In this post from Heidi Lengel of Fulheart Family Support, certified birth and bereavement doula and Philly mama Heidi Lengel, shares five facts about a bereavement doula’s role and how this kind of support might help you or someone you know.
*Trigger warning: This post offers information about emotional and physical care for women before, during, and after pregnancy loss in any trimester or at birth. Please check in with yourself before reading, and decide whether or not you would like to learn more about this information in this moment. If now is not a good time, perhaps a time in the near future would work. Make space for what feels best for you. You (and your emotional health) matter!*
You may have some idea of what a birth doula is. But a bereavement doula? Most of us don’t even want to think about what a bereavement doula might do (rightfully so!). And while all of us want the best outcomes for our babies (and those around us), sometimes the assistance of a bereavement doula can be crucial when the unexpected happens. To understand the role of a bereavement doula better, let’s take a look at the basics.
- A Bereavement Doula is NOT:
- A medical care provider such as an OBGYN or Primary Care Physician
- A Nurse or Midwife
- Someone that provides medical advice regarding prenatal care, the time of loss, and/or options for pregnancy termination, etc.
- A trained and/or licensed therapist (unless stated otherwise)
- A Bereavement Doula IS:
- Someone trained to provide emotional, physical, and logistical support before, during, or after the baby passes (anywhere from 4 weeks to 40 weeks gestation)
- Someone trained to provide knowledge and resources to parents so that they can make informed choices during a baby’s passing
- Someone who can prepare parents for what they may see or feel during the birth/loss
- Someone who can help parents think through the most meaningful way to both honor and grieve their child’s life (in the way that feels best to them)
Bereavement Doulas Can Assist a Family in Many Ways
During a first trimester loss:
- Sit with Mom while she goes through a medically “uncomplicated” loss
- Help Mom prepare for and understand what she may see when the baby passes
- Assist Mom in basic household tasks and self-care measures before, during, or after loss
- Talk with Mom about how to maximize her time with this baby, to the extent she desires
During a second and third trimester loss:
- Accompany Mom and partner to the procedure during which the baby will pass
- Help Mom and partner prepare for the logistics of outpatient procedures
- Provide suggestions for physical recovery after the baby is no longer in utero
- Assist in preparing memorial items and keepsakes for Mom & partner
At the time of birth and/or passing
- Help parents create a birth vision that enables the family to feel connected and empowered during the baby’s birth
- Labor with Mom and partner as long as needed
- Take pictures of the baby (if desired by the parents), create keepsakes
- Help the parents think about and manage logistics immediately after baby is born
- Visit with the parents after they are home, refer them to additional resources as needed, and help create strategies for re-acclimating back into life
There are trained and certified bereavement (also called loss) doulas all over the country. Bereavement doulas have big hearts and are often times more than willing to assist a grieving family a little to no cost. Here are two great guides to find someone local in your area:
Bereavement doulas are highly underutilized.
“I wish I had known about you sooner”.
This is the phrase I hear most often in my work with bereaved families. There are a variety of reasons why families choose not to have bereavement doula support during the actual birth and/or loss of their baby. But if you know someone who is anticipating a loss or struggling with a recent loss, share these resources with them. Parents deserve to be armed with thoughtful care, compassion, and a plethora of resources when going through a loss. For more information about how Fulheart Family Support can assist a family going through perinatal loss, please visit the Bereaved Families section of our website. We warmly invite your call.
Because of You
Because of you I appreciate the sunset more than before.
Because of you I stop to look up at the moon and wish upon a star.
Because of you I look forward to hearing the birds sing in the morning,
and thank God for their beautiful songs.
Because of you I am more understanding of others and accept people for who they are.
Because of you material things do not matter.
Because of you the touch of someone you love is more
precious than any gift you can receive.
Because of you I have a broken heart but I thank God for sending you to me.
For there is no stronger love than I hold for you.
Until we meet again…
Heidi Lengel, MMT, MT-BC, Certified Doula, received a Bachelor of Science in Music Therapy from Temple University in 2004 and a Master of Music Therapy from Temple University in 2012. She specializes in the areas of pre and perinatal pregnancy & birth support, pregnancy loss, and maternal mood disorders. Heidi is board-certified through the Board Certification for Music Therapists (CBMT) and is a member of The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) as well as the Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health (APPAH).
Her areas of research interest include medical music therapy program development and best practice recommendations in pre and perinatal music therapy. She has presented her research and clinical work at regional, national, and international conferences.
Heidi is dually certified as a birth and bereavement doula (StillBirthday). She is also Vice President of The Philadelphia Maternity Network, a member of PALS (Philadelphia Alliance for Labor Support), a childbirth educator, and a passionate maternal mental health advocate. Heidi uses all of her knowledge, training, and skills to support women and families traveling through any pregnancy, expecting any pregnancy outcome