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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Bereavement teams needed at all UAE hospitals to help parents with infant loss, support groups say

Grief needs to be better understood with stronger counselling networks

All UAE hospitals should have bereavement teams on hand to comfort parents who have suffered miscarriages or stillbirths, and grief needs to be better understood, doctors have said.
All UAE hospitals should have bereavement teams on hand to comfort parents who have suffered miscarriages or stillbirths, and grief needs to be better understood, doctors have said.

All hospitals should have bereavement teams on hand to comfort parents who have suffered miscarriages or stillbirths, healthcare professionals and support groups have said.

“The process is not very well defined here and I would like to see it properly channelised where people like the doulas we are in touch with co-ordinate and help parents build memories and keepsakes to ease the pain, help with the funeral arrangements and the final goodbyes,” said Dr Elsa Fernandes, a consultant obstetrician gynaecologist.

“This should be a standard in any hospital like it is in the West for a bereavement team that supports parents and helps with grief counselling. I would like to see all hospitals doing this because it’s the worst kind of pain these parents can have. What we can do is empathise. The parents are not looking for sympathy but support through the birthing process and with the grieving that comes after the loss.”

Dr Fernandes works with non-profit support groups such as Small and Mighty Babies, Little Angels - Love Through Loss and with women who have trained as doulas to help mothers through pregnancy, birth and bereavement.

May 6 is particularly important for families who have lost infants as it is observed as International Bereaved Mother’s Day, one week before the traditional Mother’s Day.

It is a remembrance day for any parent who has lost a child, and in particular honours mothers who have experienced miscarriage, stillbirth or any type of infant loss.

Small and Mighty Babies is working with two Dubai hospitals to provide memory boxes in which parents can store the first swaddle blanket, hand and foot prints and photographs of a child they have lost.

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“It is the least that we can do to help parents going through a bereavement whether it is early in a pregnancy and certainly when it is in the later stages. Not everybody is ready at that time to keep things away of their child either mentally or physically. This is a physical place they will cherish that holds important keepsakes,” Dr Fernandes said.

Lala White first began supporting families as a doula late last year and works with Small and Mighty Babies to improve care for parents.

“Every birth and every woman deserves to be completely cared for and nurtured never more so than through a still birth. Having been through the birth of a stillborn baby, you are all so aware of how precious this time is,” said Ms White, who is on call to obstetricians if she is needed to console parents.

Mothers also reach out to her to talk about the babies they have lost. In the UAE where expatriates live far away from family, this becomes a vital support network.

“She may want to talk about how the baby looked, the colour of the baby’s hair, how that day went. It is about surrounding a family with love, light and compassion in their darkest time, it’s about validating and honouring the baby,” said Ms White, who is compiling a database of doulas who can offer bereavement support.

Grief also needs to be better understood, said Farah Dahabi, a clinical social worker who heads the Raymee Grief Centre at Lighthouse Arabia, a community mental health and wellness clinic. The centre provides consultations for individuals and families.

“Not just hospitals and health care institutions but public, private organisations, schools need to think of how we support families experiencing loss. People who are grieving are misunderstood. There is a misconception that grief is something you get over and that grief has a time limit. It does not. It stays with a person forever especially the death of a child.”