sharing your stories and remembering your children
In this edition of the Hope Blooms podcast, Emily is joined by Patti Budnick of Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support to discuss their wonderful organization. Emily and Ms. Budnick talk about the needs of families after child loss and how Share seeks to address those needs.
By: Maria Servold EPLA Editor
Last week, three members of the Early Pregnancy Loss Association’s board of directors went to a meet-up for loss support groups in the Detroit Metro area. The gathering, hosted by Detroit’s chapter of Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support, brought together a handful of organizations that are each doing their part to relieve the burden of loss for families.
While the gathering was small, the energy and drive in the room was palpable. The groups shared stories, ideas, and made plans for how to help women and families who lose babies during and after pregnancy. Many of the people in the room had experienced losses of their own.
The conversations at the meeting felt like a stark contrast in a society that does not always affirm life or address the pain of pregnancy loss. We must care for a mother in the midst of her loss and give her space to grieve the loss of her little one. Unfortunately we do not always have a positive life affirming public dialog that celebrates the unique and infinitely valuable life in the womb. This only adds to the confusion of early pregnancy loss.
With those heavy thoughts bouncing around my head, it was a blessing to meet wonderful people working hard in their own communities to support those experiencing pregnancy and infant loss. Several of the groups present were foundations created by parents after losing a child. The money they raise is given to other families experiencing loss - often to cover things like cremation and funeral expenses. It is sad that such beneficial groups are often born from tragic situations, but it gave EPLA board members hope to see that even though our groups may be small, together we can do great things.
Maria Servold is an Editor at the EPLA, Assistant Director of the Herbert H. Dow II Program in American Journalism, and Lecturer in Journalism at Hillsdale College
By: Rose Carlson, Program Director of Share Pregnancy & Infant Loss Support
Like many of you reading this post, from the moment I saw my first positive pregnancy test, my life changed forever. When my first two pregnancies ended abruptly at 11 and 6 weeks, I was truly unprepared for the intensity of my feelings and the seeming lack of concern from my friends and family. My heart was completely shattered, not only by the losses of my babies but also by the reactions of my loved ones.
Nearly two years after my second miscarriage, I gave birth to my son Brandon, who will soon be 28. I breathed an enormous sigh of relief and assumed my experience with the heartbreak of loss was over. That was not to be, and I went on to have two more miscarriages, at 13 and 10 weeks. I was devastated. And back in those days, in the late ’80s and early ’90s, support for women like me was practically non-existent.
Nothing I received back then was anything close to what this brokenhearted mom needed.
I received no flowers, sympathy cards, or meals after surgeries. No mementos to fondly remind me of my babies. No bereavement information from the medical community. No support groups to help me feel less alone. Most distressing, I received no acknowledgement that these babies were great losses to me.
Rather than the loving care I desperately wanted and needed, I instead received hurtful words such as:
“These things happen for a reason,”
“There was probably something wrong with ‘it.’”
“At this stage, it’s not a real baby.”
“Be grateful it happened early, before you got attached.”
“Move on and have FUN trying again!”
As anyone who has experienced an early pregnancy loss and heard similar sentiments knows absolutely none of those words were helpful or comforting. But sadly, that was all I was hearing, and without any other support, I believed my feelings of grief were unnatural.
I did (or, I thought I did) what was encouraged and expected of me: I pushed my emotions aside. I “moved on” and had three more children. I was a busy stay-at-home mom who forced myself to quickly dismiss any thoughts of those four babies whenever they made their way into my heart. It wasn’t until I began volunteering at Share, nine years after my last loss, that I learned my grief was not “unnatural” at all; I received permission to acknowledge the confusing feelings I had pushed aside for so long.
One of the most profound things I felt when I started volunteering at Share was, “Wow, I wasn’t crazy back then!” It was eye-opening, both the acknowledgement of my feelings as well as the support I came to receive. As I met and got to know other grieving parents and read articles in the Share newsletter, I realized that compassionate support truly can make a difference, and I knew what a positive impact that kind of support would have meant to me.
“Indeed, it is a uniquely powerful experience to be surrounded by other people who have experienced the death of a child.”
I love quotes, and I especially love this one, as it perfectly sums up my feelings about the value of the support bereaved parents receive from others who have also experienced a miscarriage or other pregnancy loss.
There is a common misconception that those who lose a baby, especially early in pregnancy, will not grieve as deeply as someone who loses an older child or a full-term baby. This is not necessarily the case. Many parents who experience early pregnancy loss often are in great need of support yet, like me, are unable to find it among their family and friends.
