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Caring for families experiencing a loss

Written by Marie Sanderson

When asked about her work, Dianne Sidders responds with a huge smile. “It’s the best job in the world,” she says. As a registered nurse and lactation consultant in Red Lake, Ontario, Dianne cares for newborn babies and their families, and says most of the time everyone is happy.

After a family she was caring for recently experienced a pregnancy loss, Dianne realized there was a gap in her knowledge. “It was really an ‘ah-ha moment’ where I realized these families have unique care needs. In particular, those first words to someone whose baby has died, and how to respond compassionately to women and their families. I want to provide the best care I can when someone has a loss.”

Dianne was familiar with the Pregnancy & Infant Loss (PAIL) Network; some of her patients had used their peer-to-peer resources. When she learned about the network’s Compassionate Care Workshops for professionals, she jumped at the opportunity.

“I knew these workshops were exactly what our local health care and social services community needed,” says Dianne, who works as a member of a professional group serving five small communities with a combined population of about 4500.

A workshop was arranged for the northern community, covering grief, cultural safety and what to say and not say during a loss. Two facilitators were present, one a professional with experience caring for families who have had a pregnancy or infant loss, and one with lived experience of loss.  Another parent came from Kenora to share about her lived experience of loss.

The group quickly identified a challenge. Most women in the area do not deliver in Red Lake.  They travel to a variety of communities, including Dryden, Kenora, Thunder Bay or Winnipeg to deliver their babies. Hospitals sometimes don’t have a process for returning remains to the families’ local community, a huge stress for families anxious to arrange a memorial for their baby.

Together with facilitators, the group brainstormed ways to support families through the grieving process. Attendees proposed using an existing committee to develop a community plan to support families. A local committee marks Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day on October 15 each year.

“We are a very small community, and people don’t always want to talk about their loss and their grief with friends, family and neighbours who live here. For some, it can be comforting to have anonymity when speaking about your own experience and journey,” explains Dianne. Useful tips were provided accessing PAIL’s peer-to-peer resources available to families, linking them with others across Ontario who have had a loss.

Dianne says the session was jam-packed, and attendees particularly liked the focus on family experiences and memory-making.

“You can never have enough information. The workshop provided us with the tools to support and care for our local families. We are grateful,” says Dianne.

For more information and resources on supporting families, please visit PAIL. To see upcoming Compassionate Care Workshops, please visit here. If you have questions, please email or call 888-303-7245 (PAIL).

About the author

Marie Sanderson

Marie Sanderson is a Senior Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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