What is Death Midwifery?

The global community of birth professionals continue to wrap love around the Gaskin family, and it is a time many of us who are birth doulas or birth midwives are drawing the parallels, some for the first time, between supporting during birth, and supporting during death.

But, there is a need for a clarification of terms, so I’d like to explain those.  Let’s step out of birth and death altogether for a moment and I’ll compare these terms to a life event that also has parallels – a wedding.

Maid/Matron of Honor - someone who provides emotional and moral support.  Someone who listens to you, assess what needs you might have, and presents you with options to choose from.  This person is most commonly a “she”, but, yours may not be; for our example she will be.  You can call her at midnight to tell her that you’re scared, or excited, or both, and she’ll remind you that no matter what, she is with you.  That you can do this.  She’ll remind you of your strengths, remind of your support, and she’ll rally the team together to strengthen and support you.  And if she’s really good, she’ll also have many of the same skills as your wedding planner.  If you’re not already super close before your big day, you’ll probably be close because of it.  That’s a doula.

Justice of Peace/Preacher/Chaplain – on the beautiful day, this is the person you stand in front of to deliver your commitment as a unit.  You pick this person out beforehand, making sure they see your vision and that they’re a good match for it.  You agree on the date, and you meet together.  You stand before this person on your big day.  You are the one making the vow, not this person.  But this person is essential in making sure your vow actually happens.  That’s a midwife.

Courthouse – let’s just toss this in there because even though it’s not the fun part, it is a formality.  Does your beloved have a criminal record?  Are you agreeing to a prenuptual agreement?  Do you file taxes?  The fine print.  The stuff that takes all the pretty out of your day and puts it into documentation.  The legal stuff.  For extreme simplicity’s sake, we’ll call that the hospital, the doctors, and/or the laws in your area surrounding your birthing choices.

I just don’t want the value of what Ina May Gaskin has brought to the birthing choices of mothers to become diluted as I’m seeing the mistakes in droves as people are comparing her experience right now to death midwifery, but doing so by erroneously speaking of the role of a “death midwife” as “bereavement doula“.

Here at stillbirthday, we train and certify both, birth & bereavement doulas, and, what others are calling death midwives – but we call ourselves midwives of thanatology.  So let me address these two terms.

A birth & bereavement doula provides support prior to birth, during birth, during the welcoming, during the farewell, and during the healing journey.  This support is provided in much of the same capacity as our maid of honor, looked at earlier.  You can learn more about our birth & bereavement doula certification program, here.

A midwife of thanatology, also provides support prior to birth, during birth, during the welcoming, during the farewell, and during the healing journey.  In fact, the SBD doula program is a prerequisite into the midwife of thanatology program.  But the midwife of thanatology is comparable to chaplain in the example above, and in fact we call this program our SBD Chaplaincy program.  A midwife of thanatology helps you exert your rights as you prepare for the event of your farewell.  Your local birth midwife knows your local laws regarding where you can birth, with whom, and under what laws.  Your local midwife of thanatology, knows your rights of sepulcher, knows the difference between hospital policy and local law regarding your time with your deceased beloved, knows where you might bury or cremate, and can officiate the farewell, exactly as a chaplain might speak at a funeral.

Let us all understand that birth doula and midwife are not the same, and neither is birth & bereavement doula and midwife of thanatology.  And let us understand that all of these roles are of tremendous value.




This is what was shared via our facebook page yesterday:

“Ina May Gaskin is in many ways a trailblazer of non-medical childbirth options and is known as a mother of midwifery.
While the world celebrates her contributions to the options in childbirth, facilitating bonding and joy between mothers and newborns, her first birth resulted in her beloved newborn son, Christian, dying in her arms.
I honor Ina May not even for her work, but for her motherhood journey.
Today, everyone who celebrates Ina May for her contributions to birthing choices is gathering to pray and send healing thoughts as it is being reported that her beloved Stephen is nearing his death.
Ina May, I am so sorry for the death of your son, Christian.  Thank you for bringing joy to mothers through your own motherhood experiences, that you see the value of birth intrinsically, the value of mothers loving and connecting with our babies, no matter what, and for finding ways to facilitate that.
May these moments with your beloved Stephen now be filled with significance to you, even joy, and may you be given a space to just authentically honor your journey, free from the scrutiny and publicity that has chased you since your first birth, and may you just find spiritual and emotional rest in these moments as your beloved may be entering his.”