Attending a support group, either online or face-to-face, can fill this void and provide meaningful, healing support. Being with others who are grieving and seeking a path of healing after a miscarriage can help parents cope, as well as provide hope that they too can survive this loss. A support community offers bereaved parents safety and acceptance as they share their hearts and stories among others who understand and are walking a similar journey.
Support groups offer additional positive effects on healing, too. Support groups can:
At Share, we have learned that it can be uncomfortable, even downright scary, to walk into a support group meeting for the first time. Parents may feel uncertain of what to expect or even of what they might need, but we have seen firsthand the value of shared support. Keep in mind that peer support groups are not meant to be “therapy,” which can feel intimidating. A support group is simply meant to be a safe, loving place where grieving parents can talk about their baby and connect with others in a similar situation.
Thankfully, there is more support today than ever before, through support groups both in our communities and online. Because I did not have the opportunities for support that are available today, I have made it my personal mission to help parents find the support that leads them forward in their healing journey, and memorialize their baby. That is how I honor and remember the four babies who touched my heart in countless ways.
Rose Carlson is the Program Director of Share Pregnancy & Infant Loss Support
By: Nick Carrington EPLA Editor
I never know what to say.
Jessica, a student of mine, stared at me, eyes dampening as she swallowed to clear the lump in her throat. She didn’t have to tell me; the pain within her had already filled the room. Still, she managed to choke out four words: “she lost the baby.”
My heart sank. Only a few weeks before, Jessica had revealed that her brother and sister-in-law were expecting. She divulged that information with such exuberance that our entire class rejoiced with her. Now, despite her best efforts to hide her anguish, Jessica radiated despair.
I care deeply for my students, desiring the best for them academically, professionally, and personally. When Jessica told me the news, I desperately wanted to assuage the soreness in her soul. My mind flooded with stories of loved ones who had given birth to healthy children after a miscarriage. Would those encourage her? There was no promise of a happy ending for her family.
I considered appealing to our common faith by exhorting her to rest in a God who knew all about suffering. Would that bring peace? She already clung to that truth, yet the wound was still raw.
I almost rattled off statistics about how common miscarriages were and successes in subsequent pregnancies. Would that quantitative appeal be a balm to her broken heart? Her family was on the unfortunate side of those statistics right now; they seemed irrelevant.
“I’m sorry, Jessica. That makes me so sad to hear.”
It’s all I could get out in the moment, and while it felt inadequate, it was much better than what I had thought but not verbalized. As I walked back to my office, I hoped she knew I cared, that her loss mattered to her classmates and me.
Suddenly, a thought hit me, widening my eyes and quickening my step. I sat down at my computer; I had something else to say. My fingers could not move fast enough across the keyboard as I typed a short email to Jessica: “I remember the pain of seeing loved ones struggle through a miscarriage. I’m praying for you and your family.”
Send. It wasn’t much, but it communicated what I needed it to: I was mourning with her.
Sitting at my desk, I stared into space, fingers tapping on the wood. This news never got any easier. I never know what to say. But, I’ve learned that we don’t always have to say much in the immediate aftermath. Family and friends need to know we care. They do not need the perfect words that will immediately ease their burden; those words do not exist.
When you learn of a miscarriage, being present for those hurting around you is more valuable than the words you say. The cavernous wounds of miscarriage won’t heal in a moment, so don’t force encouragement; it may have more potential for harm than good. Instead, be quick to listen, quick to embrace, and slow to speak.
Nick Carrington is an Editor for the EPLA and Assistant Professor of Professional Writing at Cedarville University
By: Sarah Gregory EPLA Vice President
I received the announcement from my sister via text while I was in seminary. I opened the text and saw a picture of a precious little onesie. I literally squealed with glee. She and her husband were so ready to start a family. They had heard a heartbeat already at a doctor’s appointment. In a flurry of excitement, our whole family started to anticipate the arrival of a new baby. We had a shared Pinterest board for nursery ideas, full of whimsical, literature-themed decor. I started thinking about baby showers and baby clothes and diapers.
A week or so later, the celebration ended abruptly. They had another appointment. This time, there was no heartbeat. She elected for a D & C (a surgical procedure to remove the deceased fetus). Our family’s world hovered in disbelief and shock.
