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Last Updated: Friday, 30 September 2005, 12:05 GMT 13:05 UK
'A place for parents to turn to'
By Jane Elliott
BBC News health reporter

Bel Mooney - writer and broadcaster
Bel Mooney: Strong supporter of helpline
When writer and broadcaster Bel Mooney's first child was stillborn almost thirty years ago she felt very isolated.

Parents were not encouraged to hold their babies and were advised to move on to thinking about future children rather than grieving for the one they had lost.

But Bel said her stillborn son would always have a place in her heart and, although the grief has dulled, she has never forgotten him.

Each year on his birthday she still lights a candle in memory of him.

"You think nobody understands. You feel very isolated," she said.

"In those days you did not see the baby. It was just whisked away. Now parents are encouraged to hold it so they can have some sort of closure."

Anniversary

This is why Bel is so passionate about the Child Death Helpline run jointly by Great Ormond Street, London and Alder Hey Hospital, Liverpool, which this month celebrates its tenth anniversary.

The helpline is manned by trained volunteers, who share a common link - they have all suffered the death of a child.

The grief after the loss of a child is just unspeakable
Bel Mooney

"Thirty years ago there was none of that," said Bel.

"There are times, even long after the death, when you want to talk to somebody about it, such as the day your child would have turned eight.

"I had my husband to talk to, but something like this would have been enormously helpful," Bel, who was formerly married to broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby explained.

"I think it would have helped me after my son was stillborn, because there was nothing. So I wrote an article for the Guardian and I would like to say that I did make my own little mark.

"The grief after the loss of a child is just unspeakable. It never goes away and parents frequently want to talk about it."

Advice

"One of the first calls the help line had was from an elderly man who, 30 years earlier had lost two children," Ms Mooney said.

"They had been drowned in a sailing accident. He had read about the helpline and rang up all that time later to have someone to talk to."

Bel, whose daughter Kitty was treated at Great Ormond Street for a rare bowel condition, said she is full of admiration for the volunteers who man the help line.

"They are the bravest people in the world," she said.

We know people use the helpline again and again
Jean Simons

Jean Simons, assistant director of family policy at Great Ormond Street, said that the Child Death Helpline offers befriending and support to family, friends and healthcare professionals affected by the death of a child of any age.

She said research had shown that the help bereaved parents value the most comes from others who have suffered a similar loss.

"This gives it a very different slant and enormous credibility with the bereaved."

She stressed though that at least four years had to have passed before a bereaved parent can man the helpline.

"By the time they are starting to help they would be past the point of needing therapeutic help themselves. By the time people come along for the training they have got to a stage where they have moved on sufficiently."

Jean said that, in the decade the helpline had been open, it had been extremely busy.

"We know people use the helpline again and again."

She said special dates such could trigger the need to call, such as a contemporary of the child getting married, or graduating, an event that their own child has missed.

The Child Death Help Line has received almost 26,600 calls since it started operating from both centres. It is open 365 days a year and calls are free and in confidence. It is currently staffed by around 60 volunteers.

The Child Death Help Line number is 0800 282 986 and is open every evening from 7pm to 10pm, Monday to Friday from 10am to 1pm and on Wednesdays from 1pm to 4pm.




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