Comfort Care Honors Life, Too: Why Sometimes Medical Intervention Is Limited For Premature Babies

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Recently an article was published that ignited outrage in the pro-life community, the baby loss community, and beyond. Twin babies were born alive at 22+ weeks, and medical intervention was not an option offered to them.  As I read the words, and the ensuing comments, my heart ached for the family…and for the medical staff of a very respected hospital. Sufficient Grace Ministries has been honored to work alongside the compassionate team of nurses and physicians at this particular hospital many times. While I do not want to get into the logistics of the article, and I was not part of this story, nor do I know all the details, I do want to clear up some misconceptions about medical intervention in cases of premature infants for the public.

We provide bereavement support and remembrance photography for families facing perinatal loss throughout the state of Ohio and train medical personnel throughout the country on providing support for patients experiencing perinatal loss. It is common practice in the majority of the hospitals we work with that families who experience the birth of a baby prior to 24 weeks (occasionally 23) are not offered medical intervention as an option. For various reasons. One example is the premature rupture of membranes. In those cases, babies are often born alive and live for minutes to a couple hours. It is the policy of most hospitals in Ohio to not attempt life saving measures prior to 24 weeks. Some hospitals may go by weight or other indicators…(500 grams is a weight for some hospitals). A baby may be assessed and an exception may be made. But 24 weeks is the current accepted age for intervention/viability. This may vary slightly. Obviously we all hear those rare cases where intervention is done prior to 24 weeks. And a miracle happened. But many times, these little ones are just too tiny to survive, even with intervention. So they are given to their moms to hold and love on until they pass.

Why would a hospital not offer medical intervention prior to 24 weeks:

  • Many hospitals are not yet equipped to perform life-saving measures on babies under 24 weeks.
  • Although there have been a handful of cases of babies who miraculously survived at 21-23 weeks gestation, it is still very rare. The age of viability is still considered to be 24 weeks.
  • In the majority of the cases, we still do not have the technology to consistently provide life-saving measures for babies born under 24 weeks gestation.
  • Babies born at very early gestations who do survive face many debilitating health issues.

 

According to an article published on the Very Well Family website and reviewed by a physician: “In many hospitals, 24 weeks is the cutoff point for when doctors will use intensive medical intervention to attempt to save the life of a baby born prematurely.” This is accepted throughout the country, not just in the state of Ohio.

We have found this to be the case in our work as well. And, while as bereaved parents and birth professionals, we understand the pain of watching a child born alive but not being able to save the precious little one, we also understand the limitations of medicine.

One of the misconceptions put out into the media frenzy was that the staff was not supportive of life or compassionate because they did not intervene to save the babies. While I understand at first glance, that may seem the case, and I was not present for that family’s situation, nor do I know the details, I do know the hearts of most of the labor and delivery nurses we encounter.

Nurses and doctors, almost universally, are healers. Nurses, especially are wired to be caregivers. Everything in their nature and everything in their training leads them to want to fix what is broken…to heal the sick…to save a life. Everything.

The cases when a mother’s labor cannot be stopped and a baby is born too early to save are incredibly difficult for medical personnel. I have held many nurses in the hallway, who tearfully proclaim, “It is so hard to do nothing. Everything in me wants to rush to save this life.”

Most of the time, families with babies born prior to 24 weeks experience comfort care. Comfort care can still bring great emotional healing when families are offered support and options. Comfort care honors life, too. It is not doing nothing. It is filling whatever time we are given with our babies with love. I have stood beside many mothers and fathers as their babies born from 19-23 weeks have quietly passed in the arms of their parents, surrounded by the love of family. Even in the midst of the broken, there can be great beauty. It is peaceful. Babies do not suffer. They are put directly into their mothers’ arms and loved from this life into eternity. We marvel at their tiny feet and hands, as we create mementos and capture the moments of their brief lives. At Sufficient Grace Ministries, we honor all life and believe wholeheartedly in the sanctity of human life. We view comfort care just as life-honoring as intensive medical intervention…whether a baby is given a life-limiting diagnosis in pregnancy or whether a baby is born too early to save.

In the cases when families who receive a life-limiting condition are given the choice of medical intervention or comfort care…they weigh the options for their family, their baby, their diagnosis. They may pray and agonize over what is best. There are no right or wrong answers for these impossible situations. But, we must be careful about making snap judgments. Both families who choose intervention and families who choose comfort care are honoring the lives of their babies and valuing human life. Medicine does have limitations, and sometimes peaceful, gentle moments with a baby are the best a hospital can offer.