Thus was my introduction to the world of grieving mothers who miscarried. At the time, we didn’t know this would be a long, arduous road for Emily. My sister suffered through three miscarriages before her daughter was born. Later, other friends and family members experienced their own miscarriages. I was the supporter-friend for all of them. Close enough to each woman to be moved and sad, but not in the midst of the deep despair that the mother and father faced.
As the supporter, it took time to unravel the complicated emotions and grief women bear when experiencing a miscarriage. When Emily had her first miscarriage, I didn’t understand the depths of her grief. My own response included sadness and tears. I spent time reflecting on the nature of unmet expectations and anticipation. My sister, on the other hand, was devastated.
To provide comfort, I relied heavily on my seminary training. In seminary, I interned as a chaplain for a nursing home. During my time there, I had the privilege of sitting with families as they said goodbye to their loved ones. I would sit quietly and listen. Families would tell hilarious stories, stories of regret, and stories of triumph.
Grief is often accompanied by this kind of communal catharsis. The bulk of my chaplaincy training centered around one simple truth: When someone is grieving, they need your presence. Your presence affirms their grief is heard and their grief matters. They need you to affirm that the person they are losing matters.
But unlike the death of an elderly adult, there are very few memories to share during a miscarriage. Most stories about the baby are personal hopes and dreams, often still privately held and impossible to articulate. Sometimes, only a few people even know that the miscarriage happened at all. As a culture, we talk about babies younger than 12 weeks old in hushed tones. We do so to protect our loved ones from disappointment.
But for many mothers and fathers, the end of a pregnancy is far more than a disappointment. Those of us who have never miscarried fail to account for all of the factors consuming a family devastated by miscarriage. They face physical tolls, gruesome images, and hormonally charged emotional spirals. Add to that the chorus of “you should try again soon,” and “at least you never (fill in the well-intended but soul-wrenching blank).” As a result, unlike other loss of life, the family grieving their miscarriage ends up defending their loss as something worthy of grief.
To combat the isolation, the practice of presence is vitally important. During each miscarriage, I tried to simply be available for my loved ones. My presence affirmed that the grief was shared. Presence dampened the loneliness. Presence allowed communal catharsis to emerge. Even when I couldn’t understand the emotional complexity a mother was feeling, I learned to listen and support rather than try to fix her sadness. When I wasn’t nearby, I made phone calls and sent texts. If I could, I visited.
These visits took different forms, I played triominos on the porch while eating cider donuts and making jokes about county fairs. One time I watched movies all day. Other times I cried and prayed.
If you find yourself in the role of a supporter, be sure to be affirming and present. Don’t try to fix her. Don’t try to minimize the loss. She lost a baby. Rather than console her with attempts to bypass her pain, be with her. Keep her off of Google by giving her helpful information from established organizations. If you don’t know what to say, clean something, give her husband a chance to rest while you sit with her, sit with her husband who also may be mourning the loss, babysit her other children if she has any, make her dinner, or watch a movie. Most importantly, just be present.
Sarah Gregory is a Christian Education freelance writer, consultant, and musician. Sarah lives in St. Louis with her husband Kaleb and her son Cecil.
By: Maria Servold EPLA Editor
The support a woman or family receive during and after a miscarriage is crucial. The Early Pregnancy Loss Association strives to help women immediately following loss and in the days, weeks, and months afterward. But, there is only so much our organization can do, which is why we are glad to promote other local and national organizations that provide support after loss.
One such organization is Tiny Purpose, located in Adrian, Michigan. A non-profit group, Tiny Purpose began as a support group for women in the Adrian area who had suffered loss. The group’s founder suffered a stillbirth in 2003. Since 2004, groups of women have been meeting monthly through Tiny Purpose to find support and healing.
Tiny Purpose also provides boxes to mothers who have had losses that contain memorial items. According to its website, the group hopes to also begin a support program for mothers who have received diagnoses of incurable diseases in their unborn babies.
“Tiny Purpose was born out of one hurting mother’s desire to connect with other mothers who have experienced the pain of losing a baby at any stage of pregnancy or during early infancy,” the group’s website states. “This website was created as an extension of that desire to connect with you. It is our hope that in the safety of your own home, you would reach out and receive the comfort and hope that this site has to offer. Please know that you are not alone and that your precious baby’s life has a purpose.”
Tiny Purpose’s support groups provide a personal and caring resource for hurting women, which is immensely important.
Through a network of locally-based organizations like EPLA, Tiny Purpose, and many others throughout the country, we can begin to reach many more mothers who have lost children to miscarriage.
