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Amy Banson works in a space where birth meets death. As a bereavement doula, she has exclusively dedicated herself to women who experience stillbirth or the loss of their newborn.
“The way that I work with families is to be a support person from the moment they experience a baby bereavement or discover a fatal diagnosis,” the 34-year-old told Mamamia. “That involves whatever they need at the time; so maybe going into hospital to speak with the parents, or being a support person to those already within their network.
“I help them understand what the situation is, what their options are.”
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Clients normally come to to Banson via word of mouth, and while her role may involve weeks, even months, of support – from advising loved ones on how to help, to organising memorials and keepsakes – she says it’s in the birthing room that bereavement doulas have the most impact.
Critical to this is helping the mother focus on each step in isolation. In labour, for example, it’s all about welcoming.
“We’re not farewelling baby just yet, we’re not talking about what’s going to happen afterwards. We’re just focusing on welcoming your baby, because you’re about to be a mother,” the mother of three said. “And that language is really important. Because a lot of women [who’ve experienced bereavement] later question whether they can call themselves a mother, whether they can say they’ve had a child or given birth.
“A lot of stuff like that can come further down the track, and we try to affirm it right then and there in the birthing room.”
When ‘afterwards’ comes, she’s there to encourage bonding; “A baby who has died should be held and sung and spoken to and loved. Just the same as a baby who is born healthy and alive.”
Banson is one of those people who is driven by compassion – pure and simple. After witnessing a fatal car accident in 2005 she walked from Brisbane to Canberra to raise awareness and funds for acquired brain injury. The following year, she created a program to tackle youth depression, which was placed in 425 schools, and then walked from Perth to Canberra to create awareness of the cause. She’s also served as a foster carer to young people in need.
The Canberra woman’s transition from birth doula to bereavement doula was just another expression of her selfless nature.
“I don’t see it as selfless, you know. I see it as being lucky that I’m able to do what I really love to do. And whilst I’m doing it, I’m helping families at their most vulnerable time, which is a beautiful feeling,” she said.
But once Banson began her new role, she realised something didn’t sit right, that the best way to help grieving mothers was to strengthen the community around them – be it health-care professionals, other doulas, friends, family. And so she launched Let Me See My Baby, a nationally touring panel discussion on baby bereavement.
Each event features local experts who share their knowledge on everything from guilt to grief, the impact on siblings and subsequent pregnancies. The next discussion will take place in Melbourne on February 28, and will bring together a panel of seven, including an experienced midwife and a specialised palliative care nurse.
"I really wanted communities to be better equipped to deal with these situations in ways that mothers and families really need," Banson said.
With one in 120 births in Australia being stillbirth or a newborn death, Banson is determined to take Let Me See My Baby as far and wide as possible, no matter the toll it takes on her personally.
"I could never say that I'm immune to the sadness - I'm human. There's not a woman or family that I work with that I don't feel incredible sadness for," she said. "I just hope that what I do and what I'm trying to create via these conversations is taking steps to help them and to help other families in the future."