Being a US-based doula, it is easy for me to assume the general ways we practice as doulas are similar around the world. This 31 Days project gives me a dose of reality and shakes up my US-centric thinking when I read stories from doulas like Nicci. I wish Nicci and everyone like her the strength to keep supporting families, the courage to continue the uphill battle, and the heart to handle so much pain. The title for her post is also the motto for her bereavement training program -- thank you, Nicci, for allowing me to share your powerful words here.
My name is Nicci and I am a Bereavement Doula from Pretoria (Gauteng Province, South Africa), dealing exclusively with miscarriage, stillbirth and infant loss. I have been a "death doula" since 2015 and I am currently one of the most experienced bereavement doulas in the country.
Death humbles you. It leaves many wounded and scared (and scarred!) but also just as many people are awakened to the miracle and the fragility that is life. It opens your eyes to the absolute gift it is to breathe (and have those you love breathe) every single day. I deal with indescribable pain and heartache. My job is not an easy one, in fact, it’s probably one of the most emotionally challenging professions out there. But it is made bearable by knowing that I could help a mommy or daddy carry the load, even if it’s only for a little while. There is something unique about child loss. Because you don’t only lose a child you love, you lose the promise of that child’s life. You lose the "could have beens". You miss their first day of school. You miss their 16th and 21st and 30th birthdays. You miss out on every little thing that would have made that child "yours".
Like the character in the book The Shack, I carry The Great Sadness with me every single day of my life. Sometimes The Great Sadness is quite satisfied to sit in the corner of a room or on the roof of my car and just leave me alone – sometimes even for a day or two. Other days, The Great Sadness would just not let go of me. It will cling to me whilst I brush my teeth, when I feed the dogs, when I pray, when I speak to a telesales agent and decline a cellphone contract for the umpteenth time. It will rear its sad head when I walk in a shopping centre and see something or someone that triggers a memory. Sometimes when I walk passed a baby store The Great Sadness would hug me so tight that I struggle to breathe. But the Great Sadness and I have come to an agreement: Whenever I am with a client, it will not show up for a while. But sometimes The Great Sadness breaks its word and all that I can do is be sad with them.
The parents I assist and I usually have a lot of time talk and cry and yes, even laugh. Sometimes it’s much easier to talk about your pain to a stranger – somebody that you don’t feel guilty over because you are "burdening" them with your pain. Someone that won’t judge, just listen – who may shed a tear or two with you but who will not fall apart.
As a bereavement doula I am learning more and more about life, death, loss and everything in between every day. I have seen that parents feel guilty because they are experiencing deep grief over the death of their child. Statements made by well-meaning friends may cause them to question the validity of their deep feelings of sorrow – statements like the following: “Just be glad you didn’t get to know her. This way you won’t have to suffer the grief.” Or “The woman down the street lost all her children in a fire, you are lucky compared to her.”
The fact is that grief cannot be compared – not even between parents. Grief will not lessen just because the grief of another person is perceived to be greater. Also, they may have given birth to another child. But this will be another child, not a substitute for the one who has died. I always say babies aren’t puppies who can fulfill a general need. And to be honest, not even a dog can be replaced, how on earth can people expect parents to "replace" their baby who has passed on with another!
Although primarily my focus, I don’t just assist with baby loss but also with other losses. I have assisted a mother who gave birth via c-section to a healthy, beautiful little baby boy. The reason she needed me though, was because her husband was brutally shot and killed in front of her. This woman was shattered and tears jumped in my eyes when I looked into hers. It was almost unbearable to look at her. But she needed a calm, collected and professional person to assist her during the birth. In hindsight, I was none of the above. I may have appeared calm and collected, and yes, even professional to the untrained eye. But I was falling apart on the inside. The moment the doctor lifted that precious little boy from his mommy’s tummy I had such a huge lump in my throat I couldn’t breathe. The Great Sadness won that day…
Because there is such a huge need for bereavement birth workers in South Africa, I have written an Online Bereavement Training Program to enable as many people as possible in South Africa with a heart for bereavement to assist parents going through loss. Students are equipped with the right information, tools and coping skills to guide families in South Africa going through the unimaginable.
