A local organisation that provides support, counselling and resources to bereaved parents experiencing the loss of their baby has received a vital funding boost.

Nicola Rowett and Bears of Hope co-founder Toni Watson.

Bears of Hope is a not-for-profit organisation that supports families who have lost their baby through miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal and infant loss.

Through the Newcastle Permanent CommunityAssist program, $14,000 is being donated to Bears of Hope, which will help the organisation continue to provide its vital services to the Newcastle and Hunter community.

Its support services include one-on-one grief counselling, telehealth sessions, group counselling, grief workshops, peer support groups and wellness support.

The bear-giving program is at the heart of its services, where a bear of hope and a resource support package is gifted to grieving families before they leave the hospital.

The bear of hope is donated from one grieving family to another, allowing the donating family to give their child’s life a lasting legacy whilst filling the arms of a newly grieving family.

The complementing resource package provides the parents with vital information about their grief and gives them an immediate link to a community of support.

Bears of Hope co-founder and fundraising manager, Toni Watson, said the bear of hope and resource package program reinforced to grieving families that they weren’t alone.

“The support packages instantly connect these grieving families to resources, information and support that will help guide them through their journey,” Watson said.

“It teaches families how to create memories with their baby before they say goodbye and puts them in touch with our fee-free counselling services, which can be done face-to-face or via telehealth.

“The death of a baby is very difficult to talk about, and no one is prepared for that conversation. So, we are creating awareness and highlighting the importance of connection and conversation, allowing them to talk and break down the silence surrounding infant loss.”

Watson said the funding from Newcastle Permanent had come at a great time due to the pandemic pushing already grieving families into further feelings of isolation.

“We saw an incredible increase in demand for our counselling and telehealth services over the last two years, and we only had the one employed councillor,” Watson said.

“This funding from Newcastle Permanent is vital to us being able to meet the increase in our support services being accessed.

“We have been able to employ a second councillor and continue to provide telehealth support to families in regional NSW.”

Bears of Hope have three different bears to choose from, each representing a different kind of pregnancy and infant loss.

Newcastle Permanent employees donate around $60,000 a year to charities via payroll deductions.

Employees nominate charities they believe deserve support and then vote to select four a year to receive funding.

Newcastle Permanent banking manager, Nicola Rowett, nominated Bears of Hope because she experienced the organisation’s support firsthand.

In June last year, the 29-year-old mother of three lost her third child, Luna.

“I was pregnant last year with my third child, and there were no concerns and no complications. I went in for a scan at 28 weeks, and we found that my daughter no longer had a heartbeat,” Nicola said.

“So, we went through the painful process of birthing and delivering her stillborn.

“When I was in the hospital, I was gifted with the bear and resource pack. I have a strong support system, but I definitely needed that extra support and guidance.

“Having that information handed to me without looking for it was a perfect gift in an awful situation.”

She said Bears of Hope provided her with resources, counselling and connection with others.

“I was able to connect and speak with someone who had been through a similar situation. Just being able to say the things on my mind and have someone understand how I felt was validating,” Nicola said.

“With their help, I was able to explain Luna’s death to my two older children, Sadie and Jonah, and help with their feelings of losing their baby sister.”

Nicola said there were many ways to support a family member, friend or colleague who had experienced pregnancy and infant loss.

“Initially, just being there really helps. Dropping off food, helping with other children, or cleaning is practical and welcome support,” she said.

“I want people to remember Luna and not feel awkward talking about her. People should use the baby’s name and include them on cards to a family, ask questions about the baby and remember special dates such as birthdays and due dates, as they would for other children.

“We just want our babies to be acknowledged, accepted and recognised.”

According to the latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report, every day in Australia, six babies are stillborn, and two die within 28 days of birth (neonatal death).

One in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage, which is the loss of a baby before 20 weeks gestation.

Bears of Hope offer a range of support events throughout the year, including Mothers Day High Tea, Beards of Hope for the Dads and Choosing Hope Walks in October to coincide with National Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month.

For event details, resources and support for families, employers and health professionals on baby and infant loss, or to volunteer or donate, visit bearsofhope.org.au or call 1300 11 HOPE.

Hayley McMahon

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