Held by Natalie Grant

Contributed by: Deana

As a part of the SBD News Team


The song Held by Natalie Grant is such a powerful song. I don’t know the intended meaning behind this song but this is what it means to me. Natalie is singing about the loss of a baby at 2 months old. She speaks about being held by a higher power, perhaps God, helping her through the pain and grief. She sings of the pain of losing something or someone so sacred and important to her. The grief process is not instant. It takes a lot of time. For her, it’s a nightmare that a baby would die. She doesn’t know why it would happen to someone, it’s unfair. There is a promise that you’ll be loved by those around you. Family, friends, God or another higher power are there to guide you and support you through the tough times. Slowly with time, you see tomorrow. Hope is here. You are held, and loved. Hope comes through the suffering of losing a baby, at any trimester. This song has been the song I listen to during tough times. It always calms me down and brings me back to God, and remember I am strong and can get through anything. We at Stillbirthday are here for you. We’ll hold you and support you in any way that we can.


 What does the song Held mean to you?

Deana is a thanatology student at King’s University College, in London, Canada. She would like to work with families who have experienced prenatal, infant loss and pregnancy in any trimester. Starting in January 2014, she will begin her Stillbirthday Doula training.


Love Moves

Love Moves.

It draws you in.  It brings you to places you never thought you’d go.

So we need to pack for our journey.

In 2014, stillbirthday is having a brand new project as part of Mothering Our Mourning.

We’re calling it Love Moves.

And we’re bringing you the suitcase.   Yes, that’s right.

The suitcase will be shipped directly to your door.  It is a gorgeous, wooden suitcase that was hand made with lots and lots of love (and purple, pink and blue).

And when you open this suitcase, inside you’re going to find a gorgeous journaling scrap book, postcards, trinkets….

….it’s going to be filled with love.


And you’ll be able to spend some time, looking, unpacking, touching, all the things placed inside.

And then, you’ll add something of your own.

A poem, a Love Letter, a piece of ribbon, a photo, you can place inside this treasure chest filled with MOM’s Love.

MOM: Mothering Our Mourning

Then, you’ll package up this special box, and it’ll be sent to the next mother.

Through the course of the year, we will be able to watch as Love Moves into places we ourselves never thought we’d go.  And know that we are making it happen.  Bringing real love to real doorsteps, bringing love to mothers as they open this special box and touch the items inside for the very first time.  Tangible hope.  Real healing.


To Be a Part

The first 12 mothers to register can secure their place for 2014.  You can register below, and the state/country will be added here.  One box, 12 different locations – and it’s open internationally.

What You’ll Do

  • You’ll reserve your place for 2014 by registering below.
  • You agree to keep the box for a total of 2 weeks within your registered month (each mother is designated for a 1 month timeframe, so we need to give some room for shipping times).  Within those 2 weeks, you agree to preserve the condition of the box and its contents to the best of your ability, keeping everything inside of the box.
  • You agree to contribute into the journal 1 full page’s worth, which can be a pasted photo, a poem, a Love Letter or other words.  This one page worth can be divided by using two different, one half pages, three different one third pages, or so forth.  In short, you agree not to fill it all up by yourself, but to save some room for the other mothers.

The wonder of this opportunity is that you won’t need to explain the items you’ve added. 

We’ll all honor everything held inside as the sacred that it is.

  • You agree to uphold confidentiality and to treasure the box and all contents with the highest amount of discernment, discretion, honor and love.
  • You see that all of the other mothers are agreeing to abide by the same expectations, giving you a very tangible way to express your love, your vulnerability, your feelings, through a safe, structured and healing opportunity.
  • You’ll pay the shipping and handling (approximately $20-$40 USD) to return the box back to Heidi Faith.   Once the box is safely returned to me, you’ll be refunded 50% of your registration ($15 USD).
  • At the end of 2014, we’ll draw a giveaway for one of the participating moms to receive the Love Moves 2014 journal for herself.

