By Sasha Nyary
Fiona Reynolds-Cornell ’21 comes from a family of midwives and doulas, but she didn’t consider it as a possible career until she came to Mount Holyoke College.
Initially a pre-med major, Reynolds-Cornell realized she wanted more personal contact with her patients than being a physician would give her. Katie Lipp, director of pre-health programs at the College, suggested midwifery.
This summer, Reynolds-Cornell is preparing herself for a difficult, but inevitable, part of the practice: working with people whose births end with grief. Reynolds-Cornell is interning with Empty Arms Bereavement Support, an organization dedicated to helping those who have experienced the loss of a baby because of miscarriage, stillbirth or early infant death.
“One in four pregnancies ends in one of those ways,” she said. “If I become a midwife, I’m going to have patients who go through that. So learning all this information and knowledge is really helpful. There’s not a lot of training, there’s not much schooling available on this topic. This internship is a great thing.”
Empty Arms, based in nearby Florence, Massachusetts, has been a perfect fit for Reynolds-Cornell, starting with how she found the position — or, more accurately, how they found her.
She had registered with Handshake, the Career Development Center’s online résumé, job search and recruiting system, and the people at Empty Arms came across her name when they were looking for possible interns. They reached out to her. Reynolds-Cornell was able to say yes because she received Lynk funding from the College.
She and one of the other interns — she’s working with two students, one from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and one from Amherst College — spent their first week cleaning up two databases.
Now she’s reading through legislation from states around the country, trying to better understand about the legalities around early infant death.
For instance, she said, “There can be a lot of different laws for whether you can take a baby home after it has died, or whether you can have a burial at home instead of having it in a cemetery. A lot of the time you won’t get a birth certificate, which can require very specific guidelines before it can be issued.”
Not having a birth certificate can be harmful on a practical level, such as needing to present one in order to take time off after a birth, Reynolds-Cornell said. Of course, it can be painful on an emotional level as well.
“It’s kind of like, ‘My child doesn't really exist if they don't actually have a certificate that shows they were alive at one point,’” she said. “So we’re looking into how to help families around that.”
In addition to learning the legal landscape for grieving families who have experienced infant loss, she handwrites cards for the families to include in care packages that Empty Arms gives families. “We try to do those kinds of special touches,” she said. “All these families really deserve to know that people are there for them.”
The people she works with at Empty Arms are strong role models, Reynolds-Cornell said. One of them is even demonstrating the specific career path she intends to follow. That staff member is enrolling in the accelerated nursing program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and then plans to get a master’s degree in midwifery.
“It’s been really cool to hear about all the things that she’s done to become what I also want to become,” Reynolds-Cornell said. “I’m talking to her about the different programs and how she’s going about it. To have somebody who’s already doing what you think you might want to be doing is really important.”
“My Voice: Loss and the Stories that Connect Us” is one woman’s story about the death of her infant son. Written by Sara Hyry Barry ’94, it appeared in the Alumnae Quarterly in spring 2016.