It’s Father’s Day and many men will be celebrated. How about the fathers of a stillborn baby or after a miscarriage? In my office, I tell many a man, “You are still a father after pregnancy loss.” It doesn’t matter that others have not met the baby or didn’t know that you and your partner (or a gestational surrogate) had a miscarriage. You are still a father after a stillbirth or miscarriage. I see you. I know.
The Star Legacy Foundation and Face2FaceTwin Cities stillbirth support groups have merged. Groups start tomorrow, 6/9/15, at Partners in Healing of Minneapolis. All groups are free and are offered on Tuesday evenings. Support group facilitators are Joann O’Leary, PhD, MPH, and Lindsey Henke, MSW.
Pregnancy After Loss Support Group – Losing your baby was the most awful experience of your life. Now, facing a subsequent pregnancy is filled with hope but also great anxiety and concern. Learn to nourish your pregnancy while honoring your grief. Talk with professionals who can support you through this journey; meet other expectant Mothers who are on your path but also those who have been through pregnancies subsequent to their own losses.This group meets weekly on each Tuesday of the month from 5:30 pm to 6:45 pm at Partners In Healing, 10505 Wayzata Boulevard, #200 Minnetonka, MN 55305. Enter on the west side of the building.
Bereaved parents – regardless of how long ago the loss occurred. We welcome parents of baby who died to stillbirth or neonatal loss (within the first 30 days of life). This group meets twice a month on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday from 7:00 pm to 8:15 pm at Partners In Healing, 10505 Wayzata Boulevard, #200 Minnetonka, MN 55305. Enter on the west side of the building.
Grandparents, extended family & friends – those individuals that surround bereaved parents have a unique grief of their own with special challenges. They are caught between their own grief and wanting to support parents in the very best way possible. Talk with others who have met those challenges head on and others who are just beginning this journey. This group meets monthly on the 1st Tuesday of each month from 7:00 pm to 8:15 pm at Partners In Healing, 10505 Wayzata Boulevard, #200 Minnetonka, MN 55305. Enter on the west side of the building.
I wrote this blog post for Pregnancy After Loss Support, a wonderful website where women who have suffered the birth of a stillborn child can grieve, health, and find hope again. Will you please share it with others?
Five Essential Ways Doctors Can Help After
Dear Doctors of the World:
We want you to know that we respect you and your knowledge. But all the good stuff that you bring to your practice on a daily basis is not so helpful to us after a stillbirth. Please take these suggestions to heart, for us and your other patients who have suffered a stillbirth.
1) Please refer us to therapy and support groups.
We are lost. Our baby has died and we have no idea how we are, who we are, and how we will ever survive this. We could never have imagined that our pregnancy would end in a stillbirth. Please let us grieve with you. Please show us empathy. Please refer us for therapy and support groups, to let us know that we are not the only ones who are going through this horrible pain. We do not feel strong enough to do this by ourselves. We should not have to do this by ourselves.
2) Please flag our pregnancy loss in the chart so you and your staff do not ask us how our baby is doing.
We are fragile and so vulnerable. Many of us have PTSD and every time we walk into your office we have flashbacks and re-experience our grief. We are not “over it”. Please know that we are not trying to be difficult or dramatic. We are often just trying to get through the day. We can be triggered very easily back to our traumatic loss. Please know that we grieve every day for our baby who has died. Please let us talk about him or her by name. We are hopeful that we will have a rainbow child AND we cannot and will not forget about our child who died. He or she is always with us in mind and spirit.
2) Help Us to Plan For a Subsequent Pregnancy.
We are scared to death about the next pregnancy. Please meet with us and develop a detailed plan that will help us find the courage to try again. Help us to understand what happened. “These things just happen” will not suffice. Read the autopsy report with us and explain it, please. Please don’t give us false reassurances. We are too scared to hear them. We are still learning to trust our bodies—and you. We count time by every 15 minutes, every half-hour, every hour, and every day. The idea of a pregnancy that lasts almost 40 weeks freaks us out. Please tell us the truth. Give us the facts. If there is a way to do this safely, give us the plan. We don’t want to muddle through this. A subsequent pregnancy may not feel high-risk to you but it does feel high risk to us. Tell us that you will be willing to consult with perinatology (i.e., the high risk OBs). If we should not have another pregnancy, please say so. We don’t need any sugarcoating.
3) Don’t tell us that everything will be okay.
We are not okay. Anticipate that we will be hysterical during our next pregnancy. Normalize it. We will need superhuman strength to get through a subsequent pregnancy. It may be difficult for us to get excited about it while we are pregnant. Every day is unknown for all of us but a previous loss amplifies our fear of the unknown. Help us to be okay—for that hour or that day. Know that we will not really be okay until a baby is warm and squawking in our arms. For us this will be a “prove it” pregnancy. Do tell us that you will do anything and everything to work with us to ensure a successful pregnancy. Work with us collaboratively.Here is the most important thing for you to know: LISTEN TO US. We have lived in our bodies. You have not.
4) We need data for reassurance, not words.
Offer to give us more tests and scans when we ask for them. We will pay for them. When you tell us that insurance will not cover them, we will tell you again that we will pay for them. We need data, faith, and hope and we need you to have data, faith, and hope for us and with us. Remember: It’s about us, not you. If you cannot or will not meet us in the middle, we will have to find other care.
5) Show us your human side.
