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.
Throughout the entire series, what has struck me is the amount of people that have personal experience of baby loss, working within the field of baby loss. Whether its a motivator to join the profession or not, I should imagine that it presents both multiple challenges and beautiful insight that cannot be taught. In this piece from Amy, a medical negligence solicitor, reflects both on her personal and professional experience of loss. Please, meet Amy…
So, to start us off, please can you let us know a little about your current role? What motivated you to do the job that you are doing now, and in what ways does it allow you to get involved in the baby loss cause?
I am a Medical Negligence Solicitor in the North West London office of Gregory Abrams Davidson. I have been a Solicitor for nearly 10 years and have, following qualification, specialised exclusively in Medical Negligence.
My eldest daughter, Arella, was stillborn a week before her due date on 30 June 2012. When I finally returned back to work, I decided to focus my practice on assisting families who had suffered a stillbirth or neonatal death as a result of Medical Negligence. The primary reason behind my decision was a passion and drive to help bereaved parents through the litigation process.
I am not only a practicing Medical Negligence Solicitor, but I am also a bereaved mother and therefore, I (sadly) understand the gut-wrenching pain of losing a baby. This is in addition to having years of legal experience behind me.
Following the stillbirth of Arella – during my darkest of days – I became a “walking encyclopaedia” on Stillbirth. Unbeknownst to me at that time, this would arm me with information which would help me in my working life.
Another motivator that led to my decision to specialise in Stillbirth is to make change; thus continuing my Arella’s legacy. Whilst I would never have chosen to be in the position I found myself in after losing Arella, there is a part of me which feels “lucky” to be in a position to make a difference to peoples’ lives.
Whilst some stillbirths sadly cannot be prevented even with the best of care, some deaths are avoidable and are caused as a direct result of a lack of care. This, in my opinion, should be a “never event”.
I should add that I am a huge fan of the NHS. I myself received exemplary care from the hospital where Arella was born (the Whittington Hospital in North London) followed in later years by my three subsequent children, but I acknowledge that not everyone is as fortunate as me.
Many hospitals are failing to provide a high enough standard of care to their patients. It is my intention that with the passage of time, I will be able to collate data from the cases I settle, identify the issues and weaknesses in the system and with this information, approach the various maternity bodies with the intention of ultimately educating doctors and midwives, thus reducing the number of stillbirths. This is a further driver behind my passion to spend my working days helping bereaved parents.
Whilst prevention is my longer-term aim, I strive to support bereaved parents through what is undoubtedly an extremely distressing time. As well as dealing with the pain of losing a baby, I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to deal with the stresses and anxieties caused by the litigation process.
I strive for justice on behalf of my clients, bereaved parents. I strive for change.
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 love my job. However, I can get frustrated at times by needless, protracted litigation that, in my opinion, should have settled earlier. The average claim takes 2-3 years to settle. This obviously puts a huge emotional burden on my clients. There are occasions when a stance taken by a NHS Trust is so unreasonable (and illogical) which results in unnecessary drawn out litigation. Such cases are ultimately successful, but it is upsetting to think that my clients could have been spared some pain and anguish, had a reasonable approach have been taken by the hospital trust at the outset.
I also find the end of a case, whether successful or not, incredibly sad. For those parents whose cases settle, I feel immense sadness sending them a cheque. And for those parents who bring unsuccessful cases, I feel immense sadness that they never got what they had originally set out to achieve. However, I believe that either scenario, despite the potential of igniting grief and giving it an additional element, it does bring with it a sense of closure.
For those parents whose claims are unsuccessful, the majority should in time have the peace of mind that an independent expert has concluded that their precious baby did not die as a result of negligence.
I am not a Counsellor. I am not a befriender. I am a Solicitor. It can be hard to find the right balance on occasion. However, I believe that my personal experience sadly equips me with the necessary skills to offer support and guide my clients throughout their legal process. I have the deepest of empathy which helps me to approach a case with the utmost care and sensitivity.
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 that Stillbirth/Neonatal Death is still a taboo. It is a grief left unspoken. It is every parent’s worst nightmare. Stillbirth/Neonatal Death is too awful to think or talk about but the harsh reality is that it happens.
Nevertheless, I definitely think that since Arella’s stillbirth 6.5 years ago, people are speaking more and the subject is attracting media attention. Sadly, stillbirth is far more common than people realise.
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?
