Were you just told your client’s baby has died?
I get calls from doulas often telling me they just learned their clients baby died and they are heading in to support them. This makes me so happy because in the past, doulas have abandoned these clients for many reasons. Here is a quick guide on how to support your client.
The good thing is, supporting a family through the labor of miscarriage or stillbirth is not that different then supporting them through a live birth. The physical process is relatively the same so many of the skills you have will cross over. Use that knowledge. Below are some key points to focus on when supporting pregnancy loss.
- Be compassionate
- Do not bring your bias into this space. What is hard for you to see or hear does not mean the family doesn’t want to see or hold their baby.
- Refer if you can’t do this
- Create a sacred space
- Bring out the mama bear in you. Protect them from hurt (having a separate room so they don’t hear the heartrate monitor in the next room or babies crying).
- Separate the act of saying goodbye from saying hello
- Many times staff are focused on the sadness of saying goodbye but there is also a hello. They are about to see the baby they have been longing for. Help them say hello. Focus on fingers or toes if other parts are hard to view.
- Skin to skin
- Holding and photographs
- Footprints and hand moulds
- Bathing, diapering, and dressing
- Reading a book to baby or dancing with baby (daddy/daughter dance)
- It’s okay to cry
- Crying is fine but do not cry hard. The family will stop grieving to support you. Do not take away from their grief.
- Be there at discharge
- Bring a teddy bear for them to hold. Empty arms hurt. Sometimes taking them a back way is more helpful. Check the hall for cheerful families and new babies. Try not to go by the nursery.
- Help them say goodbye
- Encourage a memorial service or funeral. A water ceremony might also be an option for them. Know their religious preferences and be knowledgeable about burial rites.
- A postpartum visit is important. Bring food when you visit. They are going through the postpartum period (even if this was a miscarriage). Check on their physical changes as well as mental changes. Do not confuse grief with postpartum depression. Review their support system and encourage meals to be brought and tasks to be completed by others.
- Remember their baby
- Mark your calendar for one year from the date of loss with the baby’s name (if they had one) and send them a card. We are sometimes scared to make them think about their deceased child but they are already thinking about them. The first anniversary is very important. You are not hurting them by remembering.
- Don’t forget self-care
- Many doulas leave on a high, even though you are supporting a pregnancy loss. You will likely crash. The next 3 days tend to be the most difficult. Rest and lost of self-care during this time to renew yourself and be the best person you can be for your family. Let them know you will be going through some tough moments.
This isn’t an all encompassing list. It’s a start. You can do this. I know you are questioning yourself but you have so much in you that you can bring to this space. You know how to do this even though you don’t think you are the right person. This family needs you. Go…be there for them. You got this!