It seems age ago since I contributed to Still Loved, a documentary about the impact of stillbirth on a group of families. It was one of the first accounts I found when using Twitter to search for information on stillbirth rather than just work related stuff.
Seeing it played in cinemas was great even if I didn’t get to go to see it myself. It showed the potential for these stories to reach a wider audience and help people have a better understanding of the lasting impact of loss and improve empathy for the bereaved.
It is backed by a petition to get it shown on the BBC. It seemed such a shame to be denied that opportunity especially with so much positive coverage of Baby Loss Awareness Week. It’s also baffling considering how much they did for raising stillbirth awareness through sensitive story telling on, of all things, EastEnders.
For those like me that didn’t get to see this incredible documentary on the big screen there is the option of setting up your own screening at Picture House cinemas.
If you don’t have a Picture House cinema near by then it is available on demand through Vimeo for £4 for a 2 day rental.
Watch it. If you have lost a child you will find comfort in the stories of others and see elements of your own life and those of your lost children reflected on screen on a way that is sensitive but without glossing over the horror and despair we know too well.
If you haven’t lost a child it will give you an insight into the lasting impact it has on the parents and families of those that have. It will help show how grief manifests itself in different ways and how people cope with it and what they do with that pain.
It’s a hard film to review when so close to the subject matter. My notes are written in a visibly shaky hand. It made me cry but I never had the feeling that I had been manipulated with cheap tricks or sneaky edits. It made me cry for those on film and cry for my own loss.
The film is beautiful, elegant and moves at a graceful pace. It covers the impact on seven different families over the course of three years. That’s a lot of material to cover in just under an hour and a half but the film does it with space for each story to breathe. It tells us stories rarely heard but are all too familiar.
The film confronts us with powerful imagery in a way that can be all the more devastating for the disarming way it’s presented. The camera does not shy from their grief but there is no wallowing in the pornography of suffering. This is no Channel 5 tearjerker or supermarket tabloid.
It’s a work of light and shade where the horror of seeing a child in a funeral home is balanced with the inadvertent comedy of a tale of trying to scrub out inky footprints from the carpet with baby wipes.
“I’m looking after my sister”
From the opening home video of a visit to the cemetery with a cheerfully blunt brother talking about his lost sister we know this won’t be an ordinary documentary.
From the very start we know that this will be an intimate portrait of the impact on families, not just the parents, years after the loss.
It doesn’t shy away from the difficult or the awkward moments but it doesn’t do this for confrontations sake, it shows how normal these awful moments can be. I had no idea how much of an emotional punch “You’ll be alright” could have.
The visuals create space as much as the heartbreaking displays of the rawness of grief and transition from memories and unworn baby gifts to mementos.
The film’s gallery shows one of the strengths of the movie and how you can take one of the shots and it works beautifully as its own image.
We see the contrasting experiences of mothers and fathers and in a single exchange shows the gulf between them.
“I’ve made such wonderful friends…”
“Not me, I’m Billy No Mates, me..”
We see footage from home videos and photos where I recognise those looks from my own: those red eyed, tear stained faces contorted with grief or brows creased by confusion.
As I watch a mother rocking back and forth cradling her dead daughter and talking to her I see how others would have seen me when I did the same.
“You have to build a lifetime of memories in a short time”
There’s a little stab of recognition as I see all the little shoeboxes filled with photos and hand prints. The film breaks my heart again and again. It’s on the second viewing I see one couple has the same cots as us.
“They say these things ‘appen for a reason, well they don’t. They ‘appen cos it’s shit”
As much as we see families we also see the all too brief snapshot into a mother facing her loss without that crucial safety net.
“They said they would have to keep him in a fridge…oh God…”
It’s her story that gets me the most. The cruelties she suffered and had to suffer alone. Her story is told alone, no hand to hold or a pet to stroke for comfort.
“I think this one is damaged by tears…”
Her funeral photos cut deep. The anguish is etched into each of them. As we see her hunched over the tiny white coffin we can see the row upon row of empty chairs in the background.
“Your baby’s gonna be burned. Who wants that?”
We do what we do to fill the empty space
As the film moves away from the immediacy of loss we see how each person adjusts to their new reality. Some channel their work into fund raising through a personal challenge, others work to educate and support and others work to provide comfort and a place to remember.
One couple fights for justice and for answers. They are forced to take medical negligence action not for money but for an admission of causation. They find their lives defined by the haunting what if of a single wrong button push.
“This could take a lifetime and I’m committed to that. I’ll do it for as long as it takes”
The question that lies beneath all of these actions is what happens at the end. Once the funds have been raised, the charity work completed what then?
The answer isn’t the same for everyone but in interviews with family there are clues.
“It’ll be great to have Lou back”
All this work and supporting others is not without a personal cost. It seems that one way might be to take it on with a view to passing it on.
Sadly the nature of stillbirth is that there is no shortage of potential volunteers.