Words of Advice from Baby Loss Moms

At the end of my talk to my local midwifery students, I gave them a handout, that speaks volumes.  You may recognizes some words, because they were simply taken from the comments section in response to my question of what would you like midwifery students to know about baby loss.   Feel free to comment if you have more advice to give! Here is the handout:

Words of Advice from Baby Loss Moms

 

“Video clips of ultrasounds meant so much to me and I would have like a recording of my daughter’s heartbeat if they could have given me one. At the time I didn’t know it those would be my only memories of her. I appreciated when my doctors were honest but sensitive.” -mother of Caroline, carried to term after a Trisomy 13diagnosis, who lived for 58 days.

 

“I think they didn’t tell me anything because they had no clue what was going on themselves and wanted to wait until they had more info- but, that choice made things much worse!!!! Talk to the patient, you have to talk them through what’s going on, you have to tell them. Also: if there’s a chance a baby might not make it, you have to prioritize letting the parents see the baby while working out the logistics. I didn’t get to see my kid until after he was gone. I even asked but was told it was too complicated. That’s still absolutely devastating to me, and probably always will be….One other thing: I was given the choice to go to private room on postpartum, or to a different floor. I really appreciated having a choice.” –mother of Sacha who died day after birth from unexpected brain tumor

 

“Perinatal loss can be such an “ambiguous loss”. It was so validating to see everyone reinforce that he really was a real baby (a concept that almost all brand-new mothers struggle to comprehend at the moment of birth).” –mother of Sacha who died day after birth from unexpected brain tumor

 

“Even if the death occurs later, call or write or visit the parents. We so appreciated that one of our midwives and her intern were able to make it to the ceremony we held for Paul. But a call would have been just as meaningful…. If applicable, invite the parents to share a photo of their baby for the baby photo board or book.”mother of Paul who died unexpectedly a few weeks after birth

 

“And for subsequent pregnancy: if you need to discuss the death of the previous baby, give notice in advance so the parents can prepare (especially if you need them to tell their story, or to dig into traumatic events). Also I was offered a viability scan I didn’t “need” but that was really reassuring.” mother of Paul who died unexpectedly a few weeks after birth

 

“With miscarriage (or infant death in general I suppose), even if there is ‘something wrong’ with the baby that you can prove with genetic testing, no one should ever say ‘It’s OK- the baby had a problem anyway.’ I’ve noticed a lot of pregnancy books use this kind of logic, and it’s bad. We don’t throw out people or stop caring about them because they’re sick, so what are we supposed to feel better that our baby that died wasn’t perfect, and that caused his death?” –mother of Serphim, who died of Potter’s Syndrome five hours after birth

 

“Encourage parents to hold, kiss, love, bathe their baby… If you’re uncomfortable handling a dead baby, please ask one of your colleagues to take over. This was our only negative experience with the staff- and it felt awful to have someone reject our precious babies. Remember that these parents need your care, support, love perhaps more than anyone else on the floor.” –mother of A&C, twins who died after PPROM at 20 weeks.

 

I was that woman, sitting in the OB office following my 19 week anatomy scan when the midwife came in with a student and very coldly and matter-of-factly started to explain the slight anomaly found on ultrasound. When I started to cry the midwife offered little support and I could tell she was busy and I think she really believed the finding was nothing major and that I was over-reacting. It was the student who came back into the room alone and sat with me, let me cry, and explained what was going on as best as she could.   So my advice to your students is that there will be days in clinic when you are busy and running behind and stressed, and these are the days when you might have to break bad news to a patient (or several patients), and your pager might be going off, and your receptionist might be reminding you that you have 3 patients in the waiting room, and you will probably have a huge stack of papers on your desk that need to be reviewed… but in that moment, for that patient- your time and presence is what she needs most.” –mother of Clara, carried to term after a Trisomy 18 diagnosis and born still at 36 weeks

 

“It might be tempting to let the parents know that their loss isn’t a big deal compared to what other people go through, but that can be very disturbing to the grieving parents. Don’t tell them it was nature’s way of getting rid of damaged goods. It was their baby. They loved that baby and would have done anything to save it. To you, it was a blighted ovum, or a common Trisomy problem, or ‘barely even a positive’ – but to that family it was precious and beloved. The loss is still very real no matter how unformed the physical person may have been.” –mother to baby lost to miscarriage

