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In September 2012, I qualified as a Midwife and got my first job at Ashford and St. Peters Hospital, Chertsey. Since the age of 12 I had wanted to become a midwife and so it was a massive achievement to complete the course and I was excited for the next step in my midwifery journey.
However, I very quickly came to realise that there was one aspect of maternity that was a struggle – bereavement. I had very little experience in caring for bereaved parents and their babies during my training. Largely, I was sheltered from caring for these couples and a greater importance was placed on other aspects of our portfolio which needed completing. I felt unprepared when it was my turn to be the midwife in that situation and I sadly, wasn’t alone in feeling that way. I wanted so desperately to care for them in the right way but lacked the knowledge and confidence to really understand what care was required.
Last year, I learnt the hard way what bereaved parents need as I found myself in their place. In September 2016, I gave birth to my stillborn daughter, Holly. For five weeks we had battled with the knowledge that Holly had developed a very rare condition, called complete heart block. She had this as a result of me carrying rare antibodies which were continuously attacking her heart. It was a complete shock, I hadn’t even heard of this condition let alone know that I carried something so deadly.
We made the heartbreaking decision to interrupt our pregnancy with a termination at 25 weeks gestation because as parents, we felt this was the kindest thing we could do for our daughter. Holly was slowly dying and so we made the impossible decision to let her pass away gently, before she knew what pain was.
I inevitably became part of the ‘bereaved parents club.’ A club which no one wants to belong to, where you learn how to live without a piece of your heart, live alongside grief and try to parent a child who isn’t here. I quickly realised that previous to my daughter dying, I had many preconceived ideas on how people act during the loss of their child and discovered that there is simply no place for judgement. I reflected back on my career as midwife in a bereaved setting and had such a greater understanding of what was needed during this hard time. I strongly felt that this was something I had to share.
In January 2017, I was approached by the Charity ‘Our Angels’ to ask if I would be interested in presenting at an upcoming ‘Understanding Baby Loss’ conference at Bradford University. The conference would mainly be attended by student midwives and qualified midwives, approximately 400 people in total and videoed to make widely available to others. It was felt that I could bring a unique aspect to the conference, being a midwife and a bereaved mother. I was terrified. It had only been four months since I had lost Holly and it still felt incredibly raw but the opportunity to help these students and therefore help so many parents receive better care was just too important to miss.
In February 2017, I delivered a 20 minute presentation on Holly’s story, my reflection as a midwife in bereavement and what I felt needed to change. It was incredibly hard and emotional but somehow I got through it. The feedback I then received was monumental in understanding how important sharing Holly’s story was. Being part of that day has helped so many students and qualified midwives feel more prepared and have a greater understanding of loss. The video of my presentation went onto Youtube and reached 424 views plus shares on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I had never felt so proud that Holly was giving me the gift of being able to help others. ‘Two sides of the same coin – loss as a mother and as a midwife’
I had already started my blog, Holly’s Legacy, back in September 2016 but I now felt a need to direct my blogs towards healthcare professionals and not just the bereaved parents. I therefore shared a blog on the importance of the ‘Understanding Baby Loss’ conference and set about blogging on a three part series which would aim to help health professionals (and parents) in preparation to meeting the baby, making memories and saying goodbye.
I strongly felt that during the lead up to Holly’s death and birth, the importance of being aware of what opportunities were available for us. I didn’t want to have looked back and wished I had known about certain services or regretted not making the memories with Holly that other parents might have. For example, my sister arranged for the Charity ‘Remember My Baby’ to come and take photographs of Holly. The photographer was a volunteer and the photographs she took are some of my most precious keepsakes that I have of Holly. Had I found out about this service when it was too late, I would have been devastated. Arranging to have this done can be done by any healthcare professional but of course it is only if they are aware of it in the first place.
Some of the beautiful memories that my husband and I made with Holly were as a result of reading online what other parents had done. I read Holly a story which is a memory that will stay with me forever. It is the little things that seem little which are actually tremendous for us, when we don’t have much time with our babies. Opening up midwives and students to these ideas can only present the parents with more options, some of which I know they will forever be grateful for.
I really wish I had known a lot more before I had qualified and will always wonder if I did enough for the parents I looked after. I wish I had known what services were available, I wish I had known the importance of including daddy’s too, I wish I had understood that each parent is different and what care one parent needs isn’t exactly what another wants. There is so much that still needs to be shared to help make the experience of losing a baby, a little bit gentler.
I now find myself in a situation where I am determined to help assist in bringing a greater understanding of baby loss to students and qualified midwives.
In early August of this year, I became an administrator on a new Facebook group ‘Alliance of Baby Loss Charities support group for maternity professionals’. Alongside four other admins of who are also bereaved parents, we aim to provide support to maternity professionals and students with regards to bereavement care. We currently have 220 members with more requesting to be added daily. In a safe environment, we provide support for any fears, questions and other issues relating to bereavement. I hope that the group continues to grow so that we can continue to reach others to improve care given and increase worker confidence.
I am now coming up to the 1st anniversary of Holly’s death. Again that need to parent and honour her is just as strong as ever. I have decided to put together memory bags full of comfort items, from charities of whom I am now acquainted with and give them to the hospital where Holly was born. By donating to these charities in Holly’s name and putting together these care packages, I hope to bring comfort to parents after they have lost their babies but also show the staff what helped me during that time. I hope it may give them ideas of how they can further support these parents and care for the babies. I plan to make a tradition of doing this and giving to different hospitals to share my experience of what helped.
Next year, I will be looking at working within a midwifery bereavement or charity based role to help other healthcare professionals. It is bittersweet that my daughter’s death has given me the gift of this passion but I am determined to do my best by it. I will always miss Holly and wish that she was here but I will forever honour her story, help others and keep pushing for us parents to receive the best care we can, in the very short amount of time that we have.
What Others Have Said
“Admitting that there are things you would do differently to a group of your fellow professionals takes guts, as does telling a huge room of strangers your very personal story. Kirsty has identified a very real gap in midwifery training, this shouldn’t be a subject that is learned on the job. By sharing her own experiences face to face and via her blog she gives other professionals the opportunity to learn from her. She is passionate about spreading her message to other regions.”