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 have know of the work of Petals for some time, and I have been really encouraged by the support that they give families following the loss of a baby. It is so very needed, but sadly not always available to people. Psychological support can be a vital lifeline for many families facing the devastation of baby loss. Petals will also be featuring in our Baby Loss Hour Specials to discuss this much needed topic. Meet Karen…
So, to start us off, please can you let us know a little about your current role?
I’m Karen Burgess the CEO of Petals, the baby loss counselling charity. I am also the founder, having set up Petals in 2011 – I am a counsellor by training and have been working with maternity services for 10 years.
There is no average day for me – I am either at Petals Office in Cambridge managing the charity and counselling service, or travelling to one of the five hospital sites where we run our specialist counselling service where I may be attending meetings, or providing counsellor supervision, or delivering counselling myself – I have many hats!
What are you currently working on? Is there a particular project or aim that you’d like to share with people.
As well as looking after all of our current parents, our focus at Petals right now is very much on Baby Loss Awareness Week (BLAW) and helping with the promotion of the new Channel 4 stillbirth documentary ‘Child of Mine’ which features the work of Petals.
We also will be launching a new counselling service at Harlow Hospital during the week of BLAW which requires some organisation… this is in addition to the services we already run in Cambridge, London, Ipswich and Oxford.
We’d love one day to be a fully national service – so we’re also looking at plans for how we can expand, with help from hospitals as well as our generous donors who we simply wouldn’t exist without.
“I have invested so much of my time and energy into developing something I believe passionately in, which is that every woman and couple who suffer the devastation of the loss of a baby should have access to specialist psychological care.”
What motivated you to do the job that you are doing now?
Petals is ‘my baby’ – as the founder I have invested so much of my time and energy into developing something I believe passionately in, which is that every woman and couple who suffer the devastation of the loss of a baby should have access to specialist psychological care. Until Petals has achieved this mission, my motivation will continue to drive me in this role.
In what ways does your current role allow you to get involved in the baby loss cause?
Over the years I have been entrusted with thousands of women and men’s painful experiences of broken hopes and expectations for becoming parents – and as a counsellor this has been the most profound work I have had the privilege to practice in. The parents we work with are completely submerged in their experience of loss when they come to us, and the trauma they have suffered is usually very apparent. But from the moment they come to Petals, we are supporting them with thoughtful and caring communication to bring them through the counselling door so that our very specific (tried-and-tested) approach can carry them towards a healthy recovery, no matter what the future holds for them.
“Women often feel they have failed when they have been unable to bring a healthy baby into the world – of course, this is untrue, but it is a real feeling for many women and easily results in withdrawal from social settings, and isolation.”
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?
Funding our counselling service is our greatest challenge – we receive requests for support from bereaved parents all over the country on a daily basis – but we need a sustainable funding stream to make that happen. With a standardised approach and funding from all NHS Trusts we could be operating right across the country.
Sadly, recognition of the need for psychological care after baby loss – as well as medical and practical care – is not yet widely accepted. This is ultimately our aim as a charity – to ensure this happens and to make sure we can reach all the parents who need our help.
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?
The taboo is lifting, but still present – I think there are many reasons for this but from within my role as a counsellor I see a common theme – particularly amongst women – of feeling ‘shame’. Unfortunately I think women often feel they have failed when they have been unable to bring a healthy baby into the world – of course, this is untrue, but it is a real feeling for many women and easily results in withdrawal from social settings, and isolation.
On top of this, friends and family often don’t know how to respond so they avoid the subject and perpetuate the negative feelings for the woman – it becomes a vicious circle. Through our counselling sessions at Petals we witness the relief of women as they dare to share their deeply held negative feelings and receive understanding and acceptance from their Petals counsellor as well as an explanation as to why they feel this way, with guidance on how to move past these painful emotions.
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?
Petals work very closely with the midwifery bereavement teams at the maternity units where we have counselling services – it is a strong collaborative relationship which is mutually supportive and important for providing continuity of care for the couples we are supporting.
We are also proud to work alongside all of the other baby loss charities who support and organise Baby Loss Awareness Week each year.
When the job is hard, what one thing reminds you to keep on keeping on?
This is easy to answer, it is the next email I read the next phone call or message I listen to from a broken bereaved parent reaching out to Petals. It reminds me how desperately our counselling service is needed and confirms Petals has an approach that works.
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?
I would say this work is a privilege – take care of you, always listen, never judge.
“You do not need to face it alone.”
It’s likely that a newly bereaved parent is reading this. What would you like to say to them.
I would like to say to them that no matter what you are feeling, no matter what trauma you have faced or how lost you may feel right now – there are people who can support you and help you – who understand and know what it takes to help you find your way through each day from here. You do not need to face it alone.
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?
I truly hope that the senior leadership of the NHS recognise that psychological recovery from the loss of a baby is as important as their physical recovery and requires investment in specialist counselling services like Petals. With this recognition we could have the resources to make sure that every parent across the UK has access to psychological support.
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?
Only that I would like to thank everyone who’s supported us – through volunteering, donating and championing our cause. The door is always open to anyone who would like to chat to us about what we do, or to help us achieve our big ambitions to help more parents across the UK. Please feel free to visit our website www.petalscharity.org or follow us on social media (@petalscharity) too, if you’d like to follow our work more closely. And thanks for reading!
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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.