Loss In Thought

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.

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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.

Why Every Birth Professional Needs Perinatal Bereavement Training

When a baby dies unexpectedly, I get calls. I get calls from midwives and doulas, 3am texts from bereaved fathers, emails from mothers wondering if they can take herbs to induce the birth of their still babies. In their darkest hour, they reach out for guidance, support, validation, human connection and comfort. There is a great amount of need for help.

So, I walk in, or lean in, or focus in. I am a bereavement doula- I walk in the Valley of the Shadow of Death companioning those who are just trying to breathe through their darkest day, one impossible moment to the next.

I do my best, stilling my heart, stilling my mind, being present and curious and surrounding this family in space enough to just *be* at this moment. Be with this knowledge, this obscenity, this horror- to accept the ugly and hope for an opportunity to lay a foundation for healing. But most of these people are strangers to me. At a time when these families need the *best* care, I come in and try… but I’m really flying blind.

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That’s why YOU, fellow birth professional, trusted midwife, beloved doula, need perinatal bereavement training. Because YOU can do it better than I can for YOUR client.

You who know this woman- who have spent hours chatting, laughing, measuring, dreaming, planning, getting to know her partner, her children, her worries, her joys and her soul- YOU are a better choice than me to companion her through the loss of her child. You know her. You know her life. You know her hopes and her fears.

And she knows you. She trusts you. She invited YOU on this journey. And now she needs you in a way that neither of you could have anticipated.

Because when her darkest day comes, your client will be looking to you for help. And I can come- I can support her, I can support you. But YOU would be a better bereavement caregiver for her than I could be.

Be ready. Know what to do and what not to do. Take the time to enter into that space where birth and death meet and find that place of stillness in you, develop that reserve of knowledge, find comfort with that darkness. Because just as much as understanding how movement impacts birth is part of your job description, so is knowing how death impacts birth.

Join us on FB at the Network of Perinatal Loss Professionals for a growing list of training opportunities.

I See You…

I see you, mother who has lost her 8 week old baby through miscarriage. I see you even as your doctor says your baby was ‘a late period’. But you had already circled a due date on your calendar and imagined what life would be like next spring and considered and discarded names and dreamed of a little girl with big brown eyes and brown pigtails. I see you…

I see you, mother of the preemie born at 31weeks. I see you struggling to pump breast milk, this medicine-food, to heal your tiny, beloved child. I see you, every fiber of you screaming to hold your child while you stand silent and still next to the isolette, one tense hand pressed against the glass. I see you…

I See You

I see you, mother who wails in her bed, chest ripped open, womb ripped open terrified to look at your baby, shame for your terror, anger for your shame and pain, pain, pain as you wail. I see you…

I see you, mother walking into church for the first time since your baby was covered with the frozen earth. I see your still swollen belly and your grudging walk and your uncertain heart, fragile, brittle faith. I see you…

I see you, mother staring at the ultrasound screen dark closing in as the world crushes into one single black point of non-beating. I see you as your legs tense and rise off the bed, as you begin to hyperventilate as you tumble, fall, the black point of non-beating searing into your memory, your present your future. I see you…

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Content below this line is not Hearthside generated. Please disregard.

Rainbows Hands…

A former client is expecting again. This is a particular joy for her and for me. I’ve been asked to doula through her pregnancy.

When a bereaved family finds they are expecting again, it is a very different experience than when a family has never had a loss. The illusion of safety is stripped from the family. Because they lost a child during pregnancy before, they know it can happen again.

While most women who experience a pregnancy loss go on to have a successful birth experience, the knowledge that something *could* go wrong remains.

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Doulas who companion a bereaved family are more than ‘birth doulas’. We’re Rainbow Doulas- we companion the family throughout pregnancy, assisting mom and her partner to manage whatever special challenges this particular pregnancy may bring including anxiety, special physical challenges, and additional doctor visits along with the normal birth preparation doulas do for their clients.

But, oh, the amazing privilege of companioning a family who receives their first child after loss! Watching the relief flood through the family- no matter how calm and assured the family is throughout the pregnancy, that moment when mom takes her child- her rainbow- into her hands… fills the family with a new kind of serenity.

I am blessed to have this work. I am blessed to walk alongside families as the face the pregnancy after loss journey. I am blessed to companion rainbows.

Focusing on BEBE

Originally posted June 21, 2012

Phew! Life and work has been going at double speed lately leaving little time to write. That’s ok- I’ve always committed myself to allow writing to be cathartic; I write as the Spirit moves me and as I have something to say.

Well, I’m coming to the end of my childbirth educator’s training. I chose the BEBE (Baby-Empowered Birthing Education) focus for several reasons:

1) I believe in the power of the unborn to perceive the world LONG before birth. We are people with value and experiences from conception on and I think it’s important to recognize these tiny people as they can recognize us. It’s completely amazing to me how scientists back up how very early prenates (the nifty word that means ‘before being born’) can be influenced by their world. As developing people, they deserve our respect and recognition. As our babies, they deserve our love and our attention!

2) I believe that families are healthier emotionally and psychologically when they are able to slowly make the transition from couple to family. If parents spend their whole pregnancy acknowledging and interacting with their baby (babies?) as a person and a full-fledged member of their family, the birth, while still momentous and powerful, is also simply a continuation of the relationships already created. Supporting prenatal bonding allows the family to flow into its larger self and helps set up parents for responsive parenting- which is always healthier for baby and parents.

