The Tender Care of a Loss Doula

Women in the midst of pregnancy who have experienced trauma and women who are sensitive to deeply emotional topics may find this a difficult post to read. ** This post is intended to help educate women about the role of loss doulas who support families during pregnancy and infant loss. **

Leanne Latterell

Leanne Latterell, photographed by Jenny Cruger Photography

On August 12, 2010, Leanne Latterell experienced what no mother ought to endure: Her precious son Michael was stillborn. Two years earlier, Leanne had been drawn into the work of supporting women through pregnancy loss. Now she faced her own loss—and she tapped into a well of understanding deeper than she could have imagined possible.

A registered nurse, Leanne also holds a degree in sociology. She first served women as an Air Force paramedic in 2003. While stationed in Germany, she worked in the NICU, and in Labor and Delivery as a Medical Services Apprentice. There, she learned about childbirth education, birth/labor assistance, newborn care and assessment, breastfeeding/lactation support, postpartum care, and perinatal loss support.

Her work today in civilian life looks similar: Leanne, a monitrice, supports mothers in Nashville as birth doula and postpartum doula with A Village Birth Services. She also provides lactation support, teaches Alpha Childbirth classes, and is most passionate about her work as a Perinatal Loss Specialist.

Here, in her own words, Leanne describes the care and support  available for the parents of “angel babies.”

Leanne, what called you to the work of being a doula and a birth advocate?
LEANNE: While stationed at Landsthul, I had amazing opportunities to learn from some of the most compassionate and intelligent midwives and OBs. Going to work was the highlight of my time in Germany. After I was allowed to catch a few babies with close supervision from the midwives, I knew I was meant to be in the birth profession!

[And, after working in a hospital], I knew there had to be a better model of care that could be and should be available to women and their families during the prenatal, labor/delivery, and postpartum period—especially in a loss situation. I decided I could better serve women and babies if I practiced independently outside of the hospital setting.

Tell us more about being a “Loss Doula.”
LEANNE: A Loss Doula is an advocate who helps parents minimize regrets and maximize memories when a loved baby dies. I have worked as a Perinatal Loss Specialist for 6 years. I took a 4-year break from loss work after our first baby, Michael, was stillborn at 36 weeks.

What compelled you to become a loss doula?
LEANNE: While in the military, I was assigned to care for a mother whose baby had died before birth. I had never cared for a mother whose baby would not be born alive. She was 40 weeks pregnant and scheduled to have a Cesarean the following morning. Her husband was deployed down range. She and her 4 other children had just moved to Germany that week. Amidst the hectic move she did not notice that her baby had not been moving. When she noticed and came in to be monitored, her baby had no heartbeat. Her husband was a thousand miles away in an unknown location, and her other 4 children were with her at the hospital. It was my job to care for the entire family.

How intense–attending a stillbirth. What comfort and support did you offer this mama?
LEANNE: She had no one to advocate for her, no one to guide her. So I gently led her through what would happen and what to expect. I cared for her like she was special, but not an anomaly. She and her baby deserved to be treated with the utmost respect and dignity. With her permission, I found childcare for her children with a close church family that I knew. I held her hand and helped her breathe. After delivery, she met her daughter.

What was that experience like, mother meeting stillborn daughter?
LEANNE: She made memories and pictures were taken. A memory box was made and mementos were placed in it. At the end of the night she said to me, “Thank you, I could not have done this without you. Now my husband will know what our daughter looked like. I would have never thought of taking pictures.”

How did you identify with this experience as your calling?
LEANNE: My colleagues complimented me on how beautifully I handled everything. I felt like I had been so unprepared and ill equipped but somehow, I knew I had helped. It was then I knew I needed more training and information on how to care for families during this devastating time. I spent the next few years reading books and learning as much as I could about Bereavement Care while being the main Loss support person for families that had experienced any loss on our unit.

And then, incredibly, you lost your own son. Are you able to open up about that with us?
LEANNE: After experiencing the loss of our own son, it became ever more clear that I would be able to help other families since I could truly empathize. Parents don’t lose just a child. They lose their dreams for that child. An entire lifetime that was expected for them with that child is taken on a moment’s notice. Being able to look into their eyes and hold their hand while saying, “I know how you feel; you are not alone” is now my inspiration.

What would you like people to know about Loss Doulas?
LEANNE: That we exist and that we can help when a life changing event like the loss of a baby happens. We can help no matter the length of gestation. I’d like people to know there are professional training organizations that take Loss Doula certification very seriously because it is such a sacred profession.

It’s reassuring to know that compassionate support is available for mamas who endure a loss. As a Loss Doula, what is your vision for birth in the Nashville community?
LEANNE: My vision for birth in Nashville is that every mother who loses a child—every couple that experiences a loss –have access to a well-trained, nurturing Loss Doula who:

  • Gently supports
  • Wisely teaches
  • Intentionally advocates for women/couples from the time they learn of their loss, through their planning process, the birth, and afterwards.

Thank you, Leanne. This is remarkable work that you and all loss doulas do. It is a comfort to know that when parents lose a baby, your compassionate presence is here in our community.

{Leanne Latterell—RN, Monitrice, Birth/Postpartum Doula, Lactation Support, Perinatal Loss Specialist—is mother to Lucia, 1 year, and Michael, who was stillborn August 12, 2010. He would be 3 this year.}

Photo credit: © Caroline Klapper |

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