 

“Our nurse hung a doorsign of a baby in an incubator on our door so that those entering my postpartum room would know that we had a NICU baby. That was great as it eliminated any too-cheerful questions. However at my six week postpartum checkup, the doctor didn’t know my baby had died.” –mother of Anderson, born at 24 weeks who lived for 26 days

 

“Cyr, take photographs- YES. And remember, you can never tell a loss mom that her baby is too beautifulm too perfect, too special and too unique. She will never hear this as her child grows. Give her a lifetime of school picture Oohing and Aahing in the short time you have with her. Use the baby’s name.” –mother of Anderson, born at 24 weeks who lived for 26 days

 

“I was pregnant with our 2nd baby and had our first u/s at 9 weeks. They couldn’t find a heartbeat. I t was hard and still is. I recall the u/s tech saying ‘oh I just know you’ll be back in 3 months pregnant again!!!” She was just so hopeful. But that’s not what I wanted to hear. I needed to honor THIS baby and THIS loss. So overall, I just wanted the midwife team to honor the present and respect what we are going through at the moment.” –mother of baby lost through miscarriage

 

“To make sure parents have all mementoes of their baby that they would like; to make sure parents know they have no been ‘cast adrift’ from the unit- you become so close to staff whil your baby is being cared for going home is like an estra wrench on tope of the loss of your baby; to make sure parents know how to access counseling. I would also add a couple points about traumatic birth- whether it’s something like PPH or an illness such as preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome- that mums know where to get information about what happened to them and why, and how to access support/forums/debrief about the birth.” –mother of Hugo, born at 24 weeks and lived for 35 days

What more do you have to add?

Advertisements

Future midwives

I’m sure I received some training on loss when I was in midwifery school. I don’t remember the specific lecture or chapter in the books, but there had to be some educational experience I received. I remember more the on the job learning. I worked as a Labor and Birth nurse while I was in midwifery school. I helped woman as they worked hard laboring for a baby that was extremely premature, that was unlikely to live, that had already died. I was scared at first- I think scared of saying the wrong thing, of not knowing what to say, of doing something that would make the situation worse.

During school, while I was working as a nurse, I remember caring for one woman who was being induced around 24 weeks, the cusp of viability. Her uterus and amniotic fluid were infected, meaning the baby who already faced significant life threatening struggles that came with extreme prematurity, also faced life threatening infection. Truth was, this baby had very poor chances of survival. The neonatologists knew this and gave her the option of resuscitation or comfort care. As her labor was induced she talked and cried with her family, with her healthcare providers about what was best for her baby. She had a family member who had extremely preterm twins who suffered many long term effects from being born so early. She was unsure if she wanted that outcome for her baby, but also could not imagine not doing something for her child. When my shift was done, she was just getting into active labor and had not decided what to do. I found out later from the nurse who relieved me, that her baby came suddenly, without the doctor even in the room, and she still had not decided. Her baby did not survive. The worst part of being part of her story, was not knowing how to help her. I know, even with all the training and experience in the world, I still might not have been able to help her decide, but maybe I could have. I’ll never know.

I have since been with mothers as the doctor couldn’t find a heartbeat on the ultrasound. I’ve had mothers whose babies come prematurely and die sometime after birth. I’ve had mothers who choose to terminate for a fatal diagnosis and a mother who has carried to term despite one. I helped mothers through subsequent pregnancies and subsequent miscarriages. Each woman I have cared for, I have learned from- more so than in any class in school. Ultimately I have learned most from my own experience.

This week I’ll be joining the program director of my local pregnancy and infant loss non profit in a guest lecture about loss to the local midwifery students. It is at the school I went to, I worked at and I still (though rarely these days) precept at. I sort of invited myself when the program director mentioned it to me- how could I not? This is what I do- I’m a midwife and I’m a babyloss mom.

As we talk to the students, I want to give them all I can. I want them to remember the talk and I hope, being given by someone who knows both sides will help. But I need your help too- I only have my own experience. I’ve come up with some points I wish to make- I know it’s not a perfect list, and so I encourage you to give me your suggestions to. I also know that these do not apply to everyone’s situation and it’s not a comprehensive list encompassing nearly everything- I am trying to look at it from both perspectives- a provider and a patient.

Tell me: What did you want your midwife or doctor to do? What did they do that was great? What did they do that you wish they didn’t?

