I didn’t go into doula work to work with women who’s babies had passed away. It wasn’t even on my radar.
Birth is supposed to be a beautiful, miraculous experience but I’ve learned that sometimes it’s that but it’s also so much more.
Infant loss awareness month has always been something that i’ve ashamedly tried to move away from. It’s full of so many emotions that I can’t put words on and the unknown of losing a baby has always been one of my biggest fears. This summer I’ve learned too many times that the only way to face our fears is by sitting in them and learning how to deal with them.
There’s the email that a potential client has lost their baby at 5, 10, 15+ weeks and they will no longer be in need of your services that breaks our hearts in pieces because we know how they are hurting. We know how they’ve longed for the baby that they so valiantly prepared for. I never want to get that email but I’m also quick to remind them of the changes that have taken place inside their hearts. They are a mother and father forever because they dreamed and planned for a baby they love and that status will forever be part of them.
As a doula, our job is usually fairly cut and dry. We support, we hold space, we help prepare, we celebrate and we go home. When a family loses a baby, whether that be a miscarriage, stillborn or infant demise, there is a piece of our own heart that gets broken and changed and molded.
There’s the times when a perfect labor turns into a horrible nightmare in minutes. Doula’s don’t plan to be part of these moments but I often feel so grateful for those who take this work head on because no family should have to do it alone.
The morning after my amazing clients baby passed away in her parents arms, I called my doula Mary and asked her to meet me and possibly get breakfast because the outcome of the birth I had been attending had not been good. I’m not usually a big crier, my emotions don’t usually manifest as tears but driving away from the hospital, a floodgate was opened and it took everything in me to get to our meeting spot safely. My body was wracked with emotion I didn’t know I had. A beautiful mother and father who longed for their baby would not be bringing her home.
My mind went all over the place during that drive and the days to follow. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t O.K. Mother’s need their babies and babies need their mother’s. What would their future hold? What could I do to comfort them?
It’s a strange place to be, wedged between grief and unconditional support and love. Being a professional, holding a brave face, giving your client something to hold them steady while simultaneously feeling utter devastation in the pit of your stomach. Watching a father go from solid to crumbling as minute’s tick by. This is not a place I thought I’d see but I’ve seen it and I’m a better person for it.
There’s the call from a doula colleague at eleven at night letting you know that she got called into a stillbirth situation and the mother wasn’t handling it well. Knowing that she would be walking into a living nightmare and feeling your heart tangibly break inside your chest. Hearing later about the beautiful, perfect baby that didn’t get to take her first breath or see her beautiful mother who so longed for her. Doula’s don’t ask for this but we take on a piece of this burden so you don’t have to do it alone.
As a surveyor of death and grief, it’s constantly on the back of our mind as we tiptoe around death and pray for outcomes of joy. Sometimes there’s no answers to follow, only more questions but there is one thing I do know. These families have a strength that I cannot fathom.
Infant loss families have life in their eyes as they talk about their sweet babies. Their stories are meaningful and their babies names and memories are sacred. Their babies will always be close to their heart no matter what the future holds and their families will forever be changed.
I am proud to walk with families through this grief, even if it means grieving with them. I’m continually grateful to my clients for inviting me into a space so filled with uncertainty and so much love. Thank you for loving your babies, thank you for teaching me and being an example to me. Your babies will always be in my heart as I know they are in yours.