BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Health  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
Medical notes
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Friday, 12 July, 2002, 23:38 GMT 00:38 UK
Learning to cope with death
Pregnant woman
Counselling helps after the death of an unborn child
One in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage but despite this, professionals and would-be parents are poorly equipped to cope with the grief.

BBC News Online talks to bereavement counsellor Barbara Herkes about why more needs to be done to help couples cope with the loss of a child.


As infant morality rates fall and life expectancy grows, the expectation of a healthy baby increases.

Few parents embarking on pregnancy really contemplate losing their baby, but the risk of miscarriage can be as high as one in four.

When they are faced with the death of their unborn child their dreams lie in tatters and many parents feel they have nowhere to turn.


I say professionals need to look at their own experiences with death and know how they deal with it before they can talk to others

Barbara Herkes

Bereavement counsellors warn that many of the parents could be slipping through the net and missing out on counselling after they leave hospitals.

And that some health experts have too little training in bereavement counselling.

Despite coming across death on a regular basis health professionals get little or no training on how to deal with it.

Barbara Herkes
Barbara Herkes says health professionals get too little training in bereavement

Some medics get just one hour during their lengthy courses on how to talk to relatives about the death of a loved one.

Barbara Herkes, a bereavement counsellor at the Simpson Centre for reproductive health, in Edinburgh, said would-be parents were a particularly vulnerable group.

Many have no body to bury, but still need rituals to follow to mourn the death of their unborn baby.

Vulnerable

She told BBC News Online that professionals need to be alert to the suffering and ensure follow-ups with appropriate carers are arranged to help with grieving.

"Expectations of a healthy birth are so high and there is a feeling that when something goes wrong that there must have been a mistake.

Mrs Herkes, writing in the British Journal of Midwifery, said: "During the hospital stay there is often a sense of numbness and unreality.

"In the ensuing weeks and months when the parents need to talk about their baby the most, not only have they lost contact with the staff in the hospital who were involved in the life, birth and death of their baby, but members of their immediate family may also emotionally withdraw as they have no visual memories of the baby.

Ultrasound
Parents need to be offered help coming to terms with their grief

"Family and friends often try to encourage bereaved parents to move on with their life and put the experience behind them.

"This often results in parents withdrawing from family support systems and becoming even more isolated in their grief work."

She said that death like sex is one of the last taboos left.

Grief process

But she says talking to parents and offering them the option of a funeral for the unborn child can often help them come to terms with its death.

She said many people are touched by miscarriage and still-birth, but because they do not talk about it with others they never know how many other people are affected.

And she said this included professionals too.

"I say professionals need to look at their own experiences with death and know how they deal with it before they can talk to others."

See also:

29 Jan 02 | Health
13 Jan 00 | Health
25 Feb 02 | Health
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Health stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Health stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes