Baby Loss Awareness week 2020 - my thoughts as a neonatal doctor
I am a neonatologist and care for infants born too early or too poorly. My job makes me eternally grateful that I can help these miniature heroes and I have the privilege of being a part of their stories.
I often reflect back at this time of year as the 9th - 15th of October is baby loss awareness week. The loss of a baby is tragic and much more common than you think. Increasing awareness is massively needed as it is often a taboo subject, swept under the carpet or silenced with devastating comments such as 'oh you can try again' or 'at least you can get pregnant'. These comments are probably designed to manage the speakers anxiety about an emotional subject rather than to wound, but it offers nothing to the bereaved. People don't know what to say and it is hard to know how best to support the family. I think just letting them know you are thinking of them and offering any help they feel they need is a great place to start. Don't shy away, don't overwhelm, just be present.
I've mentioned before that my job can be tough and it has broken my heart on many, many occasions. This year has been a particularly tough one. I have been a part of many stories. Some have been long with a happy ending, others much shorter with a devastating outcome. All are important and I carry these stories with me. I have shed many tears over the years. I cry for the life the baby will never live, the family that will go on without their physical presence and at the pure injustice of the world. I have cried with families, as I've left work and walked to the car and continued as I've driven home. I unpack my thoughts and make sure I stop before I enter my home so I can greet my family with smiles and hugs. On these days my girls get much longer hugs than usual and I am far more likely to give in to requests for TV and treats. After they've gone to bed (and I've sneaked in an extra few cuddles and stories), I'll think again about the day and see where those feelings take me.
Each tiny soul makes a mark on my heart and I am privileged that I get to know these babies and experience their bravery and strength. Each one has taught me something about the world, my work and about myself, helping me become a better person and a better doctor.
I sometimes wonder whether I should 'toughen up' and not let myself care as much. I've actively chosen to continue as I am. Caring and opening myself up to the hurt keeps me practising medicine the way I do and I don't want to change.
Tonight marks the end of the baby loss awareness week. We do this by lighting a candle and placing it in the window. So tonight at 7pm, join the wave of life. Light a candle and remember the babies that have been loved and lost.