There’s no good way to prepare for the loss of a child, but enlisting the help of a trained professional, such as a bereavement doula, can help lighten the load.
In the unfortunate and often tragic instance of experiencing infant and pregnancy loss, one can feel incredibly isolated, lost, overwhelmed, and untethered.
Despite how common pregnancy or infant loss can be, society has yet to normalize the experience for parents and loved ones who have lost a child in this way. That’s where bereavement doulas can help.
What is a bereavement doula?
Bereavement doulas, or loss doulas as they might be called, are often uniquely qualified to offer emotional, physical, and informational support through the loss of a baby.
- Abortion (whether elective or for medical reasons)
- A diagnosis that baby will not live long after being delivered
They guide the family to help them prepare to welcome their baby, say farewell to the baby, and process the experience meaningfully and healthily.
Many bereavement doulas are also labor doulas; in that case, some families might choose to have the doula present for the birth of their baby.
In some cases, these doulas can accompany the pregnant person to the appointment where the pregnancy will be terminated; they could go through labor and delivery with the person just as they would with any other client, and they can meet with the family soon after the delivery to help walk through the heaviness of their immediate shock and grief.
If a pregnancy is far enough, the birthing person will lactate, even if there isn’t a living baby to nourish. Bereavement doulas can help with that transition and provide resources for navigating the process.
Miscarriage, stillbirth, or abortion is still very much a birth, and the birthing person might be informed of ways to stop lactation or provide breast/chest milk to a local hospital or milk bank.
Why you might consider hiring a bereavement doula
Doulas are unbiased experts in their field. They offer information on options available to the parents so they can make informed decisions on how to best love and care for their baby for as long as it is with them before and after birth.
After delivery, the doula can help the family and loved ones meet their baby, bond with them, and truly see their baby, not just the baby’s diagnosis or the fact that the baby is already gone.
In cases where a child is born with a life-limiting diagnosis, care from the neonatal intensive care unit is usually required. A bereavement doula might also help the family understand what is happening to their child while on the team and suggest ways to still connect with and advocate for them.
Bereavement doulas often have many local connections with photographers who might offer their services free of charge to provide the family with images and videos of the time they spent with their child.
Additionally, doulas are connected with various grief support groups and other forms of wraparound care for how best to navigate the heavy fog of the earliest weeks and months after such a loss.
With proper training, these doulas might help the birthing person and their family recognize the signs of any perinatal mood and anxiety complication and suggest where to seek the appropriate help in the form of mental health resources.
Bereavement doulas are incredibly helpful to help hold up the birthing person and the family during the painful moments after birth and in the months ahead.
Doulas can offer suggestions for how the family can remember their child by creating keepsake boxes or memory books and forming tools to keep their child’s memory alive for years.
How a bereavement doula can provide continued support
- Provide a supportive shoulder
- Comfort those overwhelmed by the loss
- Help prepare for labor and delivery
- Filling out death certificates
- Assisting with funeral arrangements
- Informing loved ones of loss
- Creating a buffer for family members
In such a traumatizing time of loss, support and comfort are needed, and a bereavement doula can help. There is still such a stigma around child loss, and families are left to go through it alone.
However, you don’t have to be alone when overcome with different emotions, including numbness, disbelief, anger, guilt, and sadness. There is much to process when you lose a child, and a bereavement doula can help guide you.
A blog post about this topic from MamaGlow says it eloquently:
“If you have experienced the loss of a baby in any trimester, you can seek bereavement doula support. If you have a fatal diagnosis of your baby or during a routine checkup they do not find a heartbeat, you should seek a bereavement doula to help usher you into a new world of grief, loss, and healing.
If you have a family member or friend who has experienced a loss and they are trying to conceive and is currently pregnant, they should see a bereavement doula as they can support you throughout the birth and postpartum period and ensure your joy from the new baby isn’t minimized by the pain you experienced with your past loss.
Joy and pain can co-exist even through a pregnancy after loss or infertility. A bereavement doula offers healing hands, words, and touch for the birthing people and their families no matter their circumstances.”
A bereavement doula is specially trained to understand loss and can comfort and encourage people who feel immobilized by loss. People can hire a bereavement doula at different points of pregnancy if, at some point, they know that their baby will be stillborn.
The doula helps the birthing person prepare for labor and delivery and is often there for the entire process of delivering a stillborn child.
There are many logistical tasks to be considered after the loss of a child, including things like filling out death certificates, helping with funeral arrangements, and informing loved ones of the loss.
For those who seek the support of a bereavement doula after a loss, the doula can help absorb some of the initial shock of the loss and serve as a listening, supportive ear. At the same time, the family verbally processes the loss.
There might be friends and family who will ask insensitive questions, though they’re often not intended to be perceived that way, and the doula can talk to everyone to help them become a better, more helpful support for one another.
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Since the age of 10, Kelli has been completely fascinated by everything related to pregnancy, birth, and the female body. Becoming a mother was the catalyst she needed to push her towards chasing after her long-held interests and turning her passions into a career. For Kelli, the work never gets old. She considers it a distinct honor to get to partner with families during what is often the most powerful life change they will ever encounter and she is grateful to get to guide them along the journey of pregnancy, birth, and a baby's first months. Kelli’s transition into motherhood did not start off the way she had hoped. She struggled. The decades of reading books, watching videos, and listening to people’s birth stories could only prepare her so much. She lacked the support she needed (but didn't know she needed it until well after the fact). Amidst the joys and delights of parenthood, she also experienced low times and lots of frustration. Over time she realized that her experience was probably common for other people too and thus began her journey of helping other mamas, families, and babies. In the 8+ years that she’s been doing this work, she has had the pleasure of working with same-sex couples, heterosexual cisgender couples, single mothers, and blended families. She proudly serves families regardless of race, gender identity, sexuality, or faith. Born and raised in Columbus, Ohio where she lives with her husband and their two children, Kelli is passionate about serving families in her home state where the infant and maternal mortality rates are so high. She strives to make the birthing experience a safer, more equitable one for all by having hard conversations, showing up in difficult spaces, and advocating for what fair and justified care can be like.