Wellness Wednesday: Intermountain Healthcare's 'Angel Watch' program offers support to help moms through pregnancy loss

Posted at 3:07 PM, Feb 28, 2020

Receiving news of an impending pregnancy loss is devastating. You may experience a variety of emotions and have a lot of questions about what may happen and what to do next. That’s why the Angel Watch program was started more than 20 years ago.

How Angel Watch got started

The Angel Watch program was started by two women who saw a need to help support women faced with impending pregnancy loss or a diagnosis of potentially lethal or grave fetal defects. In 2000, Intermountain Healthcare took interest and purchased it with the agreement to keep it free of charge and make it available to anyone –not just Intermountain patients – and that outreach would be done in homes. The program has grown beyond the Salt Lake area and is also offered in Utah County, Ogden, St. George and Logan.

Angel Watch is staffed by specially trained social workers and chaplains

Master’s level social workers, nurses, bereavement specialists and chaplains are available on-call to provide home visits when pregnant women receive a diagnosis of impending pregnancy loss or potentially lethal or grave fetal defects.

How do women connect with Angel Watch?

The Angel Watch caregivers receive referrals from doctors, maternal fetal medicine specialist offices, genetic counselors and others familiar with the program, who let them know when a pregnant mom has received news her unborn baby has a life-limiting diagnosis and is interested in these services. These special caregivers work with moms during the transition time when babies are still in utero.

Angel Watch offers in-home services and referrals

Angel Watch services are done primarily in the form of home visits, phone calls, education and providing written materials and referrals to community resources.

Every situation is personal, different and can be complicated

“Not knowing if your baby will live until or through delivery is one of the most difficult situations for a pregnant mother. We work with moms and the family to understand their emotions and cultural or religious beliefs so they can develop a birth plan. For many it can be a crisis of faith. We can’t change the outcome for the baby, but we can change the outcome for how the mom and family deals with this news of impending loss. This can be very difficult for partners or family members to talk about or make decisions,” says Amelia.

Is there a support group component or is it more of a one-on-one service?

The program focuses on in-home one-on-one support, but there are group support options offered through the Angel Watch Facebook page support group and an annual memorial service.

Intermountain Healthcare holds an Angel Watch memorial service each year in October, sponsored in conjunction with Larkin Mortuary at Le Jardin Reception Center. All moms who’ve experienced pregnancy loss are invited. We have a candle lighting ritual ceremony where each woman is invited to talk about her angel baby. We also have a craft activity for children.

Ongoing support provided for two years

We do support for two years following the loss. We can refer to other resources or other families who’ve experienced this at the beginning of the process or later down the road. There is a high risk for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders during and after these experiences. Our goal is to help reduce the trauma associated with this experience. Outcomes can be better for all involved if they get proper support. Parents can learn to model handling loss, so their children can learn how to handle the loss of their potential sibling.

Other community resources for pregnancy loss

We can make referrals to counselors and support groups or things like music therapy at Primary Children’s Hospital. We also have information on organizations that offer free mementos, such as hand and foot molds, music created from the baby’s heartbeat or specialized photography services. We have collected ideas of ways to honor your child on special dates or holidays, etc. Our social work staff can help educate the sibling’s classmates about how people grieve differently.

What advice would you give to someone who has learned they may have a pregnancy loss?

“Be gentle with yourself. It’s a hard thing. Step back and reach out for help. There is no one size fits all. It’s an isolating feeling, but you’re not alone. It may seem impossible to survive right now, but it is possible to survive this,” says Amelia.

How can friends and family members best offer support?
Moms don’t need advice, they need support. They need to know you’re there, ready to help and support whatever they decide. People think they can relate, but it may not be helpful to share your “similar” story, since every situation is unique.

For more information about Angel Watch