An Elstree couple who have experienced the practical, emotional and social consequences of a stillbirth have launched a helpline offering support for others in the same situation.
Appalled at the lack of readily available guidance in the aftermath of their stillborn daughter Lenni Veronica 18 months ago, Dan and Lisa Shaffer have founded the Jewish Stillbirth Trust, with a www.helpmelenni.com website.
“When Lenni died, we found we had to make a lot of decisions in a very short space of time,” Mr Shaffer, a dentist, recalled. “Yet the subject seems almost taboo. Even rabbis don’t always know how to deal with the situation. We were shocked to discover that there was no centralised, organised or unified way of tackling the issue of stillborn babies. We know there are 17 each day within the general UK population, so it figures that there must be a proportion of Jewish babies among them.”
The helpline promises that members of its task force — including the Shaffers and their minister, Rabbi Raphy Garson, of Elstree’s Ohr Yisroel Federation congregation — will be available to help parents across the religious spectrum, initially in North-West London, Herts, Bucks and Beds. They will be advised on issues including naming, registration of birth and death, burial and shivah.
“We will be with parents every step of the way. If they want us, we will come in person as soon as humanly possible to do what we can to assist,” Mr Shaffer promised.
Among those backing the website is Rabbi Shimon Weingarten of the Bridge Lane Beth Hamedrash in Temple Fortune, who has agreed to supply halachic responses to queries raised. The trust has also been supported by private donors.
With help from Sands, the national stillbirth and neonatal death charity, a training programme for Jewish bereavement befrienders is being written, which will be distributed to volunteers.
“Losing a baby is a very difficult thing for people to relate to,” Mr Shaffer added. “There are no stories to hang on to, no photos to remember the good times by and no treasured moments to look fondly back on. Lenni lives on through our actions.”
In September, Mrs Shaffer gave birth to a boy, Ziggy, and they also have a son Malakai, six, and daughter, Jaime, five.