Death doula helps parents say goodbye

SUPPORT: Neonative nurse Lynn Redwig become an end of life doula to allow grieving parents to take their stillborn babies home and say a proper goodbye. Picture: Supplied
SUPPORT: Neonative nurse Lynn Redwig become an end of life doula to allow grieving parents to take their stillborn babies home and say a proper goodbye. Picture: Supplied

Parents of stillborns should routinely be offered the services of a death doula to help them create memories with their babies and say a proper goodbye, according to neonative nurse and Tasmanian doula Lynn Redwig. 

End of life doulas offer an alternative to mainstream pre and post death care, allowing families to take the bodies of their loved ones home before burial or cremation instead of relinquishing control to funeral companies.

Mother of four Lynn Redwig, who has worked in a neonative intensive care unit for more than ten years, realised that grieving parents needed to say a proper goodbye to their dead babies, and the best place for this was at home. 

Mrs Redwig said parents usually get to spend two days at the hospital with their babies. 

She said if the babies were taken home, parents could create memories with their baby, surrounded by friends and family, without the cries of other babies on the birthing ward, and away from the daily workings of a hospital. 

The alternative process brought many psychological benefits.

"When a baby passes, the standard procedure is for a funeral director to be called in...the parents usually spend a few days with the baby in their room, the midwife knocks on the door and takes the baby down to the morgue, and then the funeral director picks up the baby," Mrs Redwig said.

"Parents say it is very traumatic ... it just seems unnatural because you are caring for this unborn baby for weeks and months, imagining your life with this baby, and all of a sudden it is born and then it is gone," she said.

"That is why I think it is so important for the mum's mental health and the grieving process, that they can spend as much time as possible with the baby." 

Mrs Redwig has a special cooling CuddleCot that allows parents to take the baby home.

She said parents were usually ready to let the baby go from their home after three days. 

"I speak to families about how to care for a body.  We can't stop the decomposing process but we can slow it down, it is just important that we keep bub cool," she said.

"I am aware that it is not for everyone, but there are so many women who wold love to take their baby home.  One of the saddest things is walking out of that hospital without their baby, and it is just nice to be able to create memories because they will never get this time back."

Private hospitals in Hobart routinely provide information about Mrs Redwig's doula services to patients whose baby has died, but she would like to see public hospital patients also formally informed about the options. 

Family commitments mean Mrs Redwig cannot help families in the North, but she said it would be wonderful if someone could step forward to train as a doula and offer the same service in the region. 

She said modern society was detached from death, and urged awareness of the national Dying to Know events happening this week, which attempt to normalise end of life conversations.

CORRECTION: The original article said parents spend two hours with their babies in hospital before the babies are taken away.  This has been corrected.  Parents can spend up to two days with their babies at the hospital. 

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