Tags: Health, In This Issue
Women who have suffered the loss of one or more pregnancies may feel as though they will never find comfort again through their ongoing grief. Yet a number of support groups in the Indianapolis area have helped many women find reassurance, healing and strength they may not have experienced otherwise.
Reverend Marsha Hutchinson of St. Luke's United Methodist Church became pregnant in 1967, during a time when there were few resources for women needing assistance with problem pregnancies. During her first trimester, Hutchinson began cramping and bleeding profusely and was taken to the hospital. After her examination, she was told that her baby had died and a D&C procedure was used to remove the fetus.
"I was devastated for many reasons, as are most women," she says. "First, I felt guilty that I had mopped the kitchen floor that night, and that I had eaten a tuna fish sandwich that day. I thought it was my fault that my baby didn't live."
Hutchinson later became pregnant again. During her eighth month of pregnancy, her baby's movements gradually lessened with time. After a week of concern, she called her doctor, who dismissed her fears and told her to wait until her next scheduled appointment. Meanwhile, "each day the baby's movements became more and more infrequent," she says. Friends tried to comfort her by telling her the baby was most likely a good napper. When Hutchinson felt no movement whatsoever, she contacted the on-call doctor.
"Upon being examined and much silence, the doctor told me 'I don't hear a heartbeat; I think your baby may have died. I will measure you now, and you come back in a week. We can tell for sure by then.'" A week later, Hutchinson was told that her baby had indeed died. When she delivered, she says, "The on-call doctor told me it would be far better to not know the gender or even see the baby because it would only make things worse. My baby was taken from my body, and there was no name given, no funeral and no spoken acknowledgment of life or of death. For 24 hours, I shared a room in the hospital with a nursing mother and went home to an empty nursery with a broken heart."
Even today, women who have experienced a miscarriage may feel out of place and not understood for grieving the loss of a baby during its first trimester, not realizing that this loss is just as painful as having delivered a stillborn. Mary Mouradian had undergone two miscarriages, both at 12 weeks and a year apart, when she decided to attend a support group to cope with her grieving. As the other women sitting around a circle took turns speaking, they held pictures of their babies and spoke of holding them.
"When it came for my turn to speak, I said 'I don't belong here,'" remembers Mouradian. "I didn't have a child to touch, hold and see. I was told 'You need this support group even more so. You absolutely belong here. You were a mom; your loss just happened earlier.' The experience was very therapeutic."
Memories to Hold is the name of a support group offered in Indianapolis for parents who have experienced the loss of a child due to ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death. Held at St. Francis Hospital's south campus, the group, coordinated by Joni Cutshaw, RN, meets every second Tuesday of each month from 7 to 9 p.m. As well, the hospital offers a Memorial Service and a Burial of Ashes twice a year (in May and November) to help with closure. In addition, an annual Christmas Memorial Service is provided each December, where families are given an ornament for their baby in remembrance. Each October, St. Francis holds a Walk to Remember for families to remember their babies in a service of music, poetry, reading of the infants' names and releasing balloons. "All babies are treated with dignity and care," Cutshaw says.
After Mouradian began attending Memories to Hold, she made many close friendships with the other women. They decided to give back and created Caring Companions to share their experiences and bring comfort to other mothers. Volunteers of Caring Companions make mementos and take pictures of babies, answer questions and provide support to grieving families. Giving an infant an identity is also something that helped comfort Mouradian, who gave her lost babies names and bought a Precious Moments figurine in the shape of a baby on a cloud. "This was perfect for me," she says.
Michie Sebree, an RN who went through multiple miscarriages, also found reassurance through a support group and began training to help other mothers through a 24-hour perinatal crisis support hotline for families called NeoFight. A nonprofit organization that began at Methodist Hospital, Neo-Fight is active in all 11 hospitals throughout Indiana. "It was the best support I received," she says. "I've volunteered with (Neo-Fight) for 14 years now."
As a listener for parents calling the crisis line, Sebree acknowledges that knowing what to say or do that would be helpful for grieving mothers is a challenge for friends and family. Although well-meaning, she says, "People will say things they think will make you feel better, like 'your baby is in heaven now.' It's better just to say nothing, or say 'I don't know what to say but I'm here to listen and I'm here for you. You're not alone.'" Even completing tasks, such as helping clean the mother's house or fixing her meals can go a long way, she says.
Hutchinson, who leads a support group at St. Luke's United Methodist Church called HOPE, says that miscarriage is more common than most people could imagine. Literature suggests that as many as 25 to 50 percent of all couples experience miscarriages. "Some of the couples place their pregnancy tests in the soil of our garden and plant a flower in remembrance."
Hutchinson advises women who want to try to get pregnant again to "wait until they feel physically, emotionally and spiritually ready to try again. Of course, the father as well as the doctor needs to support this decision." Hutchinson adds, "For the past 10 years I've led a support group for an amazing group of men and women…parents who have experienced terrible losses. With faith, courage and the support of one another day by day, each of these people have bravely moved forward and have finally known the joy of parenting."