Pregnancy Loss: Supporting Mothers Through Tragedy

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Pregnancy loss can be difficult to talk about and even more difficult to fully heal from. The impact it has on an expecting mother’s life can be incalculable, and the process of recovery from this grief can be a very personal experience.

Seeds of Hope healing garden, Owings Mills JCC (provided)

Complications from pregnancy have grown more common in Maryland over the years, becoming a more widespread issue for area mothers.

March Of Dimes, a national nonprofit advocating for maternal health, especially preventable deaths for infants and mothers, gave Maryland a D+ for its maternal health grade in 2022.

The rate of infants born preterm increased from 10.1% to 10.7% from 2020 to 2021 alone, and Maryland’s infant mortality rate is 0.2 percentage points above the national average. While that number has fallen over the past decade, it is still a pervasive issue.

The five major counties covered in the report—Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties—all possess preterm birth rates that have worsened since 2022.

Support groups around Maryland hope to make the experience a little easier for mothers and families that have experienced this loss.

One of these is Jewish Community Services’ Seeds of Hope program, which provides aid to Jewish women who have experienced infertility and loss. Michelle Goldberg, the senior manager for community engagement and partnership at JCS, says the program, now about 2 years strong, was created to help address unmet needs.

“They felt that there was not sufficient support in the Jewish community to help them cope,” Goldberg explains of participants, but through emotional support and monitoring and connection to peers, education, rabbis and professionals at Seeds of Hope, they can begin the healing process.

May 21 saw the group’s Planting Seeds of Hope event, which aimed to give its members a way to express their feelings materially by contributing to a “healing garden” outside the Owings Mills JCC. Participants were able to plant new flowers and crops in the garden, symbolizing new life, as well as painting and customizing river stones to memorialize their losses.

Events like these help women process grief without judgement, as loss surrounding pregnancy is not always understood and supported.

Seeds of Hope healing garden, Owings Mills JCC (provided)

The TEARS Foundation, which provides emotional and financial aid to those who have experienced pregnancy loss throughout the country, has a Maryland chapter with several support groups, including a virtual group for those who have gone through TFMR—termination for medical reasons, when women have need to terminate a pregnancy due to health reasons for themselves or the baby.

The TFMR support group is exclusive to the Maryland chapter, being the only one of its kind in the TEARS Foundation. Heather Ralston, who facilitates the support group, says that spaces for women who have undergone TFMR are often absent in fertility loss communities.

“There is such a stigma in today’s society around terminating pregnancies, but sometimes it is the only option,” Ralston says. “Sometimes people in the infant loss community also do not understand that.”

In 2017, Ralston’s second son was diagnosed with a fatal case of fetal hydrops at 20 weeks. He was given a 10% chance of surviving to term, with an additional 5% to10% chance of surviving after birth. She made the decision to terminate the pregnancy, for her health and for the baby’s, but felt a lot of guilt.

Connecting with the TEARS Foundation and joining a Greater Baltimore Medical Center support group for others who had experienced pregnancy loss helped her feel less alone and process her grief.

In a similar way, Seeds of Hope has been a haven for Jewish women who have felt misunderstood.

“Jewish tradition has been a patriarchal tradition, and while pregnancy loss and infertility affect both members of the couple, it affects the woman more deeply,” explains Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin.

Cardin, who after her own miscarriage founded a pregnancy loss support program 40 years ago—which still exists under the National Council of Jewish Women’s New York section—inspired the ideas behind Seeds of Hope, as well as the group’s name, with her book “Tears of Sorrow, Seeds of Hope: A Jewish Spiritual Companion for Infertility and Pregnancy Loss.”

“The patriarchy has not always responded spiritually in the way women needed, so women created their own rituals…What we’re doing today is encouraging women to craft their own spiritual responses to their sense of loss, incompleteness, hope and renewal,” she says.

Cardin now sits on the Seeds of Hope advisory committee, providing spiritual guidance.

This guidance is key, especially since Jewish spiritual laws—also known as halakha—regarding pregnancy loss can be difficult to navigate. Burial can be complicated because Judaism makes a distinction between underdeveloped fetuses and more developed fetuses. Mikvah.org specifies that Jewish funerals for stillbirths were often very secretive, with families not attending.

“There were a lot of women who had miscarriages who never even knew where their babies were buried,” Goldberg says. “[Halakha scholars in] Israel are starting to come around on changing these laws, but it’s still very complicated. People struggle with choosing whether to follow their beliefs or do what is right for them.”

With that in mind, Goldberg and Cardin both stress that it is important for Seeds of Hope to offer a no-judgment space for these women and their families. And it’s just as important for the people around them to offer community support in a similarly non-judgmental manner.

Ralston says for her healing process, she joined multiple online groups and sees peer-to-peer support as vital to getting through pregnancy loss. “When you experience it, you’re just looking to connect with other people and process your grief,” she says.

Ralston facilitates another online group for Pregnancy After Loss Support (PALS) as a volunteer coordinator.

“It’s about providing a safe space. Our monthly group [at the TEARS Foundation chapter] is six to eight people, and we have a lot of people who look forward to it because it’s the only outlet they have,” Ralston said. “Any loss is a valid loss, and people’s grief matters.”

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