It is more common than most people realise, but stillbirth, infant death and miscarriage remain taboo subjects.
An exhibition inspired by research by University of Sheffield academics aims to challenge these taboos by exploring what happens after a baby dies.
Remembering Baby features explores both professional and parental encounters with death “at the very beginning of life”, through both visual and audio art.
It features artwork made by parents who have experienced the loss of a baby, as well as pieces made by x-ray artist Hugh Turvey, sound artist, Justin Wiggan and graphic designer Lee Simmons.
It was inspired by the research project ‘Start of’ or ‘End of’ life, that examined the use of MRI technology in pregnancy and post-mortem.
Dr Kate Reed, a reader in medical sociology at the University of Sheffield, has worked with the charities Sands and the Lullaby Trust on the project, and has interviewed more than 20 families who have experienced the death of a baby.
She said: “We started the research in September 2015 with the aim of examining the experiences of early-life loss and the impact of medical imaging on paediatric post-mortem. The research has considered post-mortem in the broader context of life, loss and memorialisation and using this holistic approach, has examined professional and parental encounters with death at the very beginning of life.”
Part of the exhibition is a series of memory boxes made by artists based on conservations researchers had with families as part of the research.
“One mum told us that she’d imagined her baby would like dinosaurs, so began collecting them, so of the boxes contains a toy dinosaur,” Dr Reed said. “The aim of the exhibition is to create awareness, and while some of that can be uncomfortable, the idea of the memory boxes really picks up on the idea of memorialisation. Families in the project also made their own memory boxes, with some starting that process in the bereavement suite.”
Part of the wider project has involved art workshops for bereaved parents, and some of that work is also on display.
Dr Reed added: “The death of a child is something most people can’t begin to comprehend, however here in the UK it is sadly more common than we think. However, people don’t like talking about early-life loss, it’s a subject that many are unsure how to approach. We hope this exhibition will challenge this view, as it is often something that parents actually really benefit from talking about.”
The exhibition has already been shown in London, where it was sell-out, and open now at The Art House on Backfields until September 14.