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Episode 24 - Compassionate Care and Dignified Decisions for Grieving Families with Rebekah Beresford


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Join us for a conversation with Rebekah Beresford about how she found hope and healing after a traumatic experience delivering her stillborn daughter, Eliana, at a hospital. She was not offered to hold or see her daughter and later realized that Eliana's ashes were taken as medical waste to a landfill.


Through her story of deep pain and sorrow, Rebekah shares why offering compassionate care and dignified decisions at the hospital is crucial for grieving families to have peace in their grieving journey. She shares practical advice for nurses and points them to pursue bereavement training through the organization Rachel's gift. Rebekah speaks to grieving moms about how Jesus' light can overcome the darkness of grief and trauma.


In this episode, we discussed:

  • What is hospital disposition and why are babies being taken to landfills?

  • The importance of bereavement training for nurses

  • Why offering dignified decisions should be the standard of care at hospitals

  • The victory of Jesus and how He will redeem and restore our pain

  • How do we find justice in devastating experiences?

  • God's presence in pain and how to feel Him when He feels far away

  • How God loves us so personally and how much He loves our babies

  • Rachel's gift organization and what they offer to hospitals

  • Why there must be a distinction between human life and trash

  • Serving others and being a voice for our babies in Heaven

Full transcript below.


Each episode has a special Hope Guide that you can download by clicking the button below. It is packed with hope-filled resources and extra information from the episode!


Discussion / Application Questions (leave your answers below in the comments!)

  1. Rebekah shares that she felt abandoned by God in the midst of her traumatic loss and initial months of grieving. However, later on, she asked Him to reveal where He was in those tragic moments, and she began to feel His presence. In what moments do you need to ask God: "Where were You?" Spend some time writing about your hardest moments and seeking Him for answers.

  2. Losing a baby is a traumatic experience whether your story is similar to Rebekah's or not. It's common to experience PTSD symptoms after losing a baby. What symptoms have you endured and has anyone validated your grief and loss? Spend some time acknowledging your pain below.

  3. Ashley shares that true justice will happen because God is just and Jesus is coming back. We will be with our babies for eternity. How does that hope comfort you now in the middle of your sorrow? Write out a prayer clinging to the hope that Jesus will one day wipe away your tears and resurrect your baby.

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MEET OUR GUEST

Rebekah Beresford is married to Montana and is a mother to three children: two on earth and one in Heaven. Rebekah lives with her family in Kentucky.

Rebekah discovered Bridget’s Cradles in her search for bereavement resources after the loss of her daughter, Eliana Rose, in May of 2019. Rebekah has partnered with the organization, Rachel's Gift, to spread awareness about bereavement training and care.


Connect with Rachel's Gift:

Facebook: /rachelsgift06

Instagram: @rachels_gift

Web: www.rachelsgift.org

 

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MEET OUR HOST


Ashley Opliger is the Executive Director of Bridget's Cradles, a nonprofit organization based in Wichita, Kansas that donates cradles to over 1,250 hospitals in all 50 states and comforts over 26,000 bereaved families a year.


Ashley is married to Matt and they have three children: Bridget (in Heaven), and two sons. She is a follower of Christ who desires to share the hope of Heaven with families grieving the loss of a baby.


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EPISODE TRANSCRIPT


Episode 24: Compassionate Care and Dignified Decisions for Grieving Families

with Rebekah Beresford


Ashley Opliger: [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Cradled in Hope Podcast on the Edifi Podcast Network. I’m your host, Ashley Opliger. I’m a wife, mom, and follower of Christ who founded Bridget’s Cradles, a nonprofit ministry in memory of my daughter, Bridget, who was stillborn at 24 weeks.


Cradled in Hope is a Gospel-focused podcast for grieving moms to find comfort, hope, and healing after the loss of a baby. We want this to be a safe place for your broken heart to land.


Here, we are going to trust God’s promise to heal our hearts, restore our joy, and use our grief for good. With faith in Jesus and eyes fixed on Heaven, we do not have to grieve without hope. We believe that Jesus cradles us in hope while He cradles our babies in Heaven.


Welcome to the Cradled in Hope Podcast.


Ashley Opliger: [00:51:24] Our guest today is a dear friend I've been looking forward to you meeting. Her name is Rebekah Beresford and she is married to her husband, Montana, and a mother to three children, two on earth and one in Heaven.


