Nikki Preston

Nikki Preston is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Hospital bans stillbirth helpers

Steven and Jemma Marsh say the emotional impact on parents of stillborns isn't being considered. Photo / Christine Cornege
Steven and Jemma Marsh say the emotional impact on parents of stillborns isn't being considered. Photo / Christine Cornege

Parents of stillborn babies have been banned from allowing volunteers who provide keepsakes of the children into Waikato Hospital as part of tightened building access.

Professional photographers have also been barred from recording births.

The move has devastated parents and the wider community who took to Facebook expressing their disappointment on what most believed should be a matter of parents' choice.

The hospital said it was a "temporary ban" while it develops a criteria.

The ban was enforced on March 13 when staff were sent a directive from the chief executive barring professional photographers from the Waikato Campus after "an incident in the delivery suite" that day. The Herald understands the incident involved a woman in labour abusing a staff member when her photographer was refused access.

And a woman who runs a business providing casts of stillborn babies' hands and feet says she was told on Friday she could not return to the hospital because no professional services were allowed on site.

Jen Christiansen of Preggy Pukus said she should be exempt because her service was free. "I'm still very passionate about it because I believe every family should be entitled to the service free when they are mourning the loss of their newborn baby."

Hamilton photographer Cassie Emmett has photographed stillborns for free at parents' request. She said the hospital was taking away the parents' right to choose who their support people were. "We are providing once in a lifetime images for these people ... It's not the DHB's personal opinions on what women need for support, it's the woman's decision.""

She said one client had cancelled plans to have her child's birth photographed after being informed of the photographer ban while in labour.

"Can you imagine the stress that would have put her under?"

Waikato DHB communications director Mary Anne Gill said birth photos and casts were "relatively new developments" at the hospital.

She confirmed a ban was in place while the hospital reviewed its processes. Service providers needed to register with the DHB so it knew who they were and could discuss requirements. Criteria for outside services providing stillborn keepsakes were being finalised and the hospital's own medical photographers took photos of stillborn babies and ink impressions of their hands and feet were put in a special card and given to the family.

However, photographers would be allowed to take photos during primary birthing under new criteria still to be formalised. There would be restrictions if an intervention such as an epidural, caesarean section or forceps was required.

Vikki Ooink of Sands, a group supporting people who have suffered baby and infancy loss, said keepsakes were important in creating memories for parents who would otherwise have nothing. "You only have a few hours with those babies and you have to make as many memories as you can while you can. Having impressions, having the ink prints - it's so important."

Waitemata DHB and Counties Manukau DHB confirmed they allowed videos and photos to be taken during labour and birth and supported parents getting photos of stillborns or castings.

Tiny casts tangible reminder of baby not coming home

The most important thing Hamilton woman Jemma Marsh owns are casts of her son Flynn's tiny hands and feet that have pride of place in the nursery he will never know.

Flynn Marsh was stillborn on March 14 at 23 weeks - three weeks after Mrs Marsh and her husband, Steven, learned he had fluid on the brain and his prognosis was dire.

The couple had been trying to get pregnant for a year and were devastated when they were told Flynn was sick and made the decision to stop his suffering.

"It wasn't about us wanting to be parents, it was about our baby and the quality of his life and it wasn't fair on him," the 28-year-old said.

Three weeks on, the couple are still coming to terms with their loss but are thankful for the photos of Flynn taken by Cassie Emmett and stone castings of his hands and feet created by Jen Christiansen shortly after he was born at Waikato Hospital.

"They are the only tangible thing I have of my son. His hands, his crooked toes - that more than anything feels like he's home. Having the photos is amazing as well, because you forget so quickly and it feels like a part of your soul has gone."

Mrs Marsh said she was speaking out for other families in the same position. "I swear hand on heart the Waikato DHB is not thinking about the emotional welfare of these mothers and fathers by taking this away."

- NZ Herald

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