We send our prayers and stand in love and solidarity with all families grieving the loss of their sweet babies…and with the beautiful nurses and physicians who offer their best and many times carry grief in their hearts for the ones that couldn’t be saved.

For support and/or Dreams of You Comfort/Bereavement Resources, visit our website.

The Miracle Before Christmas: Gianna’s Gift

I spoke with Heather just a day before we would meet. Neither of us knew the extent of the miracles waiting for us as we chatted about the upcoming delivery of her sweet baby, diagnosed with Trisomy 18 earlier in the pregnancy. We weren’t sure whether she was having a boy or girl or how long she and her family would have to spend with their little one before saying goodbye. Together, we planned the best we could in our brief conversation. I packed a bag of items that would be fitting for either a boy or girl and an overnight bag for myself in case I needed to stay in Columbus for longer than expected. (I actually spent the next few days in Columbus supporting families, but that is for another post!)

Heather and Dan were prepared to have moments with their baby as she was not expected to live long after her birth. We asked to have both the photographer and the priest in the operating room, bending hospital protocol for these most special circumstances. Sometimes I have to fight to get birth professionals to allow the photographer in the OR, so to have a priest and photographer there was unprecedented. It was important to Heather and Dan to have their baby baptized immediately, while she was here. We were so grateful that the hospital made an exception to allow that to happen. The entire staff was very supportive of the family’s wishes and helping us to make the most of the time with their sweet baby.

It was the first time the young priest would support a family facing the loss of their baby. Father Tony didn’t look much older than my twenty-one year old son. And, although he was quite capable and comforting as he supported this family, I felt myself wanting to make sure he was ok, feeling protective and compassionate, as I knew he would be forever changed by the events that were about to unfold.

There is always an excitement when waiting to welcome a life into this world, even when that life is expected to be brief. I met the family as we waited for Heather to go into the OR, the sweet brother Luciano and sister Ava, the grandparents, the aunt, the godparents. Love filled the room, even as we waited to meet Baby H.

We gowned up and sanitized. I held my camera, positioning myself strategically in the operating room. It was my first time being allowed to photograph in the OR. I spoke a silent prayer for the family, for Father Tony, for my own photography abilities.

Lord…please give them our best. Please give them time with this sweet baby. Please give them the grace and strength to endure what lies ahead. Please carry them.

Heather’s face was filled with the peace that surpasses all human understanding and the sufficient grace God gives…just the right measure when we need it. She shone with the joy that mothers feel as they wait to meet their babies. They had hoped and prayed just to get to this moment. It was already a miracle that their sweet baby had come this far.

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She was born, so tiny and beautiful. I snapped the pictures, as Mom and Dad glimpsed the first glances at their baby girl. After assessing her, the nurses and doctors said we needed to move quickly for the baptism as it seemed Baby Gianna had only moments. She was not breathing, but her heart was beating slowly. I grabbed the Baptism bib Heather and Dan brought. Father Tony held the holy water in his shaking hands. Dan, father to baby Gianna, released the emotion he had carried for months as his knees buckled a bit. I put down my camera to hold him up for a moment as the tears fell. Dan found his voice to speak his daughter’s name with authority after a moment. Father Tony poured the water over her head, and as he said the familiar words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” …the next miracle happened. Baby Gianna coughed and sputtered and breathed, and her heartbeat rose to a normal rate. Her skin turned a healthy shade of pink. We all stood in awe: medical staff, support staff, and family. Godparents and grandparents listened over a special system the hospital uses to communicate.

Dan carried Gianna down the hall to meet her brother and sister and the rest of the family. Tears fell. Love filled the room.

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Heather was finally able to hold her sweet baby girl, and she glowed with the peace and love that oozes from a mama-heart. They hoped for moments with their baby. God gave them days to love on their girl. She was passed around the room. Moments were captured. Her first moments.

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Her sister and brother were able to give her a bath.

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The family soaked in the miracle of those moments as time stood still. A lifetime of love filled the room to welcome baby Gianna. With her life came the gift of time.

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Gianna breathed on her own and was able to eat, such a mighty little warrior!

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Just days after her birth, she was able to go home with her family. She passed away in her home, feeling nothing but the love that filled the room…the love that will be carried in the hearts of her beautiful family all the days of her life. It was an honor to meet Gianna and her amazing, brave family.

