Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 17, 2006
Team comforts families who have lost baby
Grey Nuns group helps parents cope
- WCR photo by Bill Glen
Heather Crosland of the Grey Nuns Hospital displays foot moulds presented to parents who are mourning the loss of their baby.
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
Sometimes the little feet are only baby doll size and moulded in plaster for a parent's memento. Some are printed in silver or gold on a card that is stored in a memory box and put away on a shelf.
Those tiny feet will never be seen joyously toddling to and fro for balance or heard scampering down a carpeted hallway like a spry kitten.
Heather Crosland and her perinatal bereavement team at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital care about each and every toe on those feet.
Their task is to help comfort parents and families who have lost a baby through pregnancy, stillbirth or shortly after delivery.
"The team has done a lot of work the last couple of years. And we have a lot of work still to do," said Crosland, patient care manager in labour and delivery at the Grey Nuns.
In recognition of their delicate and creative work, the Caritas Health Group awarded the team with the Caritas Mission Award (team) for 2006.
"We are honoured to be the recipients of the award," Crosland said. "It has given us the impetus to carry on and become more focused on what we still have to work on."
Established in 2002, the bereavement team is a group of 16 staff representing numerous hospital wards, who provide support to other staff working in, for example, emergency, the operating room, surgery or labour and delivery, obstetrics or the nursery - anyone who becomes involved with a mother or family dealing with a fetal loss.
The team members also won a monetary gift which they decided unanimously would go back into the program.
"We are a team that is passionate about what we do," Crosland said. "We have put together tools to help members of other units do a better job to provide care."
The team strives to treat the baby with respect and in a timely fashion so the parents know where the baby is and what is happening at all times.
"Many of the mothers spend time holding their babies, even if they are less than a pound. Six months later, they will know they actually got to hold their baby. They have a tangible memory."
The team provides each parent with a memory package that includes a photo of their baby if they choose and a card with the baby's foot and handprints. The parents are given a cast mould of the child's feet, a naming certificate and a recognition-of-birth card. Volunteer sewers and knitters make little nighties and blankets. They handpaint the memory boxes.
"It's a miracle to bring life into the world every day. As a caregiver, it's an honour to share the experience with parents no matter what their family orientation is," Crosland said.
"Some mothers come by themselves. Some are having their first baby and some are having their ninth. Some are happy to be pregnant while others are not. We try to support them all in different ways."
The goal of the team is to provide consistent support to parents who experience fetal loss at any stage of the pregnancy. Following numerous meetings and brainstorming sessions, the team identified key areas of concern where support was needed. It prepared a resource manual and education programs for staff involved in fetal loss.
Last year, the labour and delivery unit had 4,460 deliveries - 21 of which were stillborn or died shortly after delivery.
"Normally, two different things happen. On this unit (labour and delivery), we see mothers losing their babies somewhat differently than a mother who (goes) to emergency who is perhaps 10 or 12 weeks pregnant. She knows there is a possibility she may lose the baby. These women are usually anxious and worried. They don't know what is happening but they think something is wrong," Crosland said.
"In labour and delivery, a mother tells us her baby might not have been moving for a day or two when it is normally active. A doctor may have sent her to us because he was not able to pick up a fetal heart rate."
But they are scared, having invested many months in the pregnancy. The baby is a living being that is part of her. To hear that her baby is no longer alive is as difficult as being told your spouse was killed in a motor vehicle accident, Crosland said.
The bereavement team concept is based on Caritas' mission to heal the body, enrich the mind and nurture the soul.
"It reflects what we are doing because we have to deal with both mother and baby in a therapeutic way. We need to provide spiritual support if they wish it."
Social and spiritual care team members will help parents arrange a funeral home and private burial service, if they choose. A private ceremony in the hospital chapel is available. At times, the ceremony is held in the patient's room.
Across the Capital Health region, Caritas works with some funeral homes and cemeteries near Mother's Day to hold family memorial services for people to recognize the child they lost. Crosland said this service has become quite popular.