Love and Loss
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author.
Trigger warning: This episode of Call the Midwife centers on a woman experiencing the loss of her baby, and this is discussed in the following blog post. It may be a trigger for women who have experienced loss.
This week, we were introduced to Abigail Bissette and her husband Terrance, who are expecting their first baby. We see Abigail decide to have a home delivery after a traumatic hospital experience, and all seems well during her labor until her precious baby girl is born. Patsy and Barbara are in attendance, and shortly after Barbara announces that the baby is a girl, she realizes something is terribly wrong. Abigail’s sweet baby girl has been born still, not moving, not breathing, and appeared to have passed away in the womb. Patsy whisks the baby away, and is faced with telling Terrance that his baby girl, his toe-tapping, in-utero-Calypso-dancing baby is gone. Abigail and Terrence never get to see or hold their baby. Moments later, after Dr. Turner arrives, the midwives realize that Abigail has been pregnant with twins. Everything had seemed to be going well during her labor because they were able to hear the second twin’s heartbeat. Abigail gives birth to a beautiful, vigorous baby boy.
We see Abigail again a few days after the babies were born. She is unsure how to be happy; she is in a situation where she is grieving the loss of her daughter, yet also has a healthy newborn son. She is afraid to love her son, possibly for fear of losing him as well, but also perhaps not knowing how to be joyful and happy when she is so deeply aching for the loss of her daughter. Tom, the vicar who is engaged to midwife Trixie, holds a memorial service for little April Bissette, allowing Abigail and Terrence to honor and acknowledge the dear daughter that they lost.
The loss of a baby is one of the most feared and most devastating parts of midwifery. Every midwife will experience it during their career. I was confronted with loss when I was in midwifery school, studying abroad in Liberia. I had been with a laboring woman all day, and had been using the pinnard horn to listen to her baby in labor, just like Barbara used on Abigail. Baby sounded strong all throughout labor. Let me tell you something—the language of labor is the same no matter where you are. I may not have been able to have a conversation with this mother, but we were speaking the same labor language. We swayed in the hot, humid room, our sweaty foreheads pressed together while we did the familiar labor dance. Her baby girl was born after a seemingly uncomplicated labor, but something did not seem right. She didn’t cry, and her tiny arms and legs were limp. She was breathing, but not very strongly. After a few minutes of skin-to-skin contact, the baby was taken to the nursery, and her mother would not be allowed to see her again. It was devastating.
That wasn’t the first, nor will it be the last loss I experience as a midwife. Loss isn’t just something I experience because I work as a midwife, either. I have what seems to be a disproportionate number of friends who have lost babies late in their pregnancies or shortly after birth. It can be hard to know what to say or do when a friend loses a baby. You can never go wrong with just being available to listen, and allow parents to talk about their baby and express their feelings. Everyone rushes to visit the family when a new baby is born, yet people stay away after a baby is lost; they fear they don’t know what to say, or sometimes they are afraid to bring up the baby and make the parents sad. One thing I have heard over and over again is that these mothers cherish the memories of their sweet babies. Some treasure photos they have, or maybe a special baby blanket. For Abigail and Terrence, it was the yellow knit bootie that they had, one with them, and one with baby April. All parents seem to want their babies to be remembered. They want to talk about their baby, hear their baby’s name, and keep that baby’s memory alive. Much like Sister Julienne says, “What is love, if it cannot be acknowledged?”
I will leave you with a quote from Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, on grieving:
“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to.”
Call the Midwife Behind the Scenes: Midwifery in Real Life vs. TV The Call the Midwife cast and crew discuss the process of filming the birth scenes.
Andrea Altomaro (MS, RN, CNM) has been nurse-midwife for the past three years and is currently working for the Henry Ford Health System. Before becoming a midwife, she worked as a nurse in the emergency department and also in labor and delivery.
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