Infant and Pregnancy Loss Doulas

how these professionals can help navigate the heartbreak
Doulas: Baby Holding Hands
© Shutterstock

Just as I was about to start my naturopathic degree, I found out that an acquaintance had a stillborn baby. I didn’t know many people who had kids at that point, and had very little knowledge about pregnancy. Even though I didn’t know this woman very well, I remember being completely devastated upon learning the news. This was not something that was "supposed" to happen. In my naïveté, I assumed that parents only lost babies in less affluent parts of the world—it certainly shouldn’t happen in a highly developed city like Toronto. Except that it does. It happens everywhere, and sometimes there isn’t much that modern medicine can do to prevent it. Incredibly, this woman actively posted about her experience on social media, sharing her anger and her sadness and her unbelievable strength. I was in awe.

A couple of years later, I had the opportunity to become a birth doula. The course was amazing and completely sparked my desire to be a birth support worker. But we never covered loss. I felt capable of supporting birthing people through live births, but I already knew that not all babies are born alive. It seemed like I was missing such an important piece to the birth worker role. So, I set out to find more training, because pregnancy loss is something that happens here, at home, to women in our communities who do everything “right” during their pregnancies.

In fact, up to 1/3 of people will experience some form of loss in their reproductive years. Through my training, I learned that while every kind of loss is tragic, infant and pregnancy loss can be survived, especially when there is competent and compassionate support.

Doulas: Sad Woman Lying on Bed
@ Unsplash / @mxsh

What is pregnancy and infant loss and how can a doula help?

Loss can take on a lot of forms:

  • Infant loss is the death of a baby who has already been born, whether from SIDS, complications surrounding birth, or some other reason.
  • Miscarriage is the loss of a fetus up to 20 weeks gestation.
  • Stillbirth is the loss of a fetus after 20 weeks gestation.
  • Termination or abortion is the decision to end a pregnancy, for whatever reason. Depending on how far along the pregnancy is, the procedure will vary.

An Infant and Pregnancy Loss Doula (IPLD) is someone who can act as a companion to families through any of these losses. Our job is to help them navigate their grief experiences, without judgement, and to help them to create as many positive moments along the way as possible. Our training involves an intimate and well-trained understanding of grief and all the forms it can take. We also learn about all kinds of infant and pregnancy loss, from what is involved in a termination, to legal responsibilities around infant remains in your region.

Having an IPLD does not make your loss experience any easier, but it does mean that you will not be alone. In practical terms, support from a doula may involve explaining procedures, answering questions, suggesting funeral homes, and accompanying entire families through all aspects of the ordeal. But much more importantly, IPLDs work under the premise of companioning. A loss doula accompanies you through your grief experience while honouring that yours is a different experience than any other. We do not try to fix things or make them better—we allow things to be as they are but ensure that you are not alone throughout and so you can concentrate on the vital act of grieving. The most important thing that we do is listen to and witness your story.   

*Originally published October 12, 2017