This is going to be incredible!

Join the MOM Movement.  It’s going to be transformative, healing, and beautiful.


Love Moves in 2014


January: Ontario, Canada

February: Alabama, USA

March: Kansas, USA

April: Missouri, USA

May: Texas, USA

June: Montana, USA

July: Queensland, Australia

August: Indiana, USA

September: New Mexico, USA

October: Minnesota, USA

November & December – we’re leaving this space open in case there are any delays in shipping, to make sure each mom has plenty of time.

MOM Love Moves Suitcase

Because so many people want to know where I f0und such beautiful things, the beautiful wooden suitcase is handmade from Hans Creations and the awesome journal is from Simply Smashing.  Both shop owners made our items especially for us.  Gorgeousness!

I Love You Photos

If you are looking for a creative way to express your love for your baby(ies), we have a beautiful project opportunity for you to be a part of.

To begin, you can choose from either 2 yards of I Love You ribbon, or 1 I Love You feather.

{Update: only 2 feathers left and the ribbon has all been sold.}

This alone is a precious keepsake – just look at the gorgeousness!


Choose to either have one feather, or two yards of ribbon. 

Then, after you have your I Love You ribbon or feather, you can take a photo of it, showing how it is depicting your message of love.

Consider just a few of the many ways to say I Love You with either item:

  • You, saying I Love You to your baby.
  • Your baby, saying I Love You to you.
  • Your baby, saying I Love You to their siblings.

Share your I Love You photo that includes your ribbon or feather, and when you do, one person’s photo will be randomly selected for this gorgeous, customizable, cast iron Love Lock that also comes with a key.

About the Love Lock:

Did you long to have a personal and meaningful farewell celebration in your baby’s honor?  This heavy, durable, and real working Love Lock is customized and can have your baby’s name, or anything else special to you, painted onto it.  Here are a couple of things you can do with this special lock and key duo:

  • You can keep them together.
  • You can bury the lock in a beautifully special place to you.  And you can hold on to the key.
  • You can affix the real, working, cast iron {heavy and durable} lock to a symbolic structure such as a fence or post, and you can bury, toss or treasure the key.  This is an old custom called Love Locks.

This lock and key duo is valued at over $50.

We will take the first 5 feather photos and the first 5 ribbon photos for this opportunity, with one photo selected.


Grief is the hardest challenge I have ever been faced with.

You would think, that bereaved mothers share something universal, something collective, and that we each, would treasure our cup that we carry into our global community pool of tears.  That we would treasure one another’s cup, as well.

The reality is, we don’t.

We speak of the things our loved ones can do better, but we are hurting one another within our own circle.

We try to push others out of the circle.  We try to push ourselves out of the circle.

Divisiveness becomes a way to protect our very fragile wounds.  We bereaved mothers often discriminate, often divide, based on:

  • age of the baby.
  • family structure.
  • choices made prior to the birth.
  • choices made during birth.
  • choices made after the birth.
  • definition of loss.
  • religion.

And while I tend to think that these divisions most often come from a place of fear, what we need to know, is that these divisions fester something terrible, in ourselves, and in each other.


I don’t deserve to be part of community, because _________

  • I’m too young.
  • I wasn’t as far along as you.
  • I’m lesbian.
  • I’m older than you.
  • I’m not married.
  • I didn’t do what you did, or what you would have done.
  • I’m not religious.
  • I’m confused about what I believe.
  • I am religious.
  • I should have known better, and I should have done things differently.
  • I haven’t had enough losses.
  • I’ve had too many losses.
  • I have more to be thankful for or happy about than others.
  • I have made mistakes, and I am unforgiveable.


These are all lies!

Shame is a facet of our grief.  It just is.  And as we peer into our cup of tears, we are terrified to think that ours is the only one that holds shame.  We fear that if we dare pour our cup into the community pool, that what we have to bring will taint the well.  It will stain the waters and will ruin the gathered source of healing.

