Losing a baby at 20-24 weeks of pregnancy

Experiences of giving birth at 20 to 24 weeks of pregnancy

Going through labour and birth knowing that their baby had already died or would not survive was extremely difficult and emotional. Some mothers felt they were fighting their own body to stop their contractions as giving birth meant the end of their pregnancy and their baby’s life. However, despite their loss and intense sad emotions, many also described extremely powerful positive experiences during the birth.
The pain of labour

Even though their baby was extremely premature, mothers had to labour and give birth to their baby. The physical pain of labour and birth was often very intense and came as a shock. Those mothers who had previously given birth were more aware of what to expect, and this helped manage their pain and emotions. For first time mothers, they had no experience to draw on. Kelly described labour as “a really horrible experience” but her midwife’s explanation of what to expect meant “I was able to manage it a lot better emotionally”.
Terms used such as “mini-labour” and “miscarriage” meant some mothers felt unprepared for their experience. Some mothers found the emotional distress intensified the pain. Michelle felt “it's more painful in the sense of you have fear, because you don't actually know what you're giving birth to”. For Courtney the whole process of labour and birth was a shock because she had been told she was having a miscarriage and felt “it's not going to be like this, it's going to be like, like just blood or whatever”.
Managing the pain

Most of the mothers we spoke to, though not all, had pain relief through labour. As the baby had already died or wasn’t expected to survive, mothers were often offered morphine to relieve their labour pains. While Emily found it helped her anxiety, others found morphine made them feel “numb” and “out of it”. Other women were given an epidural or gas and air. Michelle gave birth on a gynaecology ward where pain relief was not readily available and her husband Iain had to argue strongly to get her some gas and air.
Where the birth takes place

Many maternity units have dedicated bereavement suites. These rooms are often made more homely, offer privacy and space for both parents with beds, sometimes a bathroom and a cold room for the baby. Several women we spoke to were able to labour and give birth in one of these suites. Sometimes these suites weren’t available, as they were already in use or not provided, so mothers had to give birth on a standard delivery ward. Hearing the sounds of other women giving birth and new born babies crying was painful.
Care during labour

Many women felt very well supported by their midwives during such a distressing time. They were understanding and empathic, providing emotional support as well as small touches such as physical contact, remembering parents’ names or bringing food. For example, Sarah’s midwife sat waiting outside the bereavement room for whenever they needed her. These little things made a real impact. But other parents had a different experience and felt abandoned. Some fathers had to call for help and sometimes even had to help their partner give birth in the absence of a midwife.
After giving birth mothers were often physically exhausted. For some this was made worse by complications, such as trouble delivering the placenta or needing a blood transfusion. This delayed parents’ opportunity to spend time with their baby.

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