Sometimes parents can decide whether to have a post-mortem and in other situations, this is decided by the coroner. We know that if parents can decide this is an intensely personal and difficult decision – our only advice is to take your time and ask questions of the medical professionals to support you in this decision.
The information below is for parents who have had a post-mortem for their child (whether or not that was their decision). First of all we would like to say we are so sorry you are, we recognise the gravity of this, most people will go through their lives without attending a post mortem for a loved one and to have to do this for your child is beyond difficult. Importantly, a post- mortem should not delay a funeral because it can be performed relatively quickly within a week or two but the report can take months.
Things to consider before receiving the results: ask who will let you know when the results are ready and an indication of when the report may be better, write down questions as you think of them, plan your time so you can think about how you can take care of yourself before and after the appointment, think about whether you want a friend or relative to attend, request for who you would like to attend the meeting it is important you feel comfortable, ask for a meeting in a different setting to where your baby died.
Things to consider during the meeting: Take a notepad and pen, consider asking to record the meeting, you can have a copy of the actual report but be aware they are written dispassionately and using technical language for medical professionals, ask for clarification on anything you don’t understand, ask for a contact phone number should you have any questions you want to follow up on.
Things to consider for after the meeting: You will likely be exhausted, plan some gentle activities – both times we had friends on ‘stand by’ – ie they were available if we wanted company and left a meal for us so we did not have to cook, the next few days will likely be exhausting so consider this for work and other activities.
What we did: Lenny’s post mortem report took 5 months. On the day we walked in the countryside as we were getting the results at 4pm. We opted not to have a copy of the report but instead to attend a meeting so the consultant could interpret the results for us. We asked if the registrar who delivered Lenny could attend as he knew what had happened and would be able to answer questions we had about when Lenny died – the registrar had moved to a different hospital but came back for this meeting. The consultant we saw after Lenny died, the bereavement midwife and the consultant attended. We asked if we could record the meeting in case we forgot anything and everyone was happy for us to do so. The consultant interpreted the results and then there was a lot of time for questions. The meeting took place in a small room in the foyer of the birth centre. For Bhai’s post mortem the same consultant and bereavement midwife attended in a building entirely separate from the birth centre, the consultant interpreted the results and allowed us to ask questions. We did not request copies of the reports.
Our experience: Obviously receiving your child’s post mortem results is horrific and something no one should have to do. However, we valued having a meeting with medical professionals whom we trusted, we found the balance between the technical medical knowledge of the consultant and the support and understanding of the bereavement midwife helpful. The registrar coming from a different hospital for Lenny’s post mortem made us feel that Lenny was important to him and allowed us to check our recollection of events with him. We had a positive experience when Lenny was born and so our preference was to have the same professionals there. The consultant had a way of phrasing the information so it felt slightly gentler. We found going back to the birth centre difficult to say the least as we saw families leaving with newborn babies as we arrived, it was easier to go to a different building. On both occasions we felt as supported as possible and able to ask questions such that we don’t need or want copies of the reports. Afterwards we found we were exhausted and emotional.