While the vast majority of births in United States result in a healthy live birth, this is not always the case. Stillbirth is considered to be fetal demise at more than 20 weeks gestation.
Ursula Sabia Sukinik is a doula who has attended thousands of births.
Ursula understands a crucial part of her job to be attending women who are experiencing late(r) miscarriage or stillbirth.
As we spoke, I was struck by the courage Ursula exhibited. Stillbirth remains a topic many are hesitant to broach – even in birth circles. In helping to prepare women for the birth of a stillborn baby, Ursula is a powerful advocate. She arms them with information. She advises them of the questions they may face. She helps them to arrive at answers that manifest their motherhood.
She guides as gentle a birth as is possible given grim circumstances.
It has been more than a decade since my son was stillborn and I still relive – in vivid detail – the questions we had to answer so suddenly. There, in a delivery room, there are no do-overs.
As part of her service to women, Ursula has recorded a webinar for Reconceiving Loss about what women whose pregnancy has ended unexpectedly should know as they prepare for labor and delivery.
It would be appropriate viewing for a couple upon learning that their pregnancy had ended in loss.
TRIGGER WARNING. The information is presented as gently as possible but some of the information may be upsetting. For those who want to view the complete webinar please click here.
The information Ursula provides allows mothers the opportunity to make choices on their own behalf. It allows them to advocate for their child. While profound grief is normal in circumstances such as these, PTSD symptoms are abated when women have an opportunity to be active participants in the stillbirth of their child.
I asked Ursula about the most important things women should know as they prepared to deliver a stillborn baby. Ursula suggested the following:
- Ask questions. If you have learned suddenly that your baby’s heartbeat has stopped, do ask questions. Most women experiencing a fetal demise will labor in a hospital. If your provider offers you the opportunity to take a day or two to process your loss, this may be worth considering. It may allow you time to gather resources. It may give time to begin processing your loss in a less alien environment than that of a hospital setting prior to induction.
- Advocate for adequate bereavement expertise. You will be assigned a nurse with training in bereavement. Should you feel the need of additional and specialized support, consider asking the hospital or a family member/friend to contact a bereavement doula. Bereavement doulas will help you talk through birth options. They may be able to speak to you on the telephone if time is a factor.
- Take pictures. Hospital staff is likely to recommend contacting Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, a nationally renowned organization of volunteer photographers who take photographs of stillborn babies and their families. [Bereaved mom note: In the moment, this concept can seem impossible to bear. Initial resistance is understandable. However, those who take advantage of NILMDTS services are overwhelmingly grateful that they did. It is powerful evidence of existence and this matters to many a great deal].
- Hold your baby. There is ample research that shows many women derive long-term benefits from holding their babies. This is especially true when the mother has been supported in many other ways throughout the duration of labor and delivery.
- Understand options regarding pathology. After labor and delivery, a mother may be asked if she wishes that an autopsy be performed. This is a highly personal decision. Asking about the likelihood of finding anything actionable (useful in a future pregnancy) is a fair question. Alternative diagnostic methods such as tissue sampling, or a placental examination by pathology may be useful as well.
Mourning the loss of a baby is a complex process. Speaking for myself, I believe that the support I received in the hospital was critical to my long-term integration of grief and even healing (although I use that word for lack of a better one.) If you need help and support, do reach for family or friends. There are numerous organizations specializing in perinatal loss. You are not as alone as you may feel.
Photographs Courtesy of Ursula Sabia Sukinik. Used with permission.
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.