What Happens When Your Childbirth Class Family Has Experienced a Prior Pregnancy or Infant Loss?

Pregnancy and Infant Loss hero 2018.jpgOctober is recognized as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month in the United States (and elsewhere).  Today, October 15th, is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. As childbirth educators, we are aware that even in a class of what we believe to be first-time expectant parents, there will likely be some class members who have experienced a loss of a previous pregnancy or even a stillbirth or infant loss after birth.

As educators, we start by discussing the normal processes of pregnancy, labor, and birth. We normalize the changes that occur through the childbearing year and speak from a standpoint that everything is normal until it is not. For families who have experienced a loss, they often have a different perspective.  They may have initially trusted their body as a place that nurtures and grows a healthy baby to term and then nourishes that baby through the milk their body produces. Unfortunately, that trust is now gone as they have grieved a miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss. Trusting their body may no longer possible.

As their childbirth educator, we may not know that some families have experienced a previous loss, but we should assume that is the case.  Some families may submit the information on an intake form or disclose it privately to us during a break.  Others say nothing at all, while a few select families may be very public with the entire class about their experience.

If I am made aware of a previous loss, I like to check in privately from time to time with the family to be sure that they are not feeling flooded with information or emotions, given their previous experience.  I also make sure they know that I am happy to provide additional resources for them if they feel like that may be helpful.

I recently had a family in one of my specialized VBAC classes who shared during introductions that they had lost a baby (and had an unplanned cesarean after laboring) with a previous pregnancy. Throughout the day, I was very aware that their filter for the information I was sharing was a bit different than their classmates.  While planning their VBAC, they could not help but also carry the memory of their baby who died.  Everyone in the class had a little one at home and were hoping for a vaginal birth with this next baby.  This family, above all else, was simply hoping for a live baby.

I think we can all agree that childbirth educators should be sensitive to the impact that a previous miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss can have on future pregnancies and the experiences that people may bring when they participate in our childbirth class offerings. There is not a clear roadmap for how we should behave or what we should say when such a family takes our childbirth education classes. If necessary, we can reach out confidentially to a colleague to brainstorm how to meet the needs of a family with a prior loss.  Our local birth communities can help with resources that the family will find useful as they navigate this new journey.

Mostly, I always approach this situation with kindness, empathy, and respect.  I hope that I can be a safe haven for a family to share their concerns and receive nonjudgmental support and resources.  Today, on Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, I dedicate this post to all the families who have experienced the loss of a pregnancy, a stillbirth or child.  Please join me in supporting those who often grieve alone.ese

You may find resources for your families who experience or have had a loss by checking out past Science & Sensibility posts on this topic.

Would you be so kind as to share your resources and experiences in working with families who have experienced a miscarriage, pregnancy loss, stillbirth or infant death in our comments below?

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