Losing a baby in any circumstance is truly heart-breaking and traumatic. To face this during the current global health pandemic brings even greater challenges.
I was pleased that from the outset of the pandemic, maternity and neonatal care in Scotland was recognised by Scottish Ministers as an essential acute and community service with no anticipated reduction in need. Health boards retained staff in these departments as the COVID-19 response impacted other NHS services. Nevertheless, having a baby during the pandemic will not have been the experience people anticipate in normal times.
While the initially severe restrictions have been eased somewhat, social distancing limits maternity unit services to minimise the risk of viral exposure.
If pregnant, it is important to note that, even though the NHS is under pressure, your maternity team is there to ensure you and your baby have the care you need and their top priority.
For some though, no amount of care and support will avert tragedy. One in four pregnancies results in baby loss, and the stigma and silence around this often means families feel isolated in their grief. COVID-19 has made this worse.
The pandemic has negatively impacted on the experience of women, partners and their families. Partners have been excluded from appointments and scans, leading to women receiving bad news alone. No one should ever have to be on their own when hearing the devastating news that their baby has died.
The need to wear personal protective equipment is a barrier to the delivery of compassionate bereavement care, with staff struggling to communicate as they would like, while a lack of time and available space has impacted on whether staff can provide opportunities for memory making after a stillbirth or neonatal death. Visiting rights have been severely restricted.
After a loss, the isolation of lockdown has further impacted on women and their partners’ mental health, with many having to navigate this traumatic experience without physical access to friends and family; people able to offer a simple hug of comfort or support.
From my own experience, I know it is also a particularly difficult time for those of us who suffered the loss of a baby or pregnancy in the past. We are having to cope with so many different emotions and feelings; being separated from loved ones, unable to mark anniversaries in the usual way, or feeling overwhelmed and alone in grief. The loss of a child is the most isolating of griefs, and we are living through the most isolating of times. This can make feelings much more intense and harder to process, particularly when there is a constant stream of distressing news.
Knowing you are not alone, even in isolation, is crucial to the healing process, and people affected by the death of a baby need support now more than ever.
Baby Loss Awareness Week aims to raise awareness about pregnancy and stillbirth, highlighting the isolation many women, partners, family members and friends experience after baby loss. Now more than ever it is important to know we are not alone. It is important to highlight the excellent work of charitable groups such as SANDS, Tommy’s and others, who support bereaved parents.
SANDS helpline is free: 0800 164 3332 and open from Monday to Friday 09:30-17:30 and Tuesdays and Thursday 09:30-21.30. Alternatively please email: email@example.com or visit www.ayrshiresands.org
At 19.00 on 15 October, thousands of people around the world will light a candle or share a candle’s image, sending a Wave of Light into the world to remember and honour every little life lost too soon.