Portraits of Loss & Hope
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From PLSP Families
My husband and I suffered three miscarriages within the first two years of our marriage. We were distraught, isolated and depressed. Since we are both from large Orthodox Jewish families, we felt additionally estranged from our siblings who already had children and were giving birth to new babies throughout our ordeal. Our close friends were also enjoying successful pregnancies while we were enduring the prolonged pain of being childless. Not only were we having trouble relating to our friends and family members, but we also realized that they could not understand the sorrow we were experiencing.
Fortunately, we found our way to the PLSP. After my phone counseling, my husband and I joined one of their support groups, run by two sensitive and communicative Volunteer Counselors who had been through the PLSP before us. We attended six consecutive sessions with the same group of parents who had experienced other types of pregnancy losses. We no longer felt alone, as we were finally among people who encouraged us to open up and express our feelings.
It was during one of the first sessions that a participant said: This is 'a club' that none of us would ever have wished to belong to, but seeing as we are in this club, we're glad we're sharing this with all of you. We soon realized that we were in a 'safe place' to express our grief and to begin the tentative steps toward healing.
So we all cried together, but we also laughed together when we shared the well-meant but tactless remarks people said to us that failed to validate our grief, such as "You can always have another baby." We needed to mourn the babies we had lost. It was peer group therapy at its best, as we released a whole range of emotions in cathartic ways.
At the end of the six sessions, we were all surprised at how sorry we were that it was over, and how much we were going to miss each other. But it wasn't over. In the months that followed, we continued to support each other through email, phone calls and even a few face-to-face gatherings.
Following my second miscarriage in the spring of 1983, I turned to the newly founded Pregnancy Loss Support Program (PLSP) of the National Council of Jewish Women, NY Section for help. I was in their very first support group, run by the program’s social worker, Ingrid Kohn. Like so many PLSP clients, I was sad and anxious, and felt very alone, but having immediate telephone counseling and being in a support group helped me learn to grieve effectively and gave me the determination to keep looking for more helpful doctors. I was so impressed by the impact PLSP had on my life, that when Ingrid asked me to train to become a Volunteer Counselor in 1984, I said yes, even though I was 8 months pregnant with our soon-to-be-born son, David.
While I was still pregnant, I began counseling other bereaved parents by phone, and after David’s safe arrival, I co-facilitated PLSP support groups. Edward’s and my joy was doubled when two years later, I gave birth to our daughter Justine. When we suffered six more first trimester miscarriages after her birth, I found tremendous strength in my work as a Volunteer Counselor, giving back the compassion and support that had been offered to me.
In the summer of 2012, I had several revelations around our son’s 28th birthday. I realized that both of our children were well-launched into their grown-up lives. Edward and I had finally settled into our new home in Brooklyn. And PLSP had progressed as well. By then, we had trained over 117 Volunteer Counselors and had reached out to help nearly 1000 bereaved mothers and fathers since that first support group in 1983. We had expanded our services to include bereaved single mothers of IVF pregnancies and lesbian couples who had suffered the loss of a biological baby. On a personal note, I was pleased to welcome Nancy Berlow, one of my long-term pregnancy loss colleagues, as our new Program Social Worker.
After 28 years, I concluded that I could finally retire as a PLSP Volunteer Counselor and as a member of their Board of Advisors. The program was in excellent hands.
Kristin & Danny
We had a perfectly normal pregnancy when the unthinkable happened. We lost our little girl at 36 weeks. While we should have been anticipating the birth of our first child, we were making funeral arrangements. Instead of the joyful homecoming we had expected, we came home to an empty silent house. We had never felt so alone and lost. Our family had to come to our home to clear the house of baby stuff while we were in the hospital. The baby shower was only the week before our loss.
This was not something that was supposed to happen. We knew there could be some complications, but every trip to the doctor over the previous nine months was ended with an “Everything looks fine.” We were devastated, angry, guilty, scared, and isolated. We had no idea what to do or what to feel, or who to turn to. At the hospital, the grief counselors and doctors provided little comfort and information. We left there feeling empty and overwhelmed, and without any kind of direction.
