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Losing a baby at 20-24 weeks of pregnancy

Spending time with the baby before leaving hospital

We talked to parents about their experiences of spending time with their baby before leaving hospital. The time they spent varied from a few minutes to staying with them overnight. For most parents, the time they spent with their baby was a personal choice. Many felt supported by midwives to spend as long as they wanted in hospital, until they felt they were ready, with no rush to leave. A cold cot was often provided, which enabled them to spend more time with their baby, as it slowed down any deterioration in the condition of the baby. Parents often found memory boxes very helpful, offering books to read or lullabies to sing. Joelle found the memory box “gave me something to do… a positive way of making memories”.
 

Kelly described how being in a bereavement suite, with its privacy and facilities, helped her time with her baby after the birth.

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Age at interview: 39
Sex: Female
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And they asked me, and said "Look, would you - would you like to hold the baby? We can - we can dress the baby for you." And I said, "Yes, please." So they, they put the little baby in a little, like a little outfit that they had made. And I held the baby. And they took photographs for me. And, and also they took footprints and handprints of the baby. And because the room that had been set up, there was - there was like a bedroom - like a room where parents could like deliver the baby, or sleep.

Yeah.

A bathroom. They also had what they called the cold room.

So that the - you could spend as long as you wanted with the baby, without worrying about like the baby[‘s appearance] deteriorating. And then there was also like a living room, as well, with a little kitchen area. And it was set away from all the other wards. On like the maternity ward. And you had like your own entrance, so that you didn't have to come across parents that were leaving with their babies, and things like that. 

Tell me about what impact that -

That had - That was really good, because I felt really cared for, and a lot of thought had gone into the room. And it had everything that you needed to make your - like your life as comfortable as possible. And I know like my husband found it a lot better, because he - he was able to go out without - out of the room and come back in, without having to go like through like the maternity ward. And that really helped.

How long did you stay there for?

I stayed there overnight because I still had a bit of placenta, like retained. And I had like a swollen leg. So they wanted to keep an eye on me. So I stayed like in that room. The baby was with me probably until about eleven o'clock that night. And then they took the baby down to the, like the mortuary.
 

Helen Z described how she and her husband spent their time while in hospital with their baby. They didn’t feel rushed as they said their goodbyes.

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Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
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So they brought him out to us, and we held him. We held him for a long time. He was just tiny. And they couldn't have been nicer. We had - they didn't - Nothing was rushed. We just sat there and held him for as long as we wanted to do. And a woman came in and took his handprints for us, and asked us if we wanted any clothes for him. And I didn't know that they even had clothes that were that small, but they said that they did. So they got him a little cardigan to wear. And a hat. And then they asked us what we wanted to do, whether we wanted to - We could go home, and come back and see him. Or we could stay, and. I think by this time it was like mid-afternoon, late afternoon. And we decided that we would just stay the night, and spend one night with him. And then we'd go home in the morning. We wouldn't keep coming back to see him. We just wanted to spend one night. I think one night just for us as well. 

Just to have - gather our thoughts, and not have to come home to another child that wanted our attention. So we got put in this room. The [bereavement] Room, it was called. And we named our little boy Beau. And they just - they brought him in. And they said that they could bring him to us and take him away, or bring him - and they would do anything for us. But we decided that we would just keep him with us the whole time, just for that one night. And we held him. And this is when we got given the memory box.

And we just went through the memory box, and. The memory box was so, so - not - It's just so nice to have, because - things in it that you don't even think about. Like I would never even have thought that I'd want to read him a story, and there was a little book in there so we could read him a story. And two teddy bears, so we could have one for him and one for us. So we read him a story. And we spent the night with him. We just had on a loop, about sixty Disney songs, just softly in the background, just so it wasn't a quiet room. And we just held him, and we just laid on the bed together, and. And then in the morning, they asked us if we wanted him to be blessed. So they sent for a chaplain. And the chaplain came and blessed him. And then we just said our goodbye, and they took him away. And we decided that we didn't want to go back and see him. We'd already seen the change in him, from that - just overnight he'd changed.