We may not each be able to reach everyone, but together, we can reach many.
Maria Servold is an Editor at the EPLA, Assistant Director of the Herbert H. Dow II Program in American Journalism, and Lecturer in Journalism at Hillsdale College
By: Madeline Gill
It was my daughter's due date. I opened the journal I had started eight months before after losing her at five weeks' gestation. Within its pages I had expressed my first pangs of grief. I pasted in every card I received from kind friends, immortalizing the kindness of people who, having no great words, knew the power of saying simply, "Thinking of you." "Weeping with you." "Praying for you." I copied down poems that captured my sense of loss, like Wordsworth's "She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways." Beside the poem I pressed a violet like the "half-hidden from the eye" bud he writes about.
On her would-be due date, I picked up my pen to write a "birthday" note. I told her how much I missed her and wanted to hold her. "This day marks the time I could have met you - not as I did, but as a healthy, breathing baby I could carry and nurture. If I close my eyes, I can almost feel you in my arms. Other babies will come, God willing, but I'll never know exactly what it is to hold my Lucy. Not until I join you, at least."
I was about to write that our reunion in heaven might be like that beautiful scene in The Return of the King when Frodo wakes up to a tearful, laughing gathering of his long-missed friends. None of the pain would matter in that moment.
That's where I broke down, sobbing too hard to write.
I realized that Lucy knows what heaven is really like, and I do not. But what killed me was that she had not read, and would not read, The Lord of the Rings. The analogy was worthless, and my favorite book was just another thing we couldn't share. I couldn't give her her first copy of Tolkien, watch her love it as much as I do, or argue with her if she underrated it.
Suddenly, I hated that I was writing a letter to someone who would never read it. I was afraid that I would have nothing in common with my daughter. Would we be total strangers when we met in heaven?
Whenever we lose someone, we grieve for the past and the future. On the one side are all the memories you have shared with someone, and on the other are all the experiences that will not come. In miscarriage, the balance tips heavily to the one side. Whether you long for what has been or what might have been, the hole is still there.
My husband and I won't start making memories with Lucy until we're in heaven. I don't really know what that will look like, but I have faith that it will be perfect.
In the meantime, I still write letters.
Madeline Gill is a homemaker and mother of two. She blogs about literature and motherhood at roadstainedfeet.wordpress.com
By: Emily Carrington EPLA Founder
I have to admit, I don’t always know what to say or do. I remember what hurt, I remember what healed, and I remember what I longed to hear, but when I find myself in front of a bereaved mother even I don’t know always what to say.
It has gotten better as I have unfortunately had more practice, but I often walk away kicking myself after sitting with a family who has suffered. I replay the conversation in my head and quickly think: “how could I possibly be so dumb? So insensitive?” I worry that I talked about myself and my experiences too much or that I disclosed too much gory information of what is to come. I wonder, “did my words of comfort actually comfort or did they offend?”
The last four years my life has been saturated in pregnancy loss. I have lost three little ones to miscarriage and I have walked through loss with a number of friends. Not only that, but now, as the President of EPLA, people often look to me to talk about caring for women and families.
While I have come to listen more and talk less, I still find caring for a loved one after loss a difficult path to navigate. Doing what I wanted or needed is not always the right thing. My experience is only my experience and my needs are only my needs. I needed to be public, I needed to talk about it, I also needed my friends and family to mention my little ones and acknowledge my loss. Someone else might respond very differently to their own miscarriage.
Which is why we need this blog. We need to talk about miscarriage because it is often misunderstood or downplayed. But to take care of each other other well, we need to keep listening to your experiences and your needs.
We cannot love one another or bear one another’s burdens if we don’t come together in honest vulnerability. Since launching Hope Blooms in October, we have had the opportunity to share beautiful stories from mothers, fathers, grandmothers, daughters, siblings, and medical professionals. We have talked about grief, pain, hope, and healing. We have explored emotions and offered suggestions for what to say or do for a loved one. We have grieved, we have learned, and we have loved.
As we look forward to 2019 we are ready to do more of the same. We must continue this conversation: share stories, share suggestions, and work through our experiences. And we must do that together. We cannot do it alone, and we don’t want to. Please keep reading our blog, please keep sharing posts with your friends, and, if you are so inclined, please consider writing your story for us to share; we’d love to hear from you.
Emily Carrington is the founder of the EPLA and mother to four children.