It is my dream that my profession will be formally recognized and acknowledged in South Africa and that bereavement doulas’ services will be covered by all medical aids. The motto of the bereavement doulas trained by Nicci.doula Bereavement is “to serve with love in loss” – I hope to be able to do this for a very long time to come.
Ever since the traumatic birth of her firstborn, the subsequent birth of his brothers, 6 infertility treatments, 3 miscarriages and 1 adoption, it has always been Nicci's dream to make a difference in the lives of bereaved parents. She is Birth and Perinatal Bereavement Doula, and a certified SBD Doula®. Passionate about ensuring families of all kinds have the unique support they need, she is the former director at Voice of the Unborn Baby, and Managing Director of Doulas of South Africa. Nicci is an avid writer and has written many short stories on her experiences as bereavement doula. Nicci also wrote a book about her infertility struggles. Besides being a doula, she is also a professional stillbirth photographer. Nicci believes in the power of encouragement, and in building confident and empowered doulas to make a difference in South Africa. She also believes in dreaming big and working hard. She is passionate about people in general and more specifically about the doula profession. If you would like more information on the work Nicci does, please visit www.niccidoula.com or visit her Facebook page. For international bereavement training please visit www.stillbirthday.com.
Nicci lives in a leafy suburb at the foot of the Magalies mountains, in the Pretoria area of Gauteng Province, South Africa.
What an apt title! I was part of a birth in March where I was able to support the gestational carrier, and the biological parents as they worked together to finally meet a baby made of miracles! I was instantly drawn to Nicole's words and pictures in this heartfelt story, where the pictures say all that needs to be said.
A dear friend of mine invited me into some of the most intimate and profound moments I have ever experienced. I met this wonderful friend years ago when we were both at the beginning of our doula work. She invited me to be present at the birth of her son 2 years ago and then again invited me into her journey of surrogacy.
I watched as her belly grew, housing twins so gracefully. The journey was unique and had it's challenges, but the gift she offered withstands it all.
The biological family had experienced the lost of a previous baby after years of fertility struggle. The ache they had to hold their own babies could be felt in their presence.
We had all hoped and planned for a vaginal twin birth, but one of the twins was showing some concerning signs with growth and nourishment so it was decided it was best to get the babies out at 34 1/2 weeks by Cesarean Birth.
The wonderful doctor spoke to the surrogate mother throughout the whole procedure, keeping her informed with each step. He kept each babe connected to their umbilical cords for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. I thought this was amazing considering that the babies were born so early and had some potential health concerns.
Fortunately, the babies are both thriving! These two families are now forever intertwined. These images give you an idea of the emotions on this sacred day.
Nicole Edwards is a DONA-certified Birth Doula, a trained bereavement doula, and a childbirth educator in the Denver, Colorado area. Her first pregnancy ended in a loss that tore her down and built her up. Despite her fears, she gave birth to a daughter in November 2011 and a son in April 2015. Before becoming a doula she worked for a variety of non-profits in the Denver Metro Area, assisting the emotional/educational needs of children. When Nicole is not supporting a family before/during/after childbirth, you can find her with her dog, in the garden, gathering chicken eggs, hiking, drinking loads of coffee, reading a novel, studying for her pre-nursing classes, baking bread with her daughter or attempting some new adventure with her family. Find her on Facebook.
Day 11 brings us a story of hope after pregnancy loss. I love how this family keeps their tradition of visiting the same park every year in honor of their miscarriage. Lovely things can come from great grief and sadness. I am humbled by the stories of loss families have chosen to share with me, and the courage it takes to keep moving forward afterwards.
It’s 6 years since the day we found out we had lost our first baby. I was 12 weeks pregnant and, after experiencing the teeniest amount of spotting, I had an appointment in the Early Pregnancy Unit for a scan. There was a serious baby boom back then and ‘booking’ appointments were happening incredibly late – mine was at 21 weeks – so this EPU appointment felt like a chance to get a sneak peek at our baby. In our innocence, we were giggly and excited, and didn’t for a moment imagine there was anything wrong as we headed into an early morning appointment. We were back on the street a half hour later, our future changed forever after an instant of horrible stillness. Our much-loved baby had become ‘retained products’. It was 8.30am. Where to now?
