Hospice support groups offers healing for those facing pregnancy & infant loss

Submitted by Hospice of the Red River Valley
Crookston Times

Losing anyone you love is extremely difficult, but it is especially devastating and overwhelming when faced with the loss of a baby. Whether the loss occurs during pregnancy, or after the baby is born, parents and loved ones lose not only the precious little one, but also their hopes and dreams for the future. Such a loss can forever change the lives and relationships of those affected.

According to the March of Dimes, about 15-25 percent of known pregnancies will end in a miscarriage, and studies show that number is likely closer to 50 percent because often the loss can happen before a woman even knows she is pregnant. No matter how common this experience may seem, each loss is unique and met with its own emotional impact, uncertain future and societal expectations.

Accepting support and talking with those who have experienced a similar loss can ease the isolation felt during this time and help with the grieving and healing processes. Hospice of the Red River Valley offers two different pregnancy and infant loss support groups.

All support groups are facilitated by an individual who has experienced the loss of a baby. While each experience is different, the group facilitator offers much-needed support and insight to grieving parents.

Living Through the Loss: Heather’s Story

Heather Larson, Hospice of the Red River Valley grief specialist, facilitates Hospice of the Red River Valley’s pregnancy and infant loss support groups. For Heather, this topic strikes a deeply personal chord, as she and her husband experienced the loss of two babies in consecutive years, 2010 and 2011. Although each circumstance was so different, both losses left the couple with a tremendous amount of grief.

With their first baby, Reese, the couple discovered he had a severe heart defect at the 20-week ultrasound, and they were given three choices: terminate the pregnancy, take him home and keep him comfortable after he was born or attempt palliative-type surgeries. After many opinions with other doctors and much research, they decided to take Reese home with the help of Hospice of the Red River Valley.

“For my husband and me, hospice care meant feeling empowered to take our infant son home to care for and love him through his final days,” Heather said. “By involving Hospice, we were able to prioritize how we wanted to spend his precious days here with us. I don’t think there would have been any other way. It was the right way for us, and it allowed us to feel like a family for a short time, which was a blessing.”

The year following Reese’s passing, Heather became pregnant with a baby girl, Hudsyn, who passed away in utero from complications made by a knot in the umbilical cord. “It was an unreal time for our family. It’s pretty hard to put it into words,” she shared. “We began with the hopes of starting a family and were left with shattered dreams and compounded grief. We were parents by definition, but we had no living children to care for, nurture and love. It was the ultimate heartbreak.”

One resource Heather found helpful was one-on-one grief support available through Hospice of the Red River Valley since her son was cared for by Hospice. Because both losses were so close together, she had an established relationship with Hospice staff. “I found it comforting, just knowing we had somebody to go to if we needed to,” she explained. “The informational resources were good, and the fact that the Hospice staff acknowledged the death of our second baby, really stood out to me.”

Support for Grieving Parents

Hospice of the Red River Valley offers two pregnancy and infant loss support groups: Life & Pregnancy After Loss, and Pregnancy & Infant Loss. Each group is tailored around the unique needs of grieving parents. The purpose of each group is to provide compassionate grief support, understanding and resources to bereaved parents while allowing them to share their grief in a safe place with others who have experienced a similar journey.

Each group session has expectations and boundaries for attendees. Everyone's situation will be respected as unique, and no one's circumstances are more or less difficult than someone else's story. “The group as a whole values life, so we don’t necessarily look at it as how early or late the loss occurred in your personal journey,” Heather said. “A loss is a loss. You can’t compare or assume.”

During group, Heather shares a little of her own grief journeys to empower others to be open. She offers validation and reassurance that wherever people are in their grief, it is OK, and the loss of their child is not their fault.

“Looking back, I wish we would’ve utilized the support by Hospice more than we did. It’s hard to know what you need in the midst of your darkest day,” Heather explained. “It’s easier now to see what could have been helpful and what was helpful in those initial weeks and months. For me, talking with other mothers who had experienced the death of a baby was a great source of support, hope and healing.”

Tips for Helping Grieving Parents

    Sometimes you may not have the right words with grief, and it is OK to say nothing. Sitting in silence with your grieving loved one can be just want he or she needs.

    Grieving parents still want to hear the name of their child and stories about them. They think about their child daily, so it is nice to have other people bring them up in conversation, as well.

    Help plan physical things to help grieving parents remember and celebrate their child, such as planting a tree or plant, decorating their memorial site for birthdays and holidays, etc.

    Don’t ask someone who is grieving: What do you need? or Let me know how I can help. Instead, think of things you can do to help and take action.

    Don’t say: “You should … ” or “You need to … ” Instead, offer the same idea in a suggestive question like, “Have you thought about … ?”

    Never say: “A least … :” At least you have a living child. At least you can get pregnant again, etc.

Pregnancy & Infant Loss Groups

There is life after loss, and there is purpose in every life no matter how long or short. When your baby dies, your whole world changes. We welcome the opportunity to help you in your healing.

The virtual support groups are free and open to community members. Registration is required. For more information or to register, contact us at grief@hrrv.org or call (800) 237-4629 and ask to speak to the grief department.

Life & Pregnancy After Loss

This is an ongoing support group for anyone who is pregnant or has given birth to a living baby after previously experiencing pregnancy or infant loss.

- Third Tuesday of each month from 6:30-8 p.m.

Pregnancy & Infant Loss

This is an ongoing support group for anyone who has experienced the death of a baby through pregnancy loss, stillbirth or in the first year of life.

- Fourth Tuesday of each month from 6:30-8 p.m.

Hospice of the Red River Valley offers many free grief support resources to any community member in need, including one-on-one support, grief classes, support groups and more. For more information about grief support resources, visit the grief section of our website.

About Hospice of the Red River Valley

In 1981, Hospice of the Red River Valley was founded on the fundamental belief that everyone deserves access to high-quality end-of-life care. We fulfill our nonprofit mission by providing medical, emotional, personal and spiritual care, as well as grief support to our patients, their families and caregivers during a tender time in life. Our staff helps those we serve experience more meaningful moments through exceptional hospice care, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, wherever a patient calls home. Spread across more than 40,000 square miles in North Dakota and Minnesota, Hospice of the Red River Valley offers round-the-clock availability via phone, prompt response times and same-day admissions, including evenings, weekends and holidays. Contact us anytime at 800-237-4629 or hrrv.org.

Heather and Tyler Larson soak up time with their newborn son Reese.