Kat never knows how to answer the question of how many children she has. She has been pregnant nine times.
“If I count how many children I feed and clothe, my number remains a tiny two,” she says. “But each and every one of those nine pregnancies was a child that I am a mum to.”
One thing Kat has learnt from everything she’s been through is that the care given by the hospital means a huge amount to a grieving parent.
“Not just the mother, but the father as well,” she adds. “Small things can make all the difference.”
Kat lost her first baby, Darren, soon after the 18-week scan showed he had severe organ abnormalities. Her second pregnancy, sadly, ended in a missed miscarriage. Kat and her husband Shane debated whether it was all worth it, before deciding to try again. This time, they lost their daughter Zahra at 35 weeks, due to placental abruption.
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“She never got to take a breath,” Kat remembers. “The doctors got her out and they worked hard at trying to get her to breathe, but it was too late.”
Kat spent time with Zahra, dressing her and bathing her and holding her. A counsellor spoke to her and Shane, telling them about support networks and encouraging them to talk about how they were feeling. But Kat had to spend the rest of her hospital stay surrounded by reminders of what she’d lost.
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“I spent five days in recovery after my c-section in a maternity ward. All around me there were pregnant ladies and babies. I could hear them crying. I even heard one lady labouring, as the ward was so full that she was in the room beside me. I heard her baby’s first cries as I bawled my eyes out.
“On the walls were ‘How to care for your baby’ posters and instructions on what to look for in your baby’s poo. I asked if I could please be transferred to another ward, but they said that I was in the best place for my medical care. The midwives were there to check everything post-natal. I may have been in the best place for my physical care, but my mental health suffered.
“One poor innocent cleaner came into my room and asked where my baby was. I had to tell her that my baby was dead. I don’t think I was very nice about it either.”
Kat says Shane had to fight for his right to be there beside her.
“That’s another thing I have an issue with at hospitals. My husband WANTED to be there for me and was told time and time again that he couldn’t be. He didn’t want to leave me there alone, but he had no choice.”
The next few months were a blur, with both Kat and Shane “a mess”. Kat ended up finding support from an online forum, and decided to try again. Sadly, she suffered a couple of very early miscarriages, before finally being “blessed” with her first healthy baby, Shane. Shane was followed by Kaleisha, and then another early miscarriage.
Kat says she doesn’t want to criticise maternity ward staff. But she knows what she would like to see at hospitals, for parents who are going through the grief she went through.
“I have heard other ladies tell of a special room in the maternity ward that is specifically designed for a grieving birth. One without happy baby pictures on the wall. A room that everyone who works on the ward knows isn’t going to have a happy vibe or a healthy baby, symbolised by a butterfly on the door. It would be so helpful to have this available in all hospitals, big and small.”
It can be difficult for grieving mothers to be surrounded by other mothers and their babies. Photo via iStock.
King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women in WA is one hospital that has put a lot of thought into caring for families who have suffered a loss. Grieving mothers are given special rooms.
"We take out stuff that would be potentially upsetting, so the resuscitation cots and the monitors and stuff like that, and just keep it really simple," a midwife explains to Mamamia. "We have a little teardrop sticker that we put on the outside of the door. It's something very small, but we know what it means. When staff walk in there, they know that they’re going in to a family that’s had a loss, so they’re just that little bit more aware."
The special rooms are well away from the other mothers and their newborns.
"They don’t need to have that in their faces," the midwife adds.
On top of that, the hospital has a "quiet room" in its special care nursery, as well as a "quiet lounge" on the labour and birthing suite. The spaces are restricted to grieving families.
The midwife says mothers who have been through a loss often thank the staff for the care they have received at the hospital.
"They really appreciate that."