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Here are their words about the experience:

From mom, Heather:
Trying to find the words to express my gratitude to Kelly & SGM…
From the moment we first spoke the phone I knew we were meant to meet. If I was blessed enough to meet my baby…I wanted to have family pictures. I waited until the day before my c-section scheduled to reach out. It’s hard to find the words to explain to someone that I’m not able to keep this baby with me. Only days before would I even allow myself to pick out a few items. I was so scared to buy any items and never be able to even use them. Due to other circumstances of
my pregnancy I found out very early in my pregnancy my unborn baby would be diagnosed with Trisomy 18. I’ve had so many people tell me how strong I am. I’ve only been able to get through this experience with faith. Every day of my pregnancy was a blessing. Gianna was a special gift. Sharing her story makes me smile & so happy. My heart aches & I miss Giana dearly. Every bit of heartbreak and pain was worth it. I would carry her all over again just to have those precious hours. I had hoped and prayed so much that I had a misdiagnosis, to then praying that I could have even a few minutes. I find it so comforting to share.
Kelly not only captured this by photographs but witnessed first hand the most personal raw & loving moments of Gianna’s birth & Baptism. Gianna had a purpose. I adore that she & Father Tony were able to witness such a miracle with Dan & me in the operating room. She also made sure to include older siblings Ava & Luciano. The photos & sharing her story & keeping her memory alive. Dan & I are blessed to have such an amazing community of support from our parish & friends & family. We hope this helps others by sharing Gianna’s story & to share SGM.

From dad, Dan:

My Dear Gianna,

We were so extremely lucky to have you in our life for 47 hours. When we were told of your Trisomy 18 we knew from the beginning you were a gift. It was only fitting that you were named after a saint. You taught me so much about strength and fight that I will carry for the rest of my life. I asked you to fight so we could have time and you responded to allow everyone to experience your love. You brought so much joy to your mother, brother, sister and myself. I can’t believe the impact you have had on so many lives in a short amount of time. I am so proud to be your father and will think about you everyday. It is hard to let you go but know you have a purpose. I know you will watch over us and protect us. We will miss you dearly but thank you for teaching our family about faith, strength, love and compassion.

Love you
Dad

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To learn more about the support offered by Sufficient Grace Ministries, please visit www.sufficientgraceministries.org.

The Grief Bearer

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A dear friend was working with me at SGM Headquarters this week. I was preparing a package containing a tiny casket we would be delivering for young parents who had lost their baby. His observation, his words, as I packed the sacred package, have not left my mind since they left his lips.

He spoke of the idea of sin bearers. People who were called to the death bed to take upon themselves the sins of the one leaving this earth. They would carry the sin and the penalty for all the sins of the dying soul. The biblical definition of a sin bearer is: A person or animal that acts in God’s sight in a substitutionary capacity, to whom are transferred the sins of others, together with the corresponding penalty for those sins. (biblegateway.com) We saw this often during the times of animal sacrifice. Before Jesus came to be the once and for all, ultimate, and ONLY worthy sin bearer, to take upon Himself the sins of the world.

It was what he said next that I can’t shake, because for me, one of the most powerful and freeing gifts is to be able to give words to the things that mull around in my depths…to give a name to the sacred wrestlings. Sometimes the names come from unlikely vessels in mundane moments. Most of life is lived in those moments, the worthy things anyway.

“Mrs. Gerken, you are the Grief Bearer. You take some of the pain onto yourself when you enter in with a family. You take their grief. Some of it goes with you.”

I stopped for a moment. It is exactly like that. Some of the pain from each heart enters mine, and we carry it together. Every life I’ve had the privilege of honoring goes with me…both the gifts, and the heaviness. It is a rare gift to be seen and understood by another. And, I will be honest. Few people see me these days…few grasp the heart of what I do, and the consuming craziness of this calling. There is a lonely melancholy to being unseen and misunderstood, but oh… the soothing balm, when someone sees. One beautifully broken soul to another…

I can be the Grief Bearer, bringing shreds of hope to the pits of despair, shining flickers of light in the darkness, only because I don’t have to carry the heavy weight alone. Because, in the carrying…I am carried. Covered by His grace. Filled with His love. Moving as His hands and feet. I won’t say I’m always adept at remembering to give it all over to Him. Some of it is worn on me, with me always. The deep lines in my face…the wrinkle in my forehead, the tired eyes, the dark circles from little sleep, the weary ache in my bones to match the ache of my heart, and a face permanently stained with tears…as if tattooed in a stream down my cheeks.

