As part of the #DiversityInLoss series, Priya recently took over my Instagam to shed light on the loss of two of her triplet girls, one part way through pregnancy and one, shortly after birth. Today, we hear from her husband Ricky, on his perspective not only as husband and father, but also as a medic having to return to an Obs & Gynae environment. Returning to work can be such a challenge for people following the loss of a child, and more support and understand really is needed.
Please welcome Ricky, Adhiya, Ariya and Adhira to the #DiversityInLoss series
I am Ricky – Priya’s Husband and Daddy to Adhiya and our angels Ariya and Adhira. I’mz not someone who is particularly vocal, more the strong (previously, before dad-bod set in) and silent type. I’m currently a GP and when Priya was pregnant I was in the middle of my training. I have been so inspired by how Priya has opened up with our story that I thought I’d write a little bit today, about my initial experience as a new father.
Priya fell pregnant and we went from an initial feeling of delight, to ecstasy that we were going to have three babies (three babies…my first reaction was “but…I only have two arms!!”), to a feeling of being plunged into a nightmare with complication after complication, having to make decisions that we never thought we would have to make. Along with this, life had to carry on – going to work, continuing training and initially working in Paediatric A&E which felt like it was too close to home…with Obs & Gynae further into the pregnancy which was even closer to home at the time.
I had just come off a stint of long shifts on labour ward when Priya went into labour herself. Having looked forward to a day relaxing with Priya, we found ourselves back on Labour Ward.
The delivery quite rapidly went from us feeling relaxed, to the room being packed full of medical professionals. As a husband, dad and medic that whole situation was probably one of the most frightening experiences of my life, knowing exactly what was happening, what could happen if things weren’t acted on, being powerless to intervene, whilst trying to keep a calm face for Priya’s mum, who kept asking me if everything was ok. It felt like being trapped in my worst nightmare. Everything slows down, but with this silent voice inside shouting “Why hasn’t he/she noticed that “X” is happening, why hasn’t anyone noticed that “Y” is happening, SOMEONE F****** DO SOMETHING”. The doctor in me knows in retrospect that everyone was doing something; everyone in that room had a specific role, but the husband and father in me just wanted everything to be ok.
After our girls were born, I was luckily able to take a chunk of annual leave and my two weeks of paternity leave in order to obtain almost a month off work. Three weeks of this was spent going to and from hospital whilst Adhiya was in special care, which meant I only got a week to spend with my family at home. That week at home felt like the shortest week of my life – helping to take care of this (at the time) fragile little bundle, grieving but not really being able to, doing daily chores and all the time dreading the return to Obs & Gynae…one of the two specialities I did not want to go back to.
That week at home flew by and it was then time to go back to work. Back to long days in the early pregnancy unit, seemingly longer days on the gynaecology ward, and apathetic days on labour ward.
A few comforting pastoral words from the head of the department and it was back to usual duties. Some consultants would come in for the ward round and ask how my wife was, and whether she had delivered… as soon as they heard the first line about what had happened you could see their faces drop and wish that they had not opened the can of worms. They quickly moved the topic on, or just pretended like I hadn’t said anything and changed tack. They wanted to crack on with the ward round, not actually know how I was, they had busy lives and things to do. This, coming from the speciality that deals with the issues we had experienced during the whole pregnancy. I ploughed on with work but with every shift I dreaded going into work more. Of course, I put a brave face on, I cracked on with work and got jobs done, but I resented that hospital environment, the big machine which was shielded behind a mask of anonymity. Probably the only staff who I felt actually showed me true empathy were some of the nurses I knew in the early pregnancy unit (although this was the place I least liked working after having lost two of our girls).
Having to go back to Obs & Gynae after everything that happened is something I had to do in order to complete that part of my training without having to repeat a whole placement again. I know I had to do it, but there is part of me that will always be filled with resentment that I wasn’t offered any other options with regards to returning to work, and that I didn’t feel particularly well supported when I did get back to work. Professionals need to be better trained when it comes to baby loss, and to delve deeper even when someone might say “I’m fine”.
On the flip side, when I went back to work in my training GP practice, I felt like I was actually treated like a human being again. I felt listened to, supported and valued.
Typically in a lot of jobs, compassionate leave for bereavement is only three days. Three days to grieve for your lost loved one before you have to plunge back into daily life. I’m not sure how this is acceptable. Standard Paternity leave is only two weeks. That in itself also seems like such a short time to spend time as a new family unit before you are plunged into a life of chaos and constantly playing catch-up with family time, work, chores & “life admin”. I was able to incorporate annual leave into my paternity leave to make it almost a month, but what if Adhiya had been in hospital for longer than that? What if she had been born even earlier? At the moment the clock starts ticking as soon as the baby is born if that baby is premature. And a “1 year old” premature baby is often very different from a 1 year old baby born at term. Legislation needs to change around these aspects of leave, to help support families who might already be going through a heart-wrenching period and give them that extra time.
Speaking of support, what also struck me after everything we went through is the lack of support for fathers after child bereavement. Priya was followed up by the health visitor, who kindly did ask how I was doing when she visited. She was however unable to formally support me as the health visitor is only commissioned to support the mother. In essence there was an absence of support for the father when it comes to this kind of situation. This all really highlights how much work needs to be done in this area of the health service.