Holding Space for Pregnancy Loss as A Death Doula

Feb 28, 2021 | Death & Dying, Social Justice

Holding Space for Pregnancy Loss As A Death Doula

Each Saturday in February I spent two hours in conversation with some really incredible people in a training called Advanced Holding Space for Pregnancy Loss.  The training was geared toward creating a better understanding of how race and infant and/or pregnancy loss intersect.  For me, this class was part II after completing Holding Space for Pregnancy Loss training last year in October.

I heard Amy Wright Glenn the founder of The Institute for the Study of Birth, Breath, and Death speak about pregnancy loss during a summit on death and dying in September. She was speaking about things that were near to my heart and a topic and pain that I knew intensely from my own experience. My personal experiences are part of what has led me to become a death doula, conscious living and dying coach and end-of-life educator.

In 2003 my baby was born still. It was the most sorrowful, spiritual, and mystical experience of my life. I felt very alone in my grief and sorrow.  Many women who have experienced pregnancy and/or infant loss have felt that same loneliness around their loss.  This loneliness, in part, is because most people do not know how to respond to the pain of pregnancy and/or infant loss.  Not even healthcare professionals.

Elizabeth Heineman writes in her book GhostBelly, “Once upon a time, stillborn babies were whisked away and the parents didn’t even see them.  But now hospitals have changed their practices, and parents can have and hold their stillborn babies, to say good-bye.  No one seems to have thought of the fact that first the parents have to say hello.”
1 in every 4-5 pregnancies ends in miscarriage

1 in every 160 births each year results in stillbirth.

With numbers like that, you would think that our healthcare systems, especially our healthcare systems, would be able to hold more compassionate space for pregnancy loss. The truth of the matter is that, for the most part, they’re not trained in that way.

Companioning is at the heart of my work at end of life.  I help people become more familiar with the process of dying, letting go, grief, and sorrow.  I also help people create end-of-life care plans and ensure that they’re carried out.  In relationship to pregnancy loss, there is very little advanced planning that can be done, but there is still loads of work that can be done to create and hold space for the enormity of this loss.

As an end-of-life educator, it is part of my mission to create more open conversations around death and dying in the general public.  In addition, because we are such a medicalized society, we must also have these vitally important conversations in the healthcare field.  Conversation is the basis of learning how to hold compassionate and loving space for people experiencing the mind-numbing pain of pregnancy loss, or any loss for that matter.

I believe that because of the silence and the dismissal of trauma through many generations of women who have experienced pregnancy and/or infant loss the cycle keeps going.  Through generations of mothers, daughters, and granddaughters the emotional journey continues.  By sitting with and being present to women and their stories, we bear witness to the tragic losses.

I invite you to bear witness to the multitude of stories gathered by Shannon Gibney and Kao Kalia Yang in their book What God Is Honored Here?  Writings on Miscarriage and Infant Loss by and for Native Women and Women of Color. If you should choose to read this treasure of a book, I encourage you to sit with the emotions of what is, versus coming from a place of fixing.  The co-editor Shannon Gibney said that holding space to witness these stories is the activism. I want to honor that and all of the women who so bravely shared their tragic and beautiful stories in the book.

If you’d like to have a conversation about pregnancy and/or infant loss reach out to let me know how you would like to be witnessed

Please share with your loved ones if you feel this would help them.

Grace & Peace,

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