“AND I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHERE MY BABY IS BURIED!” Oh For An NHS Future-Gazer!

None of this for my friend 49 years ago...

None of this for my friend 49 years ago…

Today I heard a tragic tale from someone I count as a friend. They had seen that I had been shortlisted for a Butterfly Award for my work with parents who have lost their babies (see my profile here: http://www.thebutterflyawards.com/index.php/voting/userprofile/revdavidsouthall ).

It started as a friendly good morning hug and a chat about the glorious weather and then she said: “I wish you’d been around 49 years ago!” I looked puzzled and so she explained why: “I was pregnant with my fourth child, and my Son was stillborn. There was no one to support me and when he was born I didn’t even get to hold him! It was barbaric and inhumane! And then they said: “we’ll bury him for you” – and that was the last I knew. My guess is that he was buried with 6 or so others but I just don’t know. I don’t even know where my baby is buried … and I never had the chance to grieve.”

I listened.

49 years ago … and it still leaves its mark!
49 years ago…and when her husband died recently she had a plaque in honour of her Son put on his gravestone: “RESTING ELSEWHERE.”
49 years ago and the questions persist.

We hugged and said our goodbyes.

And I was left with the questions:

How did this practice come about?
Who thought it was a good idea: medics; midwives; society?
Were the midwives compassionate?
Was any thought given loss and grief and bereavement?
Was the system to blame?

And the comparison struck me hard. Just the other day I took a funeral of a little one. Tragic, desperately tragic. Always desperately tragic! But this couple had been supported by our Specialist Bereavement Midwife and by the Chaplaincy. They had been able to hold their little one and spend time with her. They had photos and a lock of her hair; handprints and footprints. They stayed for a couple of days in a special hospital room on Delivery Suite without the noise of other babies around them. They had a full funeral service planned by them with my help; and they will get on-going support from the Hospital and other helping agencies.

How different the world is now. But then 49 years is not that long ago is it?

And it set me thinking …

Are there things which we are doing now which will be seen in the future as barbaric and inhumane?
Are there practices which we will look back on in 50 years’ time and shudder to think that we were part of it?
Are systems in place which militate against compassion and humanity?

It seems to me that the real geniuses in the NHS are the ones who spot these things ahead of time; who see into the future and say:
“Hang on a minute…can’t we do this another way; a better way?”

I wish someone had done that for my friend 49 years ago…

but because I can’t turn back the clock, I hope there are visionaries and future-gazers looking now.

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8 responses to ““AND I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHERE MY BABY IS BURIED!” Oh For An NHS Future-Gazer!

  1. When my daughter died 46 years ago,1 day old, I was fortunate to have the support of the Methodist Church, She had a funeral at the Crematorium led by the minister. I was the only mourner. My wife remained in hospital critically ill. Neighbours & friends were great. Even after this length of time the memory is sensitive. We do need to be very careful of the history we create in the present. It becomes very precious.

  2. Echoing the comment from Eric, my dad was the only mourner at my brothers internment and then he was only allowed on sufferance,hed been born at home and dad had to take Christopher to the Crematorium himself. Christopher’s death was only marked by mum in the family bible , no marker no grave, nothing, but compare this to my conversation yesterday with a friend whose son and daughter in law celebrated the birth of a year ago of their stillborn son, yes they celebrated his to short life and death she spoke so compassionly of the support they recevied here at worcester how the staff had helped to support them enabling them to grieve how they remember the midwife who stayed over her finish time to be with them. . How the staff are now supporting the family while they take a new journey with a new pregnancy. Christopher was born and died 66 years ago but hes still remembered even if all we have is just a faded entry in a family bible.

  3. 24yrs ago our son was stillborn beautiful in every way but not breathing. We had to stay the night in a room on the post natal ward. Babies crying all night and staff too busy and not trained to deal with heartbroken parents. No staff member came into our room all night to check on us. At 7am the cleaner came in and found me crying. Without words she put down her broom and hugged me tightly until I stopped crying. You don’t need to be trained to know how to do the right thing. You just need to allow yourself be human.

  4. An absolutely beautiful post David and one which found me in floods of tears. I now have another thing I want do do through Frankie’s Legacy, which is a campaign to encourage those who lost a baby many years ago, who never acknowledged the loss or had any time with their precious babies or even knew where they were buried to come forward, talk to us about what happened and we will arrange to give them something to keep that marks the existence of their baby. I’m not sure what yet, and this is merely an idea that has come to me as a result of this blog, but I’m sure at Frankie’s Legacy we can do something. I cannot begin to even imagine what it was like years ago, I was so lucky as I had all the things the family you write about had and support from yourself and the hospital. I for one am so glad that times have changed in this way, what a shame it wasn’t like this years ago. Thank you David x

  5. Such a sad post to read David but I’ve heard how it was for these women a couple of decades ago a few times since my angel was born sleeping four months ago.
    We are so lucky that things have advanced and we are fortunate enough to have the Fay Turner Suite at Worcester Hospital along with a bereavement midwife to help us through the process.
    I feel truly blessed to have been allowed all this coupled with you blessing our sleeping angel then doing her church service and burial.
    Losing a baby is hard enough but we are so lucky now that our baby’s births are acknowledged and we are given chance to grieve.
    God Bless you and all the NHS staff who allow this x

  6. The feature on your blog on stillborn babies and how they were disposed of 49 years ago brings to mind the huge progress made in the late 1980s and 1990s. It was the midwives who first approached me as Chaplain about a memorial book for babies and asked if we could have one in the Chapel, one in which parents could make their own entries.

    A number of parents then asked me about making entries for stillborn babies from decades earlier and I was happy to oblige. At least one approach came from a Community Psychiatric Nurse supporting a bereaved mother who had been pressured into having an abortion. The Memorial Book provided such a simple tool to facilitate the expression of grief and loss previously suppressed.

    Below is a poem I wrote about a stillbirth where good grieving was facilitated by the presence of a young sibling being included. Names have been changed.

    May God continue to bless good relations between the Chaplaincy and staff in providing support for those who suffer such loss.

    CHLOE’S VISION
    A heavy quietness hung
    as I waited with Mum and Dad
    and Chloe.
    I professed my sympathy,
    my sorrow.
    Their response was emptiness
    unexpressed;
    while Chloe, hugged
    her teddy.
    It seemed a long time
    till the Midwife came
    with the basket;
    precious;
    laid upon the bed.
    Quietly she folded back the cover
    and there
    was Alexander;
    a big name for a tiny form,
    dark red,
    almost black,
    and lifeless.

    The simple prayer I said,
    dropped
    words of faith that sank,
    into the abyss.

    Chloe peered
    over the edge;
    “Isn’t he beautiful?
    He has two eyes, a nose and a mouth.”
    Shoulders heaved,
    tears flowed,
    washing the darkness of the form
    we saw.
    With Chloe we saw.

  7. Reblogged this on Frankie's Legacy: Love, Loss Grief & Recovery and commented:
    My good friend Rev’d David Southall, Chaplain at the Worcestershire Royal Hospital, wrote this post which focuses on how far things have come in the last few decades. I thought I would share it here for my readers, as it is very poignant indeed.

  8. Unfortunately, although there have been massive advances, there is still much to be done to optimise end of life care. Sadly, consistently we fail as healthcare providers not in doing but in saying. I am heartened that atleast there is now enough awareness that Trust Induction for NHS staff is mandatory and usually includes a session on palliative care. Hopefully what your friend went through 49 years ago is a never-event now

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