We tried talking to our friends and family. Some of them tried to relate but failed. We had someone compare our loss to putting down their dog! Others didn’t want to listen, as if the condition was contagious. Many people would not speak to us because they didn’t know what to say. Something like this doesn’t happen in their world. In their world, you get pregnant and then you have a healthy little baby. But in ours we were left with a void that couldn’t be filled.
We turned to the internet, trying to find some kind of support group or charity that we could participate in, or something to offer support. We found one local walk-in group that seemed to be what we needed, however when we were the only ones at the meeting besides the counselors we felt even more alone. We needed people with similar stories and experiences to share our grief with.
We found NCJW NY Section’s Pregnancy Loss Support Program and after a short delay due to Hurricane Sandy, we were able to meet. At first we were a little hesitant, due to our other group experience, but we decided to go and try.
At PLSP we found a group of people with similar loss. There was a place where people understood what we were going through and would listen to what we had to say without trying to immediately fix things or try and compare themselves to us. The counselors encouraged us to share everything, and every week a different topic or issue was discussed to help us through the grieving process.
Meeting people with similar experience in pregnancy loss helped us get through our own pain and suffering. While small, we found a community of people to help us, and we in turn were able to help them. Being able to share our thoughts and emotions helped us to start the grieving process and begin to heal. The PLSP members continue to support each other even after the group sessions are over, and we still remain in contact with some of the people we have met.
I was 39 weeks along in what had been a very healthy pregnancy. When one morning, I didn't feel the baby moving, I left my husband with my toddler and went to the hospital, alone, per my doctor's advice—just to have everything checked out. To be honest, I wasn't very worried. But when the nurse came in and put the monitor on my belly, I could tell immediately that something was wrong.
She left me in the room and soon returned with a group of doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff—all looking like they'd rather be anywhere but there. They told me there was no heartbeat. My baby was gone. No—this couldn't be true. The explanation was clinical. Where was the compassion?
After giving birth to my stillborn baby via c-section, I was traumatized and at a loss for how to manage my grief. My husband and I met with a social worker who recommended the Pregnancy Loss Support Program (PLSP) as a source for healing and comfort.
After my first phone counseling session, I remember thinking how I felt understood and heard by someone who didn't just feel sorry for me; she could relate. After all—she had experienced a loss of her own. I wouldn't say that she had moved on because you never do. She had moved forward, and that was a source of hope for me.
We were grateful for the opportunity to continue this work with the six-week in-person support group. What made the support group so impactful was how all of us, including the volunteer group leaders, had made a commitment to being present, even when it was hard. I sometimes felt like my grief was a burden to friends, but not in this space and not with this group of people, who eventually became my support system.
In the blink of an eye, my life dramatically changed . . . PLSP (Pregnancy Loss Support Program) was instrumental in getting me through the pain. It provided a safe platform for women and men to speak about their losses. We laughed, we cried . . . We shared memories of our babies who were never born with a heartbeat or a breath of life, and yet we had so many experiences to share. The program was structured yet flexible in allowing us all to grieve in the ways we needed to grieve. The phone counselors and the support group facilitators had all experienced a loss of a pregnancy at one point in their lives. They could relate, which made this program authentic.
The weeks following the loss were full of shock and confusion. We’d never known anyone who had experienced the death of a child, and the pain was extremely isolating. Our doula recommended PLSP. When we arrived at our first meeting we were nervous about sharing something so intimate with people we didn’t know. But as we began telling our story, we realized we were in a room full of compassion and understanding. We quickly developed close-knit relationships with the other participants and considered our sessions as an oasis during the difficult week.
Father, phone counselor and group leader
The experience at PLSP has been positive for me. It reminds me of how my child's death, the low point in my life, has transformed my life and my perspective on how to live life and deal with its ups and downs. It also reminds me that as a society, we need to take care of each other and help each other out when called upon to do so.