I wear the evidence with great honor, knowing that it is an unspeakable privilege to be used in this way. Poured out, grace oozing from this broken vessel…this vessel whom He loves. I can bear it, because of Him…and because…There are other things that stay with me, as well…

The grateful hug of a mother clinging to hope. The “thank you” that speaks volumes. The celebration of a life, however brief…but always worthy. The otherworldly experience of standing again and again in the place where heaven meets earth and peace that makes no earthly sense fills the room, overwhelming my senses…and quieting every inch of turmoil in the hearts that beat in that place, in that room. That room, where Jesus comes near…as much for the church goer, as He does for the drug addict.

Joy is sweeter after tasting sorrow. And, laughter escapes my lips as often as tears stain my cheeks. This too, is a gift that comes from bearing grief…my own…and the grief of others.

And, most of all…the gift of knowing Him. Of knowing about the love of my Jesus, the One who sees the most broken individual and says, “I choose that one.” The One Who hunts us down with His love. Each soul. Every soul. No one overlooked. No one unworthy. No one deemed hopeless. No one.

I will wear the name Grief Bearer with gratefulness, because He lives. And, because of His grace and love. And, so the next family doesn’t walk alone.

———-
Kelly Gerken is a certified SGM/SBD doula and SGM Remembrance Photographer. She walks with families facing the loss of a baby, helping them to embrace the time they are given to say hello and goodbye, to make precious memories. She has served thousands of families through Sufficient Grace Ministries, since founding the organization in 2004.To learn more about the services offered through Sufficient Grace Ministries, click here.

To request a Dreams of You package, click here.

To find out how to get a copy of Kelly’s book about her experience with Sufficient Grace after the loss of three of her five children and the birth of SGM, click here.

A Father’s Love ~ Baby Owen

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He stood beside his wife, feeding her ice chips, tenderly. Sometimes using humor to soften the heaviness of weary moments as they waited to meet their son. Because, if he can make her laugh…then all is still right with the world…even when nothing seems right at all. Humor is a wonderful diffuser for the most painful moments. A man who can make you laugh in any circumstance. That’s a treasure.

I know. I married a man with that priceless gift.

They planned every detail, as they waited for Owen’s arrival.

Beautiful outfits, a Cuddle Cot, how they would spend their time, what pictures they wanted captured, support through SGM.

I had the privilege of walking with them a bit, during the months of planning. As baby Owen’s mother labored. And, as he was welcomed earthside.

His mother planned every moment…beginning his legacy, even before his birth, through Owen’s Gift. I’ve never met a mother who was already planning a way to help others, while still walking her own agonizing and beautiful path as she soaked in the moments with her son.

As Owen’s heart slowed on the monitor before his delivery, it was his father’s hands searching along mother’s belly to find their son’s sweet last kicks. He took her hand and gently led her to the spot where they could feel their son’s goodbye together, as she clung tightly to her Comfort Bear.

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Owen’s father wanted to give him his bath. And, so he did.

His father helped us do the footprinting, and the foot molds. His father helped to dress him. Not only his mother, but his father held him lovingly in his strong arms….arms that protect and provide for those he loves.

A builder by trade and a problem solver by nature, he used ingenuity to help us maneuver the mementos and dressing time.

Both mother and father were able to parent in the sacred moments they spent with their son.

I am so in awe of their courage and strength…and most of all, the great beauty of their love. Love can sustain a family pushed beyond the brink more than once. Love can enable a father to stand and care for his tiny son, born silently. Love can help a mother plan for a brief life. Love can carry them both through the moments and years to come.

As we are often concerned with many mothers walking through loss, let us never forget the sacred love of a father…and the deep and real grief he carries in his strong daddy heart. Not all dads are able to stand so boldly in love and protection of their families, even speaking bold truth in moments when it is needed.

For the dads carrying this weight quietly, you are not alone. Your part in your child’s life and your family’s life are so important and valid….and so is your grief.

A poem shared in the Walking With You for Fathers Booklet:

It must be very difficult

To be a man in grief,
Since “men don’t cry”
and “men are strong”
No tears can bring relief.