Rebekah lives with her family in South Central Kentucky. She discovered Bridget’s Cradles in her search for bereavement resources after the loss of her daughter, Eliana Rose, in May of 2019. Rebekah is passionate about spreading awareness pertaining to bereavement training and care specifically in the area of hospital disposition.


This episode is for both grieving moms and for hospital staff and nurses to listen to, because her story is powerful and important for all of us. After enduring a traumatic experience at the hospital and a disrespectful burial in a landfill for her daughter, Rebekah’s heart is tender for grieving families and desires to see a change in bereavement care for families who have lost a baby.


Together with Bridget’s Cradles and one of our partner organizations, Rachel's Gift, she is making that change in memory of her daughter, Eliana.


I've been blessed to become friends with Rebekah. You'll hear our story later in the episode. She attends our Hope Online support groups and I also had the honor to meet her in person while I was in Nashville this past March. Although she has been through so much trauma and pain, she is just the sweetest person you'll ever meet and has such a heart for the Lord. I can't wait for you to make a new friend in her. Let's welcome Rebekah.

Ashley Opliger: [00:02:18] Welcome, Rebekah. Thank you so much for being here.


Rebekah Beresford: [00:02:21] Thank you, Ashley. I'm happy to be here with you today.


Ashley Opliger: [00:02:25] Well, we have a lot to talk about today. This has just been so heavy on my heart all week, knowing that we were going to have this conversation today, because it is such a burden on my heart that your story and your daughter's story has impacted my life.


And I feel so strongly that your story is powerful, and is going to bring about healing and bring about change. And this conversation is so important and I'm really looking forward to you sharing your story and bringing to light everything that you've walked through. And so I would love for you to introduce yourself and share Eliana's story with us.


Rebekah Beresford: [00:03:07] Yeah, thank you. And I want to say that I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to share her story and be a voice for her. Just your response and kindness and compassion, it's another step I feel like towards healing and a balm on such a painful wound.


My name is Rebekah. I live in Kentucky in a small town, married to my husband, Montana. And I have two living boys. Cannon is four, and my son Cayden is 17 months, and we have a daughter Eliana in between the boys that is now in the arms of Jesus.


When we got pregnant with Eliana, my husband and I felt very strongly from the beginning that it was going to be a girl, but we didn't know yet. We hit the quote-unquote “safe mark” at 12 weeks. And I was very naive to what I knew miscarriage to be.


I thought, “Now that we're past the safe point, there's nothing to really be too afraid of,” but at 13 and a half weeks, I started bleeding. We rushed to the ER, it was revealed that I had a subchorionic hemorrhage that was very large. After all the ultrasounds and exams, they said that I had a 50% chance of miscarrying but to just go home; if the bleeding subsided, that was a good sign, but if I continued to bleed, then it would result in miscarriage.


And so my husband didn't let me lift a finger for a week. He made sure I was on bed rest. He stayed home from work. We felt very hopeful all week. I felt that God was going to heal me and everything was going to be great. And the bleeding had stopped, there was no sign of any worry.


And exactly seven days later, I started having really bad cramps all throughout the night, I actually couldn't sit down or even lay down. And so I kept telling myself, “Everything's fine.” I was praying. And it got to the point in early morning where I had to wake up my husband and tell him, “I've got to go to the ER.”


And I went in, they actually removed two very large blood clots from my cervix, and the doctor told me that's what was causing my pain. But she said I wasn't in labor. They did an ultrasound. They said my baby was happy and kicking, which made me so relieved.


I was still in immense pain, so they gave me a medication I wasn't familiar with. I didn't know it at the time, but it was a sedative. And so once I took it, I started feeling very relaxed right away and very, almost like loopy. And so my grandma drove me home and the doctor had told me before we left, “If you start bleeding or the pain comes back, then you need to come back in. But for now, everything is good. You can go home and rest.”


And I wasn't home for longer than 15 minutes and the pain came back so strong. I can't even describe the amount of pain. I crawled to the recliner and I called for my husband to come in immediately. I threw up and I started feeling like I might pass a blood clot again. So I went to stand up and my water broke, and he rushed me to the hospital.


It was only a 10-minute ride and I had soaked through a beach towel with blood. And honestly, on the way to the hospital, I was still thinking that we were going to come back from this, that God could do anything. And I had no doubt He was going to heal me. Looking back in retrospect, I know it was like emotional whiplash.