So we just said our goodbyes, and - and then we didn't go back and see him again. 
Being in a bereavement suite during and after the birth made the experience “as comfortable as possible” for some parents. For parents whose babies were born alive but lived for only a few minutes or hours, they found the short time they had with their baby particularly precious. Some parents only spent a short time with their baby. This was sometimes through personal choice, and what felt right to them. But others felt rushed by hospital staff and were not provided with a cold cot which limited their time with their baby.
 

Lisa and Matt had just two hours with their son before he died. This time was a gift.

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Matt: And I think it - It was a strange situation. When Emmanuel was born. It, I mean it felt - Initially it felt just like when [older son’s name] was born. Just that amazement at new life, we were amazed at just how like a proper he looked. I mean, he was a proper baby, just very tiny. But just to see his fingers and his, and his feet. And see him - initially we could see kind of - you could see his heart kind of beating, and kind of trying to take a bit of a breath. But yeah, it was kind of that just amazing - I don't know. Just that –

Lisa: Wonder. Joy.

Matt: Yeah, wonder. Yeah. It was joyful. So we really - like to have those - He was alive for two hours. To have those two hours, just holding him, and taking pictures, and videos, and. 

Lisa: Yeah. Singing to him.

Matt: Yeah. It was - That was just - yeah, really nice –

Lisa: Yeah.

Matt: - to be able to do that, and enjoy that time with him.

Lisa: Yeah, that felt like quite a gift. Considering the circumstances, I think.

Matt: Yeah.

Lisa: Yeah.
 

Kirsty described how she felt she had very little time with her baby after she was born.

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Initially, the midwife had said to me, "What would you like me to do with her? Do you want her?" And I couldn't - rightly or wrongly, I couldn't look at her at that time. So I said, "If you could just wrap her up, but put the cot to the foot of the bed. So I know she's there. But I need to be ready to have a look at her."

And I do remember saying to Matthew, once we'd delivered the placenta and it was just us - I said, "Can you - can you go and get her? I want to see her." Because I couldn't really get off the bed. 

And that broke my heart, seeing him carrying her to me. And knowing that we weren't going to take her home. And because it had been some hours, she had already started to change. Because she wasn't viable, she wasn't twenty four weeks. And we were just two days short of that, we were twenty three weeks and five days. We weren't given a cold cot, we weren't given anything to help preserve her.

We weren't given anything to help us spend our time with her. They did come and dress her, and they - they put a little dress on. And I didn't want her to wear the hat. I don't know why, but I didn't want her to have the hat on. And they said, "We'll take some photos, and some footprints and handprints."
Deciding when to leave hospital

Deciding when it was time to leave the hospital was often difficult. Some parents felt that they could never have enough time with their baby but knew they would have to say goodbye. Sometimes it was when their baby’s appearance started to change that they knew the moment had come. Although cold cots enabled parents to spend more time with their baby, parents eventually noticed their baby’s body start to deteriorate with their skin changing. For Kelly, it was important for her “to remember her how she was. She was perfectly formed”. Some parents left and did not see their baby again, but others chose to go back to the hospital and visit their baby in the time before the funeral.
 

Helen Z explained how knowing she could go back and see her baby if she wanted to was very important to her.

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Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
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I think it's important to always know that - you know - you can always go back and see them. I think some people might not want to look at the baby, and go away. And to know that you can always go back as many times as you want. I mean, the midwife that we had told us one woman was coming back, and she'd be coming back every day for two weeks or something. I couldn't have done that to myself, but. If you - you know. Everything happened so fast, maybe you do need to go home and have that time to reflect, and come back. But I mean, the way that they came in and they dressed him, and they took his handprints - they were treating him like he was a proper full term baby, as emotionally. They weren't - They didn't ever, you know, put us to the side because he wasn't a full term baby.
 

After going home, visiting the hospital many times was helpful to Collette as she felt close to her baby there.

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Age at interview: 41
Sex: Female
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And I was there for three days, and nobody came in sort of asking any questions. Even though there was a changeover of midwives and doctors.

