Doula Support for Pregnancy Loss & Stillbirth: Compassionately Supporting Families Experiencing Perinatal Loss
Most families experience pregnancy as a joyous occasion culminating in the birth of their babies. As birth professionals, we are all too aware that this is unfortunately, not always the case. With 1 in 4 pregnancies ending in miscarriage before 20 weeks and 160 families each year in the US experiencing the stillbirth of their babies, birth professionals and the community need to be mindful and supportive of these families. These families need a network of support to help them through the unthinkable tragedy of their loss, whether it’s a miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant loss.
At Doulas of the Hudson Valley, we’re most frequently contacted by women who are expecting a healthy, happy outcome. We are also available for those who expectedly or unexpectedly have to deal with the worst pain any parent could ever experience. Doulas can assist families through birth and loss in any trimester of pregnancy. Just as in all births, doulas can provide families with physical, emotional and informational support. Women who are suffering a loss, give birth to their babies and benefit from consistent and caring birth support and postpartum support. Our doulas can also help connect families with community resources for further support.
A local perinatal bereavement program is offered in the Hudson Valley at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center. They offer a support group at the hospital, a facebook group for area families, a newsletter and annual events. Another local resource, which is online and available to all parents is Reconceiving Loss, a resource center for coping with pregnancy or infant loss. They also host a public digital archive to commemorate baby loss where families can share their own stories, essays, poems etc. Stillbirthday also offers an artistic commemoration option through their Womandala project. For other local support groups in the Hudson Valley, the Hailey’s Hope Foundation maintains a list on their website.
While some are familiar with the processing and transitioning that new families have when they give birth to their children, few people acknowledge the processing and transitioning necessary for families who have lost their children. People often make comments, intended to be helpful that are actual very hurtful to grieving parents. Parents are often expected to just get over the loss and move on, or to be comforted by the fact that they can probably have another baby that would be healthy. In this context, you can see how these comments are not helpful. Still Standing Magazine has a helpful article on how to speak compassionately to bereaved parents. Angela Miller says, “My child died. I don’t need advice. All I need is for you to gently close your mouth, open wide your heart and walk with me until I can see in color again.”
There are helpful and comforting things that can be said to bereaved parents. The Western New York Perinatal Bereavement Network says, “One of the most comforting things to say is, “I’m sorry.” This lets us know that you are thinking of us and recognize our pain. Respect that everyone grieves differently and in their own time. Don’t try to put a time line on our grief or expect us to “get over it.” Grieving the death of one’s child is a lifelong process.” Doulas, friends and other community members can continue to acknowledge the child that was lost. This is a process that there is no road map for and no completion date. As the Stillbirthday organization says, “grief is not linear and that in bereavement, we may experience many, many various feelings.” Helping families to memorialize and remember their baby as a valued family member. Doulas can play an integral part in helping families through this trying time and providing a supportive presence going forward.
Whether dealing with an early miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal loss, every baby is important and highly valued. Every baby and every family deserves support. Please, do not hesitate to contact the Doulas of the Hudson Valley if you are experiencing a loss and would like support.
Courtney Durfee, CD, CLC, Member of Doulas of the Hudson Valley
As women, we hold many stories in our wombs about birth, some passed on from our mothers and grandmothers, as well as sharing the history of our own birth and the birth of our children. Mandalas-sacred circles-provide a compelling conduit for women to tap into their narratives by allowing personal symbols to evolve, thus enabling women to present a story in a new light. For women who have experienced birth trauma, mandalas are a powerful transformative healing tool to help release fear, open a dialogue on forgiveness, recover personal trust, and create new, positive, and powerful birth stories.
Many women from my generation experienced our own birth as traumatic, our mothers often drugged, not present and many us of were pulled out and entered the world in a violent, hazy way. This was my first story about birth, which I felt I needed to heal. As a sacred artist, I wanted to create a visual healing story and the idea came to me that making a series of mandalas would be the way to go. Sitting in front of a blank circle, my story emerged and I understood what had happened to me in a new way.
