When the unexpected happens

As doulas, we are honored to be invited to share in one of life’s most joyous events – the birth of a baby. But for some families, joy turns to grief. Recently there were two infant deaths in the Open Arms caseload. I don’t need to tell you that the death of a baby is devastating, and certainly among the hardest things that any person can go through in their lifetime.

When a family has an unexpected and tragic outcome, the role of a doula shifts. In a typical birth, the focus of the doula is on helping the family welcome the new child and adjust to all the familiar yet challenging tasks of having a new baby. When the tragic happens and a baby passes away, the doula stays present with the mother and family in their grief as they digest the news, say their goodbyes, cope with the raw emotions and figure out how on earth to carry on – as well as deal with the physical recovery from pregnancy.

There are plenty of magazines, websites, and friendly community members who are ready with the advice about diapering, sleeping through the night and nursing challenges. Everyone has a story to share.

But when one’s baby has died, it is very quiet. No one talks about it, and all but a very few shy away. Friends and family often don’t know what to say or do, or worse, say things that make the mother’s grief even more acute – “It’s for the best,” “You’ll have another baby,” or “God must have wanted your baby so badly in heaven” are typical of comments that intend to explain or lessen grief when instead, they create new wounds for the surviving family. The mother is often left alone and vulnerable with her deep grief.

But not with an Open Arms doula. Thank goodness for a doula who can be there, still, when the family returns home. Thank goodness for a doula, well known to the family and yet an outsider, who can be that support and guide through the dark days and nights that follow. Thank goodness for a doula, who can help the family find ongoing ways of support and reconnect with those outside the inner circle who might be wondering how to help, but not know how.

Thank you, Open Arms doulas.

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