Coming to terms with pregnancy loss
Post Independent Contributor
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
One out of every 10 pregnant women in the U.S. will have a miscarriage before she turns 30. By age 45, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, more than half of all pregnancies end within the first trimester.
But Carbondale natives Marcia Villarreal and Amanda Emerson-Burger say the emotional trauma of pregnancy loss, stillbirth and early infant death is not something that our society wants to talk about. Most expectant mothers look forward to baby showers, the first ultra-sound and a positive future. “But, there’s no attention paid to [the possibility of] a bad result,” said Emerson-Burger. “Society doesn’t set you up for that.”
Emerson-Burger lost one child to a miscarriage in 2010; Villarreal has lost four. Both have since delivered healthy babies, but the memory of pregnancy loss runs deep. Villarreal recalled that there was very little support available in the Roaring Fork Valley after her miscarriages. “I really, really felt this pull to start an organization that provides a support group for women and families who have experienced miscarriage and early infant loss.”
Villarreal, 43, and Emerson-Burger, 32, were childhood neighbors but lost touch as they ventured into life. Villarreal reconnected with her friend in 2010. “I found out that Amanda had lost her first child, so I reached out,” she explained. Mutual comfort and a growing sense of compassion for others gave birth to a nonprofit organization called One Moment in August 2011.
Emerson-Burger came up with the name. She said life is full of little moments that can create big changes. “One moment you find out you’re pregnant and one moment you tell your parents,” she explained. “And one moment you find out about your journey.” She added that grieving the loss of a child also has its special moments, despite the heartache. “When you grieve, there are moments of clarity and peace,” she said.
The bird logo is a symbol of freedom. “Once you get past your grief,” she said, “you’re free.”
But the guilt and regret of pregnancy loss can take years to resolve. Villarreal remembers asking herself, “Did I cause this?” “Could I have done something differently?” But she’s quick to explain that she was not at fault. “I had to overcome the feeling that I had failed or was sub-standard in some physical way,” she said.
At first, it was difficult for her to be around pregnant women. But her biggest hurdle was facing other people’s responses. Remarks like “You already have two healthy kids” or “You’re young – you can always have another child” provided cold comfort to a mother struggling with anger, confusion and grief. “People don’t know what to say,” explained Villarreal, who is far enough away from her loss to have compassion for the insensitivities of others.
Villarreal and her husband managed their grief largely on their own. Emerson-Burger recently completed 12 weeks of intensive grief recovery counseling with a local therapist. Three years after losing her daughter, Emerson-Burger said, she was still trying to make sense of it. “I was finally able to let go of my guilt, my regret and my anger,” she explained. “It was liberating.”
Both women agree that grieving a child who died in the womb or before a first birthday is unique. Emerson-Burger described how she would never see her first child grow up and enjoy life’s milestones. She said parents are supposed to die before their children. “To have a child die is an upset in the balance we’ve come to expect.”
With One Moment, she hopes other women will not have to suffer alone.
One Moment’s support group meets monthly. Villarreal trained in St. Louis last year with SHARE, a national pregnancy loss support organization, but said there is no certified counselor leading the group. “It’s very clear that women need to talk about [pregnancy loss],” she said. “There is this immediate connection and a really strong bond between women who have lost a child.”
Villarreal expects One Moment to become an affiliate of Walk to Remember, a Denver-based organization that supplies bereavement bags full of donated teddy bears, blankets, footprint kits, and educational items to area hospitals.
This week, One Moment presented its first bereavement bags to Valley View and Aspen Valley hospitals, and Walk to Remember donated the supplies.
Both Villarreal and Emerson-Burger are currently in their third trimester of pregnancy, which to them is a sign of hope. “I don’t want to turn off someone who has just had a miscarriage but there’s hope,” said Villarreal. “That’s what we try to focus on in the group.”
One Moment’s support group meets the second Thursday of every month at the Glenwood Insurance office at 1605 Grand Ave. in Glenwood Springs. The organization is on the web at http://www.one-moment.org and on Facebook at facebook.com/pages/One-Moment/. Call 963-7110 for more information.
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