Posted in Baby loss Stories, Bereavement Doula, Bereavement \, Death, Natural Birth, Remembrance Photography

Beautiful Pain

This was my first official experience as Bereavement Doula and one that I will always keep very close to my heart. I wrote about this in 2015 but have been requested to post it as a Blog Post again, so here goes:

 I walked into the room. He was in kidney bowl. Completely naked, not covered at all. I rushed to his side, blanket in hand and took him from his mommy. She didn’t protest. She just looked at me with big blue eyes, brimming with tears. I gently took his perfect little body and covered it in a soft baby blanket. When I gave him back to his mommy I could see that she was thankful beyond words. The little angel’s daddy whispered a hoarse ‘thank you’ and put his arm around his wife and child – as if to protect them from an invisible enemy.

And in a way he was. He was protecting them against a cruel Act in the South African Law books that stated that this perfectly formed, beautiful little boy was medical waste or ‘human tissue’ as they so delicately try to hide the ugly truth in their ridiculous forms. This because he was born before 26 weeks of gestation… Natalie looked at Seth helplessly when I started to talk about all the legalities. Seth immediately got up and I could see fire in his eyes. “If they give you any hassles I will sue them from here ‘till kingdom come Nicci!” he hissed with a face contorted with sadness. I assured him that everything was going to be ok, and inside I was praying very hard that this would be the case.

Natalie’s doctor signed a death certificate for little Daniel. This should exempt his parents from filling in endless forms and looking for a commissioner of oaths to certify the documents. However, the hospital as an entity insisted on the affidavit wherein it is stated that little Daniel is ‘human tissue’ and that his placenta is taken out of the hospital for religious reasons. Seth was livid about this and I tried to talk sense into him. At long last he calmed down and I spoke to the nurse in charge, begging her to allow Seth to take the forms to be certified without her being present, as this will be a huge obstacle to overcome – commissioners of oath aren’t kicked out behind every bush! At first the nurse was a bit stubborn, but when she saw that there was no way I was going to back off, she agreed. Seth went to do the paperwork and I stayed with Natalie, as per his instructions.

Natalie was vomiting in a bucket when I walked back in the room, little Daniel was lying in his blanket right next to her. I gently pulled her long blonde hair back and whispered soothing words to calm her down. We cleaned her up, and I put Daniel back in her arms again. She gently touched him all over his little body. His feet, his legs, his arm, his tiny little feet… I was eerily calm, but I also realized that I was in survival mode and that I had to be strong for this amazing couple.

I told Natalie that I was going to leave the room to allow her to have some alone time with Daniel. She didn’t take her eyes off of Daniel, and just nodded silently. After asking the nurses to please not go into the room, I went downstairs to the coffee shop and waited for Seth to return. He was back in no time, but I could see that he was still terribly upset. I took him aside and told him that he must please relax and that everything was going to be ok. He just said “Nicci, I want to grant my boy the dignity of being treated as a human being. That’s all I’m asking. He is not human tissue or medical waste! He is my son!” Seth was sobbing out the last sentence. I gently took him by his arm and reassured him that his son will get the dignity he so desperately wanted for him. We then went back to Natalie.

I slowly opened the door to Natalie’s room. She was just sitting there in bed, Daniel in her lap, staring blankly in front of her. I nudged Seth towards her, he gently picked up Daniel and I closed the curtains to give them some privacy. The paperwork was given to the matron and she was doing only heavens know what with it. I found out soon enough. The next moment the nurse in charge was in the room with a red plastic bag in her hands, looking around and asking me in a loud voice where the ‘fetus’ was. I told her that the BABY was still with his parents and that they wanted more time with him. Before she could say anything I pulled open the curtains and gently took the baby from Natalie. I told her that I would be right back. I asked Seth to tend to her, as she started vomiting again. They both just stared at me. Baby in hand, I helped the nurse out of the room – I could see she knew I was boiling inside.

Once we were alone just outside the ‘waste’ room, the nurse took Daniel from me. I tried to stay civil. It was hard, but I had to. I asked her what exactly she was planning to do with the red plastic bag in her hand. “I am going to tag the fetus, put it in the bag and send it to the Maternity ward” she said, looking quite surprised by the question. I hissed at her in an ominous voice, “Over my dead body will you put that child in that horrid bag. You will not put him in ANY bag! He will stay in that blanket, as God is my witness.” She looked at me in genuine surprise. “But it’s hospital policy, we always do it this way?” It was crystal clear that these people didn’t know what the heck they were doing and that they did not know the law at all. I was livid, but I stayed calm. I knew that if it was Seth that spoke to this nurse he would totally lose it. What was I to do?

