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Andrea Wursche, a registered nurse at Houston Methodist Hospital, joined forces with her sister, Rev. Lindsay Kirkpatrick, senior pastor at Asbury United Methodist Church in Pasadena, to help women during one of their greatest times of need — after a miscarriage or stillbirth.
Daily Nurse is proud to name Andrea Wursche our Nurse of the Week.
During a birthday lunch with her sister, Wursche talked about labor and delivery nurses’ many challenges. Even after working in the department for about a decade, she often felt lost when entering the room of a patient who had just lost a baby. Knowing what to say after a miscarriage or stillbirth eluded her, and other nurses told her they felt the same way.
Wursche heard about training courses that could help nurses in this situation and learned about a cuddle cot, an in-room cooling unit in a bassinet that allows the baby to remain in the room with family longer. When parents have more time with the baby, it helps the grieving process.
“I wish there were something we could do, but I don’t know where to start,” Wursche told her sister. The hospital was in the middle of the pandemic and knew that the hospital didn’t have the budget to buy a cuddle cot or to send nurses to training sessions.
But Rev. Kirkpatrick thought differently and told Wursche they could handle this situation.
Rev. Kirkpatrick had recently visited a church member suffering after a miscarriage at another hospital and felt called to help grieving families. She wanted to support her sister.
“What Andrea does day in and day out to bring life into the world is just so incredible to me,” Rev. Kirkpatrick says. “It’s such important and meaningful work.”
The pastor felt confident that there was something they could do to make things better for women on the worst days of their lives — and make nurses feel more equipped and secure.
Finding Resources and Funding
Rev. Kirkpatrick called the Rev. Kip Gilts, assistant to the bishop for the Texas Annual Conference, a regional governing body of the United Methodist Church established by the Texas Annual Conference. As a former chair of the conference’s mission committee in the past, she was familiar with the funding programs that made it possible to tackle projects too large for any one church alone.
Within an hour of phoning Rev. Gilts, he was sitting across a conference table from Kirkpatrick and Wursche, and he asked the sisters to prepare a proposal that he could present to conference leaders.
“It felt really good to find something we could do, any way we could make things better for nurses in labor and delivery,” Rev. Kirkpatrick says.
In September, Rev. Gilts informed the sisters that $10,300 was granted. The next step was getting the hospital on board. Final approval was granted by January 2022. A foundation, Grieving Parents Perinatal Loss Fund, was also formed to oversee the program.
Wursche researched resources that would be beneficial, such as foot-mold kits and clothes for babies. All are tools for families to create memories of their deceased child. She made how-tos for the nurses on how to make molds and use the photo printer. She also bought bracelet-making supplies.
Several area nonprofits were eager to help, including Bridget’s Cradles, which provides crocheted cradles to comfort grieving families, and Angel Gowns, which gives infant gowns to bereaved families.
Training to Tackle Grief
In February, Wursche and her colleague Krystie Haden attended a training session on families dealing with stillbirths and miscarriages.
The sessions were developed around the feedback of parents who had lost a baby. The families shared their experiences at the hospital, including what had helped and how staff could have done more.
“For a long time, we realized that there was a lot of growth possible with bereavement,” says Haden. “When people think of labor and delivery, they think of joy. But, unfortunately, the flipside is complete devastation for families.”
The training helps alleviate stress on nurses. They understand the importance of spending time with families. “It gave us the tools as a nurse to talk to parents in their time of grief,” she says.
Haden and Wursche have already put their training to use. “We have felt such a higher level of confidence,” says Haden.
Before the training, Wursche says she would have spent a couple of hours in the room with her patients after a stillbirth. But after the course, she dedicates her whole day to a family who lost a baby. She asked the parents if they wanted to bathe and dress their child, take photos and create a foot mold.
“These are the only memories they will have with their baby,” says Wursche. “We want them to have as many memories as possible.”
The difference for these bereaved families is noticeable.
“We have put in so much effort, and it has paid off,” says Wursche. “We can make a meaningful impact for each patient.”
Joining with Mothers of Held Angels
Spending additional time with the baby would not be possible without the cuddle cot, says Haden.
Wursche originally planned to use the funding to purchase one; instead, the local nonprofit Mothers of Held Angels covered the expense.
Brittany Kemp founded the faith-based organization in October 2021 with Anna Noto and Hollyn Keith after each had lost their babies around the same time.
Kemp, who worked as a nurse at Houston Methodist West, had a stillbirth at Houston Methodist Sugar Land, which had a cuddle cot.
Before cuddle cots, Kemp says, babies were kept on bags of ice or brought back and forth from the morgue. “I can’t imagine how detrimental that would have been to my grief process,” she says.
Kemp’s colleagues in the anesthesia department and the operating room donated the cuddle cot in honor of her daughter.
“It sparked a sense in me that I wanted to do more,” Kemp says.
She joined forces with her two friends, and together, they donated four cuddle cots to Methodist hospitals, including the downtown location where Wursche works.
Because of the Mothers of Held Angels gift, the funding reserved for the equipment was repurposed to send additional nurses to training. The hospital also received the nonprofit’s Angel Boxes, which contain journals, grief books, cozy blankets, and Warmies, a scented stuffed animal that can be heated for mothers to hold.
“Before, we were leaving empty-handed, with maybe only a packet of papers about cemeteries,” Kemp says. “This way, we can at least hold onto something.”
The organization also hosts a podcast and offers a grief support group in Fulshear. “It’s all to help moms realize that we are not alone,” Kemp says. “We have a lot more to offer patients. And it’s been so rewarding.”
Learning More to Do Better
The resources cabinet at Houston Methodist in the Texas Medical Center is now full. The shelves are lined with clothing, teddy bears, kits to make hand and footprints, a photo printer, devotionals, and handouts for grief support groups.
Haden and Wursche are working on assembling a binder of information for nurses.
“This will be the ultimate resource guide,” Haden says. She hopes that the program for nurses can serve as a template for other hospitals.
According to Chaplain Brian Gowan at Houston Methodist, nurses now have the tools to help patients with grief.
Chaplains have been providing bereavement support for years, he says. “I was thrilled to hear nurses are taking a primary role. As a result, we’re in a good place to think about a comprehensive plan.”
Wursche is grateful to her sister for finding a path forward and to the hospital system for paving the way.
“I would haven’t been able to do this without this process,” she says. “It’s allowed me peace of mind. It was such a catalyst for good.”
Kirkpatrick, meanwhile, gives her sister credit for organizing the effort.
“We provided the initial funds because Andrea looked into all these opportunities,” she said. “It was just opening the door. We could get the ball rolling for a program that will provide a lot of comfort.”
Kirkpatrick says that memories of a loved one carry you forward and help with healing.
“There’s a big difference that can be made by spending time with your baby,” Wursche says. “I’m glad we’ve come this far. And hopefully, we will continue to learn more and do better.”
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