Blog: Baby Loss Awareness Week - a time to reflect and to offer support

Published on 09 October 2019

In her latest blog, our Chief Executive, Andrea Sutcliffe, shares a very personal experience and reflects on the important role that midwives play in bereavement

Today marks the start of Baby Loss Awareness Week - a time to reflect and to offer support.

Losing your baby during pregnancy, at or soon after birth or in infancy is a devastating and very personal experience, which will be different for everyone affected. Raising awareness is important because this is a subject we shy away from - often for fear of saying the wrong thing - but that can limit our understanding and ability to provide support at a time when women, their partners and families may need it most.  

I am one of those thousands of women who have had a miscarriage - in fact I’ve had two. One happened relatively early in our attempt to have children, the second after initially successful fertility treatment. Sadly despite the best efforts of medical science, we eventually abandoned our dream and are childless. I carry those losses with me in my heart and still feel a pang of emptiness as I am sure so many others do too.

However hard that was for me (and of course my husband), I cannot begin to imagine how dreadful it would be to lose your baby so much later in your pregnancy, at birth or as an infant. The advancing weeks bring increasing anticipation and excitement. Coping with such a devastating switch in emotions must be truly awful and I feel for everyone who has lived through that.

But this is not just a personal concern, it is a professional one for the Nursing and Midwifery Council. We set the standards for midwives that guide their education and shape their practice. While the majority of pregnancies and births will lead to healthy, thriving babies, midwives also need to be able to support women and their families through these darkest of times.

Last week the Council approved our new Future Midwife standards which clearly set out requirements that midwives need ‘to be able to recognise, assess, plan and respond to additional care needs which must include traumatic experiences, including bereavement’. 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’ in these circumstances.

The work of specialist Bereavement Midwives takes these responsibilities and skills further and provides an incredibly important service for women and their families which I know is hugely valued by those they support. I had the privilege of meeting Sera Bailey who won the 2019 Royal College of Midwives Bereavement Care award on my visit to the Royal Bournemouth Hospital. She oozed calmness and compassion and I could see what a difference she would make for the women in her care. I am really pleased Sera will be joining a panel of registrants to speak at the NMC employee conference in November so more of us can learn about her work.

One of the most difficult circumstances to lose your baby is when mistakes may have been made that led to the tragic outcome. There can be many different factors but if there is reason to believe that the actions of a midwife have impaired their fitness to practise then the NMC will be involved to assess, investigate as necessary and in the most serious situations hold a hearing where sanctions can be imposed if impairment is determined.

This is not easy for everyone involved and for women and families affected by poor care constantly having to relive and retell the loss of your baby is extremely painful. The NMC has not always properly understood that and responded with the empathy and compassion women and families have a right to expect. I am confident that we are getting better and the work of the public support service has been instrumental in making improvements, but I also know that we still have more to do.

So, for all of these reasons the NMC will be marking Baby Loss Awareness Week. I hope this blog will shine a light on these issues for colleagues across our organisation but also show women, their families and the midwives who support them that we recognise how important this is. Like many others, our building in Portland Place will be lit up in blue and pink in honour of the week. It is a small gesture but a significant one and I hope it will help. 

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