So we try to scoop it out.  We try to pat our damp hands on our sides, hoping we got it all out, hoping nobody will see.

And our community source of healing is terribly dry because of it.

The more options we learn that there are, prior to birth…

The more options we learn that there are, during birth…

The more options we learn that there are, after birth…

…the more that shame can loom in, casting out a shadow that we are tempted to flee and hide behind.

Shame, just like grief, is something we have silently learned to run from, but shame, just like grief, is something that stillbirthday invites you, with tenderness and with sensitivity, to learn to lean into.

I am the founder of stillbirthday, and I strive continually to find the next option, the latest choice a family may have, the newest wonderfully healing opportunity for families enduring their darkest of days.  And in the process, I can say with all certainty that yes, there are things I would do differently in my own darkest of days, if I could do them all over.

But the process also reminds me, that it’s never too late.

I am worthy of healing.

I have beautiful choices now.

I can learn to mother my mourning.

I can learn to release myself from the bondage of shame.

I can remember and I can believe, that we are all, in this together.

With a little bit of courage, with our circle of community and with a little bit of creativity, we can show love – to one another, to our babies, and to ourselves.

 We do not have to forget or forfeit our own experiences, morals, interpretations or beliefs, nor do we need to have others forget or forfeit their own.  We can give – and get – love, just the way we are.  And by so doing, we will deepen, we will grow, we will heal.


The Missions Field of Mourning

Pregnancy and infant loss knows no boundaries.

It touches every continent, every culture, every community.

Stillbirthday aims to do the same.


The perspectives, traditions, customs and philosophies surrounding birth & bereavement are many, and include the aspects of:

  • pre-conception
  • conception
  • gestation
  • birth
  • personhood
  • motherhood
  • parenthood
  • family structure
  • death
  • mourning

When we think of the missions field, stereotypical images and words may be the first to enter our minds:


If we’re honest, we think of exotic lands filled with savages, and if only they could know that Jesus Christ is a very real person, who really died for them, who is the only way into Heaven

- if they would just listen to us -

then we could bring them their only hope and their only beauty:


And if we’re honest, those who are not Christian, think of those of us who are as sharply arrogant, justifying our own divisiveness in the name of the Lord but who, in the same breath, claim to be the victims of outrageous discrimination; we Christians can be ruthlessly narrow-minded.


So, what is it like, to be a Christian, Caucasian American woman who is the founder of a global resource for birth and bereavement?

It is so much more than a hobby, an idea, a ministry or a work.

Birth & Bereavement is a missions field.

But to articulate this correctly, I do need to make sure that you know what I mean by a missions field.

  • 1. Birth & Bereavement is a place filled with real people, who hold to traditions, customs and beliefs that are as ancient as history and feelings as fresh and raw as rain.

It is never the one sided giving relationship most people might think it is.  It is always an exchange, that grows everyone involved.  It faces stereotypes, emotionally charging terminology and starkly different morals, values and beliefs in ways that promote a shared humanity and reveal an uncharted potential for love.


  • 2. It is filled with the most gorgeous hues of hope, the most stunning shades of life and the most vibrant colors of love.

It is to sojourn to a land that is familiar and foreign all at the same time.

Just as in the very word ”missions”, Birth & Bereavement is so much more than many people would think it is.

{photo source}

  • 3. It is riddled with darkness, despair, wars on many fronts and attacks from all directions.  Intruders in the night creep in to rob us of the very sustenance we need, to rape our vulnerable spirits and to plunder our hope.  The persecution is real. 

And, no, I do not use these descriptives lightly at all.

  • 4. It is an all-consuming work.

It is a misunderstood work.  It is a lonely work.  It rips into every belief we have ever held.  It requires sacrifice to the deepest degree.  The result of these conditions can eat into our own health, in every way and on every level.  It requires explanation of the umpteenth time to our loved ones – and to ourselves - why we persevere.  It offers little rest.  Each need is not the next to serve but is the first all over again.  Preparation, education and training are essential, but so is humility and so is endurance.  It requires a delicate dance of daring to allow ourselves to be seen while simultaneously mirroring back to those we are serving.  It demands vulnerability.

