Content warning: Stillbirth, Infant Loss. Please protect yourself and proceed with caution.
I've spoken at length here on my choice of career - a birth doula. Birth doulas provide emotional, physical, and mental support to laboring mothers. Before birth, they help parents prepare for the potential outcomes of labor and delivery. They might help them form a birth plan based on their priorities, or perhaps point them in the direction of evidence-based sources of information. As a doula, my job is to make sure that the parents are satisfied with their birth experience.
But sometimes birth doesn't go as planned. A mother intent on laboring at home might end up in the hospital with an emergent c-section. Or, a mother who wants an epidural might get one to have spotty and incomplete pain relief. Birth doulas can help families cope in the moment to make decisions they're most comfortable with. Sadly, not every birth has a happy ending. Sometimes parents find out their child is no longer living well before they give birth. Other times, an otherwise uneventful labor ends with the birth of a child that never takes their first breath. Or, they do - but the doctors don't feel optimistic that they will survive for long.
This is where a bereavement doula can step in. Bereavement doulas are specifically trained to help parents cope with the death of a child. Some even offer services to parents whose children are born with conditions that are either unexpected or more severe than anticipated. While those children may be living, the life that they're going to lead could be drastically different than their parents had hoped for. Letting go of that vision and learning to process a different future for your child is a hard road to walk. There is no shame in needing someone to help ground you in that moment.
Bereavement doulas provide emotional support, of course. They also provide as much information as is helpful. If a mother learns that her child will be stillborn, she has a few options on how to proceed. A bereavement doula can walk her through the potentialities of each of these options; help them prepare for what to expect in the delivery room; help them set up after-care and support services. Many are certified in grief counseling and some are even general grief counselors who have taken a special interest in helping parents process this particular type of loss.
Like a birth doula, bereavement doulas can provide physical support. They can dab foreheads, provide warm blankets, and dim lights. Some have mentioned that soothing music can make a world of difference in the tone of the room. Birth doulas and bereavement doulas alike can provide physical comfort during contractions (such as counterpressure).
Birth can be a beautiful moment of change; a baby's soul transitioning earthside while a woman transforms into a mother. Not all change is easy, and not all births end this serenely. When birth is not what you'd have expected or planned, know that a bereavement doula will have your back. No judgement, no maneuvering. Just support and a shoulder to cry on when it's too much to handle on your own.
Did you know that bereavement doulas can help women in this situation? Tweet at me - I'd love to connect with bereavement doulas all over the world to learn from them. @pi3sugarpi3.