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Advice for Medical Professionals

Advice for Medical Professionals - Kara Davies, Julia and Evan's Mama

Having your child die before, during, or shortly after birth is a horrendous, traumatic experience. I've lived through it twice (2nd trimester miscarriage resulting in stillbirth, and neonatal death) and the following is a list of things I've learned from experience and what I wish I was told during my time in the NICU.

-Treat the bereaved parents with respect. You have an enormous impact on their experience in this difficult time. We will remember those that treated us with respect and were caring and we will certainly remember those that treated us badly. You have the power to choose your attitude when dealing with parents. This is a part of your job as a medical professional and we understand you have to distance yourself in order to get through it yourself, but please treat us with respect.

-Use a calm tone of voice and use laymans terms. We don't understand "doctor speak" and someone who gets down on our level to explain what is happening is tremedously appreciated.

-Ask what we would like to be called and call us that. If we ask to be called "Mom and Dad" or "Mommy and Daddy" do not call us "Momma and Poppa" "Mummy" "Mum" "Mother and Father" etc. It will only grate on our nerves. Please write it on our charts so other medical staff know our preferences.

-Have all the paperwork required for birth and death certificates on hand and give them to us, no matter what age our child is at birth. Every child deserves to be recognized with an official piece of paper documenting their existence. Denying parents this paper is cruel and horrid.

-Please call our child by name at all times. They may be dead already but they have a name. Please write this on our charts so other medical staff know our preferences.

-Please respect our wishes when we let you know of them. If we ask for an hour alone with our child, please leave us. If we have our door or curtain closed, we need our privacy. Knock softly and ask if it's ok to come in. Don't just barge in!

-Please offer a photographer's services from Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep. We may resist it at first and if we do, offer again in an hour or so. If we hand you our camera, snap away!

-Ask us if we have any special relatives that we'd like to contact and contact them for us. We may not be able to keep our composure long enough to make the phone call and will be grateful to you for doing this for us.

-Offer the services of the hospital chaplain and/or to contact our clergy/reverend/religious leader. If we decline, please note on our chart.

-Offer us the chance to hold our child, no matter how they were born. If you can, gently clean off their face and body and wrap them in a blanket before handing to us. Offer to turn the lights down or to play some soft music if you think it would be beneficial.

-If a parent asks questions about the procedures being done to their child, take them aside and explain in laymans terms what is going on and why it is needed or necessary. If the parent objects to the procedure being done, relay this to the doctor and see if it really is necessary.

-For babies that will not be needing their mother's milk, offer medication or methods for stopping the supply from coming in. Offer the services of a milk bank if one exists locally for mothers that want to donate their milk.

-For mothers that want to breastfeed their child, do not stop them from trying. If we explicity tell you no formula, no bottles, no pacifiers respect our wishes. Offer the services of a lactation consultant.

-Allow us access to our children if they are in NICU, PICU or Special Care. Other parents I've come in contact have reported having to ASK PERMISSION TO APPROACH THEIR CHILD. This is unacceptable to parents! Unless there is a genuine medical reason as to why we cannot approach our child, allow us access. This is our child and we are their parents not you.

-Ask us if we'd like to help care for our child. This includes diaper changes, bathing, cleaning eyes and ears, holding our child's hand or stroking their foot during blood draws or shots, etc. We want to parent our child and by allowing us the opportunity to do so, you're allowing us to make memories with our child instead of being bystanders. Take us by the hand and have us help with the little things before moving on to the bigger tasks.

-Keep mementos of our child's time in hospital and give them to us at discharge. Locks of hair, ID wrist and ankle bands, hand and foot prints, plaster casts of hands and feet, leads, blood pressure cuffs, blankets used, etc. These are precious keepsakes that we'll be able to hold onto long after our child is gone.

-If your hospital has a supply of memory boxes, offer an appropriate one to parents for keeping the above mementos in.

-Before being discharged offer parents a copy of their records and of baby's records. They may want a copy but forget to ask for it. We may want to go over the details with you or our preferred medical professional after our child is gone and this will save us from having to go through any redtape later.

-Encourage us to make memories with our child as the time we have with them may be very short. Encourage us to read them a story, sing them a song, bathe them and diaper them and dress them if applicable.

-Offer us every chance to say good bye. When the time comes for us to send our child off with you to the morgue, wrap them gently in a blanket and carry them out of our sight as you would a healthy live baby. This will be an indellible memory burned into our minds. We want to see our child treated properly.

-When it comes to discussing funeral plans, please be gentle as this is something we would rather not discuss this right after we meet our child for the first time. Allow us some time to be a family before bringing it up please.

-Offer us a list of local support groups upon discharge.

-Please don't say things such as: I'm so sorry for your loss. We've had our child die, we haven't lost our keys! He or she is in a better place. There's no place better for our child than in our arms, alive and healthy! It was for the best that they died now. No it's not. You're still young, you can have more children. We want the one we've been robbed of.  None of these are helpful.

-We'd rather hear you say something like "I am so sorry your child has died. Baby (insert name here) is a beautiful little one. I am so so sorry."

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