A bereavement program at Riley Maternity Tower at Riley Children’s Health, called Roads to hopeaims to meet the emotional needs of grieving families following the loss of a pregnancy or child.
Rebekah Delaney, director of Pathways to Hope, said she hopes to normalize conversations about these kinds of losses and make the grieving process a little less painful for families.
“If we fail to support families through the darkest journey of their lives, we are failing not only our hospital systems, but our entire community,” Delaney said.
One in 175 pregnancies end in stillbirth, and approximately 21,000 babies in the United States are stillborn each year. Delaney said she has helped about 500 families receive bereavement counseling in the past year.
Pathways to Hope provides resources for grieving families, including counseling for families who learn their child will be stillborn, or whose baby will die shortly after birth.
“For example, let’s say I have a family that comes in with multiples and there is a loss. Or if I have a family that comes in and they know the baby will die shortly after delivery. I work with those families a lot,” Delaney said. “So we talk about what to expect when the baby is born, what the baby might look like, what are my options?”
Delaney helps families remember their babies by taking mourning photos of babies with their families. She places a crocheted octopus, an animal often used as a comfort object for babies in the NICU, next to babies when she takes their pictures.
“I wrapped their little hands around the tentacles,” Delaney said. “So just a very, very natural comforting position.”
Delaney sends the family home with the octopus and other items, such as blocks with the baby’s footprints or molds of the baby’s hands. During follow-up grief counseling with families, Delaney said they often showed her the memory boxes she made.
“It’s very meaningful during the grief journey,” Delaney said. “When I have a baby I’m taking care of, I always give them a bath and put lotion on them, just to try and really amp up that baby smell. Any kind of memory item that I send home with a family has a scent that reminds mom of their baby.
Delaney also sends grieving parents home with comfort bags — filled with tissues, pajamas, and toiletries to make the grieving process a little easier. Delaney said the program relies on donations from community members. Those interested in contributing to Pathways of Hope can donate to the program fundraising pagewatch the program Amazon Wish List or contact Delaney at [email protected]
Delaney said there is no timeline for grief and encouraged people to be considerate of their grieving friends.
“Know that your friends are suffering. Know they’re in pain,” Delaney said. “Just say, ‘Hey, I love you. You are such a good friend, know that I am here for you. I think you are a beautiful mother. I’m here to support you in any way I can.’”