Every October since the early 90s, families affected by baby loss have commemorated their sleeping infant during Baby Loss Awareness Week. Despite the plethora of reasons someone may experience a miscarriage, stillbirth, and neonatal death, the families left behind bear a shared agony.
One cause of baby loss is physical trauma, accounting for seven percent of non-obstetric baby losses. Road traffic accidents contribute a substantial proportion to that figure. Where someone else’s actions cause a foetal or infant loss, there are, albeit limited, means of compensation.
For the parents of a lost baby, their experience is painful irrespective of its characterisation. The law is less forgiving and makes undoubtedly harsh distinctions in cases of baby loss. A miscarriage is defined as the loss of a pregnancy before 24 weeks, while a stillbirth is characterised as a loss after that. These differ from neonatal death, where an infant is born but passes away within 28 days. For miscarriages and stillbirths, the law limits a parent’s claim to anything the birth-giver has suffered. For example, the birthing parent can claim for any psychological or physical injuries contributing to or as a result of the accident, any reasonable treatment they have, and the infant’s funeral costs. Previous case law also indicates that the birthing parent can claim a “loss of satisfaction” from concluding the pregnancy. However, only in cases of neonatal death can parents also seek a statutory bereavement award. The non-claimant parent may also wish to seek damages as a secondary victim.
It is obvious that the legal definitions and mechanisms outlined above are unsatisfactory; upheld by the principle of “en ventre sa mere” – stating that a foetus is part of the mother until birth – the law offers derisory compensation, with no damages awarded directly for a foetal loss. In such a context, other means of support are quintessential. Families therefore often seek provision from charities such as SANDs (the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society), doing so to access a network of support and back law reform. Just this May, SANDs, alongside Tommy’s (another baby loss support charity), reported a significant policy deficit in legal and emotional recognition for grieving parents.
One way of sharing a baby loss experience is participating in Baby Loss Awareness Week (BLAW). This year, it commences on the week of the 9th of October. If you are fortunate enough to have never experienced such a loss, you may wonder how you can support mourning families. BLAW is a good start. While it is targeted at families who have suffered such a death, anybody can participate to show solidarity. We have outlined some common campaigns below.
Firstly, you can place a ribbon on the SANDs remembrance tree (linked here) and donate to SANDs in the process. Doing so allows you to add a message, either for yourself or on behalf of another. You can also decorate your windows with pink and blue lights every night from the 9th until the 15th of October to indicate you espouse the cause. Instead of, or in addition to the last, you can light a candle at 7 pm on the 15th of October for the “Wave of Light” movement.
Participating in any way and sharing your support by using hashtags “BLAW2023” and “WaveOfLight” marks the current campaign championing reform. Sharing your support will show a grieving family that you are there for them, and that while you do not understand their pain, you are there for them.