Welcome to the latest addition to the It Still Takes a Village – Working in Baby Loss Interview Series where we take a closer look at those who dedicate their day to day to preventing baby loss and supporting those affected. You can read more interviews, here.
I’m really delighted to bring this spotlight to the #ItStillTakesAVillage series, as it hits on so many key points about the overwhelming need for society as a whole to be aware of baby loss, and how to best support those affected. If 1 in 4 pregnancies end in loss, theres a high likelihood that you know someone who has gone through it. Returning to work was one of the most challenging aspects of life after Leo died, and I’m passionate about support in that department needing to improve. Meet Grace, and hear about what she has been doing to help others…
So, to start us off, please can you let us know a little about your current role?
I have served as a police officer for 8 years. I am currently a member of the Keighley Neighbourhood Team in West Yorkshire. My primary responsibilities include managing neighbourhood issues such as anti-social behaviour, drugs, low level crime and long standing disputes. For this to prove effective we incorporate a multi-agency approach in dealing with issues and seek to proactively engage members of the local community. We have an integral role in the local community as a result of building trust. We regularly attend local galas and schools to provide information about the role of community officers. From September I will also be running the local police cadet unit. I also have undertaken a specialist role as the force lead on pregnancy loss.
What are you currently working on? Is there a particular project or aim that you’d like to share with people.
I am currently the force lead on pregnancy loss, this is a newly created role and aims to ensure there is a point or points of contact within the force should an officer suffer the impact of a loss during pregnancy. The aim is to provide ongoing support and to signpost people in the right direction of support whether that be local groups or national charities. We are in the process of formulating an intranet page focused on pregnancy loss, which officers and staff can access to find local support and information pages. We are also aiming to develop a training package which will enable supervisors to provide specialist support to members of staff who have lost a baby during pregnancy or shortly after birth. Finally, I am working with a Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) in our homicide and major enquiry team to improve police responses and approaches when faced with parents who have lost a child. The intent is to create a balance between the investigation and supporting parents through a tragic life changing event.
“I was shocked on my return to find very little support, we offer support for women going through the menopause but not for someone who has suffered a pregnancy loss.”
What motivated you to do the job/role that you are doing now?
Unfortunately, I have first hand experience of such a devastating loss. In October 2015 my husband and I lost our first child, Louis. He was born sleeping at 35 weeks and I was completely lost. We had spent a number of years trying for a baby and Louis was very much wanted. I never considered the possibility that my baby could die. The emphasis was always on progressing past the 12 and 20 week scan point.
I found that returning to work following a period of leave was difficult. As a police officer we are faced with loss and trauma on a daily basis. I experienced a combination of good and bad supervision whilst off sick. One of the more distressing sessions was when Louis was referred to as a miscarriage, he wasn’t – he was stillborn and that really hurt. It wasn’t out of malice just lack of knowledge and understanding. I was shocked on my return to find very little support, we offer support for women going through the menopause but not for someone who has suffered a pregnancy loss.
In addition to losing Louis I went on to suffer a miscarriage in April 2016, loss at any stage of pregnancy is a traumatic experience. With 1 in 4 women suffering a miscarriage it is naïve to think this isn’t an issue affecting women in the workplace!
“We are in the process of formulating an intranet page focused on pregnancy loss, which officers and staff can access to find local support and information pages.”
In what ways does your current job/role allow you to get involved in the baby loss cause?
My supervisor has been supportive and has allowed me the time to attend meetings as part of my daily duties. I recently spoke at a conference and our Chief Constable Dee Collins was present and heard me speak. On speaking with her afterwards she agreed about the importance of baby loss being on the agenda and the need for support for staff members. She is also the chairperson for our British Association of Women in Policing Staff Association so I am hopeful that this positive change will be replicated in forces nationwide. My intent is to support anyone who has suffered pregnancy loss and my door is always open to speak to anyone who wants to talk or be signposted to other agencies.
What are the biggest frustrations or constraints that you face in supporting those affected by baby loss or preventing baby loss in the first place?