It was more just about 'what can we do for you', I guess. And I don't - I don't remember ever needing anything, except I just wanted to hold my son. And it was really hard because over those few days that we were there, he deteriorated in condition. Obviously they kept him in somewhere very cold. Because I remember whenever I asked to hold him, I could feel that he was - he was ice cold. But he'd started to kind of dehydrate, I guess. And he'd - instead of being soft, which he was when I first held him, he started to sort of tense up, and shrivel up actually. His little fingers became very dry and brittle. And his little lips started to peel, and. It was - it was really hard to see. It was kind of really painful to watch that kind of change. And I wanted him to bring him home - and that was an option. You know, "You can take him home if you want to, but you must understand he's got to be kept cold." And the idea of putting him a fridge, and - it was just so crazy. And then of course I thought maybe the best place for him to be was at the hospital. And, and she said, "You can come back as often as you want to see him." Which definitely made me feel - I guess made me feel better about my decision, that I could come back, and. And I did. I did go back. But it was - I think only - I went, I went back to the hospital all the time. I went back there for months, almost every day. And just sat in the waiting room [in tears]. Because it was the place that I was connected to where my son was born. And even though I was watching a stream of women come out with their babies, and it was very - There was something very comforting about being in the place that my son was born, about being near those people that had been very kind to me during that process. In fact I felt - I had this almost intense - wanted to connect with those midwives that had been with me during that process. 
 
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Joelle and Adam explained how they made the decision to leave their baby.

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“The midwife was lovely, and we got to stay in the room for as long as we wanted. And we kind of already decided before, that we didn't want to spend the night. So they give you the option of having the baby there overnight. And I was kind of like - I guess I was very practical, as much as – well you - I know I'm going to have to leave him at some point, and, for me, what was the advantage of keeping him there overnight? Because how do you sleep next to someone that you know isn't going to wake up, kind of thing. For me. So we'd already sort of agreed that sort of 5:30-ish that for us that was our cut-off point. Because I needed, I needed to know how much time I had with him. Because otherwise it was like well, at what point do I say it's enough, because it’s never enough? But at the same point, you can't keep him forever. And it was that reality. So, we gave him to the midwife. Again, I didn't really consider where, what was happening. At that point. Like now I think back to it, I think 'how did I do that?' But it was very much a kind of 'well you can't keep him'. No one said that. But like that was the practicality of it. And then on the Friday evening I stayed in overnight again. And they kind of just left us to it. Really nice. “
Leaving the hospital

For many parents the act of physically walking away from their baby was extremely hard. Parents described the terrible empty feeling of carrying a memory box out of the hospital instead of their baby. Vikki felt the pain of “knowing that you're not going to walk out with a baby. And you don't have to take the car seat with you, or - you know - a baby's bag with nappies in it, or babygros”. Even though they were dead, the idea of leaving their baby alone in the hospital was upsetting to parents. Asun described how “it was very hard, leaving him there, because you feel you're leaving him alone.”
 

Lindsay explained how difficult it was to manage her grief when she went home while trying to behave normally for her son.

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Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
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And that was so weird. It's so weird walking out of hospital with just my Sands memory box, and my Aching Arms bear. Leaving Henry in the chapel of rest there. That was awful. And just, yeah. Leaving, walking alongside the people that have got their babies in their car seats, you know. And it just felt so wrong. It was so - it was just so wrong. The whole thing, you know. And just leaving, empty. Like literally, physically and emotionally empty. And we came home, and it was nice to be home in some respects, to have my own bed and stuff. But I literally had about five seconds of being home, and being like oh my goodness, we've got a half made-up nursery upstairs, what am I going to do with that? Letting it sink in, before [my son] came back and I was back into normal mum mode. 

And I think whilst [my son] has been a fantastic distraction, it has meant that even now, I wouldn't say that I have had an opportunity to really process what's happened. And some of that is my own mental protection, I think. But, yeah. It's very difficult to grieve when you have to appear normal to your child. 
 

Liz said she needed an extra night in hospital before she was emotionally strong enough to leave without her baby in her arms.

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Age at interview: 40
Sex: Female
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But yeah, I - I hold to this day that it was my just forcing - forcing the emotions a little bit. Which was a weird thing to do, for me. Because I'm not somebody cries wolf, or - you know - so it was a weird thing for me to do. 

