Mary Higgins: Remembering

IMG_0701Recently we held our annual service of remembrance—the 20th time we have formally celebrated the brief lives of babies that died. This is an important part of our care of women, reflecting that for many their pregnancies do not always have a happy outcome.

There are many words that could be used to describe this service. Some may choose to call it a very sad occasion. So many people drawn together on a Sunday afternoon in October, all bound together by a common experience of loss and grief.

Some people come because of a baby lost by miscarriage, or ectopic pregnancy, or molar pregnancy. Others come for a baby whose life was shortened because of second trimester miscarriage, or an abnormality, or a syndrome. Miscarriage, molar, ectopic, termination, syndrome, abnormality. Harsh words, aren’t they? Words like prematurity or neonatal loss sound kinder, but they still have the resonating depth of loss and grief. These create echoes affecting many lives: the parents, their families, and those who care about them.

Having participated in this service for the past 11 years, I choose to use other words to describe what it is about. For me, and for many others, this is actually a service of love. Many are here because of love: love for a child who died, love for the parents who mourn them, love for the family who supports them.

Other words I would use are strength and humility. The strength of the parents, the siblings, the families, friends, and staff who pull together to honour these wonderful but all too brief lives—not just on that particular day, but every day in so many acts of kindness.

I thought of the word strength when I was caring for a woman who was diagnosed with her third miscarriage. The frustration of a third loss, of having tried treatments that didn’t work, the gnawing at her confidence in the belief that some day she will become a mother. I know from experience that there are many women who have had three miscarriages or more who then go on to have a child, but I equally know there are women who don’t. So does she, yet her bravery and strength humble me.

I thought of the word strength when I talked to a woman whose baby had died in the third trimester. She delivered her baby, became pregnant again, and miscarried. She told me that she fundamentally believes some day she will have a child, and I am humbled by her strength.

I thought of the word strength when we cared for a woman who delivered her baby at the beginning of the second trimester. Once physically well to leave, she picked her children up from school so she could tell them in private that their sibling had died.

There are many other words I could use to describe this ceremony: supportive, kind, gentle, beautiful, and necessary. It is a tradition we are proud of, and which will continue for at least another 20 years.

Mary Higgins is an obstetrician at the National Maternity Hospital, University College Dublin.

Competing interests: None declared.