Talk to us as fellow travelers, not cases. Be our champion. So many people have played down the pain and trauma of our stillbirth, we cannot bear for you to be another. Please tell your partners and your nurses about the plan for this pregnancy, so we do not receive conflicting opinions or plans when you are not there. Give us a hug or hold our hand. Literally. We need everything you’ve got to get through this.
So, in conclusion, dear Doctors of the World, please work with us. We will do our best. Please do your best, too. It is through our connection and collaboration that something good can come out of our pain and loss.
Mother’s Day is so difficult when infertility, miscarriage, or stillbirth are part of your life. When you are not sure that you can go on, just open your heart to possibility. Even bleeding hearts are open…
There is a general assumption that pregnancy will happen in the first month of trying to conceive. That actually is not the case. I know that this comes as a surprise to many. Under the best possible circumstances, people conceive 15 to 20% of the time in any given cycle, assuming that everything is healthy and working. I was really shocked the first time I heard this statistic. When you are not conceiving easily or it’s taking time, it is crucial that you become your own advocate. There are many decisions to make along the way when you suspect that you have an infertility problem or when you are already in treatment. Here are 5 crucial infertility decisions for you and/or your partner to make that can make the road a little smoother.
1) If Your Intuition Is Pinging, Trust It.
Your intuition is pinging as you try to conceive but things are not going according to plan. This may come as a sense or a whisper in your mind. It doesn’t always come with words that you can explain or that others can understand. So you check it out with others. Your OB/GYN, your partner, your friends, and others may tell you not to worry, that you have time, that you are young, that you just need to believe or relax or be positive, or that you are trying too hard. I am from a family with a lot of doctors. I like doctors. I am not a physician and I trust their training. However, I trust my intuition just as much as I trust their training. Please trust yours. For example, you know that there is a difference between menstrual cramps and excruciating pain when you get your period. You are the only one who is living in your body. Intuition is an important type of data. Pay attention. Trust it.
2) Don’t Wait to Go to a Doctor.
Many people live in a place of denial about their fertility. The idea of having a fertility problem can be frightening. It can be difficult to get your mind around it. I understand. Here’s the problem: denial makes problems worse. A lot worse. Denial wastes time that you won’t be able to get back later. I understand that going to a doctor can make a potential problem feel very real and very scary. Make a phone call anyway. If your partner is the optimist and you are more of a realist or pessimist, make an appointment with a doctor. Just do it. Make the phone call. Get some blood and semen testing. It is good to have data, even if you do not like the results. If you are near 40, run to the infertility clinic. If you are in your 20s and you are having trouble conceiving, run to a clinic as well. The decisions we do not make intentionally are the ones that become what I call “non-decision decisions”. Those lead to a lot of internal regret later on.
3) Go to the OB/GYN AND the Infertility Specialist. Get a Second Opinion.
People usually think about going to an OB/GYN when there is the possibility of infertility. OB/GYN’s take care of “female problems”, right? Well the answer is yes and no. OB/GYN’s are terrific at caring for you when you are pregnant. However, most just dabble in infertility treatment. People will usually start with an OB/GYN because of insurance coverage. That’s fine. It is a good place for an initial conversation. However, going to the OB/GYN can also be affected by your own sense of denial. Denial can become an unintended self-fulfilling prophecy. Let me put it to you this way: if you are having a heart attack, a family practice doctor can probably take care of you. However, you would be better to go to a cardiologist, don’t you think? Unfortunately, people stay too long at the OB/GYN’s office, wasting crucial time that could have been spent better at the infertility clinic. Get a second opinion with an infertility specialist. It is not personal. Your OB/GYN will not be offended; if he or she is offended, you might consider finding a different doctor. This is about your journey, getting to the root of the problem and finding an appropriate solution that will get you pregnant and bring home a baby.
4) Be Flexible About Trying Different Infertility Treatment Options.
It is not uncommon that someone will go through different levels of infertility treatment. You start with Clomid or Letrozole, both oral medication. That doesn’t work so you add intrauterine inseminations (IUIs). That doesn’t work so you drop oral medication and you at injectable ovarian stimulation medication to the IUIs. That doesn’t work so you do in vitro fertilization (IVF). That doesn’t work so you consider donor eggs, donor sperm, donor embryos, working with a gestational carrier (i.e., a surrogate), or choosing to adopt. The many different starts and stops of family building are painful. They create the hope/uncertainty/devastation roller coaster. Unfortunately, this can be part of this very difficult journey. Fortunately, there are a number of choices. You do not have to like anything about this process. That is a fact. But here is the truth—the people who are the most flexible about trying different family building options are the ones who end up being parents.
5) Know When to Keep Going, When to Rest, and When to Stop.
Family building can feel like a never ending treadmill. Sometimes you can keep up with it. Sometimes you just feel like you are running and running but not getting anywhere. Sometimes you can hardly hang on. You don’t have to power through this, even though you wanted be a parent years ago. Take your time to think things through. Plan the journey whenever you can. Decide the best doctor or clinic. Decide when you want to start something new. Decide when it is time to take a break. I know that taking a break can feel like a defeat or that you are losing time, but it is not. It is time to regroup and recharge. People going through chemotherapy take a break in between treatments to catch their breath. Do the same with infertility treatment. You can also decide when it is time to stop. This is not giving up. This is when you get to stop banging your head against a wall that is not yielding. Stepping back from the process may be painful or it may be a relief. Again, it allows you to catch your breath, observe, and gain some perspective on where you have been.
There are many other decisions to make along the way. I’ll be writing about that as well. For now, know that you have some control over decisions on this journey. Use your wise mind and your intuition to find the best path at any given time.