Giving Families Positive Memories to Move Forward With | Penny, Midwife for the #ItStillTakesAVillageBlogSeries

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.

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Antonia and Simon put me in contact with their bereavement midwife, who cared from them when they met and had to say goodbye to their daughter Shoshanna. I met Antionia on the Channel 5 news special, Still A Taboo earlier in the year, and I’m pleased to have a part of their family represented here on the blog series. Baby Loss is such an international mission to improve care and reduce numbers, so I always find it interesting to hear about stories from elsewhere in the world. So for todays spotlight, I’d like you to meet Penny…

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So, to start us off, please can you let us know a little about your current role? 

I am a Registered Nurse / Midwife, with 42 years experience.

I have worked for the last 37 years as a midwife, in country centres, tertiary centres, and the private hospital setting, I was trained in the UK. I currently work in two different areas. 1. being in obstetricians rooms, where I see the the couples from the very first visit when they are just pregnant, to the post partum visits at 6 weeks after the birth.

Most of the time I am caring for people during an expected and exciting event. Where the baby will be born alive healthy and into a loving family. But on occasion I care for the exceptionally tragic loss of a baby, no matter the gestation. Right from the time the little blue lines appear on the pregnancy test stick, women say they are having a “Baby”. If they are to loose that “baby” then they need to be supported and treated with respect no matter how mature the “baby” was at the time.

For these families the biggest assistance I can give as a midwife is to give them support emotionally and physically, and to set them up for life moving forward after a reproductive loss, no matter what gestation this occurs at, or for whatever reason. To give them positive memories to move forward in their lives with.

 

What motivated you to do the job/role that you are doing now?

My sister had a baby boy who died as a result of a cord accident at 28 weeks gestation. She had to go through a full labour and delivery of her little boy. At the time there was little known about the grieving process as associated with reproductive loss. It was in the era of “never mind dear you can always have another” The midwives and Obstetrician at that time were also out of their comfort zone caring for and assisting in the journey of these families.

I felt that there had to be something more that was done for these families. Photos that were taken had no soul, they were more like post mortum shots “which they were” but didn’t need to look like that for the parents. Taken with a Polaroid camera they were of poor quality and deteriorated over time.

I tried then to learn more about how to communicate with these families in their grief. How to care for the poor baby no matter what gestation or condition. Dress baby in beautiful clothes and treat them with the respect they deserved. Thus giving better memories of the terrible situation the family find themselves in. The advent of better Photography also helped.

 

“The birth, what the baby will look like, meeting their baby, making memories they can take home with them, all the way through to leaving their most cherished one behind, as they leave the hospital and go home empty handed.”

 

In what ways does your current job/role allow you to get involved in the baby loss cause? 

My current role as a midwife is one in which prevention is by way of education. The new “count your kicks ” and “know your Movements” have been spread world wide and are great initiatives.

I also work in the birthing suite, assisting the family from the first moment they find out they have had or shall have a loss. Preparing them for every step along the way. The birth, what the baby will look like, meeting their baby, making memories they can take home with them, all the way through to leaving their most cherished one behind, as they leave the hospital and go home empty handed.

So in saying that the baby is central to the event, the entire process is my focus.

I produced a checklist for all midwives to follow. It enabled those less comfortable with baby loss, to cover all the topics that families must address, before, during and after the actual birth process. This also meant that if time had not permitted discussion on certain issues, then the next midwife did not need to revisit topics that had already been covered, and therefore not causing undue distress to the family.

Topics covered included

  • If there were any cultural or religious beliefs that need to be observed.
  • If the family wanted Pastoral Care provided by the facility.
  • If the family wanted to see the baby/ hold the baby.
  • If the family wanted photographs taken, their own or Professional,
  • If the family had their own clothes for baby or if they needed specifically donated garments
  • And the big one whether to have an autopsy.

This discussion requires tact and sympathy. Medical Staff give the facts but often the family want to speak in more general terms. They know the baby wont be hurt but they still ask what will happen to their baby.

Funeral directors and funerals are also topics that are difficult to discuss.

These are not topics easily brought up with grieving people or decisions that can be made quickly……every body needs time in these circumstances.

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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? 

For myself the constraint and/or frustration to providing the level of support and care that these families need can be divided into two sections. One is the time allocated and staffing available to provide one on one care, by the hospital. This is difficult to address. Secondly the staff themselves. I have personally come across staff who have the wrong attitude to helping these parents.

