Dakota Hope Program
MINOT – Dakota Hope Clinic is starting a new program for families following a prenatal diagnosis.
April Braun, parent care coordinator, has six years in neonatal intensive care screening in Bismarck. When she and her husband moved to Minot, Braun was involved with Dakota Hope and on its board since its beginning stages in 2011. Braun started training for the parent coordinator position in February. She had previously taken time off of being a nurse to raise her own family, and now she is back in the nurse capacity again, though not as a registered nurse.
“I’m about three quarters of the way through my training,” said Braun in early March. “It’s online training with some live sessions.”
Braun said there are so many ways to describe what her job will entail.
“It’s to provide compassionate and comprehensive support to parents following a prenatal diagnosis,” said Braun. “The support we provide is going to vary based on the three distinct areas of pregnancy.”
Braun described those three stages as pregnancy, birth, and postpartum.
“Each one of those areas come with unique challenges,” said Braun. “The focus of the support changes as the pregnancy progresses as they move from diagnosis to anticipation of birth. We also follow them a year after birth or the loss of their baby, no matter what the outcome is.”
Braun said once Dakota Hope gets the word out that it offers this program, health care providers can refer families to Dakota Hope after delivering the diagnosis or screening results.
“The service we provide is research-based, parent-centered, and trauma-informed,” said Braun. “That was very interesting to me, the trauma portion of it, because so many parents perceive the initial diagnosis as a traumatic event. We take care not to retraumatize them. They’re grieving the loss of their normal pregnancy.”
Much of the support the program would provide is grief support after the parents hear the diagnosis or screening results. If the child is not expected to live, Dakota Hope can help provide funeral planning. Dakota Hope can also refer them to counseling or pastoral care.
“When a pregnancy is complicated by a prenatal diagnosis, abortion has become the justifiable treatment option,” said Braun. “Oftentimes the parents feel pressure to make that decision quickly, and it’s during an emotional and traumatizing time in their lives. In any other circumstance you wouldn’t expect someone to make a huge decision like that. So, we’re here to give them time and they can think about it and have a little bit more understanding.”
Though this program which focuses on supporting the decision to carry to term has not been implemented in Minot, Braun said where this has been implemented in other parts of the country, it has been well-received by parents. Many hospitals have programs that assist with this need, though they may not have as much time for it.
“Anytime you go to the doctor, they don’t have time,” said Braun. “That’s one thing that we do have; time and resources to be able to just sit with them and help them work through what their understanding is, what their questions are.”
As the child grows older, Dakota Hope can refer parents to organizations that focus on the child’s age.
“We provide a process and a partner,” said Braun. “When they are suddenly flung into this situation and they have no guidance, all of a sudden, it’s like, what do we do? We’ll help you take the next step. We know what it is, because we can think and see clearly. And of course, the service is free and confidential just like all of our other services at Dakota Hope.”
Braun said she can sit down with the parents whether it’s after they received screening results, which indicate a possibility of a disability based on percentage, or after the diagnosis, which is much more certain.
“If you’re not educated in that, you don’t know what you’re dealing with, what these tests mean,” said Braun. “We can sit down with them and educate them in that area. We have a lot of wonderful providers in our state, but like I said, they just don’t have the time.”
Braun said Dakota Hope would be there if the parents thought of questions after going home from a clinic visit, even offering to meet them at their home.
The program would provide a realistic birth plan specific to their wishes and realistic expectations based on the diagnosis.
“I worked in NICU for six years, and a lot of times if their baby is not expected to live long then they might want their baby to be immediately given to them and not taken to be evaluated right away by the doctor,” said Braun. “Just making sure that they have that choice in it and letting them know that it’s probably not going to be a regular delivery.”
Dakota Hope will also offer someone to be there for the birth if that’s what the parents wish.
“We tell them, your baby hasn’t changed, you just know more about them now,” said Braun. “We strive to ease their emotional suffering and their feelings of isolation, helping them look at it in a realistic manner. Walking with them through their grief, even though there’s nothing we can do to change it.”
The parent care program will also provide support after the mother may experience physical issues from a miscarriage.
“We provide spiritual support,” said Braun. “Parents don’t need to be Christian to receive our services, but if they are, we’re there to support them spiritually. Our ultimate goal is for the baby to have the best possible outcome and the parents to experience peace and joy.”
Diagnoses include Down Syndrome, blindness, deafness, and a multitude of other physical and mental disabilities.
Parents will also receive homemade gifts from Dakota Hope volunteers, and even childcare.
Braun is hoping to begin the program this summer after coordinating with volunteers. More information on Dakota Hope Clinic can be found on its website.