Before Heather started at the Pavilion for Women, the only child life specialist on staff worked primarily with premature infants in the NICU. Gradually, the need for bereavement support for women and families experiencing perinatal losses became apparent. Heather joined the team as a child life specialist focused on women's services, where she covers the NICU, works with families experiencing perinatal loss, and supports patients such as teenage mothers and mothers on hospital bed rest.
Heather works closely with the Perinatal Palliative Advanced Care Team (PPACT), a multidisciplinary team that includes a neonatologist, NICU nurse, social worker, and spiritual care. Heather's role focuses on education and bereavement planning for families who have received terminal fetal diagnoses or are expecting babies who are not expected to live past delivery.
Over the course of several meetings that take place before delivery, Heather gets to know families to develop a rapport and assess their individual needs. She discusses options such as comfort care and hospice, helps write birth plans, and reviews options for post-natal support. If the family includes siblings, Heather educates them in a developmentally appropriate manner about what to expect when they meet their new baby brother or sister. Even when there are no siblings, Heather views her work as "providing services to a patient and family," where the patient may be very young and not expected to live.
Most parents are receptive to the support and services Heather offers, including education, legacy building, and memory making. Ink prints, photos and molds are keepsakes Heather provides for many families. When those mediums are not feasible, Heather provides other options such as a card where parents can write the baby's name and date of birth. In a special keepsake box, parents can include a blanket, hat, diaper set, outfit, ceramic keepsakes, ultrasound photos and pregnancy test. Even with miscarriage, Heather offers advice about how to honor the child's legacy and preserve memories.
Photos are an important part of creating tangible memories. Heather has received training in bereavement photography and is often the only non-family member present while parents and siblings greet and mourn a new baby. She considers this role an honor, and many of these families leave a lasting impression. Heather recalls a family whose baby passed away during delivery, and she was the only non-family member in the room as the parents and their two-year-old son greeted and said goodbye to their daughter and sister. Heather helped the older sibling understand what was happening and use his sister's name as he said goodbye. While providing this emotional support and education, she also took photos that the parents could share with their son when he was older. Heather often hears from families who wish to express their gratitude for her service and support during a painful time in their lives.