Why grieving parents are asking you to say their baby's name

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

Just inside the entrance of Ashleigh and Sebastien Rousseaux's home is a white plaque inscribed with a simple request: "Please talk about Dominic. He is our son and brother, he will always be loved and we want him to be remembered".

The couple ordered the custom-made plaque just days after their baby son was stillborn.

Mrs Rousseaux was 19 weeks' pregnant when a scan revealed their second child had a serious heart condition.

The plaque in the Rousseaux family home.
The plaque in the Rousseaux family home.  

"The scan showed he was a boy and that he had a heart condition. We realised at that moment that it was really important to name him and use his name as much as we could," said Mrs Rousseaux.

After an anxiety-filled pregnancy, Mrs Rousseaux was at her 39-week check-up when she was told Dominic's tiny heart had stopped beating.

Mrs Rousseaux was induced later that day and Dominic arrived in the early hours of October 3, 2014.

The couple spent precious hours creating memories with their son.  Older sister Juliette, then almost two, his grandparents, aunts and uncles also visited.

By the time they left the hospital late that night, they "felt almost overwhelmed by fear that he would be forgotten if we didn't prevent that from happening," says Mrs Rousseaux.

Within weeks the plaque they helped design was on the wall in the entryway of their home, along with a cabinet full of precious mementos, to encourage visitors to speak about their son.

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A survey conducted by charity Sands found the importance bereaved parents placed on being able to talk about their child and say their name.

"One of the most common things bereaved parents told us is how much the opportunity to say their baby's name, and to hear it from others, means to them," said Sands CEO Jackie Mead.

"Contrary to what people may think, talking to and with bereaved families about their baby does not compound their grief – it is often a welcome opportunity to express their love."

That knowledge inspired Sands to hold the first national "Say Their Name Day" on March 25 to encourage more people to talk openly about miscarriage, stillbirth and newborn death.

Sands hopes the day will reduce the stigma of pregnancy and infant loss by reinforcing the idea that every baby deserves to be celebrated.

"A stigma continues to exist when discussing a baby who has died. Sadly, this leaves parents feeling isolated and alone," said Ms Mead.

"We want to reduce this stigma by helping people feel more comfortable reaching out to a friend, colleague or family member to offer support.

"Respectfully sharing stories and listening to grieving parents are two simple ways we can ensure that every family who experiences the death of a baby feels understood and supported."

Ashleigh Rousseaux said it can be difficult for friends and family to know whether "to mention a child who is no longer here" and many fear "they will stir up grief".

"Often though, bereaved parents feel the exact opposite – they think of their child just as any parent would, and fear their child being forgotten," she said.

"Speaking their child's name is an immeasurable gift: a reminder that others too remember and hold their child in their thoughts."

She hopes Say Their Name Day will give bereaved parents an opportunity to speak about their children and encourage others to do the same, just as the plaque inside their home has opened up conversations.

"Recently, when our daughter had her school friends over to celebrate her birthday, each and every one of the parents asked about Dominic after seeing his plaque – with none of the usual apprehension," she says.

Mrs Rousseaux says Dominic is as much a part of their family as Juliette, now 6, Sophie, 3 and Oliver, 1.

"We say Dominic's name every single day. We love all our children equally, whether they are here or not," she says.

Sands provides 24-hour a day support to bereaved parents through a national support line, email, live chat and face-to-face support groups manned by volunteers who has suffered their own loss.

Mrs Rousseaux has been a Sands volunteer parent supporter via live chat and email for 2½ years and recently took up a paid position as the organisation's Queensland State Manager, overseeing events such as the annual Walk to Remember.

On or around Say Their Name Day, bereaved families are invited to write their baby's name on a paper heart, take a photo and share the image on social media using the hashtag #saytheirname.

Ms Mead said parents who did not get a chance to name their baby are invited to take part by using their surname, a nickname they used for the baby during pregnancy, or a significant date.

Sands has released a new factsheet, Words Matter, to guide family, friends, neighbours and colleagues in what they can do or say to someone who has lost a baby.

Visit https://www.sands.org.au/ or phone the 24-hour support line for bereaved parents on 1300 072 637.

To download the factsheet go to https://www.sands.org.au/sands-resources/words-matter