There is no loss like the loss of a child. While grief is not quantifiable, I think we can all agree as mothers that losing a child enrolls one into a club she never wanted to join. As a mother who has experienced that loss, I was grateful to learn that my favorite hospital, Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center (EIRMC) enlisted the help of Rachel’s Gift, a not-for-profit organization founded to provide information to parents grieving the loss of a child. I had the opportunity to talk to EIRMC’s Clinical Nurse Coordinator, Catherine Purser, about the tremendous resource Rachel’s Gift is to EIRMC and the community it serves.
Rachel’s Gift was founded in 2008 by Lori Beth Blaney after an automobile accident left her hospitalized for months while grieving the loss of her 8-month-old fetus. Because the crash was criminally investigated, an autopsy was performed which confirmed the baby’s brain stem had been severed due to the impact of the collision. Throughout her time in the hospital, Lori Beth received care to help her heal physically but found her resources for mental health help were much more limited. After discovering the large gap between physical healing and mental health healing and resources, she made it her mission to fill the gap in memory of her daughter, Rachel.
With its beginnings as a volunteer organization in Atlanta, Rachel’s Gift now has information dispersed throughout many states and is closing the gap in maternal mental health following the loss of a child. While volunteers were happy to visit with grieving parents to help answer their questions regarding the loss and following steps, it became apparent that nurses and doctors lacked the knowledge of best practices when dealing with delicate situations such as these. Rachel’s Gift went on to provide standards of procedure for hospital and medical providers guiding parents through the inconceivable tragedy of losing an infant. Our Labor & Delivery providers at EIRMC are trained in these procedures and many other providers throughout the EIRMC complex are encouraged to receive the training as well including Emergency Room, Operating Room, NICU, and PICU providers. This ensures a standard of care that is optimal while educating and comforting these delicate parents.
Following the loss of a child, it is easy for parents to grieve in silence. Many support people don’t know how to support a family through this loss as they may not have had an opportunity to meet the baby and form memories. Furthermore, this is a grief so personal that many people become uncomfortable mentioning it. It is easy to feel forgotten or as if your baby has been forgotten. Rachel’s Gift utilizes a consent form in the hospital to ensure that it is ok for them to follow up with the parents at regular intervals for a year (and even longer with consent), which is something medical providers aren’t generally able to do. Of course, parents can opt out of communications at any time. Everyone grieves differently and while some parents may want regular check-ins, others may not. For those who may want less communication, Rachel’s Gift hosts a great website filled with information for parents, grandparents, friends, and family. These resources cover many facets of the grieving process and can help when someone wants to support a grieving parent, but may not know how to.
Within the hospital setting, Rachel’s Gift utilizes donated funds to provide memento boxes, bracelet charms, blankets, and bears to physically attach the memory of the baby to an object. If a woman experiences a miscarriage in the hospital, she will be offered information about Rachel’s Gift as well as a sweet angel wing charm to remember her child. It is so easy to feel like a lost pregnancy will be forgotten, so learning about EIRMC doing this was especially meaningful. While we all grieve differently, knowing mothers and their angel babies are seen at every step of pregnancy is so special to me. If the child passes away during infancy, the providers have been trained on answering questions regarding holding the baby, photography of the baby with family, funeral arrangements, and more. Because the training is offered to all, it ensures a commonality in the language used throughout the process which can alleviate confusion during a traumatic time.
Another thoughtful gift provided by Rachel’s Gift at EIRMC is a memory box with a blanket and angel bear. While those alone can be sweet, Catherine Purser reminds us, “A bear is just a bear and a blanket is just a blanket. It means nothing until you attach a memory to it.” Because of this, providers are intentional in creating memories with the mother and child using the objects so the mother and her family can remember the baby with these special items. Care is taken to ensure each mom is as comfortable as possible with the information provided.
Grief doesn’t end when a mother leaves the hospital though. To combat this, Rachel’s Gift also hosts weekly online support groups for various demographics experiencing grief from the loss of a baby up to the age of 1 for moms and dads! Along with the regular follow-ups and the information available on the website, they are truly connected to the families and ensure they do not feel unseen. Furthermore, any support person can research how to help after loss on the website to remove the burden from a grieving family.
Because Rachel’s Gift is a nonprofit organization, donations are crucial to maintaining their presence and availability to mothers experiencing loss. While you can donate directly on the website, you can also support their largest fundraiser of the year by registering to run (or walk) the Angel Dash on October 15th at noon at Freeman Park! Even if you’d like to opt-out of the race, you can still register and have a shirt mailed to you to support their mission of helping mothers! Many women grieve for their babies in silence. Many women don’t know how to ask for help. Many women want to help other women with their grief and don’t know how. EIRMC’s partnership with Rachel’s Gift is helping to end all of that, but we need every mother’s help to end the silence and begin supporting!