Friday, July 9, 2010

Childbirth and Loss

In the recent edition of DONA's quarterly magazine International Doula, there were two interesting articles that dealt with miscarriages and stillbirth. Both writers spoke of their experiences as mothers, dealing with the loss of a pregnancy or a child and how it connected to their work as doulas. The articles struck a cord with me because I have often thought about the interface between pregnancy/childbirth and loss.
Fortunately, most pregnancies and births run smoothly without too much going awry and so the work as a doula is really to be with women and their partners at a joyful time. But there will always be that time when things go wrong and we need to know how to deal with that.
The level of loss can be very different. While some may scoff at it, some woman profoundly feel the loss of the perfect birth they envisioned, whether that was an intervention free birth, a VBAC or a homebirth. More significantly, there is the loss of a pregnancy at an early or a later stage. There is the loss of the dream of the perfect healthy child, that my husband and I experienced personally when our oldest was born with Down syndrome. And, most terrifyingly, the loss of a newborn child.
I am not trying to make a list of all the things that can go wrong. I am sure nobody needs that anxiety and no one should spend their pregnancy worrying about worst-case scenarios. As a birth professional, though,I do need to acknowledge this reality.
I think what is most jarring at these times, is that the couple is expecting pure unadulterated happiness and then that picture was altered in some way. There are so many hopes and dreams bound up with the creation of a new life and it is very hard when this is shattered. Especially when everywhere you look you see women having healthy pregnancies, births and babies, all the things you were yearning for.
I think what is most crucial for doulas at that time is just to be there for the woman. To hear her pain, to allow her to express it and to validate her feelings. So many of us are uncomfortable when others are hurting and so we try to make it better by denying their feelings or offering platitudes such as "you will feel better in a few days" or "you will have another one soon." That may or may not be true. What is true is the pain the woman is feeling at this moment.
Going through that stage of mourning in whatever way is meaningful to the woman and her partner is the only way to get through an intense experience like that. To truly express one's feelings until one is ready to move on. It may take a few days, weeks or months. It may take a year. It is not up to us to dictate when it is time for someone else to "get over it".
I find that my personal experience of loss has been a big source of growth for me. I have learned to deal with difficult things and keep going. There are days, though, when no matter how much I love and cherish my son, I still mourn for my perfect child that could have been. It is a process.
I have also gained a lot of empathy for others. When I, unfortunately, hear of a tragedy, I can tap into my own feelings of loss and, in a small way, understand what someone else is going through. I think these emotions are important to understand my clients and to truly be there for them in a meaningful way.
What I am trying to say is that loss is as much a part of our life experience and life cycle, as birth and growth is, and we need to acknowledge that. And maybe our understanding of pain and loss can make the experience of a new life even more meaningful to us.
On that happy note, have a wonderful shabbos.

1 comment:

  1. Difficult topic but well spoken. A piece of advice I once recieved: when you get an outcome different than you expected you need to take time to grieve for what you had expected so that you can best recieve and fulfill your potential in what you have.
    Compassion for others who aren't at that point yet is very important too.