Pregnancy and infant loss: through the lens of a doctor’s practice

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By Beth Helgerson, M.D., OB/GYN

 

This is a tough subject. Losing a baby, losing a pregnancy – it’s life-changing. Even though it’s not always talked about, it’s very real and very painful to mothers and their families.

We’re in the midst of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, a fitting opportunity for me to express thoughts and emotions I’ve seen throughout my practice.

A mother and father holding the hat of a premature baby.There’s not always a reason

Early pregnancy loss is quite common, according to some sources. But we don’t always know when it happens because it might manifest as a late heavy cycle. We aren’t always aware of the reason for early loss, but it’s often due to abnormal chromosome numbers in the fetus.

Mid to late pregnancy loss is far less common. Again, we don’t always have answers. Causes could include abnormal chromosomes, prematurity, genetic/structural makeup, uterine or cervical issues, or poorly controlled medical illness in the mother.

Because we’re not always sure what causes pregnancy loss, it’s important to do everything you can to be healthy if you’re looking forward to motherhood. That might mean taking care of diabetes or hypertension, being in good shape, taking vitamins, maintaining a healthy weight – all before you get pregnant.

Strong support mends broken hearts

Grief is hard enough, but when I talk to women who lose a pregnancy, they share that they feel even worse based on what their friends and other people have said.

People mean well. They don’t mean to cause pain. But phrases such as, “You’ll have another baby” or “Thank goodness you have another baby at home,” contribute to grief. Almost every woman tells me a story of how she was made to feel worse because of well-meaning words, and that stays with her.

If you know someone who has had a pregnancy or infant loss, it’s OK not to say anything. You don’t have to offer advice in hopes of cheering her up. More often than not, it has the opposite effect. It’s OK to simply give her a hug.

If you have experienced a loss and have been hurt by someone’s words, know that there is a place that can help. You can find solace in a support group, where you’ll meet people who are dealing with their own losses. It will show you that you’re not alone, that somebody there has gone through this successfully and wants to help. Lots of candles on dark background


Children are always remembered

While it’s true that time helps with grief, a part of us never lets go of that grief. When I speak to elderly women and ask about their life history, they often want to discuss their own pregnancy and infant losses.

One woman in her 80s described it as always being painful, that it’s been painful for 60 years. Yet, she’s glad that it brings her pain. Not that she enjoys that pain, but it reminds her that her child is never forgotten.

Her sentiments struck me as beautiful and profound. It’s a viewpoint we don’t often hear, and I think it’s important. I’ve shared these thoughts with young women who are experiencing loss right now. While it might not bring them relief, it makes sense to them and, in a way, helps them feel connected to other mothers in their grief and remembrance.

TCHC offers two support groups that might help: Grief Support Group and Parents Who Have Lost a Child Support Group. For more information, call 218-631-5228 or click here.

 

Beth Helgerson Professional PhotoAbout the Author: Dr. Beth Helgerson specializes in general obstetrics and gynecology, offering women individualized care and surgical procedures. Dr. Helgerson enjoys spending her days off experimenting with new recipes or, even better, finding new restaurants to try. She and her husband have two grown daughters.


Coping with Grief During the Holidays

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By: Sara Stone, Licensed Social Worker

Fir branch, candle and  Christmas decorationsThis time of year we’re thinking about celebrating the holidays with family and friends. We’re looking to find joy in making memories and partaking in traditions. Sound perfect, right?  Well, not for everyone. How do we cope with grief during the holidays?

Many who are grieving the loss of a loved one can find these holidays and traditions to be a very challenging time. Holidays can often time magnify the loss, and make some of the traditions feel unbearable.  You are not alone if you find yourself dreading an upcoming holiday or worrying about what or how you will make it through.

For each person, the experience can vary a great deal. This is because grief itself is so very personal.  Many feel that holidays are a time when they need to force themselves to cheer up and go with the flow. That is actually the opposite of what one should be doing.  Because the holidays can often time be a trigger of great emotion, much of which we may not be expecting or ready for, it’s important to give yourself permission to work through your grief and not force yourself to do anything you’re not ready for or comfortable with.

By grieving, we work our way through the pain that we feel over our lost loved one. The grief is our internal feelings, while the pain and sadness is what others may see.  It’s okay to talk about your loss, or reflect on it. Take time to journal, or reflect on the holidays and what areas mean most to you.

Grief.com has a few suggestions on ways to cope:saragrief-support-tag

  • Do allow time for your feelings.
  • Do allow others to help. We all need help at certain time in our lives.
  • Do be gentle with yourself and protect yourself.
  • Don’t do more than you want, and don’t do anything that does not service your soul and your loss.
  • Do, in grief, pay extra attention to the children. Children are too often forgotten grievers.

Sometimes the thought of the holiday approaching may be harder for us than when the actual holiday arrives. Some people welcome the ‘change of pace’ and activity that often times comes with the event.

