Over £150,000 has been raised in an effort to fund the building of a maternity bereavement suite in Hillingdon Hospital.
Priya Vara, a 39-year-old scientist, reached her goal of raising £50,000 for the cause on 30 April for Hillingdon Hospitals Charity (HHC) after losing her newborn son Shayen in 2017.
Covering Hillingdon and Mount Vernon Hospitals, the charity exists to better patient experiences, support staff and volunteers, and create a better environment in the hospitals.
It was approached by Hillingdon Hospital’s labour ward manager in 2019, who expressed that parents suffering from baby loss in the hospital needed a more loving environment to spend their last moments with their baby.
Vara said: “I hated the fact that I was wheeled past pregnant women to get a confirmation scan – that was the most traumatising part of the whole thing for me.
Shirley Clipp, HHC’s Major Appeals Project manager explained that the room currently used for bereavement is in a shared corridor between delivery rooms on the ward.
She said: “They can hear babies on either side of the wall crying, and families celebrating. It’s not good for the mental health of the mother or the family.”
Attached to the labour ward for proximity to the theatre, the new suite will have soundproofed walls, a private entrance and two designated parking spaces.
Experiencing a miscarriage
As of 2018, statistics show that one in 200 births in England are stillborn.
Moreover, at the hospital’s Duchess of Kent Maternity Unit there are at least 60 uses of the maternity bereavement room every year.
Of these, 28 are still births, 17 are late miscarriages and 14 are late medical terminations.
These figures are typical of any similar sized hospital.
HHC spoke to bereaved mothers to listen to their experiences and plan how this devastating experience can be less traumatic for future mothers, and Vara was one of them.
After hearing about the bereavement suite plans, she pledged to raise £50,000 for HHC, an endeavour she began on Shayen’s second birthday in August 2019.
In December, she was awarded Hello! Magazine’s Hello To Kindness Award for fundraising and providing support to other bereaved parents online.
Her fundraising events included skydiving, triathlons, cycling, Christmas events and Diwali boxes for children in November 2020.
Vara said: “It’s amazing to see people’s kindness at such a hard time. That’s what surprised me the most, how kind people were.”
Vara explained that for her and many other bereaved mothers, keeping the memory of their baby alive brings them peace.
“I can’t have let him just go, it’s therapy for me and my biggest fear is that everyone will forget him – it scares the hell out of me.”
Ethnic minority women in the healthcare system
There has been increased conversation about the experiences of ethnic minority women in the healthcare system.
A 2020 NHS report found that women with ethnic minority backgrounds face a higher risk of maternal mortality than white women.
It also reported that pregnant Asian women were four times more likely to be admitted to hospital with COVID-19, while Black women were eight times more likely.
Soon after her loss, Vara received bereavement support from her GP and said she wants to see an even greater change in the support offered to bereaved parents.
After sharing her story of baby loss online, a wave of Asian women began sharing their own stories with her, often for the first time.
She said: “It’s almost like you feel tainted, and in the Asian community it’s even harder to talk about.
“Yet I was contacted by Asian women who lost babies up to 20 years ago and they just wanted to talk.
“None of them knew they were at risk or how to monitor their baby’s movement – there’s an assumption that it’ll all be okay.”
The NHS reports that one in eight pregnancies end in miscarriage.
Clipp stated: “You don’t realise how many people have experienced it. It’s not the woman’s fault, it’s not something they’ve done wrong, it’s not punishment for something.
“It’s just normal, and most people never get a reason for why it happens – it’s something we should all talk about.”
Michael Smith, a 32-year-old charity account manager from Epsom, reached a landmark of raising £500 by running 500 miles for the bereavement suite on Tuesday 18 May.
As someone who picks a charity to raise money for yearly, the father of two chose HHC after his close friends lost their baby and his mother opened up about miscarrying his sister in the late 80s.
He said: “It was different – when my sister was born they took her away from my mum and she never saw her again. It was a very quick process.”
Smith pledged to run 1000 miles in 2021 and has completed six half-marathons, with plans to join the London Landmarks Half Marathon this August.
His focus is supporting his friends and helping bereaved parents by raising awareness about baby loss.
In October 2020, 33-year old dance teacher Rachel Hayden also raised £15,000 for the Bereavement Suite in memory of her son Kit.
Many mothers’ groups have been fundraising though virtual and live half marathons, hosting remote events and selling homemade products.
Specifications of the suite
HHC created a wish list that will form the specifications of the bereavement suite:
Vara explained: “This is a couple’s last time to spend with their child. It needs to be as special as it can be.
“The memories you build there are the only ones you have.”
Plans for the suite were presented to the Bereaved Women’s Forum with hopes to go further than the standard bereavement suite, accommodating for the mothers’ requests.
The overall cost of the suite will be confirmed if it is approved by the trust board this month, which will help to supplement the cost if HHC has a shortfall in funds.
Donate to Michael’s JustGiving page: Michael Smith is fundraising for Hillingdon Hospitals Charity (justgiving.com)
Track Michael’s miles on Strava: Strava Runner Profile | Michael J. Smith
Donate to Hillingdon Hospitals Charity: Hillingdon Maternity Bereavement Suite – JustGiving
Photo credits: Hillingdon Hospitals Charity