“Deep grief sometimes is almost like a specific location, a coordinate on a map of time. When you are standing in that forest of sorrow, you cannot imagine that you could ever find your way to a better place. But if someone can assure you that they themselves have stood in that same place, and now have moved on, sometimes this will bring hope”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
Stillbirth only happens to 1% of pregnancies. So, when Nora was born dead, I felt like I was all alone, part of this unlucky 1%. I was surrounded by the other 99% who got to have 'take home babies', a term I would later become familiar with as Nora was not one of those. Being in the 1% was lonely.
But as we moved forward in our journey of grief, Nick and I learned that stillbirth happens more than SID's and Downs Syndrome combined and there was a whole community out there waiting to embrace us. However, I wasn't ready to relate yet. I wasn't ready to realize this pain happens to others and often. I thought my pain was special and part of me wanted to keep it that way.
Then, in a couple's therapy session one afternoon, our therapist suggested that we go to a support group. I told her how I wasn't ready. I told her how I didn't believe that people could really relate. However, as a mental health therapist I understood the therapeutic importance of support groups. According to Joanne Cacciatore, the founder of the MISS Foundation, support groups provide bereaved parents with benefits that include reduction of stress and depression, diminished traumatic grief reactions (particularly in women), finding meaning and purpose in death, and reduction of isolation.
So this month, in March I started to attend a support group and no matter how much I hated going, I found it to be helpful. There were other couples there, all with deceased babies but different stories, and as I listened to one woman say, "I don't know if I can trust my body anymore?" In my head I screamed, "That's it! Yes! That's how I feel". And then another mom later in the group said, "I would do it all over again." And I cried inside and out at this statement, because part of me said in my head, in a sad, smaller voice this time, "That's it. Yes.That's how I feel," as tears rolled down my checks and my head nodded in agreement.
Other people's stories helped Nick and I process and understand our own. When we left group that day we realized that we do not have to carry our pain secretly and that we are not alone in this horrible feeling of grief. Other people's stories and feelings about life after child loss validate our own emotions, no matter how difficult and ugly those emotions might be.
Research has also shown that bereaved parents use support groups as a way to connect with parents like themselves outside of the group, providing them with a community, like any other to share their journey with. I know the ladies in my group developed a closed Facebook group and arranged outings to spend time together outside of group to build stronger relationships and integrate each other into their lives because these were the people that really "got it." These were the people that understood.
When I asked other group members what they found most beneficial about the group, answers included, "It gives us a place to remember our babies even after our family and friends have stopped asking how we are doing." Another women responded that there is something different from all other support, such as blogs and counseling, "That being in a room face-to-face with people that get it...helps us heal." Other women talked about how they are able to express their grief openly and not be judged. Overall, the other group members shared about how being face-to-face with others who truly know your pain, makes your own a little easier to bare.
So, do I like support groups? No, I do not like taking 2 hours out of my week, twice a month to talk about babies dying, especially my baby dying, but it's helpful. Not just for the time spent in group honoring our children or talking about our grief, but for the connections it forms. Maybe now being in the 1% won't be so lonely after all.
If you are looking to find a support group in your area below are some great resources.
The Compassionate Friends - Chapter Locator
The MISS Foundation - Support Groups
Missing G.R.A.C.E. - Has links to International and UK support groups as well as local
Finley's Foot Prints - is a UK organization that will help you find a local support group in the UK
Psychotherapy & Healing Associates - This is a local Twin Cities psychotherapy clinic specalizing in support around pregnancy and child loss.