Missed miscarriage wasn’t something I knew much about – but now I had to decide what to do about it. This was my pre-GentleBirth life. I wasn’t informed about hospitals or maternity services or options. I consulted Google, found a very mainstream pregnancy forum and asked advice from some wonderfully supportive and sympathetic strangers, who had had similar experiences. Everyone said the same thing: have the surgery (ERPC – Evacuation of Retained Products of Conception. Bad enough having it, and the name adds insult to injury). I rang friends – lots of sympathy, but it didn’t help me decide. My gut told me that waiting it out was right for me and my baby – even though my baby had been gone already for around 4 weeks, I instinctively felt my body would be able to take care of business. But then, fear – I had a cramp and completely freaked out at the thought of miscarrying at home. I rang the hospital and booked in for two days time, to have the ERPC.
That left a day in between and for some reason we decided that morning to go to Mount Usher Gardens in Wicklow. It’s a beautiful place and I felt as I had to be sad, I might as well be sad somewhere lovely. I think the trip may have been prompted by good weather, but I have little recollection of the day other than breaking down in the car on the way home and crying about my lost little baby for the first time. I wailed in a way that felt like it would break my body, as though I could literally break my heart.
I think the experience in the hospital is for another post – suffice to say, I was not cared for emotionally in a way befitting of the emotional pain I was going through. The weeks that followed were tough. Why is the devastation of miscarriage not spoken about, when it is so common it is almost a rite of passage as a woman? It changed me in a way I wouldn’t have thought possible and marks me still. The grief went to a place inside me I hadn’t known existed, but I know now that place is motherhood. I wanted to conceive again as soon as possible and although I don’t think my desperation was very attractive, we somehow managed to do so very quickly and, just 7 weeks after that awful day, I was pregnant again.
I have no idea why I chose Mount Usher on that day, but it has become a very important place to us. We had no remains returned to us after my surgery. There is no grave, no other place to associate physically with our baby. The following year, we went to Mount Usher on the anniversary of the miscarriage, to honour our lost one. It was joyous to be there with our 6 week old, having wondered the year before if we would ever have children. Each year, we go to the gardens in April, to celebrate the short life of our first baby. It’s become a very special way in which to remember, mark time, and take stock. Going there is simultaneously returning to a moment in time, where I can meet my baby by remembering that sadness, and celebrating how far we’ve traveled each year as a family.
Since the miscarriage, I have carried two healthy babies to term. Both pregnancies were emotionally challenging in the early weeks, for different reasons but physically easy, and wonderful once we got to the 20 week mark. I’ve had beautiful births, thanks to the GentleBirth programme. There is so much to be grateful for. But this year I could have been at Mount Usher again with a full term bump, or a slightly smaller one. I lost a baby last year who would have been with us within the next few weeks, and another a short while later who would have arrived this summer. They were very early losses, with no physical trauma and I was thankful that the pregnancies hadn’t struggled on, only to fail at a later stage. There being two consecutive losses was worrying – and Google didn’t help matters as it told me fertility drops off a cliff at 39 and only 1 in 4 of my eggs are likely to be of much use. The last few months have been difficult at times – being in the ‘baby business’ , I am in contact with pregnant women constantly although, strangely enough, bumps that I meet professionally don’t induce any jealousy. I have naturally enough felt pangs at seeing what sometimes seems like everyone I know becoming pregnant over the past few months. But it’s been entirely bearable – not the running-my-guts-through-a-mincer feeling that was so overwhelming after my first loss.
The day we spent in Mount Usher this year was our most memorable yet. My 5 year old, who has been extremely challenging lately, was an angel for the day. The sun came out as we arrived and, as the weather had been unpromising, it seemed we had the place to ourselves. We had a fabulous picnic, followed by a gorgeous meander that magically took us to spots we’d never been before. And the highlight…I got to see the sheer excitement on my first rainbow baby’s face as we told her, in our special place, that we will be welcoming another into our family this autumn. In time for Hallowe’en. We all agreed – this was the best day ever. Until next year…
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)