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Compassionate Caregiving

Compassionate caregiving and self-care go hand in hand.

Your role in giving compassionate care begins with your intention.  What is your role and the realistic expectations of what you can do?  Are you there to shorten the dark tunnel of pain or be a warm caring 'candle' and hug in their darkness? 

How well do feel you understand the familes' needs and their feelings? 

Can you be sensitive and aware by showing empathy while also offering guidance? 

We have a short book just for you on these very topics.  It is easy to read and even has CEU contact units available.  Giving Care, Taking Care: Support for the Helpers, available in the eSHOP.



Caring for hurting families is a fulfilling experience, while being painful and exhausting at the same time.  Finding the balance is your challenge.  Too much 'taking charge' and feeling 'responsible' on their behalf can result in burnout.  Compassion fatigue can also occur comes after much giving and giving, even if done in healthy manners. These days it is compounded by short staffing, extensive paper/computer work, and sometimes lack of consistent care for families making it difficult to coordinate and give calm-patient centered care.  When one nurse works with one family at a time and is not pulled in too many directions, the level of care and satisfaction can be higher for both. 

It may mean you need to share the load (if possible) or take more breaks.  Families need someone at the top of their game, which puts you in a dilemma if you are the main or only person.  Hopefully, you can get support from your manager to train others and share this work. It is too much for one person to carry on their shoulders.  Be honest with yourself and your manager.  You are needed for the long run. 

A case can be made for program sustainability which takes a team.  Who are members of your team?  Think inside and outside your facility.  How about clinic/doctor's office staff; chaplain; social workers; other department colleagues;  child-life specialists; as well as community members such as childbirh educators; doulas and loss doulas/companion-advocates; support group leaders; parent leaders; clergy; mental health professionals; FMIR staff, and Public Health staff.  There are many roles to play for families prior to the loss, during, and afterwards.  A hospital nurse or social worker does not and cannot do it all.  Build a community team who communicate about how to give care at a 'Gold Standard' level.  Then use the HIPAA law as your friend, not as a barrier. Learn how to involve others with appropriate permissions.  Pass the family from one caring person to another in your system and then in the community. 

An example might be instructive.                   


After the news is given, with parent permission and staff encouragement at the clinic, a Baby Loss Doula could be called in to help, even to work with the parents' Doula who has been previously engaged.  The entire process could be slowed with an emphasis on preparation and shock reduction.

The Baby Loss Doula could encourage involvement of a Childbirth Educator who has a relationship with the parents.  After birth visioning with either or both supporters, the Birth Preferences Plan/Vision is delivered/faxed to the Birth Center for preparation for birth and meeting time . 

The Baby Loss Doula could be present for some of the delivery time and afterwards, helping the nurses give memory-making care and advocating for the family's needs.  The Chaplain (spiritual care) and Social Workers (emotional and maybe funeral planning care) could be involved.  The Bereavement Discharge meeting could be attended by any of the above mentioned staff, including the Loss Doula, and a short visit from the doctor/midwife.  Other family members would be encouraged to be there for 'extra ears', note-takers, and future support. 

Care at home could be facilitated with involvement of Public Health, FIMR staff, and the Loss Doula can offer resources and networking for community, regional, and national in-person, written, and social media support.  A Peer Support Parent could be engaged if appropriate.


Self Care

As someone who gives care, often intense care to others, it is imperative that you make yourself a priority.   Otherwise, how will you give light to your patients when your lamp is extinguished or has little oil?   Nurturing people often graciously give of themselves while not paying enough attention to refreshing and revitalizing self. 

Just a reminder, do put yourself at the top, or near the top, of that list.  You will stay healthier longer- both physically and mentally.  The book Giving Care, Taking Care can be helpful for self-care, also  The first section is about how to give care in a compassionate and respectful manner, not trying to take people's grief away or seeking to shorten their process.  This lessons the pressure you will feel if you act more as a 'Helper' and not a 'Rescuer'.  The second half of the book is dedicated to reminding you why taking care of yourself makes you a better caretaker of others.  Many suggestions are offered along with a self-assessment tool to determine your areas of strength and weakness when it comes to self-care.   A bibliography offers some great books and resources to help you keep your commitment to yourself. 

A few thoughts to ponder:

  • Each day ask yourself what one or two (or more) things will you do to uplift yourself and add to your physical health
  • Keep a journal or log of your personal self-care
  • Create a list of things you can do to promote good health.   Chose different ones each day or week.  Change it up so you have variety and your body does not resort to muscle memory
  • Remember some of the basics - drink lots of water, limit sugar, seek sunshine, exercise standardly, debrief and unload your burdens and stresses
  • Meditate and seek quiet time
  • Remember your role and what you really 'can' and 'cannot' do for others; set your boundaries and only break them when your head and heart tell you to do so