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Gentle Support for Perinatal Loss

Bereavement-boxEvery month, Kelly Zapata, BSN, CBC, team leader of Women’s Health Bereavement Support, and Vicky Kroesche, BSN, OB, of Labor & Delivery, hold a bereavement support group for HUP patients and families who have lost a baby, either before or shortly after birth.

“Patients often feel completely alone in their grief, that no one can understand what they’re going through,” Zapata said. “In the support group, families share stories, coping mechanisms, challenges -- just to let them know that they are definitely not alone.” This group is part of UNITE, Inc., a Philadelphia non-profit organization that provides grief support following the loss of a baby.

This is just one of the ways HUP’s Perinatal Bereavement Committee, created by L&D and the Family Planning & Pregnancy Loss Center, helps patients through a loss that can be devastating, to both the patient and family. When there is a postpartum loss, staff often provide a small memorial box for the family which includes a small stuffed bear, a knit hat (donated to the unit), as well as the baby’s hospital ID tag and copy of the footprints, as mementos. “We will also offer to include a photo of the baby,” Zapata said.

Partnering with Social Work, the Committee discusses different memorial options for patients and families who cannot afford a traditional burial. And all patients receive the Infant Loss Resource Guide to help guide them through the many decisions and available resources following the loss.

Pastoral Care is very much a part of the process as well. When a loss occurs in a patient unit, staff can call a chaplain to come up, if the patient requests it, and offer a blessing over the baby as well as a certificate saying the baby has been blessed. Denise Statham, administrative chaplain in Pastoral Care, will also hold a private memorial service in the Interfaith Chapel for the parents, if they wish.

Each year, the Committee also holds a special memorial service to coincide with Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day in October. “We’re giving voice to what’s not usually acknowledged in this culture,” said Kara Pravdo, BSN, RN, of the Pregnancy Loss Center. During the service, there are prayers, poetry and other readings, as well as a special ceremony where parents can light a candle in the baby’s memory.

“We’ve had grandparents, uncles, aunts attend,” Statham said. “Loss of a baby happens to a family, an extended family.”

A patient’s loss affects the staff as well. “Staff often comes down to attend the memorials,” Statham said. “The charge nurse can also ask a chaplain to come up to the unit and talk with the staff after any unusually traumatizing circumstances or a significant number of deaths.”

Educating Staff

Knowing what to say a patient who has suffered this type of loss can be difficult. To ensure that patients and families receive the compassionate care they need, Statham teaches modules about perinatal loss to incoming chaplains and staff. “We’ve been doing this for several years the do’s and don’ts,” she said. “I put people in touch with the spiritual dimensions of that type of loss.”

Although Labor and Delivery, Silverstein 7 (for OB/GYN oncology patients) and the ICN are the primary units that deal with perinatal loss, Zapata and Kroesche also hold in-services for departments that don’t see it as often. “For example, a woman could be in a car crash and lose her baby but she’ll end up on Rhoads 5 [trauma ICU].” She also talks with members of the ER, who see a lot of early miscarriages, “to help them think about the emotional component.”

To learn more about HUP’s Pregnancy Bereavement Program, call 215-662-2616.

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