Where Angels Fear To Tread

I am a Perinatal Bereavement Doula. Yes, unfortunately working with dead babies is part of my job. I dry broken parents’ tears. I take photos of angels, help their parents make memories of their children and assist them “where the rubber meets the road” to use my husband’s ineloquent words. I help nurses and other medical personnel find words when they don’t have any. I hold little broken bodies one last time before they go to the funeral home. I answer a text at 2 am from an anxious mom who has lost her baby and who can’t sleep. I listen to dads rage at the unfairness of losing their child. But let’s just get this unequivocally out of the way: I am no “angel” – even if people call me that all the time. But there, the truth is out now.  God is not going to bless me specifically because I work with dead babies and broken parents, I am NOT going to get a special crown in heaven, I don’t have a halo and I am most definitely do not walk on water. There is nothing special about me and I am NOT an angel just because I do this work (ask my exes and a few other people, they will most definitely agree.)  

There are millions of people worldwide who do much more than I do daily, who works with much more horrific, unspeakable things and who never ever get any glory for it.  I do not want glory. I want parents to feel supported and informed when they are at their weakest. And I want to empower others with knowledge about my industry. Yes, I think with my heart. Yes, I do things many people will feel they will never be able to do, but that doesn’t make me an angel. It makes me a bereavement doula.

Please don’t misunderstand, this does not mean that I do not appreciate the support and love I get from people when they hear what I do.  It also doesn’t mean that I don’t feel thankful when parents tell me I helped them get over an obstacle they thought they would never be able to get over. I do. I appreciate it more than words can ever say. My biggest dream is to equip as many people as possible to do what I am doing through my NCOT online bereavement courses. And the 30+ perinatal bereavement workers / doulas  and 10 loss mothers I have trained so far are all very special people in my eyes because they are willing to step up to the plate and do this tough job.

Perinatal bereavement is obviously nothing new. But people have never talked about it the way they are starting to talk about it today.  The time is absolutely NOW. Parents need our support. They need our expertise. Medical personnel need the know-how we bring. Everyone needs the comfort and the calm presence that a bereavement specialist brings.

But bereavement workers are not angels. They only go where angels fear to tread….

Click here for more information on Perinatal Bereavement Training

THE BABY LOSS CLUB

The loneliest club in the world…

The Baby Loss Club is not for the fainthearted. It is a club with non-negotiable terms and lifelong membership and no benefits. A club that nobody wants to join. Ever. It is a million ‘what ifs’ in one thought. It is forever searching in a crowd for a child that you know you will never find. It is an emptiness that you can’t explain and a dull ache in your heart – even when there’s a smile on your lips. It’s remembering dates when no one else does. It’s saying your child’s name (or children’s names) softly to yourself because you dare not speak it out loud. It is daydreams and night terrors. It’s infinite sadness and indescribable thankfulness for the fleeting moments of the promise of a child. It’s the hope that there is a ‘someday’ and the utter dread that there isn’t. It’s the smiling and laughing and never-ending nodding to friends and family when they gurgle about their children. It’s heart-wrenching sobs in the deep of the night, silenced by the pillow you use to try and suffocate the horrible sounds escaping from your soul. It’s turning around in shopping aisles and walking in a different direction when your feet takes you to the ‘all things baby’ aisle for the umpteenth time. It’s trying to explain to strangers that yes, you have a child, but no, you don’t have pictures of how they look now. It is the ever-present dull ache of what could have been. It’s the all-consuming anger and relentless exasperation at people who can’t or won’t understand – and the forgiveness of those who do, but who still hurts your heart without realizing it. It’s trying not to think about know-it-all people with thoughtless and empty words minimizing your unremitting pain. It’s birthdays, and mother’s day and holidays and Easter and every celebratory day in between that you don’t feel like celebrating at all. It’s looking for a child that looks like you, that you know isn’t there. It’s driving in your car and sometimes skipping a traffic light or taking the wrong turn because your thoughts have been captured by someone who isn’t on this earth. It’s dreams made of feathers and butterflies and snowflakes and bubbles and dead babies. Overwhelming dreams that you cannot share with another living soul. It is lonely. Desperate, soul-aching, desolate loneliness that slowly carves away at your soul while you are surrounded by people. It’s the never knowing, the always wondering, the regret, the anguish, the tears, the sadness, the emptiness, the darkness, the cruelty, the jealousy, the madness, the pain, the not-understanding, the questions, the regret, the soul-searching… It is the all-consuming, never-ending conundrum that is child loss. My beautiful pain that I will carry with me until I die.

Nicci Coertze




On being a Bereavement Doula in South Africa

But what do you DO Nicci?”

I am an internationally qualified perinatal Birth & Bereavement Doula a seemingly complicated and/or unknown term that has people asking me over and over again: “So what is it you DO Nicci?” The simple answer is nothing, yet everything. Because in medical terms I do not ‘do’ much – although I have been the only one present in more births than I care to think about and pretty much did everything – from delivering the baby to cutting the umbilical cord and delivering the placenta! But as a rule of thumb I am not supposed to ‘do’. I am supposed to ‘be’. And that I try to do to the very best of my ability.

