Program at Catholic Health helps mothers and fathers who have lost a baby
By Julie Halm
Mother’s Day is a joyful time for many families. But for mothers who have lost their children during pregnancy or shortly after birth, it can be an emotionally challenging day and grieving both openly and internally can be a difficult process.
The Footprints on the Heart program provided by Catholic Health in Buffalo seeks to help mothers and fathers who have lost a baby as a result of miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth and newborn death.
There are several terms that arise when discussing the loss of a baby during pregnancy or shortly after birth, and the particular terms are not often discussed or widely understood.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, a miscarriage is typically defined as the loss of a baby prior to the 20th week of pregnancy, and at any point after that, it is considered a stillbirth.
In the case of an ectopic pregnancy, the fetus develops outside the uterus, typically in a Fallopian tube, which does not allow for the proper development of the fetus.
A newborn or neonatal death is the passing of a baby within the first 28 days of life, and can be caused by birth defects, premature birth, low birth weight and several other factors.
According to Amy Creamer, licensed mental health counselor who facilitates the group, mothers and fathers are welcome if they have lost an infant who doesn’t fall into the 28-day parameter.
For many, discussing these types of loss openly can be difficult, and all too often can be met with a less-than-positive reception.
“We have an expectation that we will have to bury our parents, or even our siblings or spouses. But we don’t think about having to bury our children. It kind of goes against the natural order of things,” said Creamer.
That discomfort can lead to people shying away from discussing the topic or openly offering support to grieving parents, said Creamer.
This societal hush can also lead to a lack of understanding as to the prevalence of these types of loss.
According to the CDC, one in every 100 pregnancies that reach the 20-week mark will end in a stillbirth. While some risk factors have been identified, such as smoking or smoke exposure during pregnancy and preexisting medical conditions including high blood pressure and diabetes, the cause of many stillbirths is still unknown.
“Stillbirth occurs in families of all races, ethnicities and income levels, and to women of all ages,” states the CDC’s website.
The occurrence of miscarriages is even more common. According to the March of Dimes, of women who know they are pregnant, between 10 and 15 percent will experience a miscarriage.
March of Dimes is a nonprofit organization that seeks to improve the health of expecting mothers and their infants, including aiming to prevent birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality.
Additionally, roughly one out of every 100 women will experience two or more miscarriages in a row. According to the American Pregnancy Association, 1 out of 50 pregnancies are ectopic.
An ectopic pregnancy occurs when the fertilized egg attaches itself in a place other than inside the uterus.
The difficult nature of these topics often results in their absence from public discourse, causing those who are dealing with such a loss to feel isolated.
Around Mother’s Day, those who have lost a pregnancy can often feel that their loss goes unacknowledged.
“As a culture, we don’t really recognize those women as mothers, which can be really difficult, especially this time of year,” said Creamer. “A mom who doesn’t have any live children but has gone through a loss or multiple losses is very much a mother.”
Creamer said what parents who have suffered these losses are grieving is different, but no less painful than other types of losses.
“When you lose someone like your grandma, you’re grieving the memories,” she said. “What these parents grieve are the hopes and dreams that never became memories.”
For those looking to comfort and support loved ones who have lost a baby during or shortly after pregnancy, Creamer suggests simple acknowledgments, such as a “Thinking of you” card or a phone call or message to check in, which could go a long way.
The Footprints on the Heart support group meets at 6 p.m. on the first Tuesday of every month at the Piver Center Conference Room, 2121 Main St., Buffalo. The next meetings will be on May 1 and June 4.
It is strongly recommended that those interested in attending RSVP to Creamer at 862-1678 in order to be aware of any potential scheduling changes.