I pled my case to the anesthesiologist on behalf of the mother I was supporting. These memories, those initial moments in the operating room when her baby emerges from his mother’s womb are precious and fleeting. They may be all she has of his time living earthside. It is her desire to have a photograph of those moments. I promised to respect the need for a sterile environment….to scrub up, cover up, hold my breath.
Not budging on the strict policy not to allow a remembrance photographer into the operating room, she shook her head. And, with resolve and authority looked into my eyes, asking…
“What qualifies you to do this work?”
It’s a legitimate question and one I don’t mind answering.
“I am the founder of Sufficient Grace Ministries, one of the nation’s few stand alone perinatal hospice birth and bereavement centers in the country, a certified SBD birth and bereavement doula. I’ve supported thousands of families online and more than 100 in person since 2004…”
She shook her head again…interrupting.
“But what qualifies you to do this work? What DEGREE to you have?”
“I took training to become a birth and bereavement doula. It is not a degree. It is a certification. I also developed my own birth professionals training (2006), teaching birth professionals about the importance of compassionate care…”
“No…what college degree do you have?”
“I only have an associates degree in early childhood education, ma’am. No college degree in this particular field. But, I do have more than eleven years experience. And, I’m a published…”
“So. What QUALIFIES YOU to do this work?”
“I’m a mother who lost three of my own children, and I know how important it is for this mother to have these precious memories captured of her brief time with her baby.”
She nodded. No more questions.
I am also a professional, highly qualified and experienced to provide the support that we offer, to develop and lead hospital trainings, to publish written materials and resources. But, she is right. I am lacking in the letters behind my name. It doesn’t mean that I’m not skilled and quite knowledgeable in this field. It doesn’t mean that I’m not educated and experienced. It does mean that what qualifies me to walk with another broken-hearted family in the wilderness of grief isn’t something that can be taught in a university, the kind that values letters behind your name. The best way to become an expert on being a poured-out vessel of God’s love is to allow yourself to be poured out in service to another human being in need. I didn’t tell her that what really qualifies me to be in that room comes from an authority much higher than she or I or any university in existence. That there are no letters that she will recognize behind my name, because brave women had to create this model of care.
I am amazed most often by the openness of birth professionals and hospital staff to bend or even change policies to on behalf of a grieving family facing the loss of their baby. Most of the time, they are so compassionate and accommodating and I have nothing but gratefulness for the work they do and the ways they allow us to come alongside families and offer hope as we honor tiny lives together in that hospital room…in the place where heaven meets earth. We stand together, and I’m honored to stand with them.
But every now and then, steely eyes ask that question…what qualifies you to be here? And, I smile.
I smile as I think of the loving God who fills the room with grace for every soul. I smile as I think of my own children and the way that simply being their mother qualifies me to do things I never thought possible. I smile as I think of every tiny baby footprint I’ve placed on the pages of a Dreams of You memory book…footprints carried forever in my heart. I smile as I think of the birth professionals who thank us for being there with the families…and with them. Who hug me as they reflect on a new perspective after attending our training. I smile as the hesitant doctor looks up at me with a nod of respect. Respect earned. Because despite the lack of letters behind our names…we are good at this job. Not because of our own ability. But, because we said yes to a very big God who fills us with love and abilities beyond our own to care for families and their tiny babies in the most broken of moments…shining impossible beauty in the midst of it. I smile, because He doesn’t care and isn’t a bit hindered by the lack of letters behind my name. And neither are the families we serve.
I took the pictures in the operating room that day. If you’re wondering. And, I’m grateful to the anesthesiologist who didn’t allow my lack of “qualification” to keep me from doing so…and to the God who is more qualified than both of us.
If you have a heart to serve bereaved parents with the support described above, SGM is hosting our annual volunteer retreat and training. Learn more about it at our event page. Those outside Ohio, register here.