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.
Longer term support after baby loss is often really lacking. Something that I am becoming more and more aware of is the lack of acknowledgement that together with baby loss, parents can also experience trauma which goes unsupported. The impact of loss and trauma runs deep and can have so many knock ons. There are however, a lot of people really working hard within birth trauma and/or baby loss to put this support in place. For today’s spotlight, I’d like you to meet Jan…
So, to start us off, please can you let us know a little about your current role?
I am a Chartered Psychologist and I provide psychological therapy to clients following birth trauma/birth loss, using an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy approach. I work as an independent practitioner in my own practice, called Healthy You Ltd. I also am involved in the training of maternity staff, and research. A typical day for me is quite varied it could involve an individual therapy session with a client, a couple’s session, or group therapy. It might also involve running some training for staff on communication used during birth trauma, or developing research projects/analyzing data. I love the variety of my job, and that I get the opportunity to not only help parents through therapy, but also provide input to staff and shape future antenatal/postnatal care pathways for parents through my research. I’m kept busy!
What are you currently working on? Is there a particular project or aim that you’d like to share with people.
Apart from providing therapy to parents, I’m also beginning to run some birth trauma groups for mums, which I’m really excited about. I’m involved in developing a screening tool for parents (and healthcare professionals) following birth trauma to help them identify how they’re feeling and signpost them to places they can access support. I’m part of the Make Birth Better campaign and we are focusing on developing trauma-informed pathways to prevent birth trauma. I’ve begun liaising with local MP’s to organise a round table birth trauma meeting.
“For those parents who experienced losing their baby at birth, although they found support groups really helpful initially, some felt that they could not access long-term support that facilitated adjustment to their loss.”
What motivated you to do the job that you are doing now?
The majority of my work involves supporting families who experienced birth trauma and/or birth loss, as a result of medical negligence. I’ve been involved in this line of work for 8 years now. Increasingly, I was being referred families who were struggling to cope with looking after their child who had sustained a brain injury at birth. Many of these families were still in active trauma because their experience of the birth had never been addressed. For those parents who experienced losing their baby at birth, although they found support groups really helpful initially, some felt that they could not access long-term support that facilitated adjustment to their loss. I wanted to do everything I could to ensure no family has such an experience, and if they have, that I could provide them with the support they need.
In what ways does your current role allow you to get involved in the baby loss cause?
My role is a combination of prevention and treatment, which focuses on birth trauma and/or birth loss. Being an independent practitioner allows me the freedom to get involved in worthwhile projects, and have time and flexibility to be creative to develop services to support families.
“I wanted to do everything I could to ensure no family has such an experience, and if they have, that I could provide them with the support they need.”
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?
I think one of my biggest frustrations is that I want to do lots of things to support families affected by baby loss, but I’m unable to do everything. Collaboration is crucial in this line of work. Involving families and different professionals in the development of ways to prevent baby loss, create training for students and existing healthcare professionals is a great way to fill the gap and develop services to support families.
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 am very immersed in the baby loss community in my work, and so thankfully most of the time I am around like-minded individuals. However, I think in society there is still a long way to go in supporting those affected, particularly for parents who are marginalized, or culturally where their loss is not recognised or acknowledged. Birth loss impacts on both parents, and there is very limited amount of input for dads or partners in same-sex relationships.
“Involving families and different professionals in the development of ways to prevent baby loss, create training for students and existing healthcare professionals is a great way to fill the gap and develop services to support families.”
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 that you couldn’t manage without?
There is such tragedy in many of the experiences families share with me and these can be really difficult to hear at times. I have great supervisors who I can call on at any time, who support me, so I can support my clients.
When the job is hard, what one thing reminds you to keep on keeping on?
That’s a tough question to answer, as there are so many things. I guess seeing the pain and heartache families experience, and wanting to try to support them to begin to heal is extremely motivating even when it seems difficult.
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 associated to baby loss?
Metaphorically, ‘holding’ families through the darkest days of their grief, and supporting them in reaching days that feel lighter is so rewarding. Seeing them get to a place where their pain and joy coexist makes this work more than worthwhile. Also, it is important when working in this field to have a strong network in place to support you to carry out this work: self-care is essential.
“Birth loss impacts on both parents, and there is very limited amount of input for dads or partners in same-sex relationships.”
It’s likely that a newly bereaved parent is reading this. What would you like to say to them?
You are a parent to your little one, so mark that in whatever way you need to, irrespective how you think others might react. Try to be kind to yourself, don’t look too far into the future, and everyone’s journey and relationship with grief is different, so feel your way to find what soothes you.
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?
It is great to see that the government is taking a more proactive role in developing services to help families. What I would love to see are services specifically set up to help families cope with baby loss- irrespective at what stage in pregnancy this happened. Many staff in maternity units would like to be able to help parents more in those very early hours and days when their baby has died. Although lots of units around the UK are providing amazing support for families at these times, it would be great to see this provision consistently provided throughout the NHS.
“Although lots of units around the UK are providing amazing support for families at these times, it would be great to see this provision consistently provided throughout the NHS.”
Thank you so much for taking part in this interview series. Lastly, before we finish – Is there anything else about you or your job that you’d like to let people know about?
I love my job and feel so humbled that families place their trust in me to help them on their journey of healing- thank you.
To continue to follow the work of Jan and Healthy You Ltd, visit the links 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.