AP NEWS

Group offers support to parents who have lost children

February 16, 2019

DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) — Thirty weeks into her pregnancy, Natalie Steuer stopped feeling her baby move.

The examination revealed that his heart had stopped beating.

Steuer’s physician induced labor a few days later and she felt numb. Her son’s death did not feel real.

“What are you supposed to do? There was nothing I could do,” she said. “I didn’t cry.”

Steuer and her husband, Brad, welcomed their stillborn son, Brecken, into the world in October 2015. They spent 30 minutes together.

A staff person at UnityPoint Health-Finley Hospital told them about a support group for bereaved parents. Brad Steuer is unsure why they went to their first meeting the following month.

“I think we were tired of grieving and didn’t know what else to do,” he said.

They are among thousands of parents who have attended Dubuque Tri-State SHARE Support Group since it was founded nearly 30 years ago. They gather to tell the stories of babies lost and remind each other that hope exists, the Telegraph Herald reported.

Organizers say it is a meeting no one wants to attend.

Pregnancy loss often is categorized by the time in which it occurs.

Those that occur prior to 20 weeks are considered miscarriages. Accurate epidemiological data are hard to come by, as most miscarriages occur within the first trimester of pregnancy — often before a woman even knows she is pregnant.

However, among known pregnancies, 10 to 25 percent end in miscarriage.

Stillbirth, the death of a fetus at or after the 20th week of pregnancy, occurs in the U.S. about 26,000 times each year.

Often, health care providers cannot determine a cause, but risk factors include bacterial infection, birth defects, maternal diabetes and umbilical cord accidents.

Women who lose their pregnancies are at risk for anxiety, grief, guilt and self-blame.

“Pregnancy is a huge trigger, still to this day,” Steuer said. “Any woman will tell you after having a pregnancy loss, seeing someone else’s pregnancy is a lot of emotions. You’re jealous. You’re mad. You’re tired. You’re everything. ‘Why can’t I have a healthy baby?’”

Fathers also face the stigma of expressing emotion.

“The dads have to be the strong ones,” Brad Steuer said.

In the 1960s and ’70s, when a woman experienced a pregnancy loss, doctors often shied away from the problem, according to retired obstetrical nurse Betty Webber.

“We felt bad and we said, ‘We’re sorry.’ And the whole thing was, ‘You can always have another one,’” she said. “Nobody did any follow-up. It got me thinking there must be more that we can do to help these families.”

Thirty years ago, Weber envisioned a support group. She founded Dubuque Tri-State SHARE, one of more than 75 local chapters of the national Share organization based in Saint Charles, Missouri.

Three other nurses help her facilitate monthly meetings at MercyOne Dubuque Medical Center.

“It’s just a place for parents to come and speak openly about their baby, their emotions, their struggles that month or previous — their grief,” said Carol Dean, an obstetrical nurse who works at Mercy.

As many as 15 people may attend SHARE meetings. The group is always changing.

Some parents have participated for years, Dean said, which can provide hope to those who experienced a recent loss.

“The world keeps moving on and you’re shattered in this place,” Natalie Steuer said. “SHARE stopped for us.”

Following the loss of Brecken, Natalie and Brad Steuer tried again.

It took them more than two years to conceive their second son.

While Natalie Steuer yearned for another baby, once she was pregnant, she feared a second loss.

“It was terrible,” she said. “I would cry to Brad. I would say, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do if it happens again.’”

Sage is 6 1/2 months old.

Natalie and Brad call him their rainbow baby — their baby after the storm.

The joy of raising their son has lessened some of their trauma.

But when Natalie thinks of Sage, lately she wonders about other things.

“He would have a big brother,” she said. “Would Brecken look like Sage? It’s all of those tidbits.”

She reminds herself that grieving is a process.

___

Information from: Telegraph Herald, http://www.thonline.com