  • 5. The fruit of the labor is global, and eternal.

It is neither a denominational effort nor a doctrinal agenda.  The rewards are not shiny and the accolades are not shouted.  The feedback is but a whisper.  It is in the breath of the bereaved and weary mother who sighs in forlorn, as she wearily pulls her feet forward anyway even when the will to live has escaped her.   It is in the unseen moments, long after our work is done, when the weary traveler discovers the bend in the journey where grief unfolds into healing.


It is a work that requires workers of all skills and abilities and demands the participation of many degrees.  Here are but a few:

Whoever you are, wherever you are, you are invited.

What’s more, you are needed.






Bereaved Mother Builds Playground

From the SBD News Team

Jessica, the mom to three daughters who were murdered by their father, plans to sell her daughters’ artwork to help pay for a playground.

Bids on the girls’ artwork will be taken at the gallery in person and over the phone through Aug. 21.

The gallery address is:

Gallery 120

120 North Main St.

River Falls, Wis. 54022

(715) 426-5366

Unlimited Play is helping to bring this vision to fruition.


Related: Birth & Bereavement Activism, and other Farewell Celebrations
You can click here to watch the Yahoo News video:



The Dozier Families

From the SBD News Team


Florida’s cabinet approved the proposal by University of South Florida forensic anthropology team to exhume the bodies of boys buried at the grounds of Arthur G. Dozier School of Boys.

Suspected grave sites, unmarked for years, have been temporarily marked with plastic tubing, when in 2011 the facility was shut down due to allegations of torture.

Records indicate 98 boys died between 1914 and 1973 – but there is no certainty on how many boys died, or how many bodies are buried at the property.

Many of the deceased boys are believed to be African American, and between the ages of 6 to 18 years old.

The proposal to exhume these bodies has been approved for one year.

Attorney General Pam Bondi said, “all these kids, they deserve proper burials, and that’s what we’re going to give them.”

To the families, who’ve spent years, grieving their sons, who were told “you’d better forget it” when they asked about their child, who now wait, who are undergoing DNA testing, who are hopeful to have answers, to have a connection, to have a proper farewell, who are hoping to finally mourn their beloved child with dignity intact, please, please, may you know, that we at stillbirthday are thankful that you did not “forget it”.  We are humbled by your courage, your endurance, your grace.  May you mourn with dignity.

Our country still aches, still groans, from the years of deep racism and penetrating hatred and fear of the color of skin we don’t wear.  This new year-long proposal, and the new facet of the grief journey it will surely reveal, may it not reignite smoldering racism or empty justification for evil.

Our ancestors have made some terribly poor choices, and the only way to bring real healing is for these terribly, tragically, poor choices to be revealed, to be acknowledged, to be admitted, to be forgiven.  This, is the only way.  And we all, have our part in this process and journey.

May we embrace this very difficult journey, together.







Student Sharing

As we start a new class, inevitably friends and supporters of the SBD doula students want to have a peek, an inside view of what the student is learning, how the student is being challenged, and in what ways the student is being inspired.  Here is a place for SBD students themselves, to comment and share a bit of their journey.

Week 1: fertility, pre-conception, conception, diversity in beliefs about pregnancy, birth and loss

Week 2: prenatal bonding, nutrition, partners, physiology of childbirth in every trimester

Week 3: medical support options during childbirth in every trimester

Week 4: non-medical support options during childbirth in every trimester, birth plans, building a doula bag & networking

