Doulas for Tough Times
When we started building Doula Support Foundation, we knew that Doulas that support pregnancy loss, infant loss, and terminations would be a part of it. I'm an enthusiastic Birth & Bereavement Doula with StillBirthday. I'm also looking towards training as a full end-of-life Doula this fall. If you believe that the beginning of life should be well supported, you can probably see how someone at the end of their life (or a person going through the loss of a pregnancy/infant or termination) should also be well supported.
Loss is a part of life and there is nothing in life more celebrated than the birth of a new life (...ok, maybe also weddings but go with me on this one). It's so celebrated that we don't talk about what happens when it doesn't come to be, as if we can jinx a pregnancy or birth with the notion that sometimes a pregnancy is lost or newborn dies. People hold off on announcing their pregnancy until it is "safe" and new parents are unprepared for things like NICUs or unaware of Doulas specially trained to support them through losses. The stigma around choosing a termination also keeps people from openly talking about their procedures or reaching out for extra support.
For Doulas, this means they aren't asked for, even though 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriages, stillbirths, or deaths of infants under the age of one.
This year at Pride, one of the most life affirming festivals you can go to, we had an information table to share Doula Support Foundation with the local LGBTQ+ community. Most people had actually heard of Doulas and some had heard of our organizations as well. Super! One couple stopped and knew what Doulas were.
"There are all kinds of Doulas out there, but I bet you don't have Doulas for things like dying and miscarriages and such...", commented the fellow.
"Oh, we do! I'm one of them. I support pregnancy and infant loss", I let him know.
That's when his partner started to tear up a bit. She shared that she wished that we had been around when she experienced a loss of her own. She didn't know back then that Doulas who support losses and terminations existed and felt so deeply that she hadn't been given what she needed emotionally and physically. Right there, even though quite some time had passed since it happened, she showed all of the emotional pain she still felt over the care she didn't get, but so badly needed. She had needed acknowledgement and validation and, because she didn't get it, she will carry that with her the rest of her life.
This isn't the first time someone has found out that I offer this service and shared tears with me. This isn't uncommon. In fact, often people feel that they not only didn't receive the loving and comforting care they deserved, but faced hostility, were dismissed, or were outright ignored beyond any medical help they may have needed. They weren't given their options around the loss (such as spending time with their infant who had passed on, what to expect after the loss, how long they could spend with their baby, what to do with their baby's remains, etc.) or just simply failed to have their feelings legitimized. Friends and family acted uncomfortable and vanished when they were needed. People who choose terminations feel just as unnoticed and so lonely. All of them just want to be heard and seen.
The biggest change that needs to happen is an open dialogue around death and dying. Not just in general, although that needs to happen as well, but around the real possibility of losing a pregnancy, a child, or having to choose to end a pregnancy. These are things that happen every day to people everywhere and staying silent on the matter doesn't make it go away or keep us safe from it happening to us. Talk to each other. Talk to people who have gone through these experiences and talk to people who haven't. You may even find out that you know more people who have experienced these things, but did so quietly and without reaching out.
Also, reach out to people around you when they are facing a loss or termination. If they are grieving or sad, they need to know that they are surrounded with love and a community. Don't be afraid of making them more sad or feel worse by saying something. You aren't making them sad, their loss is. Offer them support, offer them your time, and offer it in a long term way. So many offers come for support and weeks later seem to vanish into smoke.
Give the kind of support you would want for yourself if you were going through something so difficult. Loving, non-judgemental, dedicated, and lasting...and don't forget to bring a Doula along.