Guiding Grieving Parents Nationwide: Country’s First Early Pregnancy Bereavement Nurse
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Approximately 254,000 babies in the UK face pregnancy loss yearly, leaving countless families in sorrow. In July 2023, the independent Pregnancy Loss Review presented 73 recommendations to address this issue. These recommendations include private spaces for patients on female-only wards, the development of ‘baby loss kits,’ cold storage facilities for baby remains, comprehensive education and training, consistent clinical care, and mental health support.

In a world that often overlooks the profound pain of pregnancy loss, Emily Cooper stands as a beacon of compassion and care. The first of her kind in the United Kingdom, Emily took on the role of an early pregnancy bereavement nurse at The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust. She doesn’t just perform her duties; she lives and breathes them. Her way from a pioneering role to a national educator is both inspiring and impactful.

Emily’s role originated from patient feedback, which led to a pilot program in 2019 at Maternity Ward D7 Gynaecology at New Cross Hospital. This pilot marked the beginning of a groundbreaking journey.

Emily is a quintessential part of the 10-strong Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit (EPAU) and Gynaecology Assessment Unit (GAU), focusing solely on emergencies. This unit also operates a Saturday clinic to alleviate the Emergency Department (ED).

Between January and April 2023, New Cross Hospital recorded 252 early pregnancy losses (under 16 weeks) on its wards. Data from RWT Midwives showed approximately 110 losses (post 16 weeks) for 2022. Emily and her team offer vital physical and emotional help to grieving parents.

In some cases, she encounters women with ectopic pregnancies, a condition where the baby grows outside the womb. These cases are life-threatening, emphasizing the role Emily plays in these situations.

As a mother to 20-month-old Max, Emily supports an average of 35 women monthly. Still, the demand often surpasses her capacity as not all cases are referred to or accepted.

“I contact every lady who’s been treated in the hospital for a loss within three to five days of discharge, and I get an 80 percent uptake,” she said, highlighting the essential nature of her role.

Emily’s dedication goes beyond her daily tasks. She was the only early pregnancy bereavement nurse for three years until three more joined her ranks last year. She embodies her role and is passionate about influencing other hospitals to adopt similar programs.

Emily’s caseload varies significantly. She encounters women who experience early losses at five to six weeks and others who face later losses between nine to 16 weeks. Some of her patients were mothers before their pregnancy loss.

The range of cases includes ectopic pregnancies, typically occurring within the first eight weeks but can be life-threatening. Emily also encounters scenarios where the baby’s heart has stopped, often detected during the 12-week scan, despite no prior symptoms.

“Classic missed miscarriages” is another category that Emily addresses. In these cases, the shock of discovering the loss can lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in future pregnancies. Emily’s aid is invaluable in preventing such trauma.

She emphasizes, “A lady who lost her first baby and gets pregnant again might come back to me because she’s now terrified, so I counsel her through to her 12-week scan again.”

For those whose babies have no heartbeat but remain recognizable, Emily helps initiate the labor process, providing help throughout to make it as comfortable as possible.

Emily recognizes the importance of memory-making in the recovery process. Her team provides memory boxes with teddy bears and other keepsakes. They use the term “baby” when addressing the loss, offer blankets, and assist in making funeral arrangements when appropriate.

Support doesn’t end when parents leave the hospital. Emily highlights the importance of the post-hospital phase, as it’s easy for parents to hide behind the physical aspects of their loss. Her dedication even extends to teaching sessions on the wards, where she encourages open conversations about grief.

Emily’s path into this remarkable role began six years ago when her training at RWT drew her to Gynaecology patients. Previously a Healthcare Assistant in a private hospice, she has transformed into a compassionate guide for grieving parents.

Emily’s impact reaches beyond her work at the hospital. She is also part of a charity called Looking After Parents and Siblings (LAPS), established by RWT Midwifery staff. This charity raises funds for families who have lost babies, reinforcing Emily’s commitment to making a difference.

Vivek Nama
Vivek Nama

I'm a Consultant Gynaecologist and Lead Gyn Oncologist at Croydon University Hospital. I pride myself on delivering compassionate and cost-effective care to all my patients. Patient satisfaction and experience are quintessential pillars of all my predominant decisions. With over 18 years of experience in gynaecology and gynaecological oncology, I strive to offer an evidence-based approach to my practice. It has been made effortless through my research activities and the many national and international presentations. If you are concerned about your gynaecological condition, I will be able to help you.