But forcing those emotions put me on that - I just got my hand held, and - yeah, as you say it meant that I saw the babies, and. Everything then fitted into place. Think if I'd have walked out of that hospital with nothing in my arms, and trying - being me, being strong at that point. I don't know when I would have collapsed. I don't know who would have picked me up. I don't know. And where I would be now, I don't know. But I think it worked, because I just got the help at just the right time, so. I think I stayed another night in - and I needed that. I needed physical recovery as well, so [laughing].

Yeah. Yeah.

And I needed another night in that bed before I was strong enough to physically get up and/or walk out of the hospital with nothing in my arms. So. 

And of course the nurses were lovely to me, from that moment on. Until then, I think they'd been a little bit too matter of fact. You know, and. They have seen it before, done it lots. But of course it's the first time for me. First time for us, really. So. So, yeah. That was a valuable lesson. Not for me, but - you know - one that I identified as being, actually.
Midwives often supported parents, suggesting different ways they could leave their baby, either handing them to a midwife, or leaving them in a cot. Seeing other parents with their newborn babies as they left the building was particularly difficult. Sometimes staff went out of their way to ensure no-one was around when they left the building. Although unfortunately this was difficult to completely avoid.
 

Matt said their midwife offered different options of “stage-managing” how they left their baby at the hospital, asking if they wanted to leave him in the room, or push him out in a cot.

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Matt: We were there –

Lisa: Think it was about twenty four hours by the end, wasn't it?

Matt: Probably, yeah. Yeah.

Lisa: Because there was - I think I couldn't get discharged until that afternoon, could I.

Matt: Yeah, the next day.

Lisa: We basically - When they said that we could be discharged, I think that's when we - yeah, started thinking about going home. 

Matt: Mmm.

And did you keep Emmanuel with you all that time?

Matt: Yeah. So he was with us, yeah, until we left the hospital. Because as we went out of the hospital, he kind of went - they took him, I guess down to the mortuary or whatever they did. Don't know. Yeah, so. And that was kind of - They kind of handled that well, in that we had that option of like did we want to leave the room, and leave Emmanuel there, or did we want to push, push him out.

Lisa: Walk him there.

Matt: Or did we - yeah, how did we want to kind of stage-manage that, I suppose. And what , yeah. So that was - I mean, we didn't really know, though [laughing]. We didn't know what we wanted to do. We didn't want to leave him, we wanted to take him home alive. But.

Lisa: Yeah.

Matt: Yeah. So it was kind of difficult, didn't know - yeah - what to, what to do. But it was good for that to be thought about.

Lisa: And they were also quite thoughtful in things like they - you know - So when we did leave hospital, they made sure that there was nobody really in the corridors and stuff, didn't they. 

Matt: Mmm.

Lisa: They really helped us kind of just get out. 

Matt: Mmm.

Lisa: Which was one of the hardest things. 

Matt: Yeah.

Lisa: There was a lot of flights of stairs. And, yeah. I think that - Getting to the car I think was one of the hardest things.

Matt: Mmm.

Lisa: I found, anyway. So yeah, they did try and make that as smooth as it could possibly be, I guess. 

Matt: Mmm. I think that was it, yeah. Not - leaving hospital without him.

Lisa: Yeah.

Matt: Yeah, was –

Lisa: It felt very wrong.

Matt: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
 

Sarah valued her midwife’s help with leaving the hospital but found meeting a woman in labour very painful.

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Age at interview: 34
Sex: Female
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But then yeah, just the worst bit was leaving. Just leaving. 

How did you know when it was time to leave?

Because we knew there was nothing else to be done. And it was just - At that point, it got to a certain point where you're just dragging it out.

And you think well there's no point just dragging, dragging it out. And obviously, you know - he was on - he was on the cold mat, so. Like you had to keep putting him down, because he kept getting too warm. So you had to put him down again. And at that point you think you're just dragging it out. And it's just like making it even worse, more painful. So my husband just - he said to me when we were on our own, - because it was - It was late at night by that point. And we had a really, really lovely moment actually, where the two of us on, lying on the bed with him [struggling against tears]. And that was like something we'd done with the other children. So. And then he said "You know, it's probably about time we should start thinking about going." And I knew he was right. And obviously we didn't want to go. And the midwife who'd been with us the whole time, she was just sat in the room. She said "Whenever you want me," she left us on our own, she said "whenever you want me, just knock on the door." And she was just sat there, waiting for us.

