E and I attended our first bereaved parents’ support group a couple weeks after A died. I would have gone sooner but that was the next scheduled group. Before I was discharged from the hospital I knew I wanted to try the local support groups. I was desperate to try anything – the books, the groups, the blogs – whatever stillbirth and babyloss information I could get.
For more than three years I have been attending babyloss support group. In the beginning, it couldn’t come soon enough. I wished that they were every single week. I craved the solidarity and the chance to talk about my son. As time wore on, the grief was less debilitating, less consuming on a daily basis and so I’d go to group as needed instead of every month. I could always count on that second Tuesday of the month if I was feeling especially sorrowful or when the holidays rolled around or whenever I needed a little extra support.
Recently, the facilitator who runs what was the most popular (by attendance) babyloss support group informed me that group was on a hiatus. Over the last year attendance at monthly support group had dropped significantly. Lately, there were only 2-3 people showing up, and sometimes, just one. The facilitator feels that that few of people doesn’t constitute a group because if someone did not want to talk, they would feel pressure to.
The facilitator has talked to other local support group leaders and even reached out to colleagues in other states; apparently this is a national issue one that isn’t restricted to babyloss support groups. The new trend, according to her, is digital support.
I have found tremendous support with the online babyloss community. I started this blog three months after A died and had been reading other blogs within a day of becoming a babyloss mother. The validation, camaraderie and support of all of you who read and write out here on the internet is invaluable. But it isn’t the same as face-to-face meetings. For me, there is value in both online support and in-person support group. That’s why I’ve regularly utilized both for the last 3+ years.
One of the benefits of support group is that I get to tell A’s story every time I go. And, to this day, I still breakdown while recounting the short life of our firstborn. By now, I am considered a “veteran” at group. Most of the other parents who are there are much earlier in their grief journey. I respect this important role as a “grief elder.” These parents are so freshly shattered and I can immediately go back to the place myself. I can empathize with the emotions, the challenges, the shock. When I walk out of group now, I don’t feel the relief that I once felt, but it is rewarding. I belong to the local bereaved community and also to the online community. And just like the women who have come before me, those I’ve met in person and those who I communicate with online, I want to be here for the unfortunate families who come after me.
So I am disappointed and disheartened that our local group is no more. I feel it is a disservice to the community. The facilitator is considering starting a few different Facebook groups (early loss, later loss/stillbirth, subsequent pregnancy, etc.) but it won’t be the same. I respect that not every person gets something out of support group. But I know I do. I wish there was more I could do to rally these broken parents and encourage them to drag themselves out of their isolation and to group. Truth is, so does the facilitator and she gets paid to do that, yet the numbers still dwindled and now the future of face-to-face support group is up in the air.