Space to make memories at time of tragedy

Published on: 02 Oct 2017

LOSING a child either before, during or shortly after birth is something an expectant mother never wants to think about.

Yet the truth is, here in the UK, 15 babies a day are stillborn or die within four weeks of birth and in 2015 one in every 227 babies delivered was stillborn.

According to research published this summer, bereaved parents do not always receive high-quality aftercare, proving there is still a lot of work to be done to improve the care, advice and information parents receive when they are given the devastating news that their baby has died.

The study has come as no surprise to the charity Sands, set up to support anyone affected by the death of a baby and to improve bereavement care.

But it's not all doom and gloom - the charity is making great strides, notably here in Bristol, where the local branch of the charity has just funded a much-needed £14,000 refurbishment of the Maple Suite at Southmead Hospital. 

The suite is a purpose-built room within the hospital's maternity unit which allows parents to give birth and/or spend time with their babies who have been lost either before, during, or shortly after birth. It means both parents can stay for as long as they need, with en-suite facilities and simple fixtures meaning that they have no need to leave the room once there; reducing the risk of being confronted with new babies. 

Kaeti Morrison, of Staple Hill, knows only too well how essential proper aftercare is to coming to terms with the trauma of losing a child.

"My husband, Jeff, and I spent the night in the Maple Suite back in February 2007 after having our first daughter, Ella, who was stillborn at 37 weeks. It allowed us to be together after a very traumatic birth experience within a private, safe place, still part of the delivery suite itself but away from other mums.

“As I was on the delivery suite, it meant that midwives were still on hand to help with the after effects of giving birth. Family members are able to visit and parents are able to spend time with their baby, creating memories that have to last us a lifetime, so to be in comfortable, well designed space, means everything."

Kaeti, now secretary of Bristol Sands, was at the recent official opening of the new-look Maple Suite, although she found the experience of returning to the place she last held Ella hard.

"These specialist suites within a maternity unit are vital for recently bereaved parents and provide a private space for them to spend invaluable time with their babies," she said.

“Going back for the official opening was particularly tough as it was the first time I had been back since leaving without Ella. It bought back a lot of memories. I’m so pleased that we have been able to fund the refurbishment though to ensure parents have a more comfortable place to be."

Bristol Sands received numerous donations and contributions towards reaching their target however our main contributions came from sponsorship raised by Rachael Senneck who ran the London Marathon in April in memory of her son Gabriel Star, who died during pregnancy in March 2013.

Rachael, a Bristol Sands committee member, said: "It was in May 2016 that a friend, Jenny Bowcher, asked me to go for a run with her. I had little confidence but thought running would help with my grief. It soon became therapeutic, so I set the challenge of running a marathon with Jenny.

“We wanted to raise money for Bristol Sands as they had supported my family since our devastating loss. Gabriel was born on the Maple Suite. Using this suite was so very important to me as it meant I didn't have to leave Gabriel and could be with him for the time I was in the hospital. 

"It was in need of refurbishment, so we set a fundraising goal of £2,500 to help contribute to the much-needed work. After training for over 700 miles and completing the marathon we were thrilled to raise over £4,500 pounds in Gabriel's memory. 

"I miss him, eternally loved and never forgotten."

Further contributions came from a donation of £5,000 raised by the customers and staff at the M&S branch in Broadmead. The Portishead branch of Waitrose and employee benefits provider, Unum Ltd, were also generous contributors to the project.

Delivery suite matron Cathy Molloy said: “We do all we can to support families when they experience the death of their baby. It is a very difficult time for a couple and our staff endeavour to provide empathetic and sympathetic care, empowering and enabling the woman and her partner to spend as much time with their baby as they would like. The environment in achieving this is key.

"A lot of thought went into the Maple Suite when it was set up, but it had become a little tired and needed to be spruced up to improve the experience of couples.

"We really appreciate the efforts of Rachael - who is such an inspirational woman - and Bristol Sands in helping us with this refurbishment."

Sands is the leading stillbirth and neonatal death charity in the UK and works nationally to reduce baby deaths through promoting better maternity care and funding research. 

The charity also supports professionals to improve the bereavement care they provide following the death of a baby as well as providing a comprehensive bereavement support service both nationally through their helpline and locally through around 100 regional support groups based across the UK.

Anyone affected by the death of a baby in Bristol can call 07970 930513 for further information or visit www.sands.org.uk or www.bristolsands.org

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