Sunday, March 09, 2008

Web First: With arms wide open

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Mary Baudino goes above and beyond for grieving familiesMary Baudino has a passion for people. This much is clear by her business card.

Baudino, a
certified bereavement facilitator with the Family Birthing Suites of Morris Hospital, has listed all of her contact information, including her home phone number, on the cards.

"When they first printed my cards at the hospital, they thought I made a mistake," Baudino says. "I have both my home, cell, work and e-mail address listed. Basically, everything it takes to get a hold of me. When people want to talk to me, I know it is important to talk to them now, not next week."

The importance's of Baudino's role at Morris Hospital extends beyond the hours of 9 to 5. As an obstetrical nurse in the Family Birthing Suites, Baudino is also responsible for helping parents cope with the loss of a child.

This is a subject Baudino personally knows, unfortunately, all too well.

"When we lost our youngest son, I really became interested in bereavement," Baudino said. "We went to Compassionate Friends, a support group, and saw the importance of people supporting each other."

This was an eye-opener for Baudino, as she noticed there really wasn't a place in the area for families to turn when they experienced a loss of a child.

It was then that Baudino started Empty Arms, a support group for families who have lost children through miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth or newborn death.

And now Baudino has witnessed firsthand the changes of society and the perception of a loss of a baby.

"Years ago, they took the babies immediately out of the room," Baudino said. "They thought it was better for the mother to protect her and not let her get attached to the deceased child."

Things are much different now. Baudino encourages families to see, hold, touch and even name their deceased babies, which helps with the grieving process.

"This gives them a beautiful memory of their baby," she said. "Many women's only memory of their baby is something wrong. But to see the baby, they get a picture of what their child actually looked like, regardless of what part of their children they see. It may just be a hand, foot or lock of hair."

After 15 years at Morris Hospital, Baudino has learned to lean on friends.

"This is a hard job and it takes awhile to learn," Baudino said. "You have to be strong for the family, but the next day you have to take care of yourself, too."

She credits her mentor and friend, Joan Sereno, who is the director of Grundy Community Volunteer Hospice.

Her family, too, is extremely supportive of her running out at different hours to attend to patients.

Through the years, Baudino has learned that the grieving process has a lot to do with culture, age and religion. She says that everyone grieves differently, but these factors have to be taken into consideration when helping a family.

"I don't deal with just the parents when it comes to a loss of a child," Baudino says. "I deal with the grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins. It is a loss for many, not just the parents."

Baudino says she has had to go to the morgue to allow a grandmother to see her deceased grandchild.

"I explain exactly what they will look like," she said. "We bathe them and dress them with clothes donated and made in the community. But this really gives that person some closure in allowing them to see the baby."

Remembrance boxes are also something Morris Hospital provides to the family.

The boxes include an angel pin with the birthstone of the baby, footprints and handprints, locks of hair and a measurement tape with how long the baby was.

"When I was in training, they would tell us stories of women who had babies that died," she said. "The baby may have weighed 4 pounds, 10 ounces. These mothers have been known to go to the produce department and put 4 pounds and 10 ounces of fruit into the scale to see exactly how big their babies were. They may have never been allowed to hold their babies and they wanted to experience what they would have felt like."

Empty Arms, the support group at Morris Hospital, is a way for many parents suffering a loss to relate and talk about their experiences. Baudino said it was important for her to go back to the support group after the loss of her son because she wanted to help others.

"I meet with people from parks to restaurants," she said. "Sometimes they just need to talk because they are having a bad day. I just want to be there to listen, because I know."

And, according to Baudino, there is no right or wrong way to grieve.

"I see people grow and maybe accept that loss, and then maybe two months later they went 10 steps backwards," she said. "That's the grief process."

She also encourages those who have experienced a miscarriage to come to the group.

"People who experience miscarriages don't get a lot of support that they need," she said. "It is different when your friends see you with a big stomach, they feel more sympathy. But when you may not be that far along and you have a miscarriage, you still felt that life kick inside you and now it is gone. You too need that support, no matter how far along you were in your pregnancy."

Fathers are another factor that tend to get overlooked during the loss of a child. Most focus the attention on the mother.

"It is important to talk to the dads, too," Baudino said. "They are grieving in their own ways and it is important not to ignore their needs."

Regardless of when or how you mourn, the process of grief is inevitable.

"You can put it on the shelf and leave it," Baudino says. "But I learned first hand, you have to go back to that shelf eventually and deal with it. If you don't, it can ruin your marriage, friendships or even make you physically ill."

Baudino describes grief similar to controlling diabetes.

"This is something that you are never going to get over," she says. "But you do learn to incorporate it into your life, learn how to live with it day by day. And eventually you get a little bit better dealing with it. The tears become less, and you have more good days then bad."

Empty Arms meets the first Wednesday of the month at the Morris Hospital Library starting at 6:30 p.m.

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