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Caithness and Sutherland SANDS group aims to offer support to bereaved parents affected by stillbirth and neonatal death

By Niall Harkiss

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Abigail, with husband Gavin, hopes the group with provide support not currently available in the local area. Picture: Jim Johnston
Abigail, with husband Gavin, hopes the group with provide support not currently available in the local area. Picture: Jim Johnston

A woman who lost her premature baby is sharing her story in a bid to set up a support group for bereaved parents across Caithness and Sutherland.

Abigail Kinsella, from Bettyhill, has set out to form a Sands charity support group for bereaved families who have gone through similar experiences to her and her partner Gavin, who lost their son Greyson in 2019.

She says the nearest group offering the support to parents or families affected by stillbirth or neonatal death is currently in Elgin.

Classed as high risk due to having high blood pressure, Abigail (28) had frequent visits to the hospital during her pregnancy, until a routine appointment at 25 weeks prompted concern from a consultant.

She said: "That night I had a scan, but no one could tell me if anything was wrong. The next day another consultant said I would be transferred to a hospital that could manage the delivery of premature babies, as I would be having my baby within three weeks."

After being given steroid injections to mature her baby's lungs, it was discovered that the blood in the umbilical cord was flowing the wrong way, prompting baby to begin protecting his vital organs.

Daily scans followed until a further change in blood flow prompted a c-section delivery.

"I had a lovely nurse Wendy who I can't thank enough for the taking my mind off the terrible situation unfolding. I was put on a magnesium drip overnight to further develop my baby's lungs and the next day with my husband by my side, at 12.18pm on August 27, Greyson was born weighing 1.7lbs.

"We were extremely lucky to hear his first cry. We got to spend time with him in the neonatal intensive care unit later that day once he was stabilised and my husband took lots of pictures of our darling boy."

It was soon explained that Greyson had been born with a hole in his heart – although consultants had not expressed any immediate cause for concern.

But an urgent call the next day prompted Abigail and Gavin to return immediately to the neonatal ICU.

Abigail said: "We arrived to swarms of doctors and nurses around our boy performing CPR. At 11.30pm, he had passed away.

"We were handed our boy to hold and cuddle. And we were taken to the family room which had a cold cot to spend time with him.

"It was the hardest night of my life."

Abigail, who lived with her husband in Larbert at the time, was given the details of a local befriender from Sands (Stillbirth and neonatal death charity) to offer her support.

"I really didn't want to speak to anyone about what had happened. But my mum persuaded me to attend a meeting and I am so glad she got me to go.

"The support group is a relaxed, safe space to just talk. You're not forced to tell your story. Sometimes we would just talk about how our work was or what we'd been up to at the weekend."

Sands provides bereavement support services nationally through its free helpline, mobile app, online community and resources, and locally through a UK-wide network of around 100 regional support groups.

Abigail is now encouraging others with similar experiences to get in touch as she seeks to form a Sands support group for people in Caithness and Sutherland – with the nearest group situated over three hours away in Elgin.

"It really isn't feasible for the majority of people to travel such a distance for a support group. The expense alone on fuel or public transport would be too much. Parents and families who have suffered a loss in the Caithness and Sutherland area need a support network closer to home."

For Abigail, the message to families is clear – you are not alone.

"You don't have to pretend this awful thing didn't happen. It's okay to shout your baby's name from the rooftops even though they aren't here, but it's also okay not to talk about it, but to surround yourself with people who have been through it.

"At one of the worst times of your life you need to know you are not alone in this and there is support there if you want it."

Families and individuals wishing to find out more about the new group can find Abigail on Facebook, or get in touch via email at a_kinsella@btinternet.com

Until the group is formed, people wishing to make a donation are encouraged to do so via the national Sands website at www.sands.org.uk/get-involved/donate-sands

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