Providing bereavement care

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This is posted anonymously posted to protect patients.

Becoming a midwife was never on the cards when I was completing my BTEC at college, in my head I wanted to be a paediatric nurse. This soon changed when I completed my first paediatric placement and realised sick and ill children was not a career for me…I then had the dilemma of finding something health related that didn’t focus on illness or injury. My tutor mentioned midwifery in a passing comment, so off I went on my first placement to an antenatal ward and loved every minute! From that moment I knew midwifery was the way forward for me and I’ve never looked back.

I still have the passion and flare for midwifery alongside the excitement I still feel when walking into work…as I did 11 years ago when I started my midwifery degree. But it’s not all happiness and smiles along the way. Midwifery is seen to be ‘playing with babies’, ‘feeling tummies’ and telling women to ‘push’ during delivery, but actually it’s so much more than that.

During my 1st year of training I never had the exposure to the harrowing side of midwifery. I had attended the lectures in miscarriage, still birth and neonatal death but didn’t deliver any direct care to women and families until late in my second year. This wasn’t to protect us as student midwives but to ensure we were prepared and equipped to deliver accurate and sensitive care in these situations, and I absolutely think it’s the right thing to do.

I still remember the first stillborn baby I delivered, her date of birth, her name, her perfect tiny features, her parents and siblings names. All very clear, like it was yesterday. As a second year student, at the time, I remember coaching myself in my head the entire time during the woman’s labour. My main thoughts were; ‘you can do this, keep it together, don’t cry, why is this happening at this day in age?’. When the perfect term baby girl was delivered myself and my mentor wrapped her in a beautiful woolen shawl her parents had made for her weeks before, during the excitement of preparing for a baby, before they knew the heartbreak that was ahead of them. We let her stay cradled in her mums arms, who was cradled in her husbands arms for as long as they needed. When we reached the office to complete the paperwork my mentor broke down in tears, and I followed almost immediately. One of the most important and true things she taught me as a very experienced labour suite midwife was that ‘you should never be afraid to show your emotions, happy or sad’. So from that day I have shared that with my students. I think it’s important that emotion should be shown, even as a midwife delivering care and even when in front of patients. We are all human, we all have feelings and we should definitely show our caring nature, even if it comes as tears.

Now, 8 years on and as a community midwife I hope my caring nature is seen – especially when families are facing their worst times. One of the most common questions I get asked postnatally by bereaved parents is about how to ‘not forget’ an angel baby. My response is always along the lines of ‘how can you forget someone so special and part of you? You can’t. It’s impossible. So don’t worry about that, he/she will never be forgotten.’ What I think parents actually mean when they ask this question is ‘how can an angel baby be remembered in everyday life’.

The trust where I work, like many others, prepare a keepsake box for bereaved parents – baby’s ankle tags, hand/foot prints, a teddy, a hat, a blanket, tufts of hair and the first item of clothing alongside precious pictures of baby. This is a great way to remember baby but many people put it away ‘safe’, as understandably they don’t want to loose or damage the items.

When I visit families after the death of a baby I will talk about creating artwork with siblings – so they can have special items to look at too, and be proud to think of their little brother or sister. Art is such a great way for children to release emotions and feelings, of which they may find difficult to verbally express at such sad times. It also allows the family to talk about their baby with their other children, without it feeling too ‘heavy’ or ‘planned’. We also talk about places the family or couple like to visit regularly, a ‘special place’, again where they can remember their baby together. Some parents feel having pictures of their baby around the house helps too, where as other parents may find it too difficult….there is no right or wrong answer. As midwives we support families however they feel will help them through the grieving process, everybody is affected differently and that’s okay too.

Main my piece of advise to bereaved parents is to talk. Talk. Talk. Talk some more! Talking…about baby, about their feelings, about their thoughts, about their labour, about their delivery, about the care they received, about their other children, about the future…talking doesn’t and will never resolve the pain but it will help with adjusting to the loss they have experienced. Talking happens at various times, it may feel right to talk to someone immediately or it may take days, months or even years…this is totally normal. As long as parents and families can identify somebody that they feel secure and safe speaking to about their loss then it will happen at the right time. That ‘somebody’ may be a relative, friend, professional or a service or charity – everybody is different and whichever avenue feels right…it should be walked down.

The respect I have for any bereaved parent Is something I will never be able to express. The strength and courage they have is inspirational. As a midwife if I can make their loss a tiny bit easier along their grieving process then I will continue my midwifery journey with spark and passion, sharing it with my students along the way.

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