When you’re young, you assume you’ll grow up, fall in love, get married and have a baby. It’s just that easy. At least that’s how I thought life was supposed to go. For us, it wasn’t that simple.
In 2010, after recently marrying the perfect guy, I was elated to find out we were going to be parents. We were so excited to welcome our baby into our world.
Unfortunately, I was high risk because of a uterine abnormality, which was not diagnosed until my first ultrasound. I was at risk for preterm labor and an incompetent cervix among other things. I was monitored closely, but despite those efforts, I went into preterm labor, which couldn’t be stopped, and our daughter, Lilith (Lily) Ann, was stillborn on Mother’s Day 2010.
Her death shook my husband and me to our cores. Our world had been changed forever.
It is said that it takes a village to help raise a child. It takes a village to help you navigate the journey of losing one too. If there’s anything from this experience for which I feel grateful, it’s that we lived in the Madison area when it happened. Here, there’s a support group for parents experiencing the death of a baby in pregnancy or infancy. The group, Bereaved Parents of Madison, has been meeting the third Thursday of every month at St. Mary’s hospital at 7:30pm since 1974. For over 40 years, this peer-to-peer support group has allowed parents to grieve the loss of their baby(ies) in a safe space with parents who are traveling the same path.
I wish I could adequately express the comfort you feel when you’re with people who just know the complicated grief that comes from losing a baby you barely knew and have a few memories of.
During the immediate aftermath of my loss, I felt so alone – despite the outpouring of support from my family and friends. It felt like I was the only one who ever experienced such a devastating loss. At these support group meetings, I felt comforted because I wasn’t alone. It was a relief to be able to relate to other parents and have them understand why I felt a particular way. They understood why my baby’s due date was hard or why the anniversary of her birth/death date hurt year after year. No matter how far you’ve come in your grief journey, a moment, a thought or smell can send you back into a very raw pain. These parents knew how hard it can be to see a loved one’s pregnancy announcement and how years later knowing someone who’s had a baby girl born in May will always sting a little.
They know that at every family event or during every holiday season, you can’t help but focus on the baby who’s not there. They know the bittersweet feeling of seeing your living child(ren) growing up and reaching milestones your baby will never experience. They know how wonderful a chorus of laughter from your living children can feel, but at the same time how sad you can feel knowing there’s one laugh missing.
They know there is no closure or end date to this grief. They know a piece of you will be missing. Forever.
The group has evolved since 1974. There is an active Facebook group that offers parents support 24/7. There’s a memorial service every December and other social events, including yoga, a book club for moms, and dads’ events throughout the year.
In February, Bereaved Parents of Madison launched a program with area hospitals called Hope, Understanding, and Grief Support (HUGS). This program allows parents to receive bedside support from fellow loss parents. HUGS volunteers help parents navigate this time at the hospital. They answer questions, give tips on what they wished they could have done or would have known during the only time they’ll get to spend with their baby. Things like, telling newly bereaved parents that it’s okay and normal to take pictures of your baby. And that you’ll never regret taking them.
The group was supportive during our three subsequent pregnancies as well. They understood how anxious I was and how any “very low risk” status or statistics rattled off meant very little when you’ve been on the wrong side of those statistics. For the past three years, there’s a sub-support group for that journey as well, Rainbow Pregnancies of Madison.
My friends from Bereaved Parents of Madison have become some of my best friends. To them, I’m unquestionably a mother of four. Some parents in the group only know me as Lily’s mom. And that is very special.
I found my village with Bereaved Parents of Madison. And they saved me during a time I didn’t think I could survive.
Rebecca Markert is a member of the Bereaved Parents of Madison, Inc. and the facilitator for the Rainbow Pregnancies of Madison support group. To find out more information about either group visit: http://www.bereavedparentsofmadison.com or contact [email protected]
Rebecca lives in Verona with her husband and three living children, Dexter, Audrey and Owen.