And so yeah, we just - we decided to leave. But we asked her to take him out. Because I didn't want to feel like I was leaving him behind [in tears]. Like walking out of the room and leaving him there. 

So she took him first. So he left us, rather than the other way round. And, then the midwife - another midwife - actually went out of the room first. 

But obviously we have to leave. And you have to go through the ward. Like not right through the ward, but down the same corridor. 

And you know those other wards are all off the side of that, and there's people there with their babies. And the midwife left beforehand, and made sure that nobody was walking down the corridor with a baby. And made sure that everyone - So that we could leave, without having to bump into someone else carrying a newborn. Which I think was really thoughtful. And so then they - She saw us right out of the maternity suite. But there was a woman downstairs, in labour [laugh]. She'd obviously just come in with her partner. And we're leaving, with just a suitcase, and obviously crying. And just their faces - like staring at us. And I thought 'oh god, couldn't you just' - you know, we decided - Well we thought it would be best to leave in the middle of the night, because not as many people would be around, so we wouldn't have to actually deal with many other people. And I felt awful, because downstairs is where people do the ultrasounds. And you have to walk out through the same part as where they do all the ultrasounds are. And we thought well at two o'clock in the morning it'll be, you know, no one would be there. But there was this woman downstairs in labour, with her husband, and their Mum. And you know, they just - all just stared at us agog, as we went past. Yeah. And then that was - that was it.
For some parents, although they had decided it was time to leave and go home, they felt frustrated by delays in the discharge process. Joelle and Adam waited four hours to be discharged home as Joelle was waiting for a prescription from the pharmacy.

Taking the baby home

Some parents were offered the option of taking their baby home with them. Of the parents we spoke to only Sharon decided to take up this offer. Other parents only learnt that taking their baby home was a possibility after attending support groups with other parents and felt they would have appreciated spending time with their baby at home. Michelle and Iain explained how they would have liked more time with their baby and the opportunity to take him home to meet their family. There is no legal requirement to inform the police of taking a baby’s body home (even over 24 weeks), however Sands advise that parents are given a form confirming their right to take their baby home in case they were involved in a road traffic accident.
 

Sharon’s midwife made the special arrangements so she could talk her baby home for a few days. This was incredibly important as she had had to leave her two previous sons at the hospital.

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Age at interview: 45
Sex: Female
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A nurse came to see us and said "What, what would you -." I can't remember how she phrased it, but she said, "If you could do anything differently this time, what would it be? What can we do?" And I said, "Well, I'm going to leave hospital again without my baby." And she went away, and then she came back about a couple of hours later, and said "You're not going to leave hospital without your baby." She said, "We've got special permission that your baby's going home with you." And they had to - we got a letter from the police, which they got - they got two consultants' signatures, and she said, "He's going home." And they - The next day, they put him in the basket that he was already in, and dressed him. And then they took him, like he was a normal baby, out of that hospital, through the main doors, with us. They put him in the car, ensured there was a seatbelt around him, and we drove home. And we knew we had a few days, that's all we had. So we came home. And we were told that we needed to introduce him to the dog, and we needed people to come and see us. So friends came and visited, just like he was a baby.

They were - they were very geared up for the fact that they carried our baby out of hospital, like they would any other baby. They carried him to the car, and they strapped him in, as if he was alive. He's a baby. So I didn't leave that hospital without my baby, I left with my baby this time, to bring him home. 

Mmm. And that meant a huge amount.

It meant a huge amount. But the fact that they did that - We would never have asked for that. The fact that they knew that they could do that, and they knew that they'd have to get certificates, and they knew they'd have to get signatures, but they were willing to do that. They didn't get our hopes up, but they said "Would you like that, if it's possible?" And then they came and said, "It's possible, and we've got the signatures. And we've got -." They already had the thing from the police. And I just thought that was -

For me, they were making sure that I wasn't going through the same experience again.
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