Still Loved, the first feature-length film to tackle the issue, will be screened at selected cinemas throughout the UK in October. Its director, Debbie Howard, hopes that the film will not only speak to those who have suffered a loss but strip away some of society’s preconceptions about how we deal with these deaths.
“I had two different friends who lost babies and I was really affected by the profound effect it had on them,” she says. “Initially, I made a short fictional film on the subject but as I did the research and spoke to families I realised there was so much to say that it would be better as a documentary. I knew the subject matter was challenging but I felt very passionately about giving parents a voice.”
Shot over three years, the often harrowing but ultimately hopeful documentary follows a handful of parents as they discuss their experiences with an at times brutal candour, laying bare both how it feels to be told that your child has died and, crucially, how and if you can find your way back to some semblance of normality. There are scenes of despair but also of bittersweet joy as families remember their babies in moving ceremonies or conceive again.
“One of the things no one ever says about stillbirth is how it affects every area of your life,” says Mel Scott, an occupational therapist from Somerset whose baby, Finley, died during labour. “I felt really isolated after Finley died. My husband had to go back to work and I was on maternity leave but with no baby.”
Making it worse was the assumption that the grief would soon pass. “It makes me cross when people say grief has a time and you should get over it,” she says. “Life might get bigger and brighter around the pain but it’s still there.”
Lou Evans, a physiotherapist from Derbyshire, agrees. “When Lauren died I wanted the whole world to know how much pain I was inand how much I continued to be in even as the years passed,” she says. “A lot of my friends and even my husband, Matt, couldn’t always understand that. They didn’t see why the time I spent at Lauren’s grave or working with the local branch of [stillbirth charity] Sandswas therapeutic. I do think people sometimes wanted me to be quiet.”
That opinion – that those who have experienced stillbirth should grieve in silence – is still common, and Howard believes it is why she initially struggled to get the film off the ground.
“I had one very established documentary maker tell me I absolutely think this film should be made but nobody will want to show it and nobody will watch it,” she says. “It was even tough getting the cinemas on board – they would say there’s no interest, and I’d get quite annoyed and write back saying how do you know that? I didn’t think it was true.”
Michelle Hemmington, whose son, Louie, died as a result of medical negligence, believes that Howard has got the balance between honest and hopeful just right. “The film’s strength is that it isn’t overly sad,” she says. “The subject is difficult but the emotions are positive.”
The film is similarly strong in its depiction of fathers, who are often ignored in the rush to ensure that the mother is cared for. “One of the big problems is that there isn’t really anything for dads,” says Matt Grove, who admits he struggled on returning to work as a police officer. “After Ben died I went for counselling, and people were almost surprised that there was a dad there.”
Grove hopes Still Loved will reach a wide audience. “If people take one thing away it is that they should always check the baby’s movement and not worry about bothering the doctors if they feel something is wrong,” he says. “If this film manages to save lives, it will be worth it.”
Still Loved is being screened as part of International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.