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Loss - a Doula's Perspective

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Updated: December 8, 2006

Grief and Loss Observed by a Birth Doula by Kimberly Packard-Beck


In 2003 Certified Birth Doula, Kimberly Packard-Beck wrote this article on Loss and Grieving from the viewpoint of a practicing birth doula. It was written as an educational resource for other doulas to learn more about losses that may occur with birth and how to support to a client if she experienced a birth loss.

This article, reprinted with her permission looks at the very painful loss that occurs at the beginning of life from a birth doula's point of view.
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As doulas, we have the great honor of being invited to support women and their families during one of the happiest times of their lives, the birth of their child. For some families however, this anticipated greatest of joys can turn into the most painful and heartbreaking of experiences, that being the loss of their baby and of their dream of parenthood. As their doula, we will be deeply touched by it. Most people may think of loss in the childbearing year as perinatal death. Many parents however, will experience loss in the form of an early miscarriage, a live-born child who may have a defect, or they may discover their baby in-utero has defects incompatible with life and be faced with the choice of terminating the pregnancy or continuing it. Loss can also apply to a pre-term birth or a baby with many medical complications who may not have good odds for survival. The loss of the ideal birth experience is for many a loss they may grieve for a long time. Any of these losses can be felt deeply and none is any less painful than another for the grieving family. For many women, some of these losses are not acknowledged by others and they are left feeling alone in their grief.

Perinatal Loss
As a doula, I’ve become much more aware of perinatal loss and how uncomfortable most people are about it. I know myself, having had a miscarriage at home and alone at 15 weeks, how much I wished I had a doula to support me through it and how frustrating it was for people to not acknowledge the depth of my feelings and to brush it off or say things that actually made the emotional pain worse, even though that was not the intent. Having supported a few friends and clients through miscarriages, I’ve gained great insight into how women cope and how society does not generally support them. I have recently had the opportunity to support a doula friend known only to me by E-mail, through the joys of and then the unexpected loss of a multiple pregnancy at 22 weeks, where her precious babies were live-born, but died a short time later. Her birth story was amazing. Her story of how people reacted to her and her loss and how unsupported and alone she felt deeply troubled and sadden me.

Educating Doulas about Loss
As a result of my experiences, I became inspired to do something about it, to try to educate other doulas. At our local doula support meeting we dedicated our meeting to discussing loss and the doula's role. We wanted to learn more, not only about what to say and what not to say, but what grieving families experience and how we might be best able to support them through it. Two of our doula sisters shared their own stories of loss and what they found to be most helpful as well as those things that were perceived by them to not be helpful. They gave us much insight; not only into the grieving process, but also into what a doula's role might be when their client is faced with the loss or potential loss of their child. Their stories were of birth and death and they were beautiful and bittersweet. We cried together and celebrated their children with them. There was honest and deeply emotional sharing. The room was filled with true doula love and spirit. It was one of the most eye-opening and powerful experiences of my life, and yet another time when I feel so blessed to have been called to this work.

Death of a Baby
Death is a topic most people are uncomfortable with. The death of a baby is a particularly heart-wrenching experience for anyone touched by it. Our culture tends to avoid dealing with death and dying, and as a result, we are often at a loss ourselves for what to do, say, or how to support a grieving family, leaving the grieving family alone and unsupported in their greatest time of need. As doulas, we have a unique role in supporting families, and that role may include supporting a family through a loss of any kind, especially the death of their baby. It is something doulas should be knowledgeable about and prepared for.

End of Life Doulas or Death Doulas
There was recently a discussion on the DONA discussion boards about "death doulas" or "end of life doulas." The same loving unconditional support we give in birth, we can also give in crisis or in death. We can be active listeners; we can sit quietly, convey support with words or touch, we can cry with our clients and celebrate the life of their baby as well as grieving their loss. We can help them to gather information and support so they can make decisions and focus on what they need to focus on. We can take photos for them, write down anecdotal information they may later ask about or like to have, we can simply offer ourselves to them in any capacity they may need us.

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The article continues on the next page.

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© 2003 Kimberly Packard-Beck PT, CD (DONA), ICCE. Reprinted with Permission.
Certified second degree Reiki Practitioner
Blossoming Bellies Birth Services
www.blossomingbelly.com

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