And so we get to the hospital, they get me into a triage room right away. I couldn't talk or speak because I was just in so much pain. I was trying to concentrate on not passing out because I didn't want to miss what was going to happen, but it was just so painful. And I was begging them to give me something for the pain.


They had to get an IV started, so that took a little bit, and then there was a nurse that stuck me in the leg with morphine. And the doctor said, “I think that you're having a miscarriage. You need to lay back so I can do an ultrasound and see.” She did the ultrasound. She said that the baby was no longer in my uterus and I needed to lay back and push because they were in the birth canal.


She's asked me to give one push and I'll try to be brief because this is graphic, just for a warning if anyone has small children around. I pushed, and I remember her grabbing a tool, and she reached in and just started grabbing and pulling. And she said that the baby had been decapitated, and she started describing parts she was pulling out. And my husband asked her to stop, because him watching me go through that was very traumatic. And so there was so much going on in the room.


And then while this was happening, we could hear laughter from, I don't know if it was a break room or another room, but it just felt like a nightmare. There was this loud laughter while we were going through the most painful moment of our lives. After she had pulled as much as she could out, she leaned forward and said, “It looks like it was a boy,” and she left the room.


I just started crying, because we hadn't found out the gender until then. And my husband said that they put the body in a bucket on top of a trash can. And the doctor and the nurse left the room and we were still just trying to catch our breath. I was still sitting on the table in so much blood, and our nurse came in and said that we needed to sign paperwork.


And we were really just so shocked and I wasn't in any state to read anything. I had been put on so many medications at that point, and so I asked her what this was. And she said that this was paperwork to do with the remains. And she said, “You basically have two options.” She held up two fingers and said, “You can either send the baby to pathology and maybe find out why this happened, or you can send the baby to a funeral home and pay for services.”


And we just sat there blank. We asked her, “What do we do? We don't know what to do in this situation.” And we said, “What do people do?” Because we had never considered something like that before. Losing our baby, that wasn't on our radar.


And so she said, “Well, I've never had anyone send a baby to a funeral home under 20 weeks, but if you send the baby to pathology, you could maybe find out why this happened.”


And in that moment, we felt like maybe she was right, like that would bring us the most peace, because it was such a whiplash of emotions. Everything was fine and then all of a sudden, we were just in this really horrific delivery. So in that moment, we felt, “Okay, maybe she's right. Pathology’s the best option.”


And after that, I had to go up and have a D&C for my placenta and I had to be awake for that. And so when I was getting the spinal block for this D&C, it was just so surreal. As I was laying there, I had these hot tears streaming down my face because my husband couldn't be in there with me. I was all alone and no one had recognized that we had lost our baby. No one had said, “I'm sorry for your loss. I'm sorry you're going through this.”


It just felt like I was being shifted into all these different procedures. And then when I was being wheeled out, the nurse asked me if I wanted to be wheeled out the side door, and I didn't understand why she said that or suggested that. I was thinking, “My husband is pulling out front for me.”


And when she did wheel me out front, there were all these mothers sitting there on the curb, in their wheelchairs, holding their newborn babies. And that was the first time that it hit me, “I'm not going home with my baby in my arms or in my belly.”


And the medication didn't wear off til the next morning but when I woke up, for weeks I woke up the same way, sobbing and devastated. I didn't realize until that next morning, I never held my baby. I never saw him, but we named him, because at this point we thought he was a boy.


I felt like I had to convince myself I was pregnant and I did have a loss, because no one said it. And so the lack of recognition was really difficult in those next few weeks.


Ashley Opliger: [00:11:28] Rebekah, I've heard your story several times now, as we've become closer friends and you’ve come to our support groups. Every single time my heart just breaks a million times over. The trauma that you went through, the pain, no one acknowledging that this was a baby that you were losing, and their disregard for the sanctity of life of your baby, it is so incredibly heartbreaking.


And I think that pregnancy loss in and of itself is painful and hard enough, but then to go through such a traumatic experience at the hospital and to be regarded in that way, I think made it so many times harder for you to walk through your grief journey after you left the hospital.


So would you talk about that, what your grief looked like in the days following leaving that hospital without your baby?


Rebekah Beresford: [00:12:20] It was really disorienting. I gave the hospital and the people who took care of me so much benefit of the doubt that I just trusted what happened was normal. And so I was trying to process and understand and just reconcile with: my baby was decapitated and dismembered.