It must be very difficult
To stand up to the test,
And field the calls and visitors
So she can get some rest.

They always ask if she’s all right
And what she’s going through.
But seldom take his hand and ask,
“My friend, but how are you?”

He hears her crying in the night
And thinks his heart will break.
He dries her tears and comforts her,
But “stays strong” for her sake.

It must be very difficult
To start each day anew.
And try to be so very brave-
He lost his baby too.

Eileen Knight Hagemeister

If you are a father walking through loss, and would like a copy of Walking With You for Fathers, please email sgm dot shipping at gmail dot com and we will send you a copy free of charge.

To request a Dreams of You package, click here. To learn more about birth and bereavement doula support or perinatal hospice services through SGM, click here.

*Photos by SGM/SBD Birth and Bereavement Doula and Remembrance Photographer, Kelly Gerken

Servant to All

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Sometimes in the midst of walking with a family, there are moments when my own cup is filled in the pouring out. There are many moments really.

He came to pray with the beautiful parents waiting to fill a lifetime of love into the moments they were given with their son. I met him after the introductions were made beside the hospital bed.

While snapping pictures and preparing for the coming birth off to the side, he stepped beside me, looking into my eyes as we shook hands.

“I’m the doula.”

I’m used to people not knowing the meaning of the title…or this sacred work. I waited for the question.

“Doula,” the pastor repeats. “It is a Greek word…correct?”

“Yes,” I answer, “a biblical word.”

“It means servant,” he said, eyes focused and shining…like they do when delivering a holy message.

My eyes locked with his.

He continued…

“Mark 9:35 says, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’ This is an amazing ministry you have been given.”

“Thank you…I’m honored to serve in this way.”

Only our Father can send a message that humbles us and lifts us up at the same time. A word of encouragement in the midst of days of pouring out.

Because He sees. And, because…although I would never call my flawed, stumbling along self great…it is a great honor to be used as His vessel…even in the smallest way. To wash tiny baby feet, to wipe the sweaty brow of a laboring mother, to gently caress the tears from her face, to speak love and truth in the dark moments.

To be a doula…servant to all.

To the Nurses, the Caregivers…We See


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Yesterday on the SGM Facebook page, we shared a blog post from Adventures of a Labor Nurse called, When There’s Nothing to Celebrate. Her words were real and raw and so true in describing what it is like for the caregivers when a baby dies.

Most nurses don’t choose to work in OB to deal with the devastation of death and loss. They were attracted to OB to experience the miracle of life, the sweetness of a newborn baby’s cry, the victory and peace that settles over a mother after a long labor, when her arms are finally full and the pain is forgotten. Death doesn’t belong in the birthing room. Silence so thick you can barely breathe, and pain with no answers…pain that will not be eased with arms filled with new life. That kind of pain, only begins with the labor…the labor is the least of it.

I used to wonder when I was training to become a bereavement doula (a support person for a mother facing the loss of her baby, as well as a support person for birth in any trimester) and when we were building our SGM Perinatal Hospice Birth and Bereavement Services program, how the nurses who had endured and guided families through the agony of grief would respond to us…entering their territory. I wondered if a hospital did embrace our program how they would feel about an outsider in their world. Would they feel as if we are taking away from the work they do….or insinuating we can give something they cannot? Would they resent our presence? Would we get in the way? Would it be difficult to earn their trust?

It hasn’t been that way at all, as far as I’ve seen. Most of the time, we are welcomed with tired and grateful eyes. I’ve walked into hospitals in the wee hours of the night, and held an exhausted nurse, relieved to no longer be in this alone, to finally release the carefully held back tears as I wrapped my arms around her. I’ve answered questions in the hall about what babies typically look like at 15 weeks, and how I can support a mother in grief who has made poor choices in her care and if I wrestle with those situations later. I’ve talked through it with them, listened while their own experiences bubbled to the surface as we walked with the family. I’ve asked for their help in some cases, when my gloves didn’t fit, my ink pad wasn’t working, or when a baby was too fragile to move on my own. God bless the nurse who taught me the tuck and roll maneuver. (I’m sure there’s a much more technical term for it!) We’ve taken turns keeping each other up in the hallway after a 15 hour labor that resulted in miscarriage. I watched several shifts of caring nurses go through that day/night. We measure and weigh babies together, marveling at the intricacies and miracle of life and creation, seen even in the tiniest little ones. In many of the small hospitals we serve, this may be the first time a nurse has encountered loss. It is a rare occurrence in smaller hospitals without NICU and maternal fetal medicine facilities.

