As many as 20% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage and one fifth of women affected go on to experience high levels of anxiety and depression.
In the past there were few services for such parents, bereaved by miscarriage or stillbirth, and even fewer places where women (and their partners) who experienced terminations or emotional difficulties during and after pregnancy could go for help.
However, in recent years the Huddersfield area has acquired both an independent counselling service and self-help support groups for those struggling with baby loss or pregnancy.
This month the Talkthru organisation, based in Huddersfield town centre, celebrated its 15th anniversary - having grown from early origins as the Huddersfield Pregnancy Crisis Centre into a place where both men and women can receive counselling help. It also runs a service offering second hand baby clothes and equipment and clothing to low-income families. And for parents who want to share their experiences through a support meeting, Huddersfield and Halifax SANDS (the local branch of the national stillbirth and neonatal death charity) has established two groups - one at the Huddersfield Royal Infirmary and the other at Calderdale Royal Hospital.
What do such organisations offer? Jo Naylor, manager of Talkthru, and Rebecca Brann, chair of the local SANDS groups explained.
Rebecca, who lives in Lindley, became an active volunteer for SANDS after discovering that the organisation’s nearest support group to Huddersfield was in Oldham.
She began attending meetings there after the distressing loss her first son, who was named Mason, at 22 weeks. Back in 2009, when she went into premature labour, hospitals were adopting more sensitive procedures for patients experiencing miscarriage, but Rebecca felt that more could be done and has since been part of a movement to further improve how such tragic losses are handled.
She explained: “We were allowed to hold him for a little while and had hand prints and foot prints taken but things have changed a lot in the last five years and now the hospital in Calderdale has a bereavement suite, which opened in February and we (SANDS) funded. And everyone who has had a miscarriage, if it’s eight weeks or full term, is given a memory box.
“There wasn’t anything for me afterwards. I was given a leaflet from the Miscarriage Association. I went online and found SANDS, but there was no local group.
“A support group was right for me because I wanted to talk about it straight away with others that had been through the same thing. At first the grief was overwhelming but I started going to meetings in Oldham and got my strength back and was determined to get pregnant again.”
Rebecca, who works part time in customer services for a bank, is now the mother of four-year-old Ethan.
She attends the local SANDS support groups that she set up on a regular basis and explained: “The focus after a miscarriage is usually on the woman because it is her body that has been carrying the baby. The men often get overlooked and yet they’ve have to watch us going through it. That needs to change. We often find that the men will do more talking than the women. The groups have a relaxed atmosphere and people get to say what they want without anybody judging them. They can come and offload things on us that their friends and family don’t understand. We cry and we laugh together.”
Talkthru offers one-to-one counselling from its offices in St Peter’s Street. Like SANDS it is a charity and is run by volunteers. Jo is one of five counsellors who in the past three years have provided 1050 counselling hours.
Initially the organisation saw women during pregnancy who were struggling with emotional issues and considering termination. These days the workload has expanded to include those who have had miscarriages, stillbirths, medical terminations, infertility difficulties, traumatic births or have given babies up for adoption. Partners are also offered help.
Referrals can be made through the NHS programme Improving Access to Psychological Therapies and counsellors can usually see someone quickly as they rarely have a waiting list. But anyone can ask for an appointment and the charity promotes itself in the area’s two hospitals and through bereavement midwives.
Jo founded what is now Talkthru after moving to Huddersfield from Leeds, where she was involved in a counselling centre. She said: “When we came here I got talking to someone about what I’d been doing in Leeds and they said ‘we could do with something like that here’. There really wasn’t much help around. Even now the nearest Brook Advisory Centre is in Oldham. There is a contraception and sexual health clinic in Greenhead and women can go to their GP, but the feedback we get is that people don’t want to go to a clinic and can’t talk to their GP about difficult relationships or financial issues that are bothering them.”
Although Jo was originally a scientist working in immunology, she has always had an interest in women’s health. She is currently studying for a masters degree in psychology and counselling.
The biggest changes seen by the organisation in recent years, she says, have been the growing number of men seeking help and those needing baby loss counselling.
She explained: “When we first started the blokes were dropping off their partners at the door. Now they are saying that they would like to talk to someone too.”
Five years ago Jo began offering counselling to women in prison who had suffered the death of a baby or were experiencing difficulties in pregnancy.
“Part of the motivation for my masters study was what I found talking to people who had no access to counselling support. As coping mechanisms they had turned to drugs, alcohol, crime and gambling, which had then resulted in them ending up in prison. Eighty per cent of them had been sexually abused as children and there was a very high incidence of domestic violence. I felt that I was working at the edge of my skill set.”
However, Talkthru service users come from all walks of life, all communities and all age groups. As Jo says: “When people find out what I do you’d be surprised how many have said ‘if only there had been somebody like you around when I needed them’.”
Talkthru can be contacted on 01484 515137 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The organisation also collects donations of good quality used baby clothes and equipment for low income families in need and will signpost to appropriate services.
SANDS support groups meet in HRI’s board room on the first Wednesday in the month between 7pm and 9pm and at Calderdale Royal’s Learning and Development Suite on the third Wednesday in the month from 7.15pm until 9.15pm. For details check out www.uk-sands.org
In England and Wales there are around 200,000 terminations a year – 1% because of foetal abnormalities – and each year in the UK over 6,500 babies die just before, during or soon after birth. That’s 17 babies every day.
A MUMSNET survey has shown that 58% of women wanted counselling following a miscarriage but only 12% were offered it. Royal College of Nursing guidelines advocate post-termination counselling for anyone at risk of psychological difficulties.