Last night I had the privilege of meeting with Jennifer Mason of Jennifer Mason Photography while at a support group for birth professionals who assist families through pregnancy and infant loss. While our group was there to provide support to each other, network, and listen to our stories of baby loss, someone shared a story of a recent loss.
This person lost a family member that lived with them for fifteen years the day after mother’s day this year. The pain from their loss was still fresh and new and she was still grieving while she shared her story and the support she has received over the last few weeks. Her story of support and the mementos that were provided to her family after this loss mimicked the support that ALL families should receive after a miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant loss.
Her family member that passed away was not a person. It was their family dog. This family had to make the heart wrenching decision to have their dog pass safely in their arms due to her failing health. The family stayed with their dog until it was confirmed that she no longer had a heartbeat and they were all devastated despite their preparations for this day.
At the veterinarian’s office, the family were offered plenty of time to say good-bye, a paw print, a lock of hair, and cremation. It was described that whenever the staff members asked the family if they wanted something to remember their pet that they said yes to everything.
This got me thinking. If this kind of support is offered to families who have lost a pet, why isn’t this offered to families who have lost a child?
We had to put our family dog, Sophie down just before Thanksgiving in 2012. She was only five years old but she had severe hip problems and could no longer walk. Her final night she walked outside to use the restroom and fell in the snow. She would often lay in the snow because she loved the snow but after a bit, we noticed she wanted to come in but couldn’t. I helped my husband get her inside (all 160lbs of her) using a towel. She was so heavy, we could o
nly manage to get her in as far as the back door. We had hoped that after she warmed up a bit, she would get up and walk to her bed.
In the morning, we discovered she was in the exact same spot where we left her and she was suffering. We knew it was time and we were devastated. We had watched her hips progressively get worse and fail her numerous times but no amount of preparation helped us with the difficult task we faced with her. I knew what to expect. I had worked as a Veterinary Technician as a teenager and I was there when many dogs were euthanized but this was my dog. Things were different.
When we got her to the Vet’s office (with the help of neighbors), they offered us time to sit with her before they came in to administer the drugs. They were empathetic and didn’t rush us. They gave us a private room and dimmed the lights. When we felt we were ready, they came in and administered the drugs that took her life. We watched her body go limp as her breathing stopped.
My son was devastated and laid on top of her bawling. We were all crying in the room. The veterinarian confirmed she no longer had a heart beat, offered her condolences, and told us to take as much time as we needed. We sat with her, uninterrupted for about thirty minutes. We would have stayed longer, but I knew the process of death and I didn’t want my son to smell her bowels when they let loose so we left her on the floor of the dark room and closed the door behind us.
As we checked out, we were offered a paw print and cremation for her. They had a brochure and even had different urns or lockets we could place her ashes. She was the size of a person so we would need an urn if we were going to do that. We decided on just the paw print.
Relating this to miscarriage and stillbirth can be controversial but my point in this blog is how come the veterinarian’s have this bereavement and mementos thing right but hospitals and clinics fail so miserably? Why is a dogs life more important than a baby’s life?
The only thing I have of Ruby’s is an ultrasound picture of her lifeless body. I had to beg and plead for the pictures though a nurse that asked me “Why would you want a picture of a dead fetus?” I wished I had answered her, “Because it’s all I have of my baby.”
I cherish her ultrasound picture. It’s my “Proof of Life.” Ruby existed just as millions of babies who are born via miscarriage and stillbirth existed. Where is their proof of life though? Why isn’t everyone offered mementos, pictures, cremation, burial, funerals, memorial services, foot prints, hand prints, locks of hair, a certificate of life, and hand or foot molds? Why are some babies carried out in cardboard boxes completely naked inside while others are dressed and placed in paper mache’ make-shift coffins in the hospital?
Why are some families given all the time they need to grieve and others have their baby whisked away without even a glimpse? Why are some families treated like grieving parents while others are treated like failures or a poor medical event that needs to be brushed under the rug?
We MUST break this silence! Nurses, doctors, midwives, and other caregivers need to encourage families to hold their babies, have pictures taken, have support during and after their birth, have memories and mementos created, and treat the family as if they lost the most important member of their family…because guess what? They DID!
It’s time to spread the word that we are done being treated like our dead children weren’t worthy of love. Return to Zero has really helped us with that movement but it’s not enough. We need to do more and demand they provide mementos for stillborn babies and miscarriages. It’s time to speak up!
– Breaking the silence of First Trimester Miscarriage
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