It was at the start of Victoria’s first lockdown, the coronavirus had just hit his regional hospital and Dr Alex Umbers was faced with a choice: to continue working to save lives or to prioritize the one who hadn’t completely begin.
She followed her instincts. I took off the PPE. I removed the scrubs that hid her swollen belly. Left the room.
“At that time, not much was known about COVID and pregnancy,” Dr. Umbers said.
“I was really personally in conflict between my duties as a doctor, to the community – to provide care when other people were going through difficult times – and also wanting to protect this precious and precious baby. “
The fears were not unfounded. Nearly two years after the start of the pandemic, research shows that pregnant women who contract the coronavirus are three times more likely to end up in intensive care.
Studies are also underway on the impact of COVID-19 on stillbirth rates.
Dr Umbers recently treated a pregnant woman with coronavirus and, now doubly vaccinated and with a healthy baby at home, she feels safer even as she prepares for the ‘inevitable’ increase in patients when the lock rules are even easier.
Last year, she wasn’t sure it would come to this.
The doctor showed courage for the patients as the Victorian cases increased. But her mind was traveling a year back, until the day her other baby’s heart stopped beating.
Her spirit was back in the hospital room where she worked for hours to give birth to the child she had carried for 17 weeks, knowing that she and her husband would never hear their newborn baby cry .
This “horrific” late miscarriage was part of a three-year series.
“I was still worried. It was in the foreground of my mind – will my waters soon break? Will I bleed? ” she said.
“You never really allow yourself to enjoy the pleasure and privilege of being pregnant again because you are so caught up in what can go wrong.”
The need for support
Dr Umbers hadn’t felt comfortable explaining to her boss why she needed time off after each miscarriage.
She became ill after work and was asked to organize proof from a GP before her job gave her a dispensation from night work while her body recovered.
“It’s like you have to beg for him.” You really had to stand up for yourself, and I think not everyone is able to stand up for themselves, ”Dr Umbers said.
Attitudes in the workplace to miscarriages are changing, with more and more bosses acknowledging what Dr Umbers has called “deep” grief.
Women and men can now access two days of paid leave for miscarriages – even those that occur before 12 weeks since conception, after federal law was passed in June.
The move follows a similar move from New Zealand and the local campaign of mothers from advocacy group The Pink Elephants Support Network.
New South Wales officials are now entitled to five days’ leave, while private companies, including financial giants such as Westpac and PricewaterhouseCoopers, have announced early pregnancy loss policies.
Dr Jade Bilardi of Monash University is studying the use of leave and said it’s important for bosses to make it accessible to women as well as their partners.
She is another mother who mourned silently, even more traumatized by a lack of support following a miscarriage.
While also pointing out the kindness of many of the healthcare staff who have helped her after multiple miscarriages, Dr Bilardi is still shaken by the harsh words of a sonographer who was performing an ultrasound to check on her condition. one of her first pregnancies.
“She said ‘it’s just a stained egg, there is a bag but no baby’,” she said.
“That was it – and I had to get up and get dressed… the minute she left the room, I burst into tears. I was sobbing.
“It was a very surreal moment, one of those out-of-body experiences. It didn’t have to be that way.
“This is something that really stood out to me because there are nicer ways to get this news out. “
Normalize the conversation around pregnancy loss
This experience prompted the Melbourne mother to dedicate the past six years to researching pregnancy loss.
At least 15% of confirmed pregnancies in Australia will result in miscarriage.
Dr Bilardi and colleagues at the University of Melbourne note that the actual rate may be much higher, with some studies suggesting it could be one in three pregnancies.
Drs Umbers and Bilardi are determined to talk about the experiences of pregnancy loss to help normalize the conversation.
“We need to talk about this so that people don’t feel so alone and isolated in their loss,” said Dr Bilardi, noting that up to 50% of women will experience clinical anxiety after pregnancy loss, while they and their partners can also suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Dr Umbers said she wanted to talk about her experiences earlier.
“Because the pregnancy was complicated or we were afraid of losing multiple pregnancies, we kept her silent,” she said.
“I wish I could talk more about our experience so that our loved ones could understand how vulnerable we were.
“You are losing your hopes and dreams.”
Dr Umbers has found her voice and has helped give other women a platform to share their experiences, on a podcast project called Uncut pregnancy.
She is joined by her colleague, obstetrician Kara Thompson, who also struggled with IVF before welcoming three daughters.
“We face this every day and yet we still didn’t think we could talk about it – there is still a certain degree of stigma and shame around pregnancy complications,” Dr Thompson said.
Dr Umbers added: “No one wants to be the face of pregnancy loss, but I think history is not just our story.”
And if even the doctors who care for parents and newborn babies on a daily basis cannot bring up the subject, what message would that send to other families?
On Friday night, Dr Umbers and her husband – along with their lockdown ‘delicious’ arrival, Baby Solomon – will join other parents in lighting a candle to mark International Day of Remembrance of Pregnancy and Infant Loss. .
“We have a special place where we commemorate Soli’s older siblings. He is our only child, but he is not our only child, ”she said.