Circles are a symbol of creation; mandalas go deep into the subconscious and allow feelings and stories to come out. A Sanskrit word meaning center or magic circle, mandalas were used by Carl Jung to connect the unconscious and bring to light one’s uniqueness and individuality. Women hold many stories in their body, particularly their womb. The womb is also a circle and holds and nurtures our creation, a tiny round egg, held in a spherical space. During the birth process, the baby is pushed through a tubular birth canal and out of a circular opening into the world. We are born on the earth into a circular universe, the memory of our mother’s womb encoded deep with in us, predisposing us to responding to a circle. In the Native American tradition, the circle is used as a place of healing, where members of the community come together to tell their stories, pray and get support.
Mandalas go deep into the core of our psyche, with change happening on a cellular level, which can be very helpful for women that have suffered a traumatic birth experience. Many traumas cannot be processed verbally, and I find that making a mandala helps with PTSD, as the symbols speak to us, allowing healing to take place. Mandalas have a calming and healing effect on the mind, making the invisible, visible, revealing experiences that can’t be expressed in any other way.
During the pregnancies of my children, I was very interested in making images that would keep me calm and focused. I believed that what ever I was experiencing, so were my babies. Why not surround myself with uplifting divine imagery, so I made many yantras. Yantras are sacred geometric patterns of deities coming from the Hindu tradition. I worked with Saraswati, the Goddess of Art, Music and Knowledge as well as Tara, who helps with healing 2nd chakra, emotional, watery, womb issues. At the end of my pregnancy, I constructed a Childbirth Yantra, which is a 7 circuit labyrinth. Labyrinths are a very powerful, profound tool to go inward, as women must get in touch with their inner nature in order to birth. A labyrinth is a way of connecting with the inner journey. During birth, when a woman is left undisturbed, she goes through various brain states, going deeper into a theta state, which is what happens in meditation, trance or altered states. Yantras, labyrinths, all forms of mandalas, prepare women to go inside, into a meditative state, which become natural for her, and helps during birth.
Recently, I have started groups for women healing from birth trauma, as well as women preparing for birth. In the group, I use mandalas, mindfulness meditation, particularly a Tibetan breathing practice, Tonglen, which is also known as compassionate breathing. This helps women forgive and let go, and also gets them in touch with their healing nature.
One woman in my group had a previous C-section and was pregnant, preparing for a VBAC. Her first mandala shows her story, how violated she felt by the hospital staff, and felt very alone and cut off from her family.
The final mandala was about creating a new birth story. She said that what she wanted for her VBAC was to surround herself with love and support. This process helped her to heal and go on to have a successful home VBAC, feeling loved and supported.
Mandalas can be an excellent way to prepare for birth, release fears and negativity we may be holding, turning an old story into a new positive one. By the process of going inward, women have a chance to get in touch with their spiritual side, as birth is a sacred transformational experience. By creating a healing mandala, new powerful stories come forth, one that is peaceful for our wombs.
This article was originally on the Sacred Pregnancy Website. To see the rest of the images go here.
As women we hold many stories in our wombs. This group led by Mavis Gewant will use mandala, storytelling, meditation and the creative process as a way to heal our stories and create new ones.
Many women suffer trauma as the result of a difficult birth. Perhaps you were mistreated by the staff, felt a lack of support or had an unexpected outcome. In a safe and nurturing environment women will get in touch with their birth trauma and begin the healing journey. The creative process is a valuable tool for transformation, the use of sacred art, writing, guided imagery and telling our stories, will help us heal and move forward.
Who will benefit:
v Women who are overwhelmed by their birth experience
v Women who had a c-section and want a vbac
v Women who are planning another pregnancy and want to move forward
v Women who are not planning another pregnancy and want to release sorrow in their heart
v Women who are having problems with bonding and nurturing their baby
This group will help you:
v Celebrate your wisdom, power and strength
v Release the energy and fear around your birth story
v Experience the power of forgiveness
v Recover trust in yourself
v Learn stress coping techniques
v Reconnect with your baby
4 Tues, starting Nov 16th
6:30-8:45 pm New Paltz
$75 (sliding scale available)
Limited to 6 participants
Contact Mavis for more info and registration, 845 616-1743, firstname.lastname@example.org
Doulas of the Hudson Valley
Many of the doulas on this website will be contributing to this blog.