Whether your baby dies soon after your positive pregnancy test, in the middle of your pregnancy, at or around your baby's due date, or early in your baby's life--all these different types of loss mean saying good-bye to your child. Perinatal loss (loss of your child or children surrounding the time of birth) can cause a range of emotions: numbness, disappointment, anger, isolation, depression, anxiety, bargaining, hyper-vigilance, loneliness, and profound grief, among many other feelings. It is common to experience physical signs of grief and re-adjustment to life without baby, including uncontrollable tears or sobs, arms that truly ache with emptiness, the need to hold a doll or stuffed animal, breasts that fill with milk or become engorged, increased or decreased appetite, and insomnia. You may hear what sounds like a baby crying. You may have vivid dreams of your baby or of being pregnant again. Depending on the age and condition of your baby, you may have to make decisions about things with which you may have no experience, such as organ donation or funeral plans. It is common to feel overwhelmed and in such a state of shock that details simply pass through you.
A Perinatal Loss Doula is (typically) a woman who has received professional training in normal pregnancy and birth, and specialized training in a variety of types of perinatal loss (usually including ectopic pregnancies, molar pregnancies, and other miscarriages; stillbirths; and neonatal loss) so that she can help you understand, if possible, what has happened to you and your baby, as well as inform you of options you have for creating memories of your baby--something that likely will be very important and healing for you. Many Perinatal Loss Doulas are 'loss moms' themselves--or have close friends or family members who are--so they well understand the pain and grief of the loss of a child. Many will perform their services voluntarily as a service to you from the heart of one who has experienced healing to the heart of one who is still hurting. A good Perinatal Loss Doula will walk by your side for as long as it takes until you feel ready to go on without her; listening to you; explaining what you are likely to experience, physically and emotionally; and helping with practical needs like meals or child care. A perinatal loss doula is also a welcome person on your birthing team should you become pregnant again, since she understands how different the experience of a pregnancy and birth after loss can be.
Like other doulas, a Perinatal Loss Doula is typically not a health care provider, but if you are pregnant and have recently received the horrible news that your baby has died, but have not yet experienced the loss/birth of your baby, a Perinatal Loss Doula can accompany you through the miscarriage or during the birthing process, as long as you are under the care of a midwife or doctor. The further along you are in the pregnancy, the more the process of birthing your baby will resemble the experience of the birth of a live baby, so having a doula present to help you give birth makes sense, especially when you consider the additional emotional difficulty involved with birthing a baby who has already died. A well-trained Perinatal Loss Doula will not only support the birthing mother, but the baby's father and other family members as well, who will undoubtedly feel their own crush of grief, as well as concern for your health and well-being. Your doula can suggest ways that you can bond with and create memories of your baby, such as naming your baby, washing and clothing the baby, taking photos and footprints, and holding your baby skin-to-skin. She is also trained in different types of farewell ceremonies you may choose and has the contact information for local resources which can assist you so that you do not have to make those phone calls or searches yourself.
I recently was granted a partial scholarship to become a perinatal loss doula from a perinatal loss doula training organization called Stillbirthday (because even though your baby has died, the day you hold your baby is still his Birth Day). I hope to complete the training early this fall and believe that I will be the first Stillbirthday-trained Perinatal Loss Doula in the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin. This is a deeply personal journey for me, as I am myself a loss mom. My first two pregnancies ended in loss, one at eight weeks and one at eleven weeks. These two miscarriages were both devastating to me, and so I write about the feelings and experiences of loss from personal experience. I later experienced two very early miscarriages, just days after two faint positive pregnancy tests. Those losses were, for me, less painful at the time, though I miss those two babies just as much as the first two. The decision to become a Stillbirthday perinatal loss doula, however, is to honor a dear friend of mine, whose baby died just after their due date. I would like to honor their baby, as well as my friend and her family, by helping other families in our area who are saying good-bye to their precious children, at a time that seems all too soon.
If you are in immediate need of a doula to help you cope with the loss of your baby, please contact me or visit the Stillbirthday website. There are several experienced doulas listed on the site who are available to help you today.
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