Sands Awareness Month aims to help bereaved parents

Local mum calls for new bereavement centre at Birmingham Women’s Hospital.

This June, for Sands Awareness Month, a bereaved mum from Redditch is throwing her support behind a fundraising appeal to bring a brand-new, purpose-built centre to Birmingham Women’s Hospital, where heartbreaking pregnancy and neonatal loss conversations can take place.

Sands Awareness Month, run by the stillbirth and neonatal death charity, advocates for the right care and support to always be there to support grieving parents. When complete, Woodland House will offer just that – a safe and serene space where parents can receive the best aftercare, following their loss. It’ll support families just like Charlotte Cowman’s.

Charlotte was in complete shock when she discovered she was having twins, but it was a happy surprise, and though daunted by the journey ahead, she was excited. Unfortunately, that happiness soon turned to despair, after her waters broke unexpectedly at 23 weeks. She was transferred to Birmingham Women’s Hospital, which is home to a specialist neonatal intensive care unit for premature babies, and staff tried to keep her comfortable whilst trying to delay the onset of her labour.

However, Charlotte was in for another shock, after a swab discovered she had an infection, which had now turned to sepsis. They couldn’t afford to wait and Charlotte would have to go down to theatre to have a caesarean section. Her babies – Tia Mae and Eli – were born alive, but very poorly. As the days progressed, Tia Mae seemed to be coping well, despite a couple of setbacks. However, it was clear just how sick Eli was, and there was a very good chance he wouldn’t make it. Charlotte reflects: “I had started grieving for my baby before it died… but what I didn’t know is that it was the wrong one.”

On their thirteenth day on NICU, Tia Mae’s heart rate dropped suddenly. Charlotte watched from outside Tia Mae’s room as the doctors and nurses worked to save her, but after half an hour, the doctor came out and told a hysterical Charlotte that there was nothing more they could do. Charlotte went in and held Tia Mae in her arms while she fell asleep forever.

Now Charlotte wants to support other parents and families who have tragically lost a baby and has pledged her support to Birmingham Women’s Hospital Charity, which is on a mission to raise the next £1 million for its Woodland House Appeal, which will allow it to break ground on its standalone bereavement centre for families experiencing pregnancy and baby loss.

Space within Birmingham Women’s Hospital is limited and as such heart-breaking conversations currently take place in rooms and locations that don’t reflect the significance of a family’s loss. Patients often speak of feeling rushed and of having ‘nowhere to go’ after receiving devastating news.

Woodland House will be the first of its kind in a hospital setting and has been designed following patient feedback, which advocated the need for a standalone facility that was quiet and private. It will improve the lives of approximately 2,000 women who experience loss at the hospital every year.

The new centre will feature separate and private access and will boast bespoke counselling rooms, a private garden, a large communal lounge area for support groups, and a family room with its own private access and garden. It will also have a private and sensitive mortuary, offering families the opportunity to spend time with their loved ones in comfort and serenity – something that would’ve made a massive difference to Charlotte’s experience.

When the time came to say goodbye to Tia Mae, Charlotte wrapped her up and took her down to the mortuary in the basement of the hospital. Charlotte said: “I just remember thinking, ‘Oh my god, I have to leave my baby here?’ We passed what looked like a service entrance, there were spare beds on the side; it just looked so industrial. I had only just lost Tia Mae, but this felt like another trauma I had to endure. I know that if Woodland House had been here, that would have saved me from the extra pain of that horrible feeling.”

Miranda Williams, Head of Public Fundraising at Birmingham Women’s Hospital Charity, said: “Our bereaved families will never forget the time they spend with us and whilst we can never ease the heartbreak of losing a precious child, we can create an environment that recognises and honours their loss.

“With our plans for Woodland House, we’ll be setting the standard for pregnancy or baby loss aftercare, nationally. It means that, in the future, women and couples facing the terrible shock and distress of loss will be able to spend time together as a family in a quiet, non-clinical space away from the hustle and bustle of the main hospital. They will be given all the privacy and support they need during one of the most upsetting and difficult personal experiences imaginable.”

To help make Woodland House a reality by donating online or find out more about the appeal, visit Alternatively, to donate £5, text WOODLAND to 70970 (standard terms apply).