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Baby Toes

A midwife story (Mary)

Mary was an experienced midwife of 13 years working in delivering suites, which has always been one of her passions, when one day she answered a call bell in the post-natal unit of her hospital in Australia.

A pregnancy had been terminated for genetic reasons, and Mary’s colleague asked her to take the baby’s body and photograph it – which is a common practice.

Mary says: “When I began photographing the baby, the flash stimulated this little boy to breathe. I was horrified, how could he have possibly survived the termination?

We didn’t know what to do. There was no policy for this situation. I picked up this perfectly formed baby, wrapped him in a blanket and put him under a heater in the storeroom. It was so distressing.

I felt under enormous pressure to keep working so at every opportunity I would check in on him until he died some hours later.  Adding to the trauma of this experience was being asked by the Doctor to lie by recording his birth as only 20 weeks gestation, when we knew he was born at 22 weeks. The significance of this is that at 20 weeks gestation his birth would have been classified as a miscarriage not a live birth, further diminishing the value of his little life (this classification has changed in the years since this incident, to recognise babies from 20 weeks/400g as live births). I had just lost a baby through miscarriage only 3 weeks earlier, a very much longed for baby.

I made a mistake I regret that day, leaving him to die alone. I wish I had handed this little boy to his mother to be held for the last few hours of his life, but his mum did not want to see him. I wish I had carried him inside my uniform, so he felt warmth, love and my heartbeat as he died. I cannot undo the past and I live with that decision.

I left Midwifery for a few years after this experience.

Since being asked to recount my experience, I have found it incredibly emotional and draining. This incident happened 19 years ago. But the trauma and grief of what happened has not left me, it feels like yesterday.

My story is not the only one, babies continue to be born alive today following termination. Please remember, the pain of a baby born alive as a result of termination does not only affect the woman and her family but also those who care for her. It is a pain we will carry for the rest of our lives. I was trained as a midwife to care for women during childbirth to bring life into the world, not to take it out. Please do not ask us to be a part of the unthinkable.

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