Another point of consideration is that although the holidays may never be the same after the loss of your loved one, it is a time for you to evaluate how you want your holiday to look or feel.  Do you start a new tradition in honor of your loved one?  This may be as simple as;

  • Leaving a chair open at the table or in the space that you celebrate.
  • Starting a journal about your loved one and inviting family to add happy memories.
  • Doing a balloon release or some other reflection activity such as lighting a special candle in their honor during the holiday celebration.
  • One support group member got a small tree and asked all family members to buy an ornament that they felt reminded them of their father/grandfather. Each of them put the ornament on that tree and every year, the tree has a special place during the winter holiday season.

saragrief-support-tag-2

Here at Tri-County Health Care we offer several free, monthly support group meetings to the community, including:

1. Adult Survivors of Suicide Loss Support Group

The purpose of this group is to provide a confidential support group for those who have experienced this type of loss to find support, share their story and learn ways to cope. It is open to all adult family members and friends of a loved one who has completed suicide. The groups meets the third Tuesday of the month from 6:30 – 8 p.m. in the Wesley Conference Room in the lower level of Tri-County Health Care.

2. Grief Support Group

Anyone who has experienced a loss is invited to the support group. The group’s purpose is to offer understanding, suggestions for coping, support, friendship, and most of all, hope to bereaved adults. They meet the first Tuesday of each month from 4:30 – 5:30 p.m. in the Wesley Conference Room, located in the lower level of Tri-County Health Care in Wadena.

3. Parents Who Have Lost a Child Support Group

This support group is open to all parents who have lost a child of any age, at any time in their lives. They meet the second Monday of the month from 5:30 – 7 p.m. in the Wesley Conference Room at Tri-County Health Care.

Sara Stone

Sara Stone

For more information or questions about the support groups offered, please contact the Medical Social Services office (218) 631-5228. To see a list of all monthly support groups offered by TCHC go here: http://www.tchc.org/education-and-resources/support-groups.

About the Author: Sara Stone, LSW is the Medical Social Services Manager at Tri-County Health Care. The goal of her department is to provide support, education, referrals and serve as a resource to patients and their families regarding all matters of health and well-being.


Navigating through Grief: a mother’s journey of losing a child

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By: Jil Fiemeyer

So, they say life is written in chapters. I can’t count the chapters in my life, but I most certainly know the chapter that changed my entire story.

Jil & her daughters - Katie, Jane & Anna

Jil & her daughters – Katie, Jane & Anna

In August of 2011, our family was plunged into an existence I never knew was possible. One where bald children seem more normal than those with hair, where my child laid in a hospital bed while others are out playing in the sun, where Jane hurt so much she couldn’t even cry, and yes, a world where children also die.

Jane was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia at the age of seven – when she was a second-grader at Wadena-Deer Creek Elementary School. What appeared to at first be symptoms of ear infections or maybe even Lyme Disease, within weeks was confirmed as that dreaded “C” word, CANCER. On September 6, 2013, Jane earned her angel’s wings just 13 months after her diagnosis, just weeks before her ninth birthday.

Losing a child is the lonliest, most desolate journey a person can take. It’s a club that no one wants to belong to and it’s a club that can feel very lonely at times. From my journey, here are a couple tips that I believe can help give support those grieving on a sacred journey they never wanted to take:

  • Remember our children – no matter how old, or young they were when they died. If you see something that reminds you of my child, tell me. And, when we speak our children’s names or relive memories, relive them with us, don’t shrink away. If you never met Jane, don’t be afraid to ask about her. One of our greatest joys is talking about our children.
  • Accept that you can’t fix us. We appreciate your support and hope you can be patient with us as we find our way. We will learn to pick up the pieces and move forward, but our lives will never be the same.
  • Know that there are at least three days a year we need a time out
    • Birthdays are especially hard, our hearts ache to celebrate our child’s arrival into this world, but we are left becoming intensely aware of the hole in our hearts instead.
    • Then there’s the anniversary of the date our child became an angel.
    • And mother’s day. Even though our children are in heaven, we are still mom.
  • Realize that we struggle every day with happiness. It’s an ongoing battle to balance the pain and guilt of outliving your child with the desire to live in a way that honors them and their time on this earth. As bereaved parents we are constantly balancing holding grief in one hand and a happy life after loss in the other.
  • Accept the fact that our loss might make you uncomfortable. Our loss is unnaturnal, out-of-order; it challenges your sense of safety. You may not know what to say and do. We will never forget our child and I would at least rather lose it because you spoke Jane’s name and remembered my child, then try and shield ourselves from the pain and live in denial.
  • Grief is the pendulum swing of love. The stronger and deeper the love, the more grief will be created on the other side.

We all must find our own way, our own journey through grief. We must travel THROUGH the pain, because walking around it is impossible and sitting in it is dangerous. Having the support of friends and family won’t take the pain away, but it will make the journey not so lonely.

 
Jil speaks of Jane’s last days recently at a women’s event in Bertha…

About the writer: Jil Fiemeyer is a Wadena native and a Communications Specialist on the marketing team at Tri-County Health Care. She is the mother of three beautiful girls and enjoys each and every day of being their mom. Since her daughter’s Leukemia diagnosis and her death, Jil has learned first-hand the effects of grief and how it manifests around the ones you love. As her way to heal, Jil enjoys writing and has recently started talking to groups about grief, grief recovery and living your best life despite all the struggles that life has to offer.

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*Tri-County Health Care has started a “Parents Who Have Lost a Child” support group to help those in the area affected by the loss of a child. They meet the second Monday of the month from 5:30 – 7 p.m. in the Wesley Conference Room at Tri-County Health Care. Click here to learn more…