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Helping parents cope with the loss of an infant

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By Bill Lauterbach

Sometimes a story is right under your nose in your own home, and you don’t even realize it.

One night my wife Ula and I were watching television. She was doing her usual crocheting while watching the tube. During a commercial break, she asked: “What do you think of this?” It was a very tiny hat made from yarn. I asked, “Is that a hat for one of your dolls from your doll collection?” She told me no, it was for the Henry Ford Allegiance Perinatal Bereavement Program.

 

At this point, I was both confused and curious. Ula informed me this is a program for parents who have lost infants to miscarriages, stillborn births or even a death after birth. She told me she found out about it in a Facebook discussion group.

“Was it a local Facebook group?”

“No,” she replied, “but the group members said that most hospitals have this service, so I called Henry Ford Allegiance.”

Obviously, my wife was looking for a little healing after our son and daughter-in-law’s recent loss of a baby. Furthermore, we were upset at how their county hospital system had handled their loss, so we wanted to learn more.

Joy Sterrett, RN, has been the Perinatal Bereavement Coordinator at Henry Ford Allegiance Health for three-and-a-half years. She has been at the hospital for nine years, starting as a labor and delivery nurse. The perinatal program has been in existence for over 20 years. However, Sterrett has brought some new and unique ideas and concepts to the program. She also has other objectives she would like to add to the venture.

According to Sterrett, the primary function of the program is “To give out bereavement and grief resources for any family that has experienced a loss. We have brochures that we give out, pamphlets for families who have had either stillborn, miscarriage or infant loss. There are grief resources for the moms, dads, grandparents, family, and friends. We also provide information about a support group I started last May. It’s a community support group for anybody who has had a loss.”

 

Joy Sterrett

Sterrett also coordinates funeral and burial functions.

Finding assistance when a perinatal loss occurs through other departments have not always been easy. “It’s really been within this last year that I’ve pushed for the ‘early losses.’ Before that, we were only giving bereavement support to those who came up to labor and delivery. So, my goal for the last year was to push to get [the service] into the emergency department, surgery department, and outpatient surgery to really utilize these resources for early miscarriages.”

Sterrett has a number of funeral homes she works with for interment and cremation services. “I have never had a funeral home turn down a family. I have a group of funeral homes I work with that routinely help our patients, and they provide their service free of charge.” She notes there is a third-party charge from a crematory that is imposed, ranging from $40 to $75, depending on the area crematory used. Of course, that is if the parents decide to choose cremation over interment.

Some hospitals, clinics and OB offices can be somewhat insensitive in their handling of miscarriage situations. Sterrett is embarking on a project to give out important information on the subject to ER, and outpatient surgery, and is now starting to put these packets in physician’s offices. “It talks about how [we at the hospital] treat all babies with dignity and respect.”

What kind of items is needed by this special program?

“Right now, our biggest needs are for smaller hats, smaller blankets, booties, diapers for our early losses.” Joy adds that they even have patterns to loan for crocheting and knitting. “We are going through the clothing very fast.”

Sterrett raises a sad point. There appears to be an increase in the number of perinatal deaths. “We do have higher incidences of sick moms, moms with hypertension, moms who are diabetic, moms who are waiting later in life to have babies. Also, moms in poverty who might not be getting the prenatal care that they need. One in four pregnancies ends up in a miscarriage. That’s a big percentage of pregnancies that land up in a loss.”

Sterrett would also appreciate items for “rainbow babies.” Rainbow babies are babies that are born after a previous perinatal loss.

Additionally, Henry Ford offers pastoral care, for any loss from every faith. The hospital also has a host of other bereavement programs for other end-of-life situations.

 Ironically, at the end of our interview, the hospital’s famous “Brahms Lullaby” could be heard coming over the PA system. This tune is played each time a birth occurs at the hospital.

 For more information about Henry Ford Allegiance Hospital’s Perinatal Bereavement Program, contact Joy Sterrett, RN, at 517-205-3787 or 517-795-6712.

 

 

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