How can they come to terms with the future?

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The Independent Online

Ever since their baby daughter was born seven weeks prematurely, Gordon Brown and his wife must have been waiting in trepidation. She weighed only a little more than 2lb and, despite modern technology there is always huge risk involved when babies are so tiny.

But, when baby Jennifer arrived, to have their spirits lifted by the enormous emotional applause by the press, must have perhaps encouraged the Browns not to have kept their joy on hold. And experiencing that surge of elation must have made what happened yesterday even more painful.

It is often hard for outsiders to understand how agonising is the death of a baby. For outsiders, the baby only exists, after all, when it is born.

For us, the public, the baby is only 10 days old, but for Sarah and Gordon Brown this baby has lived in their minds and hearts for more than six months. They have been to the ante-natal classes, they've learnt how to put on nappies and they've given baths to plastic dolls ("Always hold the head").

Sarah felt Jennifer kick inside her, and Gordon Brown, like all future dads, must have watched with glee those funny little bumpy eruptions in Sarah's stomach, leaping away. And they will have seen the baby, albeit barely recognisable, on scans.

A nursery will have been set aside. Dozens of presents must have been received when Jennifer was born. Gordon and Sarah had probably been planning a future for their first child for months.

And with the future they had planned for their child would have come plans for their own futures. Sarah would have anticipated years of motherhood; Gordon Brown would perhaps have decided, for a while at least, to ease up on the pressures of being Chancellor.

And now they are left with what? Nothing. Just back to where they started.

Losing a baby is always a tragedy, because with a baby's death you lose a future. But to lose your first is even worse because you lose the chance of your genes being reproduced.

No one feels this consciously, of course, but the sub- conscious is almost certainly grumbling bitterly in the background. And if they look to their parents for comfort, they might not always find it forthcoming because they too are grieving the loss of their roles.

What makes all this far, far worse for Gordon Brown and his wife is the horrible truth that Sarah is not young. It is often very difficult to become pregnant at 37. Whether a woman is having periods or not, her fertility drops steeply after the age of 35. For relatives and friends to say, when a baby dies, "Oh, well, you can always try again" is insensitive enough.

But even that remark may ring hollow in Gordon and Sarah's case simply because it may not be possible for her to become pregnant again. And how happy will she feel, anyway, about trying, when the result of her first pregnancy was so much anguish?

There are two tiny, tiny consolations. Were Jennifer to have lived, she would probably have been severely mentally impaired. Her life would possibly not have been worth living. Secondly, at least she died in her parents' arms.

But those scant comforts will hardly mean anything compared with the grief and emptiness that Gordon and Sarah Brown must be experiencing this morning.