Often, we hear from grieving parents about the things done wrong by medical staff and caregivers, the wrong words spoken, a lack of compassion given. Because, in reality, the painful things stand out more in our memories. But, this post is about the nurse in the hallway, searching for anything to ease the pain of a mother who must say goodbye to her precious baby. The nurse with all the questions and sometimes even accusations hurled at her as friends and family try to make sense of the tragedy. The nurse, who sometimes has made every effort alongside the doctor to save a baby who no longer breathes and never will again. The nurse who is glad we are there with clothing to fit a little one, and a fresh set of hands, and the eyes of a mother who has walked through this wilderness more than once, the nurse who walks by while we’re taking pictures to offer a gentle suggestion of another shot we could try…the nurse who will be there to offer her loving, gentle care long after I leave the hospital. She does it all, even while wiping up the blood and recording all the statistics, holding a bed pan as a worn out mother vomits.

The nurses in hospitals we’ve trained, who’ve sighed with relief, saying again and again, “We aren’t alone in this anymore. We don’t have to struggle with a camera to get pictures while also caring for our patients.” The thing is…they had done it, before we came…they had struggled through…because they want to give their patients everything…the best they have to offer. The nurses without bereavement support programs like those offered through Sufficient Grace Ministries, who continue to make time to hold a mother’s hand, to offer reassurance to grandmothers and fathers in the hallway and in the delivery room, even while juggling the demands of other patients. I’ve watched them walk from a celebratory birthing room to a silent one. The wipers of tears, the ones who hold the hair back while a mother vomits, the ones ready with a cool cloth, a cup of water, the steady anchor in the storm. The nurse who snapped a picture during the only moment when my son Thomas opened his eyes, sixteen years ago.

It takes courage to enter into the wilderness with another human being…to not look away…to allow yourself to feel compassion, even when it hurts. Those who can do that, who can offer exceptional care…and find the courage to show the compassion that doesn’t look away, those are the heroes.

We just want you to know…we see. We see you giving beyond what you have left to give…giving even in your own exhausted, broken state. We see you, and we are honored to walk alongside you in the wilderness. We are so grateful for each of you. And, the mothers you serve…even if they never say so…they are grateful as well. Thank you, amazing caregivers.

For more information about bringing SGM Perinatal Hospice Birth and Bereavement Services to your hospital, visit this link:
SGM Birth Professionals Training

For more information about our programs:
SGM Perinatal Hospice Birth and Bereavement Services

To order materials for your bereavement program:
For birth professionals ONLY(hospital staff, nurses, physicians, doulas, midwives, funeral home directors, remembrance photographers, chaplains, bereavement coordinators, hospice) visit the
SGM Birth Professionals Dreams of You Shop

What I Wish People Understood About Perinatal Hospice

Support is available for bereaved parents. To learn more about the items and support Sufficient Grace Ministries offers for youth and siblings touched by grief, please click here: SGM Youth Service Projects and Sibling Grief Support.

We hear the words hospice, and often think, “the end” or “giving up”. The opposite is actually true. Hospice can be empowering and freeing, bringing comfort and even hope. It isn’t just about the end of life on this earth. It is about living every last moment, the way you choose.

In the case of perinatal hospice, it is even harder to convey a message of hope. Families facing a life-limiting diagnosis for their sweet baby, a baby who has not yet even taken his first breath on planet earth, can spark a parent to feel fiercely protective. Protective of the right to hope. To believe in miracles and the preciousness of human life. Everyone around the parent may feel the same protective instinct. How…how, when that sweet baby is still kicking happily in her mother’s womb, can I speak to her about finding support from those who walk with families through loss?

“I will tell her later…when she’s ready to hear it.”

It is so hard for a parent to know they would want this type of support, and even harder to understand, as a friend, that it would be essential to be aware of resources before the time of the baby’s birth. A parent is not prepared for the words “incompatible with life”. Most people do not know what they would do if they heard those words about their baby, and few would ever spend time thinking about or researching such a painful topic. So, little is known about resources to help in these circumstances, until after a loss occurs. I cannot count the number of families who have conveyed to us, after losing their baby…

“I didn’t know you were here. I so wish I knew that I could’ve had support, or beautiful photography, or an outfit for my baby.”

