sharing your stories and remembering your children
By: Brian Sinischo, M.D.
Experiencing loss is painful, both physically and mentally. As an expectant mother, partner, family member, friend, or health care provider, we all face this loss from our own perspective. I remember the first time I diagnosed a fetal demise by ultrasound. I was in my first year of residency. I was working on the OB floor in Saginaw, Michigan and one of the nurses came to me and asked me to find a baby’s heart tone as she couldn’t find it with the doppler. I didn’t have enough experience to even get anxious about this ultrasound. I took the machine into the room, gelled up the patient’s abdomen, and used the abdominal probe to assess the heartbeat. The baby was 34 weeks along, and it should take four seconds to find, but when I got in the right position there was no cardiac activity.
I didn’t realize I changed, but my expression must have shown my thoughts. The mother went into protection mode and started asking this young doctor some hard questions. "What’s wrong? Why is your face like that? Where is my doctor?" Very soon, tears started to come. I kept my composure and explained what I was seeing. I showed her the heart and showed her how there was no movement when there should have been.
Then my tears started… I remember wanting to make it all better, but I couldn’t. The program I trained in allowed us to follow patients through their time with us, giving us the chance to learn and watch all of the stages of birth. I will never forget this induction and helping deliver this baby that looked so perfect, and watching as the family grieved on what should have been a joyous day. I left that delivery and cried too. I spent a lot of time listening to this family and how they worked through their grief. It was educational and, honestly, some of the hardest medicine I have had to learn.
Much of medicine, I have learned, has nothing to do with drugs or procedures. I feel in many ways I live in two worlds. One, the medical world of terminology, definition, safe practice, protocol, medication, and sterility. The other world is heart-related, compassionate, and not linear. Traditionally, physicians are trained to separate the two worlds, probably so the practitioner can function, despite the tragedy unfolding in front of them. But I’m learning how to blend the two. Here are a few things I have learned to do:
1) Offer ultrasounds. (I drag the ultrasound machine all over my office and the hospital to show patients exactly what is going on inside before any procedure or induction or decision needs to be made.)
2) Attempt to keep medical jargon to a minimum and repeat myself. Often when trauma occurs it is hard for a person to remember what was said and comprehending new information is hard.
3) Allow time. Patients need time to process and make decisions. There are times when patients come to the office three or more times before they make a decision on how to move forward.
There is a fine line to be walked when informing patients of risks associated with loss. Watching and waiting is almost always an option but comes with risk of infection, hemorrhage, and sometimes worsened mental anguish. There is no one right answer when deciding how to treat the loss of a baby. It often feels like we are forced to make a decision in an impossible situation, as many families are in a devastated mental state.
I have also learned to never take it personally. I have been hit, screamed at, kicked, cried and vomited on, hugged, and prayed with. This process is tumultuous. When someone is going through their worst day, I strive to be calm, compassionate, consistent, and know that it’s okay to cry. Some may consider it unprofessional; I consider it human.
If you have gone through the loss of a baby, I’m deeply sorry. I hope compassion is what met you, and I apologize if it was not. We learn as we go and sometimes as medical professionals we learn from our current situation. Most physicians and medical professionals I have had the privilege to work with and desire to serve, understand, and help. During trauma, many emotions are involved and, unfortunately, like my facial expressions from the above episode, are mistakenly shared. In attempted grace, I hope to serve Hillsdale well and grow in the amazing teams with whom I get to serve.
Brian Sinischo is a OB/GYN at Hillsdale Hospital.
By: Sarah Gregory EPLA Vice President
In every community around the world, families experiencing miscarriage need support from their community networks. Churches and other religious communities play an important role in bearing the burden of grief. How can faith communities help in the midst of the invisible grief of miscarriage?
Rituals- Funerals, memorials, and worship
Many families need the sense of closure that grief rituals like funerals provide. Reach out to your local funeral home to find out information about miscarriage burial possibilities. Some families do not have a physical body to bury, so consider potential alternatives like a memorial service, memorial garden, or private ritual for closure.
Many denominations already have child loss and miscarriage worship outlines in their established worship resources. If you are affiliated with a denomination, look into the established worship rituals for services for infant death and grieving families.
Pastors and chaplains can also prepare with established prayers, scripture, and music that particularly fit the burden of miscarriage to share with grieving parents in private moments.
Provide a Meal
It’s good practice to ask first to be sure the family wants the meal support. Don't be afraid to use your network to provide tangible support while a family wades through the logistical coordination, health decisions, confusion, and emotional trauma a miscarriage creates.
Know your Resources
Organizations like the Early Pregnancy Loss Association provide educational materials and other resources to women suffering from a miscarriage. Download our educational resources from our website.
