I went on to be readmitted to hospital on 14 October and I had our baby girl Poppy on the 17th. Until that point, I had had an entirely low risk pregnancy, no issues whatsoever, it was completely out of the blue and a total shock. We subsequently found out that I had had a foetal maternal haemorrhage, which can be seen as a result of a trauma such as a car crash, in my instance I hadn’t had any trauma, and it was what they call a spontaneous foetal maternal haemorrhage. There was nothing wrong with our baby or with me, we were just very, very unlucky. The shock was completely indescribable, it’s not like anything I’ve ever experienced before or would want to experience again, it was and is a horrendous experience.
Losing a baby and going on to have a stillbirth is a fairly unique situation, in terms of the mix of the physical and emotional. It’s a huge trauma and shock and then you have to go on to do something very physical, and that’s before you even consider the long-term emotional impact. It’s a very specific type of trauma and grief and I have found it to be quite isolating. You’re grieving for something you wanted so much, and you’re grieving for the future as well as for your child. It’s not just losing a baby at that time, it’s everything she would have done and would have been. It’s very much an on-going process, it’s an incredibly traumatic thing to experience and a very hard thing to move on from and I think it will be a long process.
In terms of the hospital, we had a fantastic bereavement midwife, Jane Scott, and trainee bereavement midwife who looked after us at the hospital – they answered our questions and advised us on processes in the early days, and all the things you never think about. We were signposted towards SANDS, the stillbirth and neo-natal death society, with leaflets and information. We were then given a series of counselling sessions via the amazing charity Petals, which works with the hospital we were at. That counselling support was crucial to us in the early months, but I do know from everything I’ve heard that we were lucky to get that and it’s not a nationwide thing offered to parents.
In the first days after the Poppy’s death and subsequent stillbirth, my husband was just concerned with my welfare and couldn’t see past that. But the emotional trauma post-delivery of the baby and post funeral, is very much present for the man as much as the woman. My husband works for himself, but it would be quite interesting to see how different workplaces treat men. I believe they’re entitled to two weeks statutory paternity leave – But I don’t think that’s enough, in our case we hadn’t even been able to have Poppy’s funeral until four weeks after, we had to wait for the post-mortem and for a slot at the crematorium. Generally, people gravitate to the female which is natural, but it has been very helpful when his friends and family have sought to check in with him independently of me. I think we both still struggle with it very much. As a couple, we’re very different people with a great relationship but we deal with things very differently, and that is where the Petals counselling came in and really helped us to navigate through that early time together and find some solutions along the way. Without that we could have experienced a lot more day to day stress.
My workplace has been fantastic and supported me in every way, and the difference that’s made is huge – flexible working, an understanding of the need for time out and working from home – they have done everything to support me and continue to do so and I can’t thank them enough, but I anticipate that isn’t always the case and I think more can be done to raise awareness in the workplace which would make a huge difference to those who have experienced loss, especially in the case of a father who may not be entitled to much time off.
In terms of people’s reactions, I would encourage people, to mention people’s babies to them and say I’m sorry and we’re here for you. It’s quite difficult going back in that environment when it’s not mentioned by people, and I’d just encourage people to mention it.
I always say to people who don’t know what to say, that’s fine, neither do I. I’ve never done this before. There are no words, it’s horrific, it’s totally against what you expect to happen, and that’s okay if you don’t know what to say as I’ve been through it and don’t know what to say. But if you just acknowledge it with kindness in a very small way that’s enough.
Obviously, everyone’s experience is different, but I do feel like a greater level of awareness of stillbirth could be encouraged. I don’t know if it is because people just don’t want to think about it but if it was spoken about more, it might have made a huge difference to us as a family because I don’t think it was something I was ever made aware of, and it certainly wasn’t mentioned to me throughout my pregnancy journey.
Whilst it’s not something you want to talk about all the time if at all, I think if I’d known a bit more about it and what can happen, and what you’re looking out for, then maybe I would have pushed a bit harder at various points to get more answers. That is something I do struggle with, and I feel could be done better. I don’t think women are empowered to push for those answers when they have concerns, they’re not really armed with enough knowledge. It’s not something that was ever mentioned at any appointment, I had never encountered it and it never even crossed my mind as a possibility. Obviously, you can’t cover off every outcome possible for an expectant mother but there are certain things that are key to look out for and the movement of your baby is one of them.
I think one of the shocking things after we had Poppy, was to find out how many people are in our situation, for various reasons with lots of different experiences, but there had been other people in the hospital with us who went through it the same week, and that completely blew my mind.
When it happens to you, you start to unlock all the doors and find the groups and people who’ve experienced it, and the more you dig the more you find; it’s a community people just aren’t aware of. On social media there are so many people sharing their experiences, but it’s not something you’d ever go and look for unless you’d experienced it. I just had no awareness of the enormity of the problem and the number of people who have experienced this kind of loss.
My husband and I have always wanted to have children and we still do want to have other children that we get to take home, we’ll always have one missing, but I do hope we’re able to have another baby, it hasn’t changed our mind about that. However, I have a feeling of huge trepidation of what being pregnant again will be like, especially after you get so far along the process, and you still don’t take your baby home – I can imagine – it’s very traumatic to go through that again. From what I’ve heard, people need a lot of support – for those reasons it’s not something I relish the thought of, but ultimately, we do want to have another baby.
The experience we had in the hospital after we were readmitted was generally positive, and the NHS is incredible in many ways. However, we found being in hospital night after night, unfortunately no matter how hard the amazing staff work and what they have at their disposal, it’s never enough to look after everyone in the way they’d want to.
With that in mind we set up a fund to raise money for maternity services at Queen Charlotte’s hospital in London – the idea is that it’s a maternity services fund, not a bereavement fund – we will raise money for education or equipment for bereaved parents, but we also want to raise money to enhance the maternity experience for everyone, those taking home healthy babies too. Hopefully, ultimately, we’ll have more babies going home and improve the environment and experience for all the staff and all the patients. We’ve raised quite a lot of money so far and are working collaboratively with the hospital with an experienced committee of senior consultants, midwives, charity representatives etc. It’s just something we feel very passionate about and the hospital got behind, and hopefully will make a difference on the ground.
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