By Michelle Every
What do you say when someone – a doula client, a friend, a relative – tells you that they have experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth? Michelle Every offers some support, information and signposts.
When I trained to be a doula in 2007 I was astonished and saddened that supporting baby loss was not mentioned on my course. Then as I gained experience and connected deeper into the doula community I noticed that loss was not something that I saw being discussed.
In 2014 I felt a strong conviction to change this so I created the Supporting Every Birth workshop. I wanted to create a safe space to explore loss with a focus on self-reflection and group participation and give time to consider where we are with our own grief being curious and honest with ourselves around our own views and opinions on loss
When talking to doulas about baby loss the two phrases I most often hear are “But what will I say?” or “I worry I will say the wrong thing.”
There is fear around the power of language.
What we do or do not say is not just relevant to supporting loss or supporting clients. It is relevant in every exchange we make in our everyday life. How we respond to what we hear can have a significant impact on the person sharing. Have we heard them or are we focusing too much on our own answers or our own story? How can we offer space, actively listen and resist the need to fix?
When I am considering my choice of words I keep the Nurturing Birth values of respect and compassion at the forefront of my mind. These values lay a great foundation when considering language, can shape my conversations and prevent me from saying something in anger or frustration.
Is what I am about to say respectful and compassionate?
Coming back to supporting loss, what do you say to someone who has discovered their baby has died during pregnancy? Or what can you say at a labour when the baby is born not breathing and has died?
I volunteered for the Miscarriage Association for fifteen years. When I answered the phone and listened to people share their own stories of loss I would hear how the countless times their family, colleagues and friends had said unhelpful things such as “Everything happens for a reason” or “Just move on.”
From my experience of facilitating loss support groups I am aware how a spoken phrase can bring much comfort to one person only to upset another. No one way works for all. It is good to remember that grief is a natural, unique and personal response to losing something important to us. As doulas we want to validate this uniqueness while acknowledging the challenge that this can bring to us personally. We are required to offer support in the moment and respond to what we see and hear rather than having a pre-planned and prepared response.
Maybe we are beginning from the wrong place. Instead of starting at what we will or will not say it might be helpful to start with what can we be. How can we be our most authentic self and respond to the needs of the family we support?
On the Nurturing Birth doula courses and within mentoring we talk about being rather than doing. Our skills are listening, holding space, being client led, responding to needs in the moment. We go to births with no guarantees or certainty and yet we go with confidence that our presence and commitment to the family will make a significant difference
Is this any different when the baby does not survive?
We can create the same environment, listen with the same focus and respond in the same way.
To be honest, and to give a little away from my workshop, not much changes in the support we offer in loss compared to supporting clients with live babies.
We simply doula.
The Miscarriage Association has created some excellent resources which come from supporting loss for many years, including this video -when you do not know what to say, simply say “I am sorry.”
How do you feel about supporting families through baby loss? Do you have concerns on what to say? I would love to welcome you on to the Supporting Every Birth workshop to explore the topic more. My desire is that every doula feels able to step into this role and offer support.