Leading the advancement of perinatal bereavement care in Canada

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When a pregnancy ends in loss or a baby dies early in life, parents experience and express grief in their own unique ways. No two families grieve alike. Each year in Canada, one in five pregnancies will end in miscarriage, and for every 1,000 live births, six stillborn infants are born.

Health care providers are most often the first point of contact for women and families as they struggle with the impact of the loss of a child. While support for women experiencing obstetric loss has advanced over the decades, health care providers are finding new ways to improve this quality of care.

’ (THP) program is one of the most comprehensive in Ontario, having established a standardized, regional approach to helping women and families in the care and healing process. This approach includes training nurses and allied health workers to ensure all health care providers across Trillium Health Partners’ sites have the knowledge, skill, judgement and resources to deliver exceptional perinatal bereavement care to women and families during this vulnerable time.

Championed by paediatrician Dr. Michael Zajdman, paediatric supportive care facilitator Leslie Adams, and nurses Laurie Soares and Susan Stokes, the program is grounded on Resolve Through Sharing (RTS), an evidence-based bereavement support approach developed by the leading provider of bereavement education and resources, Gunderson Health System in the United States. The RTS program components include supportive conversation, mementoes (such as photos provided by the hospital), and a non-denominational bi-annual memorial service.

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Founded in 1961, Resolve Through Sharing has evolved to improve care and train those supporting women and families, including health care professionals, caregivers, clergy members and funeral directors. RTS promotes respect for diversity by encouraging the use of interdisciplinary care teams and education on cultural communication, inclusion, and honouring traditions and ritual. This aspect is particularly important to Trillium Health Partners as they serve a largely diverse community.

This past year, Trillium Health Partners embodied these values with the creation of new policies that allowed the Muslim parents of a newborn boy – who died soon after birth – to personally drive his body to SickKids for the required autopsy. This process allowed the parents to honour their Muslim tradition to have a fast burial and marks the first time a family has been allowed to transport a deceased loved one in their own vehicle. Trillium Health Partners worked closely with SickKids to ensure the family received the newborn’s body within 24 hours, rather than the usual seven to 10 days for an autopsy.

Laurie Soares, a registered nurse and the perinatal bereavement lead for Trillium Health Partners, was instrumental in fulfilling the wishes of the family and connecting RTS principles to THP’s bereavement program. “This program recognizes the need for individual care that reflects the personal goals of the patient and family,” says Soares. “By recognizing and addressing the needs of our diverse community, we can serve our patients with compassion, excellence and courage.”

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These advancements in perinatal bereavement allow women to actively participate in the care and healing process by making decisions that honour their individual goals, hopes and belief systems. Trillium Health Partners’ Women’s and Children’s Health Program provides leading-edge examples of care that surrounds the full range of patient needs – from providing specialized treatment, to supporting the emotional healing of families who have lost a child. The Perinatal Bereavement Program is one way Trillium Health Partners is fulfilling their mission to create a new kind of healthcare for a healthier community.