Death changes a relationship but it does not end it.
Facing a miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss, or the decision to terminate a pregnancy, is an experience that most assume will never happen to them. But, in fact, 1 in 4 women in Canada will experience a miscarriage, abortion, stillbirth or infant loss at some point in their reproductive lives. This statistic proves that this is such an essential topic to talk about. When a family is going through something like this, the last thing they want to do is have to hide it, but there is very little space in society today to talk about it. This creates a space in which stories like this are rarely heard. It’s about time we start to have honest conversations with each other about what parenthood can sometimes look like.
A loss like this often comes out of nowhere and when it’s least expected. No one goes into a pregnancy, or a birth, thinking that the baby will die. The possibility of this happening isn’t something that most couples even think about discussing. It is supposed to be a time of joy. A time of endless possibilities. A time to plan the future. Not a funeral.
When going through such a tragic loss, sometimes families are not aware of some of the choices they can make to help them heal. A family will often get the diagnosis, or go through a miscarriage, get sent home after seeing their healthcare professional, and then what? That’s where an Infant and Pregnancy Loss Doula can be a crucial support system for a family.
So right now you’re probably asking yourself, what is an Infant and Pregnancy Loss Doula? And what do they do? The support that an Infant and Pregnancy Loss Doula can provide often looks very similar to the role of a Labour and/or Postpartum Doula. We are there to be a support system for the family. Because miscarriage and stillbirth is often a social secret, parents experiencing this have very few people they can talk too, especially people who they can count on to be non-judgmental and not emotionally invested. When the unexpected happens, it can leave parents second guessing whether they did something to cause it. But sometimes there is no easy answer for them. It`s a very difficult adjustment finding out that you are pregnant and transitioning into parenthood and then finding out that won`t be happening anymore. The “What if?” game starts and can spiral out of control. A lot of the work that we do involves compassionate, and skilled listening – being able to create a safe space for families to voice exactly how they are feeling without fear of judgment, blame or shame.
We are also an informational support system. We are knowledgeable and help to create a space where the family is as prepared as they can be to face every unknown and every challenge that comes their way. This gives them the confidence to make informed decisions that are right for them and their baby. Especially after receiving a diagnosis, after a scheduled ultrasound, parents are often faced with some very tough choices. One of those choices is whether they would like to celebrate the life that their baby lived through having a funeral or celebration of life ceremony. An Infant and Pregnancy Loss Doula can act as a liaison between the family and the funeral home staff to help organize this so that their closest friends and family can get to know their baby too.
We are also a physical support system. Especially in circumstances where the woman still has to go through labour, and birth her baby, we can help create a birth plan that meets her wants and needs. We can provide information and techniques for pain management and help support her and her partner during the birthing and postpartum healing process. We can also take care of household chores and prepare nutritious meals so that the parents have the space and time to grieve the loss of their child.
It is important for parents to remember that just because you have lost a baby, whether that be your only pregnancy or your third or fourth baby, you are still a parent. When people ask how many children you have, it is OK to answer truthfully, whether they are alive or no longer here with you. A parent who has lost a pregnancy – no matter how early – is still a parent, and that won’t ever change. Each baby is unique and wanted, whether they are lost at 7 weeks or 37 weeks. There is no replacing them. The day their baby was born, and died, is not just another day. A stillbirth is still a birth and acknowledging that day is very important.
If you want more information on Infant and Pregnancy Loss or if you know someone who is going through this and needs support, please reach out to the Home Hospice Association at www.homehospiceassociation.com or feel free to reach out directly to Samantha through her website at www.whitewillowdoula.ca.