Supporting Stillbirth: A Postpartum Doula’s Perspective
Not so long ago, I received an email from a pregnant woman letting me know that she had delivered her stillborn baby a day ago. She was apologetic and let me know that she would contact me the next time she was planning on having a baby. She was all business. As I read and re-read her email, the pain was evident. Although we had only met once and had just begun working up a postpartum plan to be implemented when her baby was due to arrive in 3 months, we had developed a connection.
She had chosen me as her postpartum doula, and now she didn’t need one.
No baby meant no need for a postpartum doula.
Over the next week, I replied to her email, left a voice mail so she could hear my offer of support, and dropped a small gift and card at her door, all without knowing if she would respond. My intent was merely to check in. To let her know that I would still be available if she needed me. She called. She agreed to meet. Her words were haunting as we spoke and then scheduled a time for me to visit.
I thought about her endlessly during those in-between days. Was she getting rest? Did she have the support she needed? I didn’t have any right to know, yet I couldn’t get her off my mind.
Her first words as I arrived on her doorstep were, “I don’t even know why I needed you to come, but I did.” I knew. I trusted our time together would provide her some clarity even if we never talked about the “why”.
She was dressed but her eyes looked vacant. She was 10 days postpartum. She was picking up things around the house, apologizing for the mess, chasing after a dog and had just driven her child to preschool.
She hugged me as I handed her a warm beverage and a little sweet treat. I had a feeling that she hadn’t eaten today. I was right.
She began talking as if we were old friends. She recounted her birth story, the slough of emotions, the level of physical, emotional and mental pain she was feeling, how hard it was to breathe/open her eyes/get out of bed….just how hard EVERYTHING is. We talked about grief…a mother’s grief… and cried together. I asked if I could sit next to her. Yes. I offered a Kleenex and we talked and talked some more. Mother to mother. Heart to heart. Two virtual strangers, yet she trusted me.
I listened without judgment or bias, which was refreshing to her. There were two things she kept saying: “Did I kill my baby?” and “How am I going to do this?” I had no answers, just listened.
We talked about her postpartum body. She was still bleeding and cramping, her breastmilk was drying up slowly, and she was having hormonal “hot flashes”. Although her baby had been born, people around her were treating her as if that wasn’t the case. As if no baby equates to no postpartum. I reminded her that there was a baby, that she, in fact, had given birth and her body was in a state of postpartum recovery. She looked relieved that SOMEONE noticed and understood what she really needed.
After an hour, she said she was tired. I made sure she had everything she needed and that she felt ready for me to leave. She was just so tired.
As I hugged her goodbye and prepared to leave, I said, “I am your postpartum doula. May I come back next week?”
“I’d like that.”, she said.