to help break the taboo by providing creative, emotional support to parents experiencing the loss of a baby.
The Whitworth partnered with the Manchester branch of the charity Sands to host monthly creativity art workshops for parents who have experienced the loss of a baby during pregnancy or just after birth. The 'Still Parents' workshops launched in October 2019 and remain ongoing. Frequently, families who have lost a child feel shame and loneliness. The project offers the opportunity for open and honest conversations about miscarriage, stillbirth, neo natal death and termination for medical reasons to make people feel less alone during circumstances that can be highly isolating.
Lucy Turner, a member of the Whitworth's Civic Engagement and Education Team, founded Still Parents in response to her own experience of baby loss. She says: "I never accessed any support groups as I just didn't feel like they were for me. I wanted to create something that I would have wanted in the hope it might be what others needed too".
Professional artists lead the programme and allow participants to explore their experiences through creativity together. Creating is central to the informal workshops, as participants are introduced to new techniques while surrounded by other parents experiencing baby loss. One grieving mother said, "My husband and I have been able to share this grieving and healing process together in a creative and productive way which helped us open up to each other about our own personal feelings about our loss." Another participating parent said: "The sessions are so valuable to me, just knowing I can spend time with people that have experienced baby loss without the expectation that I have to speak is just so comforting."
When a parent loses a pregnancy or baby, the response is often clinical and focuses on the medical cause and physical treatment. The Still Parents project shows that society needs to develop new and different ways to help families who have lost a loved one in addition to traditional bereavement services and talking therapies. One participant realised the need to be with other grieving parents, and the project allowed the space for joint healing. "It was a unifying moment for me to be reminded of the power of art and its ability to bring people together. It was the moment I knew for sure I was really in the right place that could help me on the journey of healing, forgiveness and recovery."
The Whitworth displayed a Still Parents: Life After Baby Loss exhibition from 24 September 2021 to 4 December 2022. It was the first exhibition of its kind and provided a platform for people to share personal stories, start conversations, and break the silence surrounding baby loss.
The Still Parents exhibition was led by the participants who contributed to every aspect, from curation to interpretation. Visitors got to see a mix of artworks and objects created, selected, or loaned by the participants, as well as their own words, stories, and experiences of grief.
The exhibition aimed to expand understanding, raise awareness, and remove reservations about opening conversations on baby loss. Visitors felt that the exhibition offered a unique opportunity to relate with others. One visitor commented, "It is an exhibition I have had so many conversations about with colleagues and friends … it really resonates with so many people and I felt connected to others in a way I don't always in a gallery."
The Still Parents project and its associated exhibition at the Whitworth are a significant step towards breaking the taboo surrounding baby loss. The project has given parents who have been through this trauma a creative and supportive way to work through their feelings through art and share their experiences with others. The exhibition helps to expand understanding and raise awareness of the issue while also providing a space for people to share personal stories and start conversations about the often-silent topic of baby loss.
The success of this project shows that there is a need for alternative and creative ways to support bereaved families, and it will inspire similar initiatives in the future. Sands hopes to explore how it can share the Still Parents approach nationwide.
To purchase the Still Parents: Life After Baby Loss book visit thewhitworthshop.com.
Lucy Turner from The Whitworth Art Gallery, together with Laura Gallagher a participant of the Still Parents Project recently join us for a End of Life Care & Bereavement Roundtable as part of the NCCH and APPG AHW Creative Health Review. Talking explicitly about their experiences of loss, their incredible bravery to share such a personal experience was truly moving. Listen here
Still Parents: Finding healing through art and community support
The Still Parents programme provides a creative outlet for parents who have suffered the loss of a baby during pregnancy or just after birth. Participants come together monthly to explore their experiences through creativity, community support and shared experiences. The Whitworth Art Gallery and Manchester Sands (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death charity) have partnered on this project.
Statistics show that 1 in 4 pregnancies in the UK end in loss, yet there is little or no creative support for bereaved families. The response to baby loss is often clinical and focuses on the medical causes and physical treatments. The Still Parents project provides participants with new skills and allows them to explore and share their stories through art. There is no pressure to talk or share, creating a safe space where bereaved families feel supported by a community that understands.
The programme culminated in the exhibition Still Parents: Life After Baby Loss. The collection of participant art opened at the Whitworth in September 2021. The displays generate empathy, start conversations, and address parental grief.
The Still Parents exhibition is an honest and powerful portrayal of baby loss told by those who have experienced it first-hand. Using these stories and the participants' voices helps personalise baby loss and raise awareness. The exhibition helps break the silence surrounding baby loss and has become a catalyst for open conversations.
Visitors to the exhibition have reported that it expanded their understanding of baby loss, with 43% of visitors aged 18-29. This age group has the greatest need for knowledge about baby loss since the average age for women in the UK to have their first child is 29. Visitors commented that the exhibition is a positive, healing space essential for building empathy.
The Still Parents programme provides support for family and friends and the NHS and bereavement services.
In a society where baby loss remains taboo, Still Parents has been a much-needed step towards breaking the silence. It creates a safe space for open conversations, empathy, and healing through creativity.