What I did next came automatically, without me planning or thinking ahead. It was pure instinct. I pulled the nurse into the ‘waste’ room and closed the door. I talked in very slow sentences in a barely audible voice.  “The documents that were supplied to you effectively make me the owner of that baby in your hands, do you agree?” She looked at me and nodded slowly. I said “We agree then. Wonderful. Now, listen to me very carefully because I am only going to say this once: This is MY baby, I am legally responsible for it and thus I will choose what can and cannot be done with it. Please go and fill out the thousands of forms that you still have to do and give me my baby back.” I was speaking and taking the baby from her at the same time. Her mouth literally hung open. She handed me the baby in a haze. She started speaking, but abruptly stopped, turned around and walked back to the nurse’s station, shaking her head.

I gently closed Daniel’s little head, and I walked back to Natalie’s room. Seth almost ran to me. “My boy! You brought my boy back. Oh thank you Nicci, thank you!” Seth was obviously in quite a state – he clearly thought the nurse was going to dispose of their baby. I carefully handed Daniel to him and walked to Natalie’s bedside. She was deathly pale and stared in front of her. I touched her arm and she grabbed my hand. We didn’t talk. I just stood there. Seth was cuddling Daniel in his arms, mumbling incoherent words to the small little body in his arms. He then turned back to Natalie and handed their son to her. She stared at him. Dry-eyed she was still white as a sheet. I motioned to Seth to take the baby from her, which he did. He turned around and stared out of the window with Daniel in his arms. Within seconds Natalie was vomiting in the bucket again. Her body was reacting to the utter shock she was in and I realized that it wasn’t going to get any better. I had to make a call. I cleared my throat and said with as much gentleness as I could, “Guys, I’m going to go downstairs to the coffee shop. Please say goodbye to your little angel? Seth, please call me when you are ready so that I can prepare baby to travel with me.” Nobody reacted to my words. Seth was still staring out of the window as I closed the door behind me…

After a while my phone rang and Seth told me that they were ready for me to fetch Daniel. I have watched countless programs on TV where the earie undertaker fetches a body from wherever. It had grossed me out, as it does a lot of people. And now I was that undertaker! It never dawned on me. I was looking at myself as being Seth and Natalie’s support system, not a cruel person that will grab the baby out of his parents’ arms and disappear into the night with him! I shook off the horrible thought and hastened to Natalie’s room.

I walked into the room and immediately prepared the pretty box I bought to put Daniel in to transport him to our facilities. It was already lined with a soft little blanket and I added the extra blanked and soft toy that Natalie gave to me. I then asked Seth to please fetch Daniel from Natalie. I could hear a little sob behind the curtains and the next moment Seth stood next to me with Daniel in his arms. He wouldn’t give me the little body. I then asked him to please put the baby inside his little nest. He said to me, “I want to carry out my boy please?” I had never been in this situation before and therefore I had to go with my gut again: “You’re welcome to do so Seth. We just need to close the box until we get to my car ok? We don’t want to shock anyone.” Seth was upset again. “Are you going to take him to your facilities closed up in a box? No, that’s just not right Nicci!” I gently explained to him that as soon as we get to my car, Daniel would be placed in a beautiful woven little coffin and will travel right next to me. (Thank heavens I happened to have one in my car!) That seemed to calm him down. I couldn’t look at Natalie when I walked out. She shouted after me, “Good bye my boy, good bye. I love you! I will come to see you again, I promise!” It was absolutely heartbreaking. Seth carried his baby with what I can only call pride, walking next to me with his head held high – almost daring anyone to say something. The nursing personnel did not say one word. All five of them stood still and watched silently as we walked by. I was relieved beyond words.

Outside, the hospital was basked in the last glorious sunlight of the day, tainted a pretty pink. The contrast between the beauty of the sunset and Seth’s almost palpable pain were stark. When we got to the car it looked like he was going to have a total breakdown. I was terribly worried about him. I took the box from him, got into my car, lifted the lid and carefully eased the tiny little body into the casket. Daniel was still covered with a lovely blanket. I took another blanket that Natalie gave me and put it on him. I then got out and told Seth that he can say a final goodbye inside the car, but then I had to go. He asked me if he could put the lid on the casket. I agreed. Seth got into my car and put a bunny soft toy in the casket with Daniel. He then gently closed the lid, tears on his face. I gave him a hug and whispered “I am so sorry you have to go through this. Please hang in there.” He just nodded and then he walked off – by now it was almost dark.

I fastened the little woven basket in the front seat and left for the office. My work was done. I made a difference. I made someone’s excruciating pain a tiny bit better. I was there. I was Nicci. I was a witness to Daniel’s existence and his parents’ love for him.I was a witness to beautiful pain…

(This is a true story of my, Nicci Coertz personal experience as Bereavement Doula, written in 2015)


I am a Perinatal Bereavement Specialist and Trainer from Pretoria, South Africa. As Bereavement doula and baby loss photographer I have personally assisted many parents with pregnancy loss, baby loss and NICU loss. As Perinatal Bereavement Trainer I am actively equipping students all over the world to do the same. It is a privilege to serve with love in loss and to add light!

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