The biggest frustration for me was people not knowing what to say or do. I remember colleagues ignoring me and experiencing their visible discomfort if I spoke about Louis and my experience of loss. I do not believe this is isolated to the Police, I imagine it could be prevalent in most work environments. Losing a child is counter intuitive which is why supervisor training is crucial. People often elect to ignore the subject of loss for fear of saying the wrong thing, which can be far more damaging.
Do you think that Baby Loss is still a taboo, and if so, why? Do you encounter issues with it being a taboo in your day to day work?
I think it is improving, people are beginning to talk about loss. I discovered that when I opened up about my loss this prompted others to disclose similar experiences. A family friend lost twins at birth and another neighbour told me she had displayed a photo of a baby she lost and celebrated her birthday. These stories are testament to how we shouldn’t shy away from this and talk openly. Soap storylines have also brought loss to the forefront which reaches many people and promote a better understanding. I think we still have some way to go in changing attitudes but we are getting there. Being a police officer I am faced with taboos on a daily basis, such as bereavement, hate crime etc.
“People often elect to ignore the subject of loss for fear of saying the wrong thing, which can be far more damaging.”
Who else do you work alongside in terms of baby loss support or prevention? Are there any charities that support you, or perhaps a colleague/volunteer that you couldn’t manage without?
Following the loss of Louis local midwives were setting up a support group and I was really keen to be involved. The Sunbeam Support Group was formed two years ago. We meet once a month for coffee and cake. It is for anyone who has suffered a pregnancy loss. They are an amazing and inspiring group of people and I am so blessed to call them my friends and baby loss warriors! The group and my work colleagues know when I am having a rough time and support me. In the early days of returning to work, without that support I am not sure if I would still be in the job!
When the job/role is hard, what one thing reminds you to keep on keeping on?
Louis is the strength and driver in all I do … he spurs me on to inspire others and make change. Although losing him was the worst moment of my life I remember one of the midwives saying to me “In times of great sadness come true moments of beauty.” This will always stay with me. The positive changes are that I am more empathetic and stronger. Louis brought my family closer and helped me to organise two charity balls raising over £20,000 for local stillbirth charities. Some days in my job I take the day home with me, I have seen neglected children and some awful things that no one should have to but Louis is my strength as is my amazing family and friends network. I remind myself on a regular basis how blessed and grateful I am and it usually gets me through.
“In times of great sadness come true moments of beauty.”
We are in a shift change with the understanding and awareness of baby loss. What would you say to someone just starting out in a job/role associated to baby loss?
Be brave … be you and share your story … I found this a great help in making change. Find support, whether that’s a good friend, support group or family, without all of these I wouldn’t have had the strength to make change and support others.
It’s likely that a newly bereaved parent is reading this. What would you like to say to them?
I am so sorry that you are feeling this pain too … I truly wish I could take it away. Be brave, don’t feel guilty for those good days. Stay strong – you are an amazing strength which you may not realise on a bad day. Make time for yourself – whether it be eating a bar of chocolate, a warm bubble bath or sitting and reading a book – put that time aside each day even if it is just 10 minutes. Seek support – whether its online, through work or a good family member or friend. We all need someone to talk to.
We have some ambitious targets for baby loss currently in the UK. What are your specific hopes for the future in terms of maternity and baby loss?
All I can hope for the future is that this momentum continues, by publishing findings from research and informing people about preventative measures that can reduce the rates of pregnancy loss. It hurts me to think about someone else experiencing and feeling what I did. All efforts need to be made to ensure that this doesn’t happen again or that if it does there is adequate support for people affected.
Thank you so much for taking part in this interview series. Lastly, before we finish – Is there anything else about you or your job/role that you’d like to let people know about?
All I will finish with is please remember when you see a police officer, thank them. It rarely happens but it means the world when it does. I know that sometimes in the press police officers are painted in a bad light. We go to work leaving all our troubles and families behind and protect people from harm and danger on a daily basis. We are human too with experiences and families. I often hear .. “you wouldn’t understand because….” Well maybe I do…
For more information about The Sunbeam Support Group please visit www.facebook.com/sunbeamsupportkeighley
To continue to follow Grace, visit the below
This blog post is part of an ongoing spotlight on those working in baby loss. To read more from It Still Takes a Village series, visit the hub page here.