Antonia Mitchell Glynn, 36, has spoken about her baby loss after the still birth of daughter Shoshana (Shosh) in 2015 while the couple were living in Australia. They moved back home to the UK that same year, and went on to have a son, Gabriel, in 2016. Her husband Simon Glynn, 37, tells his story…
How did friends and family react to your baby loss?
From a personal perspective, we were quite open from the start; we wanted to talk about Shosh and her place in our lives as best as possible. Some friends stepped up and without them I don’t want to know where we would be right now, but for the majority of people it was really hard to get them to connect.
We had a big memorial service; about 150 people turned up and we wanted people to understand that we wanted to talk and it was okay to talk about Shosh. So we sent the eulogy to friends and family, encouraging people to engage. A number of people took the lead from that, but more didn’t. There are friends and family we really don’t have much to do with now because of it.
It’s a grief that’s looked down upon. I see it in the same category as someone unfortunately taking their own life or dying in another way that society finds more challenging. The easiest thing for people to do is ignore it and hope it goes away, but we wanted to do positive things in her memory, we wanted people to engage.
How did the loss impact on you mentally?
There’s a debt to pay with loss, either you can pay up front and whatever it costs it costs, or you pay overtime with significant interest. So we threw ourselves into counselling. We had a grief counsellor who we saw together, and we had our own counsellors separately. We were seeing them at the start every week. Because we were in joint grief therapy, we started on the same page and as time progressed, even if I was feeling things at a different time to Antonia, we had an understanding at where each other was at.
There were a lot of changes, the loss of Shosh, trying to move home and understand what was coming next, where we were going to live, and how we were going to re-embed ourselves into life. Counselling helped. The gaps really came more from how we were treated.
Did you feel, as a father, your loss was as recognised?
Obviously Antonia had carried Shosh for nine months, she than had a caesarean so from a visual and medical perspective she was different to me. She needed post-operative care. The visual change for her meant people were far more alert and aware of the fact she’d lost. A number of friends would ask me how I was, I’d answer with a couple of words leading on to the next part of the conversation, and it would immediately shift to Antonia, how she’s feeling, how she’s recovering. It was very much a different view for me, I was ignored to a certain degree.
Close friends understood and got it, but for the vast majority of people because my loss was not as visual, they just didn’t appreciate it or understand it or connect with it. That’s something we found very difficult. Internally, we’d been through the journey of pregnancy and the hope and the preparation together; we found out we lost Shosh together, I was in the operating theatre and was holding Antonia when they put the epidural in and comforting her throughout the surgery, and we met our daughter together at the same time. Yet within a few days, how we were treated suddenly too a very different steer, and that was quite difficult to rationalise.
How did the grief manifest itself?
The first thing I felt was shock. Due to a number of underlying and unrelated health conditions we were under an obstetrician who specialised in high risk pregnancies; we were being scanned every two weeks and towards the end every week, and everything was tracking in the right direction. So the totally unexpected outcome left a real feeling of shock, that really shakes you, everything took a 90 degree turn.
At the time I was running an organisation, so used to a lot of information coming in, making decisions, leading large teams, and so on, and all of a sudden I didn’t feel that I was in a position that I was able to do so.
Being able to process information, make decisions – it just didn’t come as easily as it used to. I’m normally very good at reading people and understanding what’s going on, and it became really difficult to read the tone in conversations and analyse what was happening. That split from how I used to be to how I was after loss took a lot of time to rationalise; to be able to find a new way of approaching situations. Even now I find that I work differently. There’s times I can get hit and get taken right back to that point, and find it very difficult to operate in a fast paced environment, and that’s something I find very difficult to deal with.
Did it affect your career?
I was always planning to change jobs, it just happened to coincide with the loss of Shosh.
I didn’t quite know what job I wanted to go to next. Returning to the UK without a clear plan and positive sense of direction, plus feeling disconnected, unable to read social situations and trying to find value in myself, when everything I thought and felt had just been shaken – I found that really difficult.
You can’t really explain that to potential employers, all you can do is go in and present as best you can. It was very difficult to show what I knew I was capable of at the same time as fighting a massive rear-guard action to protect myself. It was a challenging period and it took me to March 2016 to get a job offer that I was comfortable with. I’ve been there two and a half years now, so it’s working, but it was very difficult to re-engage and get back into the flow.
When you look at the wider cost to society, we were in counselling for 18 months to get through the initial grief and shock to get back into normal society.
A lot of people don’t have the opportunity to step back from work and just get buried. I spoke to some fathers who’d lost. Having to go back to work and back to the routine they don’t have the opportunity to come to terms with their loss, then months down the line get hit in a really big way. And when that happens that cost to society is massive.