Week 5: physical postpartum in all experiences, NICU

Week 6: emotional postpartum in all experiences, hormones, grief

Week 7: the emotional experience of the doula

Week 8: the practical, professional and business aspects of the doula


“Stillbirthday’s Birth & Bereavement Doula training is amazing. Heidi has created comprehensive materials that far exceeded my expectations and instilled in me a strong confidence to support loss parents during their darkest hour. The human touch she weaves into the training confirmed for me that I’d made the right decision in choosing stillbirthday for this experience.”
-Jaime Hogan, part-time volunteer SBD
“Still Birth Day is an amazing program.  I highly suggest ALL doulas take it, regardless of who else you trained/certified through.”
-Shannon Sasseville, SBD trained doula
“Please know that I have learned so much more in this course than I had hoped and than I had learned in my five years of university. It has been an absolutely amazing honour to have been given the opportunity to meet so many wonderful women and to acquire all of this extensive knowledge. I cannot say enough about Stillbirthday and I am so incredibly thankful that my journey through grief led me to this opportunity. I truly feel that this is my calling and I will forever be indebted to you for all you do and for giving me the tools that I need to follow my dream. Thank you so much!”
-Jasmin Herchak, SBD student
“Stillbirthday is a refuge for the heart, a safe haven where unconditional love abounds, a place of solace. I am honored to be a SBD doula. My motherhood journey began with a pregnancy loss. The loss of my baby shaped me in very profound ways. It was out of this loss that I felt compelled to take the training and become certified to help other families in their time of grief and mourning. As a SBD doula I am able to support birth in any trimester with any outcome. At Stillbirthday a pregnancy loss is still a birthday. It is a community where resources can be found for birthing plans, farewell celebrations and bereavement support. When I had my miscarriage I did not know anyone who had suffered the same loss. My arms were empty, my eyes were full of tears and my heart was so very heavy. I sought comfort in my faith in God. I knew he was the creator of the life in my womb. 2 Corinthians 1:4 says He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. It is my desire to comfort others in their time of need. Stillbirthday is like balm for the grieving soul. Stillbirthday has equipped me to walk out the desire of my heart in a tangible and meaningful way. If you are in need of compassion because you have experienced loss or if you are interested in becoming a birth and bereavement doula please visit www.stillbirthday.com a place where all are welcome and loved.”
-Holly Lowmiller, SBD published at PaxBaby
“In my opinion, stillbirthday is one of the most rigorous available. Furthermore, the inclusion of miscarriage and stillbirth information provides a firm foundation for helping clients through unexpected outcomes.”
-Summer Thorp-Lancaster, SBD student
“Many people don’t understand the enormity of this training. It’s 8 weeks (you have 12 to finish it) and it can be completely overwhelming. So many people NEED the 12 weeks to complete it. I have never taken training like this before. I would say it’s close to an accelerated college course. Each week you have reading, assignments, and discussions. Some of the assignments involved making phone calls or visiting hospitals and/or funeral homes. In addition, there are 2 books reports and a community project.
You won’t be disappointed. I know many people look down on online training but this isn’t the same.”
-Elizabeth Petrucelli, SBD and author of All That is Seen and Unseen
“I salute you Heidi for the brilliant work you have done to start Stillbirthday. It was a life changing course for me, and I hope I can now better serve the people that the Lord brings across my path. On behalf of all the other students and Doulas, thank you for everything you put into it. We can clearly see that all your heart is in this. Thanks for sharing so honestly and thanks for taking the lead in the field. Not only in the US, but also internationally. My life is so much richer with SBD in my life.”
-Rechelle Vermaak SBD serving South Africa

Birth & Bereavement Blogs

If you use a blog to share about your baby(ies), you can add your link here so that other parents can find you.  Stillbirthday does not endorse any particular blog or writer.  If you are visiting another blog, you may encounter perspectives or experiences or expressions of language that may not always be very encouraging or healing.  Please use caution when visiting other blogs.  However, visiting other bloggers can be an excellent way to get to know other grieving families, and confirm even further that you are not alone.

You are also invited to share your story at stillbirthday, so that more families can connect with you.  You’re also invited to take a peek at our crafting resources, which includes tips and ideas related to journaling and blogging.

Just leave a comment below with the URL of your blog, and what it’s emphasis is, and this list will be updated to include yours.

Miscarriage Blogs

Stillbirth Blogs

Infertility Blogs


Difficult Diagnosis/Neonatal Death/Birth Emergencies/Loss after NICU Blogs




General Bereavement/Life after Loss


Elective Abortion Blogs

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