That was honestly something I've wrestled with for not just weeks, it was months afterward. It kept me awake at night. It was like it was constantly going through my head. I thought maybe my body did something wrong or I did something wrong because that didn't feel normal to me.


And then where I had just seen the heartbeat two hours before I was pushing, I was lost in this train of thought of, “Did my baby feel anything?” And that was so troubling to me of not knowing of this horrific delivery of what my baby felt or didn't feel, and then not seeing them or holding them was so hard. It felt like I couldn't close this wound.


And so I started pursuing, “Maybe I just need to talk about it and hear from other people what their miscarriage was like.” And when I tried to talk to people or listen to people share about a miscarriage, especially if it was at the hospital, they had such compassionate care and there was nothing like the delivery of what I had. And if I tried to share, it would really push people away and make them uncomfortable, which made me feel even more isolated.


And the more stories I listened to of people getting to hold and see their baby made me angry. And so I started looking through my paperwork. Like, “Was this even an option for me?”


And there was not only by law and it was even listed on the paperwork that I was supposed to have been given a non-viable birth certificate, just to say they existed. And there was an entire bereavement checklist that was left completely blank.


And that first discovery was so devastating to me because as I was reading through my paperwork, not only the paperwork that I don't remember checking a box, that seeing where it said pathology and that the hospital was going to dispose, like it didn't register to me.


And so seeing that this was in the paperwork, but that there were options I was never told about, it made me so angry and feel so robbed. Honestly, it was like a huge punch in the stomach, because I felt like I thought that this was going to give me healing, looking at my paperwork and just seeing what happened, but it only made me more upset and feeling confused.


And I thought after the paperwork stuff, “Well, maybe I just need to find out where the hospital disposed of the remains. Maybe that will give me the healing that I'm looking for.” And when I called, it took me several departments to get to the right people.


And I finally got the supervisor of the pathology department and I explained to her I was a bereaved mom. I didn't know that I had the option or that there was an option for pathology and funeral services, I didn't know I was aware of that. And so I was calling her to see where the remains were taken, because I felt like maybe this would give me some peace.


And she told me that my specimen had been incinerated with hundreds of other specimens, and that my waste had been taken away. And I felt like this was another punch in the stomach. I couldn't believe her words and how insensitive they were.


And I was just in tears and a tight throat. And I asked her to repeat that, but to use sensitive language, because this was my baby. And she was so put off, she said, “Well, we just don't get phone calls like this. I don't know what you want me to say. We just never get phone calls like this.”


And I told her I understood this was new for her, but that this was still my baby and it was very important to me to know where those ashes were taken. And she explained that it was going to take at least 48 hours to find out exactly where, that the company that they used has different locations that they take them to, and that she would call me back within 48 hours.


It took a week of me tracking her down. I think she was maybe avoiding my phone call. But I finally got a hold of her and left a message. She called me back and I was standing in the grocery store when she called me. I'll never forget when she gave me the address for a landfill of where my baby's ashes were taken.


And I just remember feeling like I would never have peace. The fact that my baby was not only treated with such lack of dignity and respect in the hospital, but then just thrown away, I felt like I'll never have peace with that. How do I move forward from that?


And so at that point, I started to go to counseling and it really helped to feel validated. The counselor, from the very first visit, told me, “You've been through trauma. You definitely have PTSD. There are a lot of layers here that we're going to go through,” but just validating that pain and trauma because I had felt so dismissed by the healthcare workers over me, the doctors, nurses.


Even my own OB-GYN was confused at my grief. And so to be validated by my counselor, I felt like this is the start of healing. I felt like there was a little bit of glimmer of hope.


And the very next week, I go to pick up my hospital records, because I felt I just wanted to have everything hard copy for my own records and everything. Then I sat in the car with my son in the back seat. I turned on some music so he could listen while I just started flipping through my paperwork. I didn't know what I was looking for, but I got to the pathology report and at the very top, you couldn't miss it, it was in bold. It said, “14-week-old female fetus.”


And I hit my face. I didn't think it was real. And I just started crying, and I called my husband. And he was at work and he started crying. We had been grieving for three and a half months at this point, a son, moments like my husband's first Father's Day after the loss and we wore blue for our son.


And then finding out that we had this little girl, and I don't know why it made it so different when I thought about the delivery, thinking of our baby girl going through that, it was all fresh again, but like a secondary loss.


