Hope After Pregnancy and Infant Loss
On 15 October each year, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day is observed worldwide, to remember the little ones who left us too soon, and to honour the parents who find a way to carry on with broken hearts that never fully heal, not even after having other children.
The anguish of losing a child is devastating, but it is so important to realised that there is hope… by finding support from others who have walked this path and learning coping skills for living with such heartache, you can honour the memory of your little one, and also begin to rebuild around your other loved ones.
There is hope, and there is support – you are not alone: this was the message at the recent Fertility Show Africa 2023, where Michelle Groenewald from Empty Wombs shared a compassionate place for those who have suffered the trauma of pregnancy and infant loss.
By encouraging, loving, supporting and giving hope to women who have experienced miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss, Empty Wombs provides essential support through creative coffee dates, grieving through creativity and initiatives such as the Hope Box Initiative.
Michelle notes that while the loss of a parent means the loss of the past, and the loss of your spouse means the loss of your present, the loss of your baby means the loss of your future. “And it’s in the face of such profound loss that it’s essential to recognise that grieving parents need our compassion, understanding and support.”
Empty Wombs is a support group for grieving moms who experienced pregnancy or baby losses to come together and to share their stories and their grief, and to find hope. Their loss is characterised by a complex emotional response, most commonly manifesting as grief, but often expressed in different ways, both in intensity and duration. There is no timeframe for bereavement, although creating mementos and holding a funeral service may help to lessen the intensity and duration of the grief response.
The moms also get together once a month and put together beautiful boxes for other bereaved moms under the Hope Box Initiative, started by one of the moms, Nanki Robbertse, after the loss of her beloved son Kaleb. As Michelle says: “This is his legacy. And it’s the legacy of all the babies.”
You are not alone
Handcrafted with such love and such care and true compassion, the beautifully made boxes are filled with tangible gifts for a mom experiencing the same devastation these moms have known. The boxes are delivered to bereaved moms to let them know that they’re not alone in their grief. In giving and reaching out to others, the Hope Box Initiative moms not only give their life meaning and purpose, but also learn to integrate their pain with joy.
Each box contains tissues, a mug with tea, coffee and something sweet, soothing hand cream and bath salts, a journal in which to record thoughts, scripture cards as well as “Heaven” a booklet by Randy Alcorn, a book on grief: “Grieving the child I never knew” by Kathe Wunnenberg or “I’ll hold you in heaven” by Jack W Hayford, and other items with specific meaning, including a bunny in every box.
There is also a letter from Nanki, explaining the meaning of each item. In addition to starting the Hope Box Initiative, Nanki also wrote a book “Hope After Loss” about her journey. Many bereaved moms call it a lifesaver.
Wave of Light
One item in the box that has extreme significance is the candle. In remembrance of all the babies who have gone too soon, moms all over the world light their candles on the 15th of October, which is Pregnancy Loss And Baby Loss Month. The moms light their candles at seven o’clock and leave them burning for an hour, before taking a photograph to post on social media, creating an incredible international wave of light. It is beautiful, and a fitting way to remember.
After visiting an Empty Wombs get together, our own Dr Mandy Rodriques – resident clinical psychologist at Medfem Fertility Clinic – said: “Everyone knows the deep sorrow. There is a connectedness among those who have experienced the loss, the devastation, the pain. It is a connection with no words, a quiet acceptance, where it is safe to share stories, grief, heartache, even a laugh, to heal and also to give back by making Hope Boxes for others.”
Impact on mental health
Dr Rodrigues adds that the grief cycle is tough and messy process, that impacts on all areas of the person’s life. Each individual and every family unit will experience this immense loss in their own way. In addition, when losing a child, parents face a relentless grief cycle, deep depression caused by grief coupled with postnatal depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Sadly, the bereavement, subsequent intense grief and mental health issues that accompanies a pregnancy loss or infant loss is often overlooked, misunderstood or underestimated by healthcare professionals, friends and family members.
This is despite the fact that an estimated 1 in 4 individuals and families have had their lives are irrevocably altered by the death of a child during pregnancy, at birth, or in infancy. Pregnancy loss is defined differently around the world, but in general a baby who dies before 28 weeks of pregnancy is referred to as a miscarriage, and babies who die at or after 28 weeks are stillbirths. More than 40% of stillbirths occur during labour, many of which are preventable. The WHO says that miscarriage is the most common reason for losing a baby during pregnancy. Pinpointing the exact reason is often challenging, because there are many reasons why a miscarriage may happen, including fetal abnormalities, the age of the mother, and infections, many of which are preventable such as malaria and syphilis.
Counselling is crucial
Because of the extraordinary impact of pregnancy loss and the loss of a baby on a couple’s well-being, counselling and support are crucial. Our team at Medfem Fertility Clinic recognises this, and counselling is part of our package.
Speaking to a counsellor that understands the unique stresses of pregnancy or infant loss can be immensely helpful, as is learning about coping mechanisms that are relevant and proven effective for many couples who have experienced it.
Effective counselling can help you process the implications a pregnancy or infant loss has for you as a couple, to put it in the context of your life and relationships, and to assist you to realise that you are not alone in coping with this life crisis.
A good therapist will also assist you in sorting out emotions and feelings, help you to communicate with others more clearly and strengthen already present coping skills while helping you to develop new coping strategies.
If you would like to know more, or to meet our resident counsellor, Dr Rodrigues, who focusses on infertility and specialises in miscarriage and infant loss and has decades of experience in helping couples cope with the stress of infertility and pregnancy loss, we invite you to connect with us by simply clicking here or contacting us telephonically on +27 (11) 463 2244.
You can also meet with an expert during a Virtual Consultation Via Zoom or Skype. Click here to book a virtual consultation now.