Losing a baby: the toll it can take on mental health
As a solicitor who specialises in injuries to mothers that occur during childbirth, I have represented a number of them who have lost a baby either during pregnancy or at a young age.
Unfortunately, when a baby lives only a short time or dies before birth due to miscarriage, a stillbirth occurs or a painful decision is made to end a pregnancy, people sometimes assume that the loss is not important because they never ‘knew’ the child. This is simply not the case. The intensity of love parents feel for their baby is not measured by how long the baby has lived, but in the emotional investment they have in their child and its future.
Parents have often gone through the process of planning for an addition to their family; adapting their home, shopping for baby clothes and other items they’ll need, as well as preparing a nursery and talking to siblings about the new arrival.
Worse still, for mothers who have physically given birth to a baby, they still experience all the normal bodily postnatal reactions. All this stress on both body and mind without the joy of taking their baby home only further distresses mothers.
What mums experience when they’ve lost a baby
Mothers I have represented have talked about experiencing a sense of overwhelming grief, loneliness and isolation, caused both by the loss and the fact that it is often not understood by others.
Some of my clients have said to me that the questions they dread most are “do you have children?” or “how many children to you have?” – unthinkable for many of us. They describe feeling conflicted in how best to respond as they want to acknowledge the child they have lost but at the same time feel mentioning the baby they have lost would make the person asking the question feel uncomfortable.
It is very sad to think that parents who are grieving in this way are concerned about the feelings of those asking the question when they are the ones who are grieving and in need of some understanding and support.
Mothers also tell me it is often painful coming home to see a baby’s things all around them but at the same time it can be difficult to contemplate getting rid of them as it feels as though they are removing all trace of the baby they have lost.
Often mothers are also in a situation where they have friends or family members with babies a similar age to the baby they have lost; a painful reminder of the baby they are missing.
Perhaps worst of all I have spoken with mothers who say they blame themselves, or they feel they have failed their baby. Mothers have said this to me even where we have identified that their baby sadly died as a result of negligent treatment by a medical professional. They often feel that, as the person who was carrying the baby, their role at that time is to protect their baby which they were unable to do so. So while it can help to find out why the baby died, it doesn’t always help on an emotional level.
The purpose of compensation in any medical negligence claim is to put the injured person in the position they would have been had the negligence not of occurred. However, in this area of claims it is simply not possible where a baby has died as no amount of money can compensate a mother for the loss of their child.
What little we are able to do is to ensure that mother has the support she needs to grieve for her baby and to try and move forward again. For example, we can look at any psychological support that may benefit them. Compensation is therefore calculated in this case to secure funding and make that support available for them. We often find that the psychological support required is not available on the NHS and mothers therefore have to try and struggle on without the help they need. It’s no consolation, but puts them in a better position than they might otherwise be without.