Guest blog by Nat Scroggie BSc (Hons) BVM BVS (Hons) MRCVS, www.vetminds.co.uk. hello@vetminds.co.uk

Baby loss and infertility in the veterinary profession may seem like a fairly niche subject. But when you consider that 1 in 8 couples will experience fertility problems, and 1 in 4 pregnancies will end in loss, you realise it is not uncommon in any population – not least a profession that is increasingly dominated by women of childbearing age, and that is not to ignore the huge impact on men as well as women.

Yet, baby loss and infertility remain a taboo. Like mental health, baby loss and infertility are a lot like loneliness: you can be in a crowd of people but feel totally alone – until one person shares their loneliness, and then another. Before you know it, you realise that none of you were alone at all. This is why it is so important to start these conversations.

Baby loss in veterinary practice

Whilst the impact of baby loss and infertility can be universal, there are some specific challenges that come with facing them as a veterinary professional.

“The veterinary profession has its own unique challenges when considering return to work after pregnancy loss, such as talking to owners about their animals’ fertility, fielding questions from well-meaning clients who feel they know you well enough to enquire why you were off work (or ‘when are you going to start a family?’) or performing pregnancy scans. We tend to take our professional responsibilities very seriously, sometimes coming into work when really we should still be recovering at home” Siobhan

The emotional burden

Aside from the realities of the type of work we do in our daily roles, there is the huge emotional burden we take on for both our clients and our patients. Where do you find the reserve to guide a family through euthanasia of a loved pet, when you are still processing your own grief?

As veterinary professionals we all have scientific backgrounds. We understand biology, statistics, and the fragility of life. Yet my miscarriage hit me like a ton of bricks. Perhaps because of the pressures of our scientific backgrounds, we sometimes find it hard to offer ourselves the same kindness and empathy we might give our clients and our patients in their times of need.

“One of the things I found unique about going through Termination for Medical Reasons as a vet was the training and experience I’d had around end of life discussions. Never once did I imagine the table would turn and it would be me being guided through the why, when, and how’s of quality of life and ending it in regards to my own baby.” Katie

Support through Vet MINDS

It was through a desire to start a conversation and offer support throughout the profession that Vet MINDS was formed. Vet MINDS stands for miscarriage, infertility, neonatal death and stillbirth. Starting off as a closed Facebook group, it serves to support all veterinary professionals affected by baby loss or infertility by offering a safe space to share experiences and support each other. The group is also working towards producing guidelines for veterinary workplaces to help them better support and understand employees and colleagues facing these issues.

Whilst it is not the case for all, many members of Vet MINDS were able to share positive experience of the support they received in their workplace. Communication was an important theme, from receiving regular contact whilst recovering from loss, to back-to-work meetings prior to return, and frequent checking-ins with the understanding that recovery is rarely a linear process.

“Something I think is very common is for the emotions to wax and wane for quite some time, and while on some days you might feel quite robust and ‘over it’, other days you might feel really rubbish, tearful and with low self-esteem, and having your colleagues empathise and help you through those tougher days makes it possible to get back to enjoying the job again.” Siobhan

Advice for vet practices supporting staff affected by baby loss

It is very important to give time and consideration to how (or if) a staff member wants to let other members of the team know what has happened. It can be useful to have one dedicated member of staff as a point of contact, who can then let the rest of the team know on their behalf.

“A listening ear, an understanding of the time constraints needed for appointments and rest, and empathy are all helpful and needed as these situations arrive.” Alissa Kirchhoff, DVM

It can be hard to know what to say, but simply being brave enough to acknowledge the loss and offer your support is more than enough. If conversation is difficult or still too raw, sending a little gift from the whole team can let someone know you are thinking of them.

Further down a journey of infertility of baby loss can come a future pregnancy. This can bring a lot of anxiety, particularly around some of the very real hazards in the veterinary workplace. Approaching this with sensitivity and understanding as well as practical support and adjustment can make a big difference to how that pregnancy is experienced.

Starting a conversation is key

More than anything, simply starting conversations around these tough subjects has a far deeper impact than you might imagine. Every time we do have a conversation it has little ripples. We will never know the breadth of these ripples, or the people they may be quietly helping.

We cannot do anything to reduce the number of our colleagues who will go through baby loss and infertility, but together, we can make a huge difference to how they experience it.      

Events and support links

Join Nat Scroggie and Liz Barton discussing baby loss, the impact, and how we can help friends and colleagues affected LIVE on the Veterinary Woman Facebook page 12th October 7pm.

To mark Baby Loss Awareness Week this year, Vet MINDS will be holding a small virtual service at 6.50pm, streamed within the closed Facebook group, to join the National Wave of Light on Thursday 15th October. This will be led by Rev’d Felicity Scroggie from St Mary’s Church Kidlington, and include some thoughts, a prayer, and a space to remember, before lighting a candle together at 7pm across the country – albeit in our new socially distanced world. At a time when it is so hard to be together, we hope that this will be a space where we can feel connected as well as deeply private.

To find out more about the work Vet MINDS are doing, visit their website or contact hello@vetminds.co.uk

If you have been affected by baby loss or infertility and would like to join the closed Facebook group, click here.

For guidance on providing support around baby loss in the workplace, visit this section on miscarriage and the workplace by The Miscarriage Association.

If you need immediate support, consider phoning the Vetlife Helpline on 0303 040 2551.

Upcoming events for women’s health month

Please join us for live discussions throughout October and early November, discussing the impact of topics including breast cancer, menopause and infertility, and how we as a profession can help and support those affected. Find out more here.

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