As a result of Arella, I am able to guide people to help and support if they so wish. Grief is subjective. What works for one, does not work for another. We all have different coping mechanisms. I am able to point people in the right direction for help, should they so wish.
With claims that are successful, as part of the settlement, I am able to ensure that my client(s) gets the right level of help to support them through the healing process as best as possible, for example in the form of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). As a result, I work with leading psychiatrists/psychologists.
When the job is hard, what one thing reminds you to keep on keeping on?
I’d be lying if I said my job was easy (emotionally). It’s not. I have cried over every single stillborn or neonatal death baby for whom I have sought justice and many of their stories deeply resonate with me. However, I try to focus on the bigger picture of why I do what I do and try not to lose sight of that. In addition, my job ensures that Arella’s legacy is continuing and that her little life is not lost in vein.
It’s likely that a newly bereaved parent is reading this. What would you like to say to them?
To a newly bereaved parent, I would like to say the following:
I truly understand the gut-wrenching agony of losing a baby. There are simply no words to describe it. You will find a way, your way, to get through it. My husband and I always grieved differently, but always as one. Be kind to yourself. Don’t expect too much. There will be days when you are literally drowning in grief and others that are more bearable. You’ve got to do whatever YOU have to do to get through the dark days. There is a lot of support out there. Take whatever is on offer. Don’t expect too much from yourself. There is some truth to the cliché that “time is healer”. Whilst the passage of time does not eradicate the pain, it will enable you to find your own coping mechanisms.
Be kind to yourself.
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 not until you experience the pain of a stillbirth that you realise that’s it’s not such a rare occurrence: Everybody knows somebody. The statistics on stillbirth in the UK are shocking: According to SANDS (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity), around 15 babies each day died before, during or soon after birth every day in 2016. One in every 227 births was a Stillbirth and there were a total of 3,434 stillborn babies in 2015. That’s around 9 babies stillborn every single day. The pattern of bereaved parents’ lives is torn apart in a way which renders them forever-changed.
These bleak statistics are illustrative of the fact that in an era of medical advancement, we are not improving our knowledge and understanding surrounding stillbirth.
Stillbirth is more common than cot death and yet every mother knows about and is fearful of cot death – I was given a booklet by my midwife on one occasion, outlining “how to prevent a cot death”. I appreciate that there is a fine line between educating and scaremongering but that said, I believe that the appallingly high stillbirth rates signal the need for immediate change.
As things stand at the moment, we cannot educate mothers as we have no answers to offer; “Your baby may have a cot death but we have carried out a lot of research and here is a list of things that you can do to prevent it” sounds far more palatable than “Your baby may be stillborn but I’m afraid we don’t know what warning signs to look out for as very little research has been carried out”. Why can’t the same attention and detail that was rightly given to cot death be applied to stillbirth in order for us to similarly improve our understanding and limit our number of stillborn babies?
I hope that government action be taken to tackle the unacceptably high level of stillbirths in the form of funding into research. It is pleasing to see evidence of a gradual shift towards recognition of the fact that more could be done to prevent stillbirth.
I hope that we reduce our numbers and also improve our bereavement care, which is something of a postcode lottery. The stark contrast in the standard of care offered by different Trusts to bereaved parents is something that needs to be addressed. I was lucky. I had the most wonderful Bereavment Midwife and Consultant who I will forever hold a special place for in my heart. Experiences vary and not all bereaved parents are as fortunate as me; lacking the support of health professionals following the death of their baby. They are left to try to cope on their own, save for the odd visit from the community midwife.
It horrifies me to learn that not all hospitals have allocated funds for a Bereavement Midwife and for those that do, many of the Bereavement Midwives are hopeless. I realise how “blessed” I am to have had such a wonderful Bereavement Midwife in my life; I have sadly met many bereaved mums, none of whom have this vital lifeline. I have met women who, 6 months on, are still on a waiting list for counselling. What good is that when for some women, ending their lives immediately after losing their baby is seen as the only way out?
Whilst the care that I received was exemplary, on the other hand, I cannot help but partly “blame” the NHS as a whole for failing to do all it could to find out that I was having a “high risk” pregnancy before it was too late. We do not have the necessary screening tools in place due to a lack of research funding. A third of stillborn babies are perfectly formed and born at gestations when they might safely be delivered but routine antenatal care is failing to detect far too many babies who need help. Research is urgently needed to identify new reliable, diagnostic tests.
You can find out more about Charlotte and Knight’s Injury here
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.