News posted 19 October, 2020

Baby Loss Awareness Week 2020: Vicky Holmes – Bereavement Midwife, Saint Mary’s Hospital

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  • Baby Loss Awareness Week 2020: Vicky Holmes – Bereavement Midwife, Saint Mary’s Hospital

My name’s Vicky and I’m a Bereavement Midwife and also team leader for the bereavement service on Ward 64 at Saint Mary’s Hospital, part of Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust. I have been a Midwife since 2003 and from an early part of my career, bereavement care became a passion of mine. I often look back and reflect on my time as a midwife and I know that this role is what I was made to do.

I was part of the original team that set up the service at the hospital in 2013. The main aim was to develop and improve the quality of the care for bereaved families, to enhance their patient experience during a difficult time and to meet needs of the families. The support we in the bereavement team have received from our Head of Midwifery, colleagues and the Trust has been invaluable, and we couldn’t have done it without their backing.

There are now four of us in the team. My role is full time and we also have two midwives – Lindsey and Vicky – who support the service part time, alongside our bereavement support worker Susan, who is treasured by our parents. I believe we are the only service in the country to have our own bereavement support worker.

Together we are a very passionate team, and our world is focused on the needs of the parents. We work as advocates for them during this period, we make sure they know that their baby is as important as any other, and we recognise the significance of their loss. We have very high standards and ensure that every family receives the same standard of care, as care should never be a postcode lottery. We know that we only have the one chance to get our service right for parents and their families and that is our philosophy.

Through the service we provide comprehensive compassionate care for our parents. We support them from the diagnosis of when their baby has died, through their care while at the hospital, and follow up investigations into the death of their baby. We help them with memory making, funeral support, grieving, post-natal support, and then through the Rainbow Clinic where we offer support and care to them in their next pregnancy. In this way we do everything we can to meet both their medical needs and their psychological and emotional needs at this difficult time in their lives.

Memory making is an important part of the work we do and helps the parents to grieve and heal. The death of a baby at any time is devastating, but by helping to create memories of the baby we can help provide some comfort. We work with the parents to try and build memories, which can include talking about them and their experiences, taking handprints and footprints or 3D casts of the baby, or creating memory boxes.

The bond and trust parents have with us as the Bereavement Team has influenced the development of a novel service where we are able to provide antenatal care in a pioneering way and where the experiences families have undergone is understood and respected. This service is the Rainbow Clinic which is a specialised clinic led by Professor Alex Heazell in providing physical and emotional care to families in a subsequent pregnancy and demonstrates both our team’s and our Trust’s commitment to invest in the holistic care of bereaved parents.

In our work our ethos is to ensure continuity of care throughout our parents’ journeys, by making sure we are there to hold their hands both physically and metaphorically through the process, we are able to build a strong personal relationship with them and make sure that they’re not having to relive any incidents by constantly repeating their history to a new person.

Our parents are the driving force behind what we do. None of our work or programmes of support have been my idea alone, they’ve all been guided by the parents by listening and responding to their feedback through questionnaires and face to face discussions. Every family’s voice is important in developing any service. If parents feel passionate about something – a certain way of coping or something they might find helpful – then we try and support them wherever we can. They are the focus and we are the service here to help them.

Through our work we’ve been able to build a sense of community amongst our parents. They have a support group on Facebook, and before the COVID-19 outbreak we held coffee mornings where parents could meet up and support each other. Our parents often stay in touch with us once we’ve parted ways, and take part in fundraisers for Saint Mary’s Hospital Charity to raise money for the service, which we think is testament to the work we do and the impact we have on our parents.

We have been part of national work to drive forward standards of care to enable all parents regardless of where they live to have the best possible support. I have been working as part of the Greater Manchester and Eastern Cheshire Strategic clinical network to develop guidelines and pathways to improve bereavement care for parents across the system. As I result of this I was invited with Professor Heazell to attend the All Parliamentary Baby Loss Group to talk of this work, which was a huge honour.

This can be a very hard, emotionally challenging but rewarding role and one which requires a huge amount of dedication. We are human and we do often cry with parents. Each family holds a special place in our hearts and all of their stories are unique.

We see people at what for them is the worst times of their lives, and they share things with us that they might not share with their closest friends or family. I dream of the day I’m no longer needed in this role and no more parents have to go through this but until that day these parents need dedicated services like ours. Together we acknowledge that even when someone’s feeling the lowest they’ve ever felt, you can give them something to remember and to help them rebuild.

When we are able to help people through that grieving process, and ultimately sometimes watch them have another baby and open that next step of their life, that’s a very special moment and there are no words to describe it. Having another baby doesn’t undo what has happened to the parents and nor does stop the pain, but it does give them hope and happiness for the next step in their journey as parents.

I’ve been doing this role for about 12 years I’m in awe of how people can cope with such a huge loss. Nationally we’ve seen a big increase in talking about baby loss, more support groups being set up and more attention in the media. This is important for parents in knowing that their voices are being heard and their loss acknowledged

Baby Loss Awareness Week is very important to us. I think it’s grown over the years and is now becoming more recognised nationally which is a positive step forward in bereavement care. Parents will always remember their baby, but for the country to stand united  to support them, and to take the  time to think about all the babies that have gone to soon means the world to families and is a significant part of remembrance. It’s also an important opportunity to raise awareness, and to improve education for the public and standards of care at hospitals.

This year on 15th October we will be playing an active part as we do each year for baby loss awareness. The wards of our Maternity Unit will be lighting candles at 7pm as part of the Wave of Light Ceremony and remembering the parents we’ve supported and the babies we’ve lost. We’re also lighting up our hospital pink and blue for the week. The week is especially important this year, as national COVID-19 visiting restrictions have added extra challenges for our women and their partners. We’ve stepped up to this by increasing our support, doing more phone calls, attending scans when partners can’t be there and above all not allowing Covid get in the way of our vital work.

I am so proud to lead this service and grateful to all the parents who in sharing their experience have helped us to help others.