 

Stillbirth

  • Be honest. There is no good way to say your baby is dead. Don’t sugar coat; just be clear.
    • I was with a mom with a stillbirth at term. She had been sent from the office to OB triage when the midwife couldn’t find a heartbeat on the Doppler. I sat by this woman as the APRN did a scan looking for a heartbeat. We were waiting for the Maternal Fetal Medicine doctor to come and make it official. Since he was tied up, the APRN started scanning, all of us hopeful she’d find something with the ultrasound that the Doppler could not. The room was silent as she scanned, the parents on edge, the nurses and I staring at the screen. It felt tortuous for me- I can only imagine what it felt like for the parents. Finally, because no one was saying anything, I said simply, “they don’t see a heartbeat. I’m so sorry.” I explained how we had to wait officially for MFM doc and I stayed by her side until he came. There were a lot of “whys?” and I was honest there too “We don’t know. We may never know. But here’s what we can do to try to find out…”  
  • Describe the process- let the patient know what happens next (do they want to go home, gather things, wait at all? Induce right now?) Discuss induction and pain management. Discuss the baby coming out- mention about skin color changes and bruising that might be apparent. Offer to call NILMDTS

 

General Loss Guidelines

  • Say “I’m sorry”
  • Use the baby’s name…. over and over.
  • It’s ok to cry- in front of the patient too.
  • Get familiar with the process- offer autopsy, karyotyping, TORCH titers, thrombophilia workup. Talk to the hospital social worker to learn what happens to the baby, how parents arrange services (cremation, burial?)
  • Sit. Be with patient.
  • Coo at the baby- talk about all the aspects of a baby you would otherwise- the hair, whose nose she has. Encourage parents to explore- undress baby, open eyelids. I never opened Mabel’s eyes- I wish I did, just to see the color (likely dark gray as most newborns are, but now I’ll never know)
  • Be a photographer- take photos, encourage parents to take photos. Call professional photographer. Since no one from NILMDTS was available for me, my nurse and midwife took photos- so many photos and I am so grateful they did.
  • Let parents stay with baby as long as needed. Encourage patient to call and invite any support they choose.
  • Send patient to a floor without babies for PP recovery
  • Early discharge
  • Prevention of lactation (also milk donation)
  • Offer sleep aids
  • Referral to resources- counseling, local bereavement groups, books, websites.  Go through your hospitals bereavement box, so you know what’s in it.

 

Follow up

  • Call patient- some potential questions beyond “how are you doing?”
    • How are you sleeping?
    • Who is around to help you?
    • Are you eating?
    • How are you spending your days?
    • Services?
    • Have you looked through bereavement box yet?
  • Postpartum visit
    • Plan first morning appt- so pt does have to wait in waiting room with other pregnant patients
    • Plan extra time for appt
    • Be prepared to go over autopsy
    • Discuss birth control or preconception- no judgement on whether it is “too soon”
    • Ask about photos- ask to see if she has some and wants to show
  • Remember due dates- good time to call or send a card
  • Anytime you are reminded of that patient, tell her-call or text her- she would love to know she is not forgotten
  • Attend services if you are invited and can go

 

Fatal diagnosis (if carrying to term)

  • Frequent appointments if pt desires
  • Listen to FHR first thing
  • Plan for longer appointments
  • Consider frequent ultrasound if pt desires
  • Help patient with birth plan
  • Coordinate care with specialists- NICU, pediatric specialists to discuss immediate care of baby
  • Encourage special plans- blanket, outfit, photographer for baby
  • Discuss logistics- funeral home, cremation, burial
  • Connect- give resources
  • Help patient celebrate pregnancy

 

Subsequent Pregnancy

  • may need more frequent appointments, reassurance of FHR
  • If previous stillbirth- testing (level II, NSTs, early delivery)

 

Miscarriage (also applicable with fatal diagnosis choosing to terminate)

  • Say “I’m sorry”
  • It’s ok to cry
  • Discuss logistics- expectant management, miso, D&C, D&E
  • Discuss “why” (most common known cause- chromosomal, but often we have no idea why…)
  • Listen
  • Discuss future fertility if patient desires
  • Call patient for emotional follow up (“just wanted you to know I’ve been thinking about you)
  • Referral if indicated (recurrent pregnancy loss, genetics)

What am I missing?