Muskegon area bereavement doula, Jen Cantrell, is a gift to our community.

With October being Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, I wanted to share a blog on the topic. The one person I knew I could count on to help with this is Jen Cantrell of Angel Wings Bereavement Services. She is a certified bereavement doula and chaplain. Dedicated to her calling, her work with families is a priceless gift.

Initially, I wanted to sit down for a video interview with Jen…but, for two busy moms like us, that isn’t so easy. So, with a little effort from the both of us, we’ve got the interview for you – minus the video.

Beth: With October being Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, I thought now would be the perfect time to highlight your services and the event that you have coming up in October on the 15th. To get started, I was wondering if you could describe for everyone what a bereavement doula is, as I know it’s not something most people have probably ever heard of.

Jen: A bereavement doula is someone who provides support before, during, and after labor and delivery. I assist providing education about memorial or funeral arrangements along with educating families and ensuring compassion by all in contact with the family. A bereavement doula is an anchor, a stable source to hold on to when the whole world seems to be spinning around you.

Beth: What lead you to become a bereavement doula?

Jen: I am the mother of 15 children who I hold in my heart and 4 I hold in my arms. When I was pregnant with my last rainbow baby (a rainbow is a baby born after a loss), I was assited by two incredible doulas. They inspired me to give the same compassion to others that I received from them.

Beth: About how many families have you served?

Jen: I serve families in a variety of capacities; some only prior to birth, many during, some only after and some who aren’t local. In 4 years I’ve served about 340 families.

Beth: Every year you have an event to remember the babies gone too soon. How long have you been doing that and how much has this event grown over the years? I’m curious as to how many babies are being remembered this year so far (if you know).

Jen: I’ve been hosting events for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month since 2008 – so 9 years now. It started with me remembering about 75 babies and as of today, I’m remembering over 2000 babies this year.

Beth: How does what you do work? Do most people know ahead of time that they will need you?

Jen: Our local hospitals and OBGYN’s are aware of me and what I do. Sometimes I’m contacted by the hospital. Others find me via a variety of loss groups and websites. Sometimes it’s just word of mouth. 95% of the time, I’m meeting families in their hospital room.

Beth: What about your family? How do they feel about what you do?

Jen: My family is very supportive of what I do. My older children help create keepsakes. My husband is always open and available to meet and talk with other dads.

Beth: StillBirthday is the organization that certifies bereavement doulas. Can you tell everyone a little bit about this?

Jen: StillBirthday was created by Heidi Faith 5 years ago after her son Christian was born not alive. StillBirthday currently has certified doulas all over the world, as well as chaplains like myself. The website itself is full of information for anyone experiencing any type of loss of a child.

Beth: What advice would you give to anyone who might be interested in becoming a bereavement doula? Like, what are some really important things you think they should know?

Jen: This is not an easy job by any means. You are on call 24/7/365. You will be the rock in a variety of uncomfortable situations. But you will also fall in love, each and every time. I’m always open to talk to anyone who’s interested in becoming a bereavement doula.

Beth: Since your position as a bereavement doula requires that your services are voluntary, what can people do to help you? Other than donating money, are there other ways they can contribute?

Jen: Donations of any sort are always needed and appreciated. Monetary allows me to obtain immediate needs. But I’m always in need of blankets, hats, candles, tissue packs, stuffed animals…I could go on for hours. To find out more, there is a list on my website.

Beth: Any words of advice for those trying to offer support to a mom who’s experienced a loss? I know it’s hard for most of us to know what to do or what to say.

Jen: Say the baby’s name! That would be my #1 word of advice. Acknowledge the baby’s life, no matter how brief. Sometimes the most comforting thing is allowing mom to cry, and yell…allow them to hurt.

To wrap this up, I want to thank Jen for her time in helping me with this interview, but even more so for the work she does. This is such a sensitive topic, and I can’t think of anyone better to be there for women and their families during loss than her.

(Article written by Birth Quest doula and birth photographer, Beth Singleton)