Twenty-four years ago, I was newly pregnant for the fifth time, although I had no living children. I thought I was emotionally fine until I was diagnosed with a complete placenta previa at 20 weeks. This diagnosis is fairly common at 20 weeks, but I had lost my first baby to prematurity caused by complete previa and chorioamnionitis. My second baby was born via emergency cesarean when they lost the heartbeat and my incision is from belly button to pubic bone. The reason for the previa was excessive scar tissue and the likelihood that the placenta would migrate out of the way was very small. Having already lost one baby from placenta previa, and losing another full term baby, I was a basket case when I got this news.
I immediately picked up the phone and called my local support group in San Diego, Empty Cradle. I explained that I’d been a member four years earlier and was finally pregnant again but scared. They immediately paired me up with a peer counselor who, ironically, had started with the group when I had four years ago. She’d been fortunate enough to have a healthy baby since then which made the timing perfect for her to hold my hand. I’m so grateful to Empty Cradle for all the help they gave me both when my son died in 1982 (from helping us find a funeral home and cemetery to helping us cope with the aftermath of our loss), and then four years later when I was pregnant again.
Armed with a peer counselor, I decided to look for national loss groups who had subsequent pregnancy support material. Unfortunately, at that time, there was very little available. I wrote to Sr. Jane Marie Lamb of the National SHARE Support Group and she was amazing. She encouraged me so much, personally wrote to me several times, and put my name and address in the National SHARE newsletter announcing that I was looking for women to survey concerning pregnancy after loss. I couldn’t believe the outpouring of love and support I received in these letters. Keep in mind, this was way before the internet, and these were all handwritten letters! I actually took this information and created a college project out of it.
I got through my pregnancy and the birth of my very sick little boy. Once he got better and we had him home, I realized I had so many emotions related to loss, trauma, subsequent pregnancy . . . my mind was a whirling dervish. Because I had my little boy in my arms, it felt safe to pursue starting my own support group for women who’d lost babies but didn’t have access to traditional support groups or just felt more comfortable sharing in letters. This kitchen table effort turned into Pen-Parents, Inc., a support network for grieving parents. I matched parents up by the type of loss they had and they wrote letters to each other.
During my tenure as the director of Pen-Parents, I met the most wonderful people. Every single one touched my heart in some way. They received help, and they shared that help with others. That ol’ boomerang effect! It was a beautiful example of what goes around comes around and with Pen-Parents, it was love, support, understanding, and compassion. I was so blessed by the people I worked with, especially Dana Gensler who did our newsletter for years and created the most incredible gathering for us in Chicago. God bless you Dana! I am forever grateful to you!
Support groups can be truly amazing. Whether you’re a part of one as a member or a leader, the love and compassion you give and receive and truly be transformative and healing. If you’re hurting, find a group and if there isn’t one, start one! Trust me, if I could do it, anyone can!