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
Doulas of the Hudson Valley
Many of the doulas on this website will be contributing to this blog.