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Blog: "I was honoured to be playing a role in improving the bereavement care my parents needed."

Verena Wallace, our Senior Midwifery Adviser, discusses how improving care for families experiencing baby loss influenced our new midwifery standards.

When I was a chid I knew I was supposed to have had an older sister and younger twin brothers. I was a sociable child with lots of friends, so didn’t really think about it deeply, but sometimes I wondered what they would have looked like and what it would have been like to have had siblings to play with.

It must have been much harder for my parents. In those days you were expected to have a ‘stiff upper lip’ and baby loss was never talked about. I can’t imagine what they must have gone through, quietly grieving for their lost babies and knowing that their dream of a big family wasn’t going to happen.

When I became a midwife in the 1980s, I was glad to see the increasing realisation that we needed to improve the care, compassion and support for people going through baby loss. There was a recognition that it was just unkind for people to be left feeling bereaved and isolated, as was often the case for my parents’ generation.

Thankfully, bereavement care has improved radically. Bereavement suites and specialist Bereavement Midwives are now expected as an essential part of maternity services. There are also specialist charities and support groups which work with maternity services, midwives, nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals to improve the settings and care for bereaved parents and their families.

When we developed the new Future Midwife standards at the NMC, one of the many things we wanted to get right was the standards around supporting women and families going through bereavement. We listened to the views of many women, their families and partners, charities and advocacy groups, and I was honoured to be playing a role in improving the bereavement care my parents so needed.

Our standards ended up setting out the requirement that midwives need: 

‘to be able to recognise, assess, plan and respond to additional care needs which must include traumatic experiences, including bereavement’.

In these circumstances, we also set out that midwives are expected to

‘work in partnership with the woman, her partner and family as appropriate, and in collaboration with the interdisciplinary and/or multiagency team, to plan and implement compassionate, respectful, empathetic, dignified midwifery care for women and partners and families’

These words were chosen very carefully. It’s important that we as midwives support women and their loved ones and our standards are also intended to support midwives in this very difficult part of midwifery care. Baby loss causes painful emotions for all affected. And if we are to really support people going through baby loss, then we need to work skilfully with colleagues in other professions to ensure those affected get all the support they need. 

Baby Loss Awareness Week is now in its 18th year in the UK. I always find it hard as so many of us do, reflecting on loss and grief and what might have been. The years pass but the memories and sadness remain with us. And this year has perhaps been harder than other years because we’ve all experienced more isolation and loneliness and have all, to some degree, been forced to think about mortality.

I am also aware that it has been a particularly hard year for those experiencing baby loss because it has been harder to access support during the Covid-19 pandemic. My heart goes out to everyone at this time.

It is my hope that over time baby loss becomes easier to talk about and the support and comfort available is the best it can be. Bereavement will always be painful but you don’t need to suffer in silence or on your own. If you would like more information or to gain support please visit Sands or Tommmy’s. You can also visit the baby loss awareness week website.

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