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Comfort during a painful time; Sanford Bemidji Medical Center unveils a special room

Lace Tysver, left, and Brenda Freborg, both registered nurses at Sanford Bemidji Medical Center, attend to the births. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

T here's a new room at the hospital that no one wants to ever have to use.

You might think you're in a hotel suite when you first step inside. There are soft colors and comforting fabrics, chic rocking chairs and stylish end tables. The bathroom has a decorative shower curtain and lush towels.

It is the opposite of what you expect inside a hospital room.

It was designed that way, to offer a little extra comfort during a very traumatic time.

Because the women who will use this room will have just lost their babies.

"We wanted to give them something that wasn't so hospital and sterile," said Lace Tysver, a registered nurse at Sanford Bemidji Medical Center.

The room, located on the third floor of the hospital, is the PETAL room. It will be used by mothers who lose their babies during miscarriage or stillbirth.

More than five years ago, nurses on the third floor - the one that hosts the birthing center and nursery - found they shared a desire to offer specialized care to mothers whose babies did not survive.

"A small group of nurses found they had a passion for parents experiencing loss," recounted Brenda Freborg, the manager of OB/Peds and women's services.

Nurses founded the PETAL - Parents Embracing Time After Loss - program to reach out to mothers and fathers who lose babies in early pregnancy, stillbirth, newborn death and SIDS.

Today, as it was then, the program is staffed by nurses who volunteer their time.

Tysver, the PETAL coordinator, said the program has been well-received by parents.

"We get a lot of positive feedback from families," Freborg agreed.

In addition to being a support group, PETAL provides to parents mementos that affirm their baby's existence: gold baby rings and, if possible, footprints and handprints. Parents unprepared for an early birth will be provided hats, blankets and infant clothing, thanks to community donations.

"Lots of families don't have those things on hand," Freborg said.

In 2007, PETAL launched its annual event, the Walk to Remember. Held in October in recognition of National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, the event includes a walk around the exterior of the hospital campus, a memorial book naming all the children lost, a tree-planting ceremony and a silent auction.

Proceeds from that event have gone toward the creation of the PETAL room. The grand opening of that room was celebrated during the walk last month.

The room, which was designed to keep all medical supplies behind the mother's line of sight, was used for the first time earlier this month.

There are a variety of circumstances that could prompt the use of the room.

A pregnant woman might go to the clinic when she is spotting blood. She is referred to the third floor of the hospital for observation as she begins to miscarry.

Another pregnant woman's water might break too early; the pregnancy has not advanced far enough along for the baby to be viable.

A pregnant woman might be admitted to labor and delivery for a seemingly normal delivery but the mother learns that the baby no longer has a heartbeat.

"It's an awful time for grief," Tysver said.

The placement of the PETAL room was done strategically. It is within the same wing as the birthing center but is offset from rooms where other mothers will be embracing their healthy newborns and welcoming throngs of visitors.

"It shouldn't be separate," Freborg said of the PETAL room. "They're part of our family too."

While nurses within the room will lead the mother through the early stages of recovery, they also will focus on compassion and support, Tysver said. All PETAL nurses have gone through bereavement training.

"You're still a mom," Freborg said. "That needs to be acknowledged."