How to Respond When Asked, “How Many Children Do You Have?”

A while ago a former student approached me for mentoring as a client wanted options for how to answer the question, “How many children do you have?”
This is a very common question for families who have lost children and taking time to think through what response one might give to this question can help families feel more comfortable and prepared as they face life without their little one. My response to this bereavement professional can be found below:
This will be a really personal decision for each family. Some may feel like they want to include and mention their deceased children and may say something like “We have 6 children and 4 are at home” or “Our eldest was born sleeping and we are raising three” or “We have two children and were able to raise this little one” or “We have one at home. His sibling passed away”.
Some families will want to edit how much personal information they share, so they may simply answer “We have 3” leaving the discussion of missing babies for another time, or they may say “We have three at home” or “We’re raising 4 sweet babies” as a way to answer inquiries.

It gets trickier when the family is expecting their first live child after a previous loss or losses. Then, the family might say “This will be the first baby we’ll be bringing home” or “Raising this little one will be a first for us”. It’s slightly round-about/awkward, but it may allow the family to honor the elder children while not entering into sensitive personal information.

The trick with answering but not revealing more than one is comfortable with is to leave space in the responses for the child who is no longer with the family. This often feels nice to the family- like leaving a table setting empty at an otherwise occupied table.
Hope this has helped!

In the Thick of It

I’m revamping the website here and an elbow deep in organizing my upcoming perinatal bereavement certification program. I’ve been working on it for months, actually, reflecting on the last eleven years as a bereaved mother, the last five years as a birth professional, the last four years as a bereavement doula and the last three years as a bereavement trainer.

All this experience- every nightmare, every tear, every exciting new fact or study read, every birth attended, every class taught- all of it has brought me to this place. The place I am meeting my children’s legacy.

This work- all of it- comes from how my children changed me. My sleeping babies deepened my well of compassion and empathy and courage and hope deeper than I had any idea it could go. My living babies bring me joy and energy and laughter. Each of them colors the totality of the work I do.

Soon, I will be a midwife. Day by day, I witness new life coming into the world. I safeguard this precious passage as women bring forth their children. Sometimes, I stand witness as that life does not come into this world. I shake inside when I hear the mother wail, I tremble when I watch the father break. But I stand. I stand here in this work that my children brought me- the work of life. The work of grief. The work of joy. The work of sorrow. I work in the Valley of the Shadow of Death… and of life.

It is a precious and terrible place to be. This calling humbles me.

This early summer I work on a new project that invites you all in to where I am. Currently, I am offering a 12 part webinar series that trains birth professionals on the essential, vital knowledge they must have to companion women as doulas, as midwives, as nurses. As vital as knowing how to time a contraction, birth professionals MUST know how to support a family through pregnancy loss.

But in a few months, I will be issuing an invitation to those who feel a deep calling toward perinatal bereavement support. There is a subset of birth professionals, of social workers, or hospital administrators who want to go beyond basic bereavement companioning to real expertise. To those who feel drawn to walk the Valley with hurting families, I am offering a certification program that will enable them to express this call as bereavement doulas, as bereavement support group facilitators, as memorial and burial advisers, as peer bereavement counselors and as advocates for the perinatally bereaved within their communities.
This training will be advanced. This professional-level training is appropriate for:
*Certified/Experienced Doulas with at least 2 years of professional service
*Certified Childbirth Educators with at least 2 years of professional service
*Neonatal/Obstetric Nurses
*Midwives and other professional care providers

And the whole time I am organizing, writing, editing, researching I am also remembering that this is the work my children’s lives have brought me to. Their tiny hands put my hands to this work. Their tiny beating hearts put this work in my heart.

I am looking forward to walking this journey through the Valley with you friends. I hope you’ll join me in August as we begin.

Not Alone…

It’s been quite a while since I’ve commented. I may or may not do so more often in the future, but today, I have something to share.

The Network of Perinatal Loss Professionals on Facebook is a symbol of what’s happening in perinatal bereavement care around the world. Compassionate individuals coming together, each sharing a little light with families who have lost a sweet baby. Some of these people are nurses, doulas, midwives- professionals- others are parents who find themselves inspired by the life of the sleeping children in their lives. The tremendous passion and variety of their work tells me one thing- I am not alone.

not alone

I have one little niche in the perinatal bereavement world- I offer training to holistic birth professionals, especially those who attend clients out of hospital- and this work is consuming. There is no way that one person, or even one organization, can be all things to all people. There is just too much brilliance in the many ways families are being served, too many possibilities and opportunities to offer kindness and comfort and love.

We need one another. We need one another so families are reached in a variety of ways. We need artists to offer modes of healing that incorporate the arts, we need crafters so families receive love through tiny baby clothes and blankets, we need photographers so families take photos with them into the rest of their lives, we need writers so the voices of bereaved families flow out into the wind bringing words of truth, we need midwives so families experience gentle births of sleeping babies.

Every single one of us has a gift to share. It could be an ability to begin a non-profit to benefit bereaved families in your area, or it could be the ability to offer a kind word to the hurting mother in your neighborhood. All these gifts are powerful and they all matter.

I am so glad to stand shoulder to shoulder with so many amazing people and organizations and I’ve shared some of my favorites in the slideshow on the right-hand side of my blog. These are worthy resources, individuals and organizations that serve hurting families during their darkest hours.

Reach out to these groups. They are there you help and support bereaved, hurting families.

And if you are further along in your healing journey, maybe you want to express your gift by volunteering with one of these groups? Then you will be the one telling hurting families that they are not alone…

Tempering the Rocky Ground

As I sit here this morning preparing to do a training with the staff of a local birth center, I’ve suddenly realized that I’ve developed a personal philosophy of care. I’m sure it’s not unique, I’m sure someone much more educated or experienced than I am has said this kind of thing before. But it’s new to me- or rather, I’ve realized that this is where the whole of my ‘theory of healing’ rests.

I believe that perinatal bereavement care is about the long-term healing. The way a client perceives his/her treatment around the time of the family’s loss deeply impacts long-term healing and that the single greatest factor that influences that long-term healing is the client’s satisfaction with the family’s treatment and options around the time of the loss.

Losing a baby is NEVER easy. It is always hard, ugly, obscene. Out of that soil we hope that families grow into peace, acceptance and eventual joy and life again. I believe that if a family is treated kindly and compassionately, if the reality of their child is acknowledged and they are given options of embracing their child and their identity in whatever ways are appropriate to them, if they are *re-membered* after being *be-reaved*, that soil is tempered. That soil is turned and fertilized and the hope of healing becomes more of a reality for that family.

 

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So this is what I teach- that what happens to a family around the time of their loss, the way they are supported, loved and validated deeply impacts how soundly they are able to lay their own foundation for their eventual healing. I teach birth workers to embrace silence, acknowledging that this is a holy time. I encourage acts of service to address the many, many unexpected practical needs that surround the death of a baby. I advocate for validation of the loss- this really does *matter*, both immediately and for the rest of this family’s life and I support the idea of carpe diem. The family has such a short time to actively pour love and acceptance into their baby- whether it’s before the baby is born that the family begins creating life-time memories or if it’s in the hospital room in the hours after the unexpected loss, I encourage all families to seize the day and to do now whatever they can imagine wanting to do with their child. Look at the sunrise, take a family bath, read a story- there is no tomorrow for this family with this baby…

So today I will share some of this with a new group of birth workers. And my hope is that this means some family, somewhere will be treated a little more gently, will be offered a little more validation, will heal a little more soundly.