VOTING IS NOW CLOSED
My name is Juliette Ward and I am a Bereavement Midwife at The Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, Berkshire. I work as part of a small but passionate and dedicated team on Delivery Suite. Together we care for women and their families when tragically their baby dies before, during or shortly after birth.
Being cared for by a Bereavement Midwife is something no parent wants or chooses. No-one sets out on their precious journey of pregnancy expecting or hoping they will need to be cared for by a midwife specialising in bereavement care. Coming into contact with someone like me means the saddest, most devastating thing has happened – a precious baby has died. Your precious baby.
This understanding shapes every aspect of my care as a Bereavement Midwife:
• It means appreciating that I am being allowed into the most profoundly painful and precious experience a family could ever have.
• It means holding space gently with and for each family and their baby – creating unhurried space so moments and memories can take hold in hearts and arms and minds.
• It means communicating, both with and without words, that this baby is uniquely loved and valued and will therefore be cared for at all times with tenderness and love.
• It means answering questions that parents can hardly bear to ask with honesty and clarity, kindness and compassion.
• It means being there at the end of a phone or at the end of a bed when the tidal wave of grief hits and it may feel impossible to breathe as well as in those ordinary, strangely okay moments that mean it is somehow possible to keep breathing, for hearts to keep beating even though the world has stopped spinning – “survival moments” I call them.
Midwife means “with woman” – being a companion who will stay by a woman’s side, an advocate when she can’t find her voice and someone to offer choices that are right for her and her family based on the best evidence we know of. It is my firm belief that a Mummy who has lost her baby needs these things just as much, if not more, than anyone.
I believe that the best possible bereavement care is vital for all women who walk the unbearable path of being a parent of a baby who has died. Having spoken to countless bereaved parents and had the honour of caring for some incredibly beautiful babies and their families, I am convinced that nothing matters more than deeply kind, knowledgeable and compassionate bereavement care. Nothing.
But for many families the story doesn’t end there.
After taking up the role of Bereavement Midwife I quickly realised that the care offered before, during and after a baby has died is just the beginning of a much longer journey.
Approximately 70% of women will be pregnant again within a year of losing their baby. They will embark on a new pregnancy, often described as a rainbow pregnancy. Hope after the storm and the possibility of light in the darkness.
Only now all the innocent excitement and easy confidence is gone.
In its place often comes debilitating anxiety, crushing fear and in many cases the very real effects of trauma. Not to mention the ongoing unbearable rawness of loss and grief.
Rainbow parents live now in a new reality where babies die. Where their own precious baby has died.
The very worst has happened and this knowledge and all that it means permeates its way through every part of a rainbow pregnancy.
Rainbow parents embark on their new pregnancy journey holding all this and more. And sometimes it spills out. How could it not?
Maybe in the waiting room of the Ultrasound scan department?
Maybe when they are asked – again – “Is this your first?”
Maybe at 32 weeks when they are talking to their Consultant Obstetrician about induction of labour at 38 weeks and they can’t imagine surviving 6 more minutes of this pregnancy let alone six more weeks?
Maybe when they can’t find the words to tell that family member who just wants this new baby to fix things, to fix them that they simply cannot face packing a hospital bag because those bags just come home again unopened, clothes still folded, nappies still in their pack.
Rainbow pregnancies are one thing and another, where a mixture of feelings and emotions somehow co-exist. They embrace everything bereaved parents still hope for and yet also the horror of what they have lived through, even though they may not be sure quite how.
My passionate belief and the motivation in all the work I do is that bereaved parents should be offered the best possible care based on a comprehensive understanding of what they need and so too should rainbow parents. My work is founded firmly on the conviction that care in pregnancies after loss should be intentionally and clearly shaped around the unique needs of rainbow parents – their physical, emotional and psychological needs. The needs of their bodies and hearts and minds. This understanding should be deeply rooted in and utterly essential to our care for all rainbow parents. This belief and passion drives everything that I do.
Over the past year I have had the immense privilege of caring not only for bereaved parents but also offering support to parents in their rainbow pregnancies. This has included:
• Helping to developing services for rainbow parents in my NHS Hospital Trust, working with Maternity Managers, Consultant Obstetricians and other specialist midwives to ensure that the care we offer is based on evidence of parents’ needs and experience.
• Working locally with bereaved and rainbow parents to ensure that their voices are at the heart of service development.
• Offering on-going support to parents as they navigate the sometimes very choppy waters of their rainbow journey.
• Using my training as an Associate with The Active Birth Centre in London to help and advise parents on the helpful benefits of mindfulness breathing and relaxation techniques to offer tools they can use day-to-day as their pregnancy unfolds.
• Offering advice and training to other members of the maternity team so their care is based on a thorough understanding of the evidence that supports the well-being and needs of rainbow parents.
• Working alongside our local Parent-led support organisation, The Willows Support Group, to ensure that the best possible bereavement support and staff training is offered in our maternity unit. Representatives from delivery suite, the day assessment unit, antenatal and postnatal wards and community recently undertook the Sands Bereavement Training and have been appointed as “Willows Champions” – advocates and champions for optimal, joined-up care in each area of our Maternity Unit.
Alongside my work as a Bereavement Midwife in the NHS I am also a qualified Lamaze Antenatal Teacher and founded “Rainbow Antenatal” (www.rainbowantenatal.com) which offers the first UK antenatal course written and designed specifically for parents in rainbow pregnancies. The course provides comprehensive antenatal preparation and education shaped entirely around the needs of rainbow parents. Rainbow Antenatal also seeks to be a gathering point and information hub for parents in rainbow pregnancies and for professionals who have the privilege of caring for them.
I have also had the privilege of working alongside a local charity “Reading Lifeline” offering specialist antenatal support to parents in rainbow pregnancies. The sessions are unique in that they are jointly facilitated by myself and Caroline Schmeer (Registered Counsellor specialising in Perinatal Mental Health, Infertility and Baby Loss) allowing parents a safe space to explore preparing for the arrival of their rainbow baby in a safe, supportive and also clinically experienced environment.
I feel immensely honoured to have been nominated for this award by families I have had the privilege of supporting – their precious babies, testimonies and stories are woven through everything I do.
What Others Have Said
Juliette has made a significant impact on our healing and navigating life and pregnancy after loss. Juliette is actively working to improve services available at the hospital for those going through pregnancy after loss and I know first hand how she will be able to make a difference to families facing this challenge. Bereavement care shouldn’t end when you leave the hospital and I’m so glad that people like Juliette are working within our NHS to ensure that families are cared for appropriately on the long road following stillbirth. Juliette was calm & sympathetic. Understanding our anxiety of going through our second pregnancy. She really does have a wonderful warmth and caring personality who understands and listens to our concerns, fears, hopes and dreams.