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Photo: (l to r) Rachael Kingsbury and Tracey Williams from Women’s Assessment Unit with Janet Williams and Josephine Lander from Sands.

Pregnancy and birth is one of the most important times in many people lives, but for more than 700 New Zealand families each year, that time is mirrored with the tragedy of loss.

To mark International Neonatal Loss Awareness Day, Waikato Hospital held a modest ceremony to open a bereavement birthing room, a space where whanau can birth and grieve privately.

The new room named Manaia is strategically placed in the Women’s Assessment Unit and will be completely self-contained with a double bed for couples to rest together, a private bathroom and tea and coffee area.

Women’s Assessment Unit manager Rachael Kingsbury said the room was developed in partnership with Sands families who were able to express the explicit needs for a specialised room. Sands New Zealand is a network of parent-run, non-profit groups supporting families who have experienced the death of a baby.

“We can break the room up so it is separate from the clinical space and that means families get what they need, which is time with their baby.”

Jo Lander, a mother who lost her daughter, said the room will be essential to other families that go through similar experiences.

“When we lost our daughter, the room became our sanctuary. It is where we started our grieving,” she said.

“This room provides a level of privacy that you don’t get on the ward and a level of distance from seeing recently born babies or pregnant mothers which can hurt early on.”

The room’s name Manaia is traditionally believed to be the messenger between the earthly world of mortals and the domain of the spirits, and its symbol is used as a guardian against evil.

“No matter how long or short one’s life is, their mana lives on and this room acknowledges that,” said Kingi Turner, pou herenga with Waikato DHB’s Maori Health team Te Puna Oranga.

The service is continuing to fundraise for specific items; anyone interested in donating can contact Rachael Kingsbury or Tracey Williams in Waikato Hospital’s Women Assessment Unit.

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