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Richmond Remembers Pregnancy and Infant Loss with Good Mourning Counseling

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October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month

In honor of National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, we're talking with Richmond medical and grief experts. Up next is Anisa Glowczak, Director of Good Mourning Counseling & Consulting, LLC with intimate advice for those who've experienced this kind of loss.

Anisa is a graduate of Old Dominion University with a BS in Psychology and a MSEd in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She also holds designations as a Licensed Professional Counselor, a National Certified Counselor, and a Certified Grief Counselor. Professional memberships include the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC), the American Counselors Association (ACA), Resolve National Infertility Association, and the Perinatal Loss and Infant Death Alliance (PLIDA).

In 2015, Anisa founded Good Mourning Counseling & Consulting, which specializes in work with individuals, couples, and families who experience: miscarriage, stillborn, and infant loss; subsequent pregnancy after a loss; infertility and concerns; post-partum depression, caregiving for loved ones with a dementia; living with a dementia; and anticipatory and complicated grief. Anisa created the Perinatal Loss Alert Program, and is actively conducting research on several perinatal loss topics. GMCC also facilitates perinatal loss and infertility support groups, and provides training on perinatal loss, dementia, grief, and other mental health topics to hospitals, clinics, and others throughout the community.

What’s the one piece of advice you give most often?
The one thing I tell every parent is to take your time and grieve in your own way.  Every person’s grief journey is unique, like a fingerprint—no two are the same.  Very often people seek help because they think something is wrong if they are grieving months or years after their loss. There are no rules and NO time limits on your grief! 

What are some of the universal experiences you’ve seen in your work with families who’ve suffered this kind of loss?
Some of the most common experiences shared by parents who have suffered a perinatal loss are:

  • Having to adjust to a “new normal,” which includes a redefinition of self
  • Feeling like they’re being “stalked” by pregnant women (everyone seems to be pregnant and having babies!)
  • Loss of friends or other important relationships (others who don’t “get it”)
  • Hearing trite, indifferent and minimizing comments (“God must have needed another angel,” “At least it happened before you bonded,” “You can have other children”)
  • Differences in the grief processes of men and women (and resulting relationship difficulties)
  • Fear that other loved ones may also die
  • Loss of innocence and increased vulnerability
  • Dichotomy of wanting to feel the pain as a reminder of the baby, but also wanting it to end
  • Trying to find ways to hold on to memories and to keep the baby’s presence known and in the family
  • Feeling “stuck” while the rest of the world moves on around them
  • Loss of control
  • Feeling cheated or betrayed
  • Experiencing pain on certain holidays and occasions (due date, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, anniversaries, family gatherings)
  • Dealing with triggers (seeing pregnant women, passing the baby section in stores, TV commercials, etc.)

What’s one thing you’d like to share with a new griever?
Grieving is hard work and takes a lot of energy.  In the beginning you might feel like you’re going crazy because of the vast array of emotions you feel all at once.  Along with overwhelming feelings, you may also experience physical and psychological symptoms, such as racing thoughts, fatigue, lack of concentration, irritability and mood swings, headaches, sleep disturbances, chest pains, and anxiety. Please check with your doctor if you're concerned, but know that these are all normal and should decrease as you begin to process your grief and heal.

What are some ways others can help support someone in their grief?
One of the most important things you can do to support parents is to simply listen and encourage them to talk about their baby, as well as their thoughts and feelings. You can validate their experience by allowing them to tell their story and verbalize the anger, pain, shock, and sadness.  Listen without judgement, don’t give advice, and never try to take parents’ grief away or minimize their experience. It’s okay to let them cry.

Second, bereaved parents want to know that their child will be remembered, and that their baby’s life mattered. Remember anniversaries and special days, and always refer to the baby by his or her name. Support them in finding ways to keep precious memories alive, or to make new ones. Parents don’t just lose a baby, they lose an entire future with their child. He or she is never replaced; the child’s position in the family remains whether or not the family has more (or other) children.

Third, parents will not ask for help or tell you what they need. You can offer to bring a meal at a convenient time, to babysit or take the other children out, or to do a household chore.  Support for parents typically diminishes after the first couple of weeks following a loss, so continue to offer a helping hand in the months that follow.

Are there any aspects of this kind of grief others may find surprising?
Yes, one of the biggest is that others may not view the baby as a person. When a baby’s death is minimized or misunderstood, it contributes to disenfranchised grief, which takes longer to heal. This type of grief occurs when a death does not receive social validation.

Even though it is medically common, there is a lack of societal support systems, rituals and traditions for miscarried and stillborn babies.  For instance, when spouses die the partners are referred to as widows or widowers, and when parents die their children are called orphans. There is no term in our society for parents whose baby has died.

Because perinatal loss is rarely talked about, parents hide the extent of their grief from others who seem uncomfortable with the topic, which leads to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Some parents have to fight for bereavement leave at work (especially fathers), and all have to create their own rituals to facilitate their grief process and make meaning of their loss.

Is there anything else you’d like to share that you think can help others?
It’s important for parents to know that healing does not mean forgetting! Just because the pain lessens over time does not mean you’re abandoning your child. Use your grief journey to form lasting bonds with your baby. Write letters to him or her, create a shadow box of treasured mementos, or start a flower garden and add plants to it on special occasions.

There are a growing number of individuals and organizations who are working to raise public awareness while honoring and remembering babies. Kennedy’s Angel Gowns, for example, recently held the first-ever 5K Angel Run/Walk in Hampton Roads and hosts an annual Angel Ball fundraiser in April to purchase Cuddle Cots for area hospitals (click here to donate).

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Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU: We spoke with Dr. Tiffany Kimbrough to learn practical advice for a healthy pregnancy and safe newborn care.
Richmond MISS Foundation: Karla Helbert spoke with us about the grief of pregnancy and newborn loss.

The MISS Foundation: This international nonprofit provides counseling, advocacy, research, and education to families experiencing the death of a child
Kennedy's Angel Gowns: This local nonprofit provides free hand-crafted final-rest garments to bereaved families who have suffered the loss of a child before, during, or shortly after birth.
Mourning Miscarriage: learn how an often-silent grief is growing a voice. Grief Groups - Loss of a Child: Connect with other families who can understand and share your journey on Facebook.