As little faces light up with the excitement of Christmas, a time when providing young children with joy is at the fore, it can often be a difficult time for many families who have experienced the loss of a child.

Speaking to The Impartial Reporter, Michelle and Glen Howard shared their heartbreak of losing their twin babies Francis and Ronan and how in the lead up to Christmas they will honour their memory during the Sands Lights of Love Carol Service, a special evening for bereaved parents who have lost a child at any stage of pregnancy through stillbirth, neonatal death or miscarriage.

Sharing their devastating story, Michelle said: “We were expecting twins in 2017 and we lost a baby through miscarriage very early in the pregnancy at around 10 weeks. We don’t know if it was a boy or girl but we named them Francis. We went on to carry Francis’ little brother Ronan until 36 weeks, when he was born stillborn. That was on August 19, 2017.”

“Our pregnancy was 100 per cent, we had no complications throughout, and it was only when Ronan was delivered that we were given the devastating news that he was stillborn,” she shared.

Talking about the shock of losing two babies, Glen said: “To be honest, we never actually grieved for Francis because we were so grateful that we still had Ronan and I suppose it was like a double-whammy then whenever we lost Ronan as well, it was kind of like we’ve lost two babies, not just one and I think it hit us even harder because then we were grieving for two babies.”

“Initially you are just numb and in a state of shock. It’s just all surreal. All the emotions you never expect you are going to feel when having babies. You’re supposed to feel the excitement and the joy and all that, but really your world is just turned upside down, I can’t even describe the feelings,” he added.

Following their loss of baby Ronan, Michelle noted that at first she and Glen had nowhere to turn: “We didn’t know who to go to, so we went to our own GP and he actually put us in the direction of Sands and they were a lifeline to us, just their support and there was always someone to talk to.”

“Sands is an organisation that provides support and guidance to parents who have lost a baby through stillbirth, miscarriage and neo-natal deaths. They always had advice, you felt that what you were feeling was normal. People that had never lost a baby didn’t understand what you were feeling but anybody that you were speaking to within Sands knew exactly what you were feeling and you felt normal, as normal as you could feel in the circumstances I suppose. That’s how our involvement came about with Sands,” she added.

In Fermanagh Sands provide monthly meetings in the Killyhevlin Hotel, which take place every second Wednesday of the month from 7.30pm to 9.30pm.

“It’s just a relaxed evening, you can speak if you want to speak or you don’t have to speak. We actually went to our first meeting a couple of weeks after Ronan, we went quite early, a lot of people don’t feel up to going the first initial weeks so we went and I think I sat and cried the whole way through the meeting. I actually cried because what I was feeling, I knew everyone else was feeling the same or had felt it at some point and I think it was more relief than anything,” shared Michelle.

Glen, who finds the Sands meetings beneficial as he can speak to other dads who have gone through what he has, added: “Even just to hear other people’s stories and then for other people to actually speak about Ronan and to say his name, that was a big thing. We found it really difficult that people were calling him ‘the baby’. He had a name and he was Ronan and he was christened, that’s what we found quite difficult that people were quick to, not to dismiss but were just awkward around the situation and just didn’t want to speak about it really.”

Michelle continued: “I really think it’s such a Fermanagh thing, it’s such a taboo subject, people don’t talk about baby loss. What I found really frustrating was the fact that yes our baby was born, yes he didn’t breathe on his own but he was still born, he was still a baby, he was still a precious life, we had all these hopes and dreams for him, we are missing out on the firsts.”

She added: “Another thing that both Glen and I found frustrating was that everyone asked how I was and never asked how Glen was. Many other couples that we have met through our grief say the same thing, people always ask how mummy is but never daddy, but he lost a child as well.”

The Sands Lights of Love Carol Service is taking place on Friday, December 6 in St. Macartin’s Cathedral Enniskillen at 7.30pm.

“This is the third year of it and each year it is building momentum. It’s an evening of beautiful poems, carols and simple little acts of remembrance to help those parents to remember their little baby at what some find a difficult time of year,” said Glen.

Michelle added: “We ask parents attending to bring a small gift for the age their child would be this Christmas, and during the service there is a chance for them to pop it under the tree and hang a little card with their name, date of birth and a message for their loved one on it. This will remain in the church until after Christmas. All presents are donated to local charities to be distributed into the local community.”

Following the sadness of losing Francis and Ronan, Michelle and Glen have recently found new joy in the birth of their baby girl Saoirse. “We’ve just had a wee girl eight weeks ago Saoirse, so she’s our wee rainbow, she’s doing great,” Michelle told The Impartial Reporter.