Parents who have lost a child through miscarriage or neonatal death often travel a lonely path, surrounded by friends and family who don’t grasp the magnitude of the trauma. Susan Crow, a certified obstetrics nurse at Harrison Medical Center, has walked that path herself. Through a program called HOPE (Harrison Offering Peaceful Endings), she supports bereaved parents while they are still in the hospital and their grief is fresh.
But grief can persist for years, waxing and waning unpredictably as parents struggle to regain their footing. Crow believes they need ongoing peer support, and she searched for a program that could help. She found it in Texas, where bereaved mom Rebekah Mitchell presides over a growing network of perinatal loss groups called M.E.N.D. (Mommies Enduring Neonatal Death).
Mitchell founded M.E.N.D. after losing her second child, Jonathan, two days before his scheduled delivery date. A later pregnancy ended in miscarriage, leaving her “very alone in my grief.”
Drawing on Mitchell’s 14 years of experience, Crow recently founded the first M.E.N.D. chapter in Washington. Mitchell and two other Dallas-Fort Worth members traveled to Silverdale in October for the inaugural meeting, which drew bereaved parents from as far away as Fort Lewis and Puyallup. M.E.N.D., a Christian nonprofit, is not affiliated with Harrison, but the medical center has donated seed money and meeting space, as well Crow being trained as the group facilitator.
“We want to provide a safe place for mommies and daddies together to share their story,” Crow said, “and get practical, day-to-day advice on how to make it through their journey from others who are going through the same experience.”
At the October meeting, tears flowed and voices wobbled as parents recited a litany of loss: multiple miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, tangled umbilical cords that claimed babies days before delivery.
But they also shared laughter and drew solace from being heard.
“I’m surprised at how many people are here,” said one dad, surveying nearly two dozen people around the tables. “When it was happening (our loss) in April, I felt like I was the only one.”
“Nobody here is alone in this,” said Michele Kulhanek, a Harrison labor and delivery nurse whose fourth child died in utero at 16 weeks. “We all understand exactly where you’re coming from in your journey.”
While the newly bereaved can’t see beyond their pain, old-timers like Paula Schear of Dallas know the road gets easier.
“I had about $50,000 worth of fertility treatment before we conceived our first child,” she said. “Then we had a surprise pregnancy, and that was the one we lost.”
With time, she assured hurting parents, despair gives way to hope. “You will have joy in your life again.”
Perinatal Loss Support Group