Local community groups also provide support. A quick search online can start you in the right direction. You can also find out what organizations may already exist by talking to healthcare providers, counselors, or community leaders.
Listen, Affirm, and Remember
Perhaps the most crucial piece of supporting a family through miscarriage is to listen to the grief and affirm their loss. Families experience long lasting pain that is invisible to most people. Affirm that their grief is real. Check in on the family during the anniversary of the miscarriage or due date. Simply remembering the loss will instill the sense that they are not alone.
Faith communities provide emotional and spiritual support during times of grief. Be sure to deploy the networks and systems reserved for moments of trauma and pain at the pace and rate at which the family experiencing loss feels most comfortable. Faith communities can and do provide important healing, support, and hope.
“Martin Luther’s Comfort for Women Who have had a Miscarriage” https://blogs.lcms.org/2016/miscarriage-comfort-in-a-time-of-loss/
Othodox Church in America
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Sarah Gregory is a Christian Education freelance writer, consultant, and musician. Sarah lives in St. Louis with her husband Kaleb and her son Cecil.
Note: This post was originally written by Joy for the purposes of Henry Ford Allegiance Health in Jackson, Michigan. It is being published with permission from the author.
By: Joy Sterrett, RN.
You may never see your child play t-ball, dance ballet, or ride a bike, but you are still a mom. You are still a dad. You may never get to walk your daughter down the aisle, but you are still a dad. You may never see your dreams for your precious child come to fruition, but you are still a parent.
I wanted to reassure parents who have experienced a loss that they have every right to celebrate being a mother and a father. Regardless if the loss was from a miscarriage, full-term baby, or even a young child, a loss does not strip away the parent title.
I encourage everyone who has experienced a loss to think of creative ways to commemorate their baby’s life. Here are some ideas:
Those who’ve experienced a loss can feel very isolated in their grief. I want to encourage you to look around you. See all of the other families surrounding you. Remember you are never alone. There are many who have walked a similar path, and there are those who will hold your hand through your journey of grief. Don’t let today be the last time that you celebrate your baby’s life.
And never forget you are still a mom. You are still a dad.
Joy Sterret is the Perinatal Beareavement Coordinator at Henry Ford Health Services in Jackson, Michigan.
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: Kathy Petersen
I found out I was pregnant with my second baby when my oldest was only 9 months old. We were pretty overwhelmed, but excited, and went to the first OB appointment at 10 weeks. We didn’t hear a heartbeat.
Our physician gave us encouragement that it was still early, position and size of the baby could affect the ability to hear the heartbeat, and said, “we’ll just check next time.”
Four weeks went by and at my 14-week appointment, there was still no heartbeat. My OB sent me for an ultrasound to confirm, and while I was no ultrasound expert, there was no movement, no heartbeat, and no life on the screen.
I went home sad, disappointed, and a little unsure of what I was supposed to do or expect. This new information didn’t just change that day; it changed that week, the next nine months, the next 18 years, the rest of my life. But 20 years later and as a mother of eight, I have come to realize that every experience in our journey of motherhood, every joy and every suffering, changes us. We grow, we learn, we adapt, we cope. Every experience, my miscarriage included, has shaped who I am as a mother.
I didn’t expect that my miscarriage would shape who I am as a nurse as well. As a labor and delivery nurse for 20 years, I have been at the side of many women who have had a pregnancy loss. I have cried with them, taken pictures for them, and just sat at their bedsides. Women who experience a pregnancy loss need postpartum care: physical needs like Tylenol and Motrin, pads, and fluids, but also emotional needs like visits, meals, and friends.
People know how to celebrate babies, but most people are uncomfortable supporting others during a miscarriage. It’s not easy, but those of us who have had miscarriages should be first in line to be present to others who have sadly joined us.
Groups like the Early Pregnancy Loss Association are a great support and are helping to bring the topic of early pregnancy loss into the light so that no woman feels alone.
Women might also experience something similar to postpartum depression after a miscarriage, though there is debate as to whether it is actually postpartum depression or not. A drop in hormones coupled with the emotional event of losing a baby can trigger extreme anxiety and other mental health issues.
Many women may think that because the pregnancy ended early, postpartum symptoms like this are not possible. They are, and no loss mother should feel ashamed to ask for help.
The emotional and spiritual struggle following miscarriage does not always look like “depression;” it often manifests in anxiety, the inability to sleep, confusion or being overwhelmed, obsessive thoughts or extreme focus. Women experiencing these symptoms should seek medical attention.
Mothers who have lost babies early in pregnancy should know that they are not alone, and that their grief may spread into many areas of their life. Women who have suffered losses previously can and should reach out to those miscarrying, helping them carry their burden and supporting them by working to address both their physical and emotional needs.
Kathy Petersen is an RN and mother of 8