“…When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place…” Psalm 8:3

3) I believe that every second we have with our babies is precious. As a mom who has lost two babies myself, I cherish the memories I have of the times I was intentional about parenting my littles before their births. I remember specifically, at 20 weeks pregnant with my son, standing in a darkened back yard in upstate Pennsylvania. Light pollution being almost non-existent there means that there are WAY more stars to see. We stood there, my sweet husband and I, his arms around me and my hands resting lightly on my belly, and I remember breathing a prayer of thanks for that moment up to my Father. I remember sinking into my husband’s arms and just being so very grateful that we three were there together in that moment.

Two weeks later, the doctor told us there was no heartbeat.

That moment in a star-lit field is precious to me. It was a moment I will never have again- I will never again stand with my husband and my son and look at the stars. But, because I was aware of him being part of that sacred night, I will always have that memory. If I had been too rushed or had only thought of parenting as something that began at birth, I could have missed that moment.

Every single second with our babies should be celebrated. Every moment is precious and fleeting. Usually, we have an entire lifetime of memories to store away, but we are guaranteed nothing. So I believe that supporting prenatal bonding is an incredibly loving thing to do for a couple.

I am so excited to begin writing my BEBE-focused childbirth education class. As you can see in the Education portion of my site, I’ve decided to call it Bonded Beginnings. Bonded as a family from conception forward toward a healthy, happy, joyous family. That’s something to celebrate!

There we were, we two, alone…

Originally published 8/18/12

Tomorrow, August 19th, is the International Day of Hope, instituted by CarlyMarie Project Heal. I just learned about this a little over a week ago. It’s especially important to me because the losses of my sweet babies both happened in August, one year and one week apart.

August 19th is a day to honor our babies by talking about them. It’s a day to remember, to honor, to speak up, to heal. I wanted to be involved in some way so I decided to share something with you that I don’t even know has been shared with my family. I wanted to share something of my experience to honor my children- see, just by your reading this, their lives are having an impact of you. Their story is changing you. Like a pebble dropped into a pond, the ripples of their lives continue…

So here’s what I offer: both of the births of my Peridot babies were unassisted births.

Calan was born in my bathroom. I was totally alone when my first-born arrived. I was completely undone, confused, in pain, in shock. But there we were, we two alone, and I took a few moments to look at my baby- my sweet, longed-for, beautiful baby- and I said hello and good-bye (for now- I believe we will meet again). [ETA: I was 8 weeks pregnant with Calan at the time.]

Last week, August 11th, was Calan’s birthday. For the first time in many years, I couldn’t get out of bed. Calan is still my longed-for baby…

Anduril was born in a hospital bed after a long night of Cytotec and Ambien, the Cytotec producing unbelievably painful contractions and the Ambien knocking me unconscious in-between. It was hellish. I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t think- I have a vague memory of my husband and the nurse talking and then being given an epidural my husband had consented to on my behalf…

It was morning- light streamed through the window and my room was silent. It seemed that there had always been people bustling around throughout the night (I was very ill), but now I was alone. My eyes opened and I was suddenly aware that my baby was sliding down out of me during a contraction I couldn’t feel. He was breech- his body delivered and it was just he and I there in the room. I couldn’t reach the call button for the nurse and had to reposition myself. Once I’d reached the button and the nurse saw that I had indeed delivered my son’s body, the room again flooded with people. Anduril’s birth ended with the next contraction. Today is his 7th stillbirthday…

We spent some time with Anduril- way too little- that morning and again the next day. We said hello in the hospital room and good-bye in the family cemetery where we laid Anduril next to his great-grandparents in a grave my husband dug with his own two hands. That single moment in time when I delivered my son in a silent, sunny room has come to mean so much to me. There we were, we two, alone.

So here are my two unassisted birth stories. Here are (parts) of Calan’s and Anduril’s story. I say part, because their stories aren’t really finished. Every single baby who is conceived, impacts this world. My babies’ lives continue to have meaning through the work I do spurred by my love for them. The meaning and stories of their lives continue- that gives me hope…

If you or someone you love has experienced child loss during pregnancy or around the time of birth, please know there is help. Contact me for compassion, resources and support.

Bereaved and Remembering

The word ‘bereaved’ literally means ‘to be torn apart’. Those of us who have lost babies know what this feels like. Losing a child is an experience that can’t adequately be described in words, but I- 8 years off from my last loss- might use words like ‘searing’, ‘suffocating’, ‘impossible’ and ‘obscene’ if pushed.

When a mother loses a baby, she literally is being torn apart- a piece of herself that she nourished, that came from her own body. This piece of her, in a live birth, would have continued to receive sustenance from her own body for months- this little person literally derives its being and its life from its mother’s essence.

And when that baby dies, a part of the mother is forever ripped away. Torn asunder. Bereaved.

Which brings me to remembering. RE-membering.

In the act of acknowledging the reality of our child, the actual experience of our loss and the continual influence of our grief, there is something in us that comes back together. Some new thing is formed from the pieces that were shattered.

It is slow. It hurts. But healing does eventually happen.

 

TWO-SIDEs

Bereaved and remembering are the opposite sides of the child loss coin. This is why we have National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month each October- why we light candles every October 15th for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Remembering brings healing- remembering & revisiting the place of our loss even if it is only in our own hearts is an act of healing. It is necessary.

I encourage you to remember this October.

Write a letter.

Name a baby.

Light a candle.

Tell a story.

Return to visit the places you were torn apart so you can continue coming back together.