As a bereavement doula (I really don’t care for the term ‘death doula’) I provide support in situations of fatal perinatal outcomes and I comfort parents when a baby passes away. It is not a glamorous job. I clean vomit, blood, amniotic fluid and spilled apple juice. I make a client’s bed over and over again and fluff pillows and offer ice cubes, lip balm and hugs. I kick vending machines on behalf of a father who is desperately looking for a can of soda at 2 am in the morning and I beg gynecologists to give permission for more pain meds for a mom that is writhing in pain. I beg unit managers to allow a heartbroken father to ‘sleepover’ to be with his wife who is in labour (with their dead baby,) when it is against hospital policy and sleep is the very last thing I know he is going to do. I see raw pain and I hear the most agonizing, haunting cries you will ever hear in your life. And sometimes I hold a little body and that baby’s heart beats for the last time in my hands. It is not an easy calling, but I do it with great pride and love for my clients going through the unimaginable.

If I have to make a list of everything I do, it becomes quite an impressive list. But you see, I don’t like to do that. Make lists. Or write job descriptions or limit myself to a certain number of things I can/will/want to do. Because the reason I am a Bereavement Doula, the very reason I absorb so much of my clients’ pain and heartache, is very simple: I want to comfort as much as I can. I want to console broken parents and try to make the journey of the birth of their child bearable by being there, acting as a buffer between them and the cold medical world and cruel strangers who are so wrapped up in their own little worlds they do not think twice before inflicting pain on helpless, grieving parents. I wish I could say this does not happen often. I cannot…

Not one birth or miscarriage is the same. On that note, I really do not like the word ‘miscarriage’. Because nothing is ‘missed’ – whether you are 20 or 40 weeks pregnant, you go through the same labour pains – and everything is carried: Guilt, shame, grief, anger, fear… The Oxford dictionary offers two explanations for the word miscarriage: The spontaneous or unplanned expulsion of a fetus from the womb before it is able to survive independently; and unsuccessful outcome of something planned. I prefer the second definition. Because whether it is because of a baby dying in utero, a medical termination or a stillbirth, this encompasses pretty much what it is: An unsuccessful outcome for something that was very much planned, wanted and looked forward to. I don’t like the first definition because I don’t care for the word ‘fetus’. Let me explain why:

As ex-Director of a non-profit company called ‘the Voice of the Unborn Baby’ I fought for parents’ rights to choose whether they want to say goodbye to their child by having a funeral or cremation for them. Because of an archaic law on the South African law books, “fetuses” who are born before 26 weeks of gestation have to be treated as medical waste and are incinerated with needles, syringes, amputated limbs and other medical waste products. And the only way to get around this horrific law is for parents to make an affidavit to state that they need the ‘medical tissue’ or ‘placenta’ to bury for religious and/or cultural purposes. They also have to fill out a mountain of forms required by the hospitals to enable them to have the child removed from the hospital’s premises.

I have had to do too many of these affidavits and I cannot explain to you in words how much it aggrieves me to put my clients through this horrific conundrum of paperwork to enable them to give dignity and respect to their dead child. Yes, child. Because not once have I ever heard a parent speak about their ‘fetus’. No, they speak with much love and affection about their child, their baby, their angel – never ever, their fetus.

Being a Bereavement Doula in South Africa is not easy. Very few people know about this profession and time and time again I have to explain to a nurse or a doctor or a hospital manager what it is that I do. I obtained my International Accreditation as Birth & Bereavement Doula from Stillbirthday (SBD) University and I am hoping that this qualification will give people some peace of mind as to the level of professionalism and skill I have. But at the end of the day no one piece of paper can equip you to deal with raw, unadulterated pain and grief of a mother losing her child – of a dad losing his dream of being a father. No qualification can prepare you to hold a little body in your hands and feel life slipping away without you being able to do anything about it. No university can help you deal with your tears in the night after the fact, when you cry for a little life lost and for the pain of parents who will never ever forget. Nothing can prepare you fully for this job.

I wish you could be there. I wish you could see how I hold a mom’s hand whilst she is in the throes of childbirth. How I try to console an inconsolable father who does not have the know-how or strength to carry his own grief, let alone the mother of his child’s. I wish you could see how I comfort sobbing grandparents. How I clamp the cord, gently clean and wrap a precious little baby and take photos for families to keep as a reminder that their baby was born. Born still, but still born. The reason I wish you were there isn’t to hurt or harm you but I know if you could see what I do you would be beyond motivated to get the word out there that a job like mine exists! That parents do not have to face the daunting task of the birth of their stillborn or miscarried child alone. That they do have a voice. That someone cares!

It is my dream that my profession will be formally recognized and acknowledged in South Africa and that doulas’ services, like midwives, will be covered by all medical aids.

And because I have such a passion for this awesome career, I have developed South Africa’s very first Online Bereavement Training Program!! Click here to see more:

https://ncot4u.wordpress.com/ncot-online-training/

(For a doula in your area, visit www.dosa.co.za)