Another parent: “We needed to know the resources and birth plan information 3 months ago…not handed to us in a folder with some pamphlets, and little to no explanation at the time of our baby’s death.”

“I called the hospital perinatal hospice program and they never returned my call.”

“At first I thought…no way…I don’t want some stranger coming in here. Then you walked in, and you were gentle and understood. Now I want every parent to know, they want this. They may not know it, but they want this support. People need to know.”

“I didn’t know I could…”

“If only…”

Those are the stories that tear our hearts out. We can’t bring someone’s baby back. We can’t make this canyon of grief and sorrow better. We can’t fix this kind of pain, and we would never try. But, we can alleviate many regrets. We can do something about “if only”.

Perinatal hospice is not meant to take away hope. We will hope with you, pray with you as you wait to meet your sweet baby. We will enter in and walk with you, helping you to embrace the gift of time you’re being given with this precious life. We will help you plan for your time with your baby. Your story. Your way. If your baby defies the odds and the life limiting diagnosis, we will rejoice with you, and continue to help capture precious moments of the miracle of your sweet child’s life. And, if you have to say goodbye to your child, we will be there too. In the moments, making sure you have what you need, and the time is spent the way you want to spend it. Honoring this tiny life. Filling every sweet moment with love.

And, the support doesn’t end there. We can walk with you to plan a remembrance ceremony, funeral, or other end of life celebrations, help capture that time, and provide support in the coming days, weeks, months, and years.

Together, we at Sufficient Grace Ministries are working to change the way hospitals and caregivers deliver this difficult news to parents, and the kinds of support offered to those walking through the wilderness of a life limiting diagnosis, and later through grief. No parent should have to walk here alone. We are here to walk with you.

Through…

Hospital education to train on the benefits of perinatal hospice birth and bereavement services, compassionate care for bereaved parents, and understanding the grieving parent’s perspective. We are also equipping many hospitals with SGM Perinatal Hospice Birth and Bereavement Services and Dreams of You support/memory-making items. Many hospital training programs offer a “checklist” of things to do. Give family mementos…check. Get baby’s footprints…check. Hand them a folder with some support group information…check. Our program is not a checklist. We are here to enter in and walk alongside you awhile, offering a listening ear from someone who understands, and resources that may be difficult to find on your own when you’re overwhelmed and don’t know where to look.

Dreams of You Memory Books, Comfort Bears, clothing, mementos, and Walking With You support resources sent to parents worldwide.

Online, telephone, and in a growing number of locations, in person support from Stillbirthday certified birth and bereavement doulas.

Remembrance photography in a growing number of locations.

This video shares just some of the services provided through Sufficient Grace Ministries:
Dreams of You Song by Tim Gerken III (Kelly’s son) and Lyrics by Kelly Gerken

Let it Go

Can’t sleep. In the wee hours of this morning, the words are begging for release. So, here I am.

Last night, I watched the Disney movie, Frozen. Several parts spoke to me in the deep recesses of my heart, the places most often tucked safely away.

When Elsa sings the words from “Let it Go”…

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always had to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well, now they know…

My soul aches with recognition.

And, as she finally releases it all, she finds sweet freedom, creating beauty from her curse, dancing as she transforms into the gorgeous creature she was created to be. I think of His redeeming promise to make all things beautiful in His time.

And, by release, I mean, she embraces her curse, and sees the gifts hidden beneath the surface, beauty rising from the ashes.

Proclaiming…

It’s time to see what I can do, to test the limits, break on through.

A kingdom of isolation…no right, no wrong, no rules for me. I’m free.

So much like when a heart heavy with the woes of grief breathes it’s first breath of life in the land of the living. When the haze clears enough to remember what it feels like to live. The first foreign-feeling, hesitant laugh that arises from deep in your belly, sounding like it came from someone else…because in this unfamiliar new skin, it’s easy to forget the sound of your own laugh.

Or what it feels like to really live. Free.

And, maybe…maybe you never knew what that felt like anyway.

Before.

Maybe it’s impossible to know that depth of freedom and release, that fullness of life, until you have tasted the air in the valley of the shadow of death. Until you’ve been locked in the room, frozen with the curse. The one you can’t even explain to those closest to you.

It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all
Up here in the cold thin air I finally can breathe
I know I left a life behind, but I’m too relieved to grieve…

I am often asked how I can perpetually walk in this shadowy place, alongside those who are broken with grief.

