Working for Swansea Bay University Health Board, Christie-Ann supports anyone who has had a pregnancy loss, from 16 weeks onwards. “Every case is different,” she said.
“It could be parents that have had to decide to terminate their pregnancy because there are severe foetal anomalies.
“Or parents who have had a late miscarriage, who have had a stillbirth, or have gone on to have a neonatal death following delivery.
“Not everybody gets to take their baby home. Some families have to make very difficult decisions in relation to their pregnancy and the future of their baby, which can be really difficult.
“It’s so important they’re cared for from the time they find out that their pregnancy may not end in the way they would like, to labour, through birth, and supporting their memories afterwards.”
That sentiment is especially poignant during national Baby Loss Awareness Week, which runs from today, Monday 9th October, until Sunday, 15th October.
As is the case every year, it is being promoted in Swansea Bay, by both Christie-Ann and many of the parents she has supported.
Christie-Ann qualified as a nurse from Swansea University in 2008 and worked on a surgical ward in Morriston Hospital. The following year she started the 18-month postgraduate midwifery diploma.
During her time as a student midwife she also worked as a nurse on a gynaecology ward, supporting women experiencing pregnancy loss and fertility complications.
“It was during this time that I developed a keen passion for excellent nursing care and support to families who were experiencing the loss of a baby,” she recalled.
“During the end of my student midwifery training I cared for a family whose baby had died 39 weeks into the pregnancy.
“I worked alongside my mentor to care for the family and assist in the birth of their son.
“The way the midwife cared for the family, with kindness, compassion, empathy and professionalism, impacted my career and the path I took.
“You are one of the very few people who will physically meet that baby. They are not going to take their baby home. There are going to be family and friends who are not going to meet that baby.
“So to me it’s a massive privilege, caring for a bereaved family.”
After qualifying as a midwife, Christie-Ann worked in Princess of Wales Hospital, Bridgend. She quickly became the link bereavement midwife on the labour ward, working closely with the specialist bereavement midwives who encouraged her to develop her knowledge and skills.
She regularly attended the support group the bereavement midwives ran for parents and enrolled on a counselling skills course, progressing to a postgraduate counselling skills certificate in 2021.
By then she was working as Swansea Bay’s specialist bereavement midwife, based in Singleton Hospital, having successfully applied for the role four years earlier.
“The staff have all been amazing. The progress that we’ve made in the service we provide has been incredible, and the feedback from parents has been amazing.
“Obviously it can take a toll emotionally. My colleagues are absolutely fantastic in supporting me. They realise it can be emotionally draining.
“But you do build resilience and you do get job satisfaction from seeing parents progress from when you meet them.
“From those raw moments of grief, that devastation, that shock, and then working with them to help them live with their grief. It will never leave them, but they grow around their grief and learn to live with that loss.”
Some parents go on to the next pregnancy, and Christie-Ann supports them too as they are often understandably apprehensive.
She acts as a link between them, the community midwife, the consultant and others. That continuity, she said, was important.
And she has bonded with parents in another way, through the Swansea Bay Baby Loss Support Group.
It was formed after Christie-Ann was approached by four mums from the Swansea area who had each lost a baby. They attended a peer support group in Bridgend and were keen to set one up locally.
Since then, it has gone from strength to strength, with a closed Facebook group having more than 240 active members.
Group meetings are held at Llandarcy Pavilion on the last Monday of the month from 7pm-8.30pm. Anyone who has been affected by the loss of a baby during pregnancy or shortly after birth is welcome.
“It’s an opportunity for families, parents, grandparents, anybody who has been affected by pregnancy loss or baby loss, to attend for peer support,” said Christie-Ann.
“I facilitate the group, but it is about peer support. That’s really important because, as one parent said, we’re part of a community that nobody really wants to be a part of. But we’re in it, and we’re in it together.
“Lifelong friendships have been made there. And it’s lovely to see families supporting each other, and those that have gone on to have other babies and are further down the line in their journey.
“That gives hope to parents who are recently bereaved. It’s very humbling to be a part of the group.”
To mark Baby Loss Awareness Week, Christie-Ann, along with group members, are taking part in the 5k Ribbon Run at Aberavon Beach on Sunday 15th October, starting at 10am.
This is to raise funds for SANDS, the national baby loss charity, and anyone wanting to join them at the event – either to participate or provide support – is welcome to attend.
Throughout the week, Christie-Ann will also use social media to highlight baby loss and the support services available.
On Sunday 15th, there will be a Wave of Light, when bereaved parents, families and friends around the globe have the opportunity to light a candle at 7pm to commemorate all babies who died too soon.
To coincide with this, Christie-Ann will also share a video of remembrance for families who want to share their baby’s memory.
While her work is very much its own reward, Christie-Ann is now an award-winner, even though not in a way she might have expected.
She was shortlisted as Bereavement Midwife of the Year in the national Mariposa Awards, after being nominated by parents and colleagues, and attended the ceremony in London’s Landmark Hotel.
“I didn’t win it, but I didn’t mind,” she said. “Just to be nominated was massive and then to get shortlisted and down to six nationally was more than I expected.
“The awards were over. I was sitting there when the host went on to say I was getting a special award for services to pregnancy loss and baby loss.
“It was overwhelming. I don’t do my job for awards. It’s not a job – it’s a passion. It’s a vocation.
“To think that people had nominated me after going through the loss of a child was just a humbling moment.”
(Lead image: Swansea Bay NHS)
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