Dear Healthcare Professionals, please try.
Earlier this week we took Merryn to hospital with a bump on the head. Before we could leave she had to be checked over by a consultant paediatrician; I believe this is standard practice for child protection reasons with young, non-crawling babies presenting in A&E with injuries, and that’s fine. As part of this we were asked a lot of questions including whether we have other children. They were interested in living children, I know that, if Merryn’s injuries were non-accidental then the hospital have a duty of care to protect other children in our care, but if I’m asked about our other children I will always mention Henry so I told them we have a son who died. I think my exact words were “we have a son but he died at birth” to the nurses and later “our son died” to the doctor. I was, therefore, pretty thrown when during her questioning, and only after I’d mentioned Henry and the fact he died for about the third time, the consultant asked when we’d lost our pregnancy. At no point did I say Henry died during pregnancy, I wouldn’t because he didn’t, and even if Henry had died during pregnancy I’m not sure I’d want his death referred to in this way, Henry wasn’t just a pregnancy, he is my son. I didn’t misplace him, he died. It felt very minimising. I replied that we hadn’t lost a pregnancy and that our son had died after pregnancy (I meant to say after birth but was so surprised I got muddled).
I wish I’d been a bit quicker and said more about her use of language because while it might not seem important to others, to bereaved parents the way our children are spoken about matters. When I speak about Henry I used the words died and dead, I prefer the unambiguity of them. I feel that the death of a child is easy enough to minimise as it is without adding to it with the use of euphemistic language. If I’m talking to other bereaved parents I usually take their lead and will refer to their child’s death in the same way they do, passed away, lost etc. I always hope others will do the same with me.
Neither of the nurses nor the doctor who questioned us really acknowledged what we said about Henry or expressed that they were sorry. I’m pretty used to this, silence is often the response when I disclose my child died, and that’s not okay. I would expect health care professionals, especially in peadiatrics who must sometime interact with bereaved parents, to do better.
So, if you are a health care professional reading this please always try your best with bereaved parents (or bereaved anyone). I get the focus was on Merryn and whether she was in any danger, and as far as the forms were concerned Henry wasn’t relevant but to us he is always relevant. Try to understand that if I mention my dead child I need you to acknowledge him, it doesn’t take much to say “I’m sorry.” Realise that being in hospital, the very same one where our other child died, might be difficult; be compassionate. Listen to what we’re telling you, take your lead from us. If I tell you my child died, he died, don’t tell me I lost him. Please just try.