I guess my answer would be…

Here, I can finally breathe.

 

 

Birthing Miracles

I stayed as far away from birthing rooms as possible after experiencing four traumatic labors that resulted in five births. I was the queen of the cascade of medical interventions phenomenon spoken of in the doula realm. Pitocin and other labor inducing interventions. Check. Epidurals. Check. IV’s. Check. Forceps. Check. Long, stalling labors with ineffective contractions. Check. And, don’t even get me started on my track record. Three of my five children were born alive. Two remain alive. Two left this earth before leaving my womb.

The celebration of the miracle of life experienced in pregnancy long ago lost it’s luster for me. So, I find it rather intriguing that my heart has awakened to the love of all things birth related, some sort of redemptive path I never would have chosen or orchestrated in my limited human imagination. God loves to restore broken things. To send us into unlikely territory, stripping us of the heavy, muddy cloak holding us back, and clothing us with a new garment.

My friend, Heidi Faith, from stillbirthday.com speaks of the miracle of birth…saying simply, “All babies are born.”

I love that. And, I’ve found it to be true. I have spoken of the miracle that occurs when we enter in to walk with a laboring mother, most of the time, one expecting a child whose life will be brief, or whose life on this earth has already ended, beginning anew in heaven. It is a sacred ground, the place where heaven meets earth, and Jesus bends near to carry the wee one home as He brushes past, comforting the mother. Sometimes, he allows my arms to be felt as His, wrapping around her. Comforting her with His comfort, dressing her baby in the most beautiful hand-made garments. Through me, through us. What a humbling honor to be allowed to serve as a vessel of His love. He is ever close in the birthing room. Whether a baby lets out life’s victorious cry or takes his first breath in heaven, He is ever close. So close, we could reach out and touch the hem of His garment. So close, miracles still happen…even when a baby lies sleeping in her mother’s arms. Even when goodbye follows hello.

Because every life matters. Every life is worth celebrating, welcoming. loving, honoring, and grieving.

And, because birth is always a miracle, a powerful, divinely-bestowed gift, offered to women.

Eve, the first woman….her name means life. She is known as the mother of all living. God gave her that gift, that powerful, mighty, beautiful gift…to be the bearer of life. This world is all sorts of broken, from the moment of the fall in the garden. But, the gift remains…precious.

I’ve been reflecting on the beauty God means to weave through our lives, the purposes He has for the gifts he gives to us. Women often feel devalued and left longing for something more. We miss the gifts in front of us. We long to be empowered, significant, accepted. And, yet, what greater power (the good kind) has God given…what greater honor than to be a vessel through which life is birthed? The power to conceive and give birth should not be overlooked. I am not just speaking of the ability to birth a live, healthy baby. Not all of us have been blessed with that gift. However, the ability to birth life…to encourage and enliven this world, that treasure lies in the hearts of all women.

“God gave the woman an ability not just to have babies but also to release life in a variety of expressions. In fact, one translation says that Eve means ‘to enliven’. ” ~ This Day We Fight, by Francis Frangipane

“Women excel in intercession, in spiritual sensitivity and the release of new beginnings…To possess a national awakening, the ‘birthing’ power God has placed in women must be released.”

“You have been created by the almighty to birth breakthroughs on planet earth! God has designed you with a latent ability to release life through your intercession…Through their intercession, these godly women will prayer-birth powerful ministries on earth, of both male and female.”

“Revelation 12:1 speaks of a ‘woman clothed with the sun.’ This word is not just talking about Israel or the Church. It also reveals how God sees spiritual women: They are honored and crowned with distinction; pure and clothed with the glory of God. With confidence, they tread upon the powers of night. Dear army of praying women, it is your inherent destiny to birth that which will rule the nations.”

From chapter 13 of the book ~ This Day We Fight, by Francis Frangipane

The above book has inspired me, as a woman, not to overlook the incredible, divine gift of bearing life…whether it be in delivering a baby, or whether it be in encouraging another or going to battle in prayer for another soul. Women are treasured in the sight of our God, and we are not ever insignificant or overlooked in His eyes. He has entrusted us with a power great and mighty, a gift to be honored and cherished.

Be blessed today, beautiful woman of God, and be a bearer of life…in whatever capacity you have been called to enliven this earth, birthing breakthroughs through prayer, melting brokenness with love, covering the wrongs with grace.