My wife hasn’t been able to return to her normal work life at all, she’s taken a different path now. She is productive and successful in the way that she wants to be, but certainly not in the way she was working before.
When I went back to work, that was the first time Antonia and I had been apart since we lost Shosh. I felt I was deserting her at a time when I felt I should have been by her side. So I had the burden of trying to process my grief, I had the burden of trying to go back to work and reintegrate into society, and on top of that this overburdening feeling of deserting my wife when she needed me the most. All of that together was extremely traumatic.
How did it impact on the experience of your second pregnancy with your son Gabriel?
With our second pregnancy, because of the way we lost – a full term still birth where we were being monitored so carefully – there was really very little that could be done to provide comfort for us.
With Shosh, it wasn’t a case that we weren’t scanned regularly enough and therefore signs were missed, it wasn’t a case of she wasn’t developing properly and therefore there were interventions the medical profession could take.
So with Gabriel, knowing that was exceptionally difficult – just going through a pregnancy hoping for the best but expecting the worst. It was an extremely traumatic period. From an obstetrician perspective we were extremely fortunate, we were put under one of the top obstetricians in the country, so there was a comfort provided by her approach and her explanations and care.
Generally, how did the medical profession treat you at this time?
There was a big feeling of disconnect within the NHS. If we were to go to one of the other clinics, they wouldn’t understand the background. Even though the still birth sticker is on the file and the notes are on the system, there’s still questions where you’re thinking, if you could have just taken 30 seconds to realise who is coming into the room; you shouldn’t be asking these questions.
One of the biggest areas we found was with midwives, and this is not in any way disparaging or disrespectful, the amount they churn every day – there just wasn’t often that moment of pausing.
There were a lot of ‘I’m sure you’ll be okay’ this time comments. Really? We all know the reality and you can’t promise that. Better to say nothing than a comment that’s going to be quite challenging to us.
There was no access for NCTs in the main for people who’ve had a still birth. Do we really want to sit in a room with people who are expecting for the first time? For us to be in an environment with people who are in our view in ignorant bliss of the journey they’re going to go down; ultimately that’s where we were 18 months before. If you go round the room and ask what’s your worst fear, it’s the baby won’t sleep – for us it’s the baby will die again. We can’t share that in a way that wouldn’t put a lot of concern in the group. So through the pregnancy it was difficult because there was no one we could really connect with, unless we found them through online forums and so on.
At the same time, post birth, we have friends who are obviously well connected through their NCT group, so a readymade social network for the kids, for the mums and a lesser degree for the fathers; we have none of that.
How did the second pregnancy affect you mentally?
We had Gabe and Antonia was in hospital – he wasn’t feeding properly straight away so they were in hospital for three nights. So for three nights, I’ve got this repeating story of when we had Shosh of going to the hospital to have a baby, and leaving without them three times and going back to a quiet and empty house.
I went back to work and the project I was on had a lot of travel, so at the time my wife needs me because she doesn’t have a social network around her, and we were living quite a way from family at the time, I was deserting her again. So this kicked off a whole cycle of post-traumatic stress – the flashbacks – that I yet again had to go back to the counsellor for, and take a period to get myself back on an even keel. The impact that has on my productivity, the cost of mental care, and on the economy for underperformance, is substantial.
Can you explain the effects of this particular kind of grief?
With grief you can through time, through processing, through talking about it – in my experience – you can lay it down in such a way that yes you remember, yes you feel and yes it’s painful, but as time progresses it becomes less sharp. The intensity reduces as you process it over time. The thing with PTSD is it throws you right back to the beginning. It’s impacted on my sleep, it’s impacted on my focus, and how I engage because I’m tired and stressed.
How do we help more those who suffer baby loss?
As a society, we’ve got to take a lead from the people going through baby loss, and if people are asking for help, be there. You don’t need to know what to say, you often don’t need to say anything, just a ‘how are you today’ will give them an opportunity to engage if they want to or not. To lose a child, to lose that hope and dream and expectation, and then to be shunned as a pariah, is just absolutely breaking. Be there for them, just be there.
From a medical perspective, we need to understand the overall cost and there needs to be more training and awareness across the frontline profession. Midwives in particular. A lot of training that is positive is coming from charities, it should be something the NHS takes on and drives forward.
We registered at a GP and the way that they dealt with the fact we’d lost, it got to the point we raised a complaint with the practice manager and the local NHS Trust; it was beyond disgraceful – the commentary and the way they dealt with us – and there has to be an awareness that this is difficult for people.
There are people who bash the NHS, I love the NHS; we saw free of charge every two to four weeks one of the top professors in their field, in the country – probably globally – you don’t get that access in any other system. But there has to be more awareness of the softer skills and the impact of getting it wrong has on patients, and I think if there was, that would go a long way to reducing the impact that loss has for people.