Two sisters create resources and hope for stillbirth and miscarriage loss
By Lindsay Peyton
Houston Methodist Hospital now has a dedicated space where nurses can go to find the right words and the best resources to share with women during one of their greatest times of need – after a miscarriage or stillbirth. Among the items lining the shelves are clothing, teddy bears, kits to make hand and footprints, a photo printer, devotionals, handouts for grief support groups and binders full of helpful information. All of this has been possible thanks to the brainstorming and dedication of two sisters – one a nurse and the other a United Methodist pastor.
It all started when Rev. Lindsay Kirkpatrick, Senior Pastor at Asbury UMC in Pasadena, went to a birthday lunch for her sister Andrea Wursche, a registered nurse at Houston Methodist. At one point, the conversation turned to work.
Wursche has been working in labor and delivery for a decade. But no matter how much experience a nurse has, she explained, knowing what to say after a miscarriage or stillbirth is always a challenge. “There are no words for that,” she said. “To know how to navigate it is very difficult.”
Wursche had heard about training courses developed to help nurses in the situation. She also learned about a cuddle cot, an in-room cooling unit in a bassinet, which allows the baby to stay in the room with a family longer.
Kirkpatrick had recently been to another hospital to visit a church family suffering a miscarriage. The woman showed her pastor the various resources available to her.
When Kirkpatrick asked her sister if a similar program existed at Houston Methodist, she learned that nothing was in place. “It’s a faith-based institution,” Kirkpatrick told her. “We should be able to do something.”
Wursche said that there was no budget in place for training or to purchase a cuddle cot. Her sister immediately took the reins. “She was like, ‘Let me see what I can do about it. Actually, I’m going to call Kip (Gilts) right now,’” Wursche recalled.
In less than half an hour, the two sisters were sitting at a table with the Rev. Kip Gilts, Assistant to the Bishop for the Texas Annual Conference. “He said, ‘That’s definitely a spiritual need and something that we can support,’” Wursche explained.
Gilts told them to put together a proposal, and he would bring it before the TAC’s mission committee. “By September, we had a check,” Wursche said.
The next step was getting the hospital on board, and after about 6 months, everything was approved. A foundation – Grieving Parents Perinatal Loss Fund – was also formed to support the program.
Three staff members and a chaplain were sent to training, while Wursche went for the three-day coordinator course. “It was amazing, so incredibly helpful,” she said.
The sessions were developed around the feedback of parents who had lost a baby. They provided testimonials about their experiences at hospitals and what they wish staff had said or provided to them. “That was invaluable,” Wursche explained. “I couldn’t have asked for something more helpful.”
The hospital soon set aside room for the dedicated cabinets for resources. Molding kits, the photo printer and other items were purchased. By May, the program launched.
Then, nonprofit Mothers of Held Angels (MOHA) of Katy, which provides training to Houston area hospitals for bereavement nurses to support families of loss, got involved. “They took on getting the cuddle cot approved,” Wursche said.
The group also purchased cuddle cots for the downtown, Sugar Land, Katy and The Woodlands locations of Houston Methodist. Because the TAC funds were no longer needed for the cuddle cot, six additional nurses could be sent to training.
Donations also came from Bridget's Cradles, an organization that provides crocheted cradles to hospitals to provide comfort to grieving families, and Angel Gowns Program, which gives gowns to bereaved families.
Already, Wursche has put her training into practice. “I felt so different, so much more present,” she said. “I was able to offer more support.”
Other nurses who attended the training provided similar feedback and are also grateful to have access to the resource cabinet.
“Families who are able to make the most memories are the people who can handle grief in the best way,” Kirkpatrick explained. “Now moms are able to stay with their babies longer.”
She continued, “This is a unit that’s supposed to be the most joyous in the hospital. But for some, it’s the place of the greatest tragedy. To help allay that grief as much as possible is a pretty tender ministry.”
Now that the program is in place at Houston Methodist, Kirkpatrick said there is still an opportunity for local churches to get involved – either by sewing angel gowns or blankets or donating to keep resources available. “It would be easy and natural for churches to join with the hospital in ministry,” she said.
Kirkpatrick added that there are not often times that her sister’s career crosses paths with her own. “It was cool to have a program that we could develop together,” she said. “It was an organic thing, just between sisters.”