sharing your stories and remembering your children
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