A Death Doula for Parents Who’ve Lost Pregnancies & Children
No parent should ever have to outlive their child. Nonetheless, child mortality has been part of the human story from the very beginning. Origin stories the world over, describe this awful reality that no degree of civilization or technological advancement can eradicate.
I’m not an expert in child loss, but I’ve been pregnant 10 times and have three living children. My third child is my rainbow baby — a child born after a pregnancy loss or infant loss. As a result of my experiences as a birth doula and having lost so many pregnancies, I’ve recently embarked on a death doula journey. Specifically, I am here to help women and families affected by the loss of pregnancies — regardless of whether they had a choice in the matter.
Pregnancy loss takes a horrendous toll on the human spirit no matter the circumstances. Miscarriage, abortion, stillbirth, early infant death — there are myriad guises and the impact is inevitably indescribable pain for those closest to the child. For those who would judge a family for choosing to end a pregnancy I say “judge not, lest ye be judged”. Rape, incest, lack of resources to raise a child, or a human who knows they are ill-suited or ill-prepared for the responsibility of parenthood are all valid.
Even if you’ve walked a mile in my shoes, I’ve already broken them in so you have no idea what it feels like. Safe sex got me at least one of my kids because prophylactics aren’t 100% reliable, and abstinence isn’t realistic for most humans with hormones. Everyone’s journey is unique, personal, and deserving of dignity and respect. No one should be shamed, ever, for their journey of fertility, infertility, sexuality or family status. From single and sexy to sterile and married — and everything in between, the whole dang journey is sacred and everyone is whole.
Early infant loss
Losing a child who you had a chance to take home and get to know, for any duration, is devastating. Pregnancy is a stressful and terrifying journey, especially if you’ve previously miscarried or had an abortion. The ever present fear that your body will betray you, because it’s broken or as punishment for your past choices, looms overhead like an anvil hanging from a frayed rope.
Taking your baby home, or having your midwife leave your homebirth with a blessing and a smile, ushers a welcomed sigh of relief. We think we are in the clear because we survived pregnancy and the labors of childbirth. Whether your child is two weeks, two years, or 12 years old when they die, losing a child who has not made it to maturity always feels like having something sacred stolen. Everything is taken from them and from you. What remains is emptiness, guilt, shame…and memories.
Memories are one thing that distinguishes the loss of a child from the loss of a newborn or pregnancy. We never got to see our stillborn child smile. One pain cannot be compared to another, pain is pain. But the absence of memories only leaves hopes dreams to be pilfered by the ravages infant mortality. Steal someone’s hopes and dreams and you steal their soul. We are left with the shame, guilt, pain, and loneliness — and none of the memories.
I’ve never lost a newborn or young child, but I imagine the memories can be as haunting as they are comforting. I suspect this because a series of miscarriages after I had three living children sent me spiraling into a devastating depression that made it impossible for me to interact joyfully with my healthy children. The idea of being around my living, breathing brood, or seeing other people with babies or visibly pregnant, wrecked my heart. It was inexplicable to me at the time. I didn’t realize it was happening.
I dissolved into a vortex of gaming apps and television. I had never been interested in TV before. I’ve always preferred living my real life over digital entertainment. It’s only in hindsight that I recognize my husband, who was also grieving, bore the brunt of domestic duties while I languished in a fog of despair. The company I founded instituted a pregnancy bereavement HR policy after that experience. Whether you welcome a new baby or lose one, families need time together after either life event.
The details of the seven pregnancies I lost are less important than the fact that I lost them. I firmly believe that this undesired rite of passage marked the beginning of the end of my marriage. I cannot understate the impact of such an event on a family and on intimate relationships. Part of you dies with your child, whether you got to know them or not. And when you lose yourself, relationships suffer. Support resources exist, we just don’t talk about them enough.
My company isn’t called TMI Consulting for nothing. I definitely tend towards oversharing. Whether it’s in any of my five books or hundreds of blog posts, guest podcasts, or speaking events on 6 continents — I firmly believe that we would all benefit from more sharing. TMI is the home of my unrelated day job, but you can contact me through there or DM @DocJanaYoga on Instagram if you need virtual death doula support.
Part of the reason pregnancy and infant loss is so soul-crushing is because it leaves you feeling utterly alone on the world. No one really wants to talk about your dead babies. Well, I do. As do countless bereavement doulas around the world. We need to build more community around death and normalize the reality of miscarriage and the aftermath of abortion, stillbirth, and infant loss. It’s time to lift the veil of secrecy and be here for each other.
You are not broken. I don’t care what the doctors say, you are perfectly you. I do tend towards the spiritual and as such, I like to believe that we are all here with divine purpose. I can assure you that I endured my seven losses (check out that spiritual number) so that I could serve women, non-binary, and trans people who’ve been through something similar. I’m also here for the assigned male at birth (AMAB) and other people who love them, but there’s a slightly different impact when the life passed through your own body.
I believe souls choose their parents to teach them lessons and to learn from them. I’m learning that not all souls want to have the full human experience and that they do have a choice in the matter. For those who would cite religion as justification for ostracism of voluntary termination, I’d offer that in a divinely ordered universe, nothing is lost, wasted, or unexpected by the divine. Perhaps our non-living children are meant to walk beside us in spirit as angels and guides, part of our extended ethereal family along with our ancestors and other beloved lost ones. Sometimes I hear giggles that no one else does, and the faint call of “mommy” and I smile. You are not alone. You never were and you never will be.