A Wesley Hospital chaplaincy initiative is providing Uniting Church congregations with opportunities to support bereaved parents during the darkest of times. Dianne Jensen reports.
Chaplain Julie Mackay-Rankin is passionate about the role of the church in supporting people through loss. Working in consultation with the midwives, Julie helps manage the Perinatal Bereavement Program at Brisbane’s Wesley Hospital, and she understands what it means to walk alongside parents facing the rawness of neonatal death.
“The chaplains bring with them the compassion of Christ. We don’t have a clinical approach, we don’t have a counselling approach—we sit with them in their pain and allow them to ask, how am I going to live with this pain; how am I going to remember my baby?”
Julie’s work in the maternity unit reflects a generational change in how health professionals and society in general deal with miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death.
“Our society has moved from what was seen as reasonable at the time, the notion of simply forgetting that you’ve lost a baby and moving on, without recognising that the grief continues,” she says.
When the pastoral care department began offering a blessing for babies who had miscarried before 20 weeks (for whom there is no birth certificate or funeral) Julie started thinking about how congregations could provide support once parents returned home.
She approached ministers at the 2014 Synod to garner interest in sponsoring self-care packages for mothers, and offered perinatal grief and loss training to participating congregations.
“It’s a two-pronged approach; one is aiming to connect congregations to the Wesley and in turn owning what we have to offer here, and the other is to encourage congregations to gain some understanding of this particular type of grief and loss,” says Julie. “The long-term goal is for young parents to feel safe in a community, and for that congregation to grow and to nurture the family.”
About 20 Uniting Church congregations from across Brisbane and in Ipswich, Dayboro, Samford Valley and Redcliffe are supporting the Perinatal Bereavement Program, with four undergoing grief and loss training.
Funding from the churches was also used to supplement the cost of a Heartfelt Camera Kit, given in memory of a bereaved couple’s baby. The camera allows families to capture memories of their time together. Thanks to donations from two other bereaved families, the maternity unit is also able to offer parents the use of cuddle cots, a type of cold bassinet that allows parents to spend more time with their stillborn child post-birth.
For more information contact Julie Mackay-Rankin on (07) 3232 7289 or firstname.lastname@example.org