Sometimes they feel out of their depth in providing care in these situations. Sometimes they lack experience, and support themselves. Sometimes they perform the tasks required, but do not go the extra mile to assist in any way more, than what is required physically. Some take a “that will do” attitude, they create sloppy memories for the parents. Take out of focus photos that look terrible. They take no pride in creating a memory book that the parents would be proud to show family and friends.

I give my all to these families, I know this is the only opportunity for these families to create memories that will last a lifetime. Therefore it has to be the best possible effort made. Near enough is definitely not good enough!!!

In working in the Obstetricians rooms, education about movements, bleeding or any concerns are foremost to the holistic care of the mothers. Being approachable and creating a rapport that encourages good communication with all health care providers is  essential.

 

“For these families the biggest assistance I can give as a midwife is to give them support emotionally and physically, and to set them up for life moving forward after a reproductive loss, no matter what gestation this occurs at, or for whatever reason.”

 

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?

Baby loss is not necessarily seen as taboo, but it is difficult for those who haven’t experienced it to talk about it. They feel that they do not wish to inflict further pain on the family. They don’t know what to say, or how to say it.

No one is taught what to say or do in these circumstances. Care of these families is often developed by experience. Every hospital has policies and protocols that give direction to staff. Staff in general do not have a problem with talking about Baby loss, but the sympathy shown to the parents varies significantly.

 

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? 

In Australia and in particular in Melbourne where I live there are numerous charities that work with the family in this situation.

Sids and Kids is a national Charity that have a branch known as Treasured Babies. These are the group I find invaluable. They are volunteers who often have had a loss within their family and feel the need to help others.

They provide new clothes that are size appropriate from 20 weeks gestation onward. They provide boxes of varying sizes and also a fully lined wooden “Angel Box” suitable for the babies finally resting place. Prior to that I have a contact group who make small wraps and sleeping pouches for the smaller babes. The pouch is made of thick warm quilted material, giving it some body, thus allowing parents to hold their baby without feeling as though it will collapse in their hands. Prior to connecting to these and other such groups hospitals had to provide for these families themselves, with varying degrees of success.

Another group is “Heartfelt” a national group of volunteer professional photographers who give their time and expertise, to provide beautiful photographic memories. The service is free to the families, funded by donations. They also provide cameras and printers to hospitals to use in the interim time to give instant memories to these families.

These groups are invaluable resources in the support of these families.

 

“If I do my job correctly I can make the most devastating time in these families lives, just that little bit more tolerable.”

 

When the job/role is hard, what one thing reminds you to keep on keeping on? 

The job is a hard one…especially if you treat it with the care and respect that is required to do it well. It takes a lot out of you emotionally. The one thing that keeps me going, is the difference I can make in these families lives. If I do my job correctly I can make the most devastating time in these families lives, just that little bit more tolerable.

 

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?  

The world as a whole is using all sorts of strategies to address the issue. To someone just stating out I would say give everything you can to help support the family. You can, and do, make a difference to how they move forward in their life journey. Be open with them, talk to them do not ignore the fact that they have lost their baby. Address them using the baby’s name, if you feel uncomfortable, tell them that too. Not everyone is an expert in this field.

 

It’s likely that a newly bereaved parent is reading this. What would you like to say to them?

You are not alone. There is a saying that says:

“It takes a whole village to raise a baby.”

This can be adapted for the babies that are born sleeping.

“The whole village mourns the death of every single baby.”

It is a fact that it not only effects the immediate family but it extends far beyond that. Pregnancy is such a visual life experience, neighbours, the workers at the local shopping centre, everybody you have contact with, is aware you are expecting. When a loss occurs they all grieve for you and with you. They may not say too much but the whole village is aware of the loss.

Give yourself your partner and all members of the village time. Seek help if you find yourself not coping with the loss. This goes for partners, parents, siblings and anybody who is struggling.

 

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?

Clearly everybody has the same wishes for the future.  The cot death or SIDS rates have dropped significantly all over the world. We all hope that with greater knowledge, education, and research the same will happen for the stillbirth and baby loss statistics.

 

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?

Obviously this is an area I have taken a great interest in over my career and it continues to be one in which I still can make a difference even if it is just one family at a time.

 


it takes a village

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.

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