And just thinking about all this unnecessary pain, because a loss is traumatic. I feel like anyone who loses a child at any stage, it's a trauma. And then to have all these added unnecessary oversights happen, it made it feel so overwhelming to try to move forward.


Ashley Opliger: [00:19:28] Oh, Rebekah, there's so many things that you said that I want to touch on. And going back to the phone calls to the hospital and the pathology director, first of all, I think you're so brave to make those phone calls.


I think that would be so incredibly difficult for a grieving mom to ask those questions of the hospital. And to hear the answers that you were given, and to find out that your baby was treated as medical waste. And essentially, for those who are listening, hospital disposition, which is the choice of a baby going to pathology and then for the hospital to take care of their remains, generally does mean that the baby is incinerated with other medical waste at the hospital.


And I just want to say, this is a trigger warning here, but that means amputated limbs, organs, tumors. This is where babies are going and this is so heartbreaking to me. For me in a ministry role and as a grieving mom, for me to find out that this is happening in hospitals across our country is devastating. And we're going to talk more about that.


And just to say, first of all, I'm so, so sorry, because no mom should ever have to hear the words, “Your baby's remains are in a landfill.” Like you said, how can you have peace with that? How can you find peace? And we know that you find peace in Jesus, because He's the only one that can provide true justice for what you went through.


But I want to say and preface this episode here, we are not here to try to point fingers to every hospital. Because this happened at one specific hospital doesn't mean it's not happening at other hospitals, but this doesn't change unless we tell these stories, unless we talk about what's happened.


And so as dark and as difficult as your story is, this needs to be brought into the light and we need to have these conversations, because we can't do better unless we know better. Nursing staff can't offer different decisions if they're not trained and educated on what's happening.


And so we want to go into that conversation soon, but will you skip forward to when you visited the landfill where Eliana was taken and the redeeming chapter of your story?


Rebekah Beresford: [00:21:53] Yes. We actually ended up moving out of state due to the mental anguish that came along with staying where we were. There were just so many triggers. And so we think God really just made an opportunity for us to get out pretty quickly. And it was two-and-a-half years later, so it was actually this past December that we decided to take a road trip and go see the landfill for the first time.


And honestly, I was not ready until this; God had been really doing so much healing in my heart to where I felt like this was the step I needed to take and to go see. And so the morning of going to the landfill, I was actually praying and thinking, “This is not where I want to go to see her, but at the end of the day, this is where my baby was taken and I never got to hold or see her. So to know I get to go be in that space is where her, on the earthly side, she was, that was a little exciting to me.


And I know that's probably hard to understand, but it was in a little over an hour from where we were staying, so we were driving and driving. Of course, with the landfill, it's kind of out in the country, but we were getting closer. And so there were some trees that were covering right before we got up there. And I was trying to look over and maybe just try to anticipate, “What am I going to see?”


And it was all of a sudden, it was all clear and it was off in the distance. And my heart is racing just thinking about it, because it was outside of a major city so it was the landfill that services a very large area. And it was this huge black mound. Everything was dark except the sky right above it. And there was just all this light. And even from this far away, you could just see so many birds swirling and flying around this huge mound.


And I told my husband, “This can't be it.” And we get up to the gate and we don't even know where to go. And there's this big line of trucks behind us with trailers of old mattresses and trash and garbage trucks just waiting to get in. So we pulled to the side and I was out of breath, just sobbing. And it was overwhelming.


But as a mercy, we spoke to a sanitation worker and we explained why we were there. And my husband had brought a bouquet of flowers he wanted to bring in honor of her, and the sanitation worker let us bring the bouquet of flowers up to the fence. And we stood at the fence and set the flowers there. And I took a couple pictures, because I go in my heart: “I don't want to remember this, but people need to see this because I don't want this to happen to anyone else.”


And the sanitation worker actually promised that he would walk the flowers up to the top at the end of the day for us, which was really special. He said that he had a daughter at home, a baby girl, and he actually had no idea that the trucks, that this specific company, that's what they were bringing here. And he was really sweet and promised to walk them up at the end of the day.


And we didn't stay very long, but I was quiet the whole way home, crying, and we didn't say a thing. But I remember I felt so confident coming here, and all the healing that you've done and feeling like this was going to be a good moving forward moment, but I felt so discouraged.


But then a few days later I was looking at the pictures on my phone that we took, and there's one of the bouquet of flowers sitting on the fence. And there's this very intentional, specific ray of light coming down onto the bouquet of flowers.