Support group helps parents cope with tragic loss, find joy again

February 28, 2019 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health

Sarah Finlay, 30, and her husband Bill, 29, of Lombard, are grateful for a support group that helped them through a tragic loss last year.

In December 2017, Finlay was thrilled to learn she was pregnant with the couple’s first baby. But around the start of her second trimester, she began to experience subchorionic bleeding, which occurs when blood collects between the placenta and the wall of the uterus.

Many subchorionic hemorrhages resolve on their own, but Finlay’s didn’t. In fact, it got worse until one day in April, when Finlay almost passed out in her bathroom. She called 911 and was brought to Elmhurst Hospital.

The couple learned that Finlay was having a placental abruption, which means the placenta had separated from the wall of the uterus. The parents-to-be were given devastating news — their baby would need to be delivered early, at 21 weeks gestation.

Four days later, on April 16, 2018, Finlay delivered Harrison, who was stillborn. She got to hold her son, and then she had to say goodbye.

“It was a huge shock to my husband and me. As much as we hoped to get through it together, we needed something outside of our friends and family and the network of people who cared for us,” she says.

The couple met with Jill Hayes, RN, a registered nurse and bereavement counselor with the Family Birthing Center at Elmhurst Hospital.

“Jill and the bereavement team at both hospitals are truly a gift to the families that don't get to bring their babies home with them. They have all the little details covered to make sure you have as many memories of your little one as humanly possible,” she says, referring to a memory box with Harrison’s footprints and handprints that the couple brought home with them.

“Jill was the one who guided us through at the hospital and talked about how to get help afterward,” she says.

The Finlays learned about the SHARE perinatal loss program, which had just expanded to Elmhurst Hospital in 2018. The SHARE program, which began at Edward Hospital in 1989, serves and supports those touched by the loss of a child through miscarriage, stillbirth or early infant death. It meets the first Tuesday of the month from 7-9 p.m. in the Arboretum Conference Center at Elmhurst Hospital.

The couple began attending monthly SHARE support group meetings at Elmhurst Hospital. “It’s all about the active grieving process. You aren’t coming in to talk about plans to start a family later. It’s exactly what we needed and it couldn’t have come at a better time,” says Finlay.

“SHARE has meant the world to us. We find a lot of value with therapy. And SHARE has been a great outlet. It makes sense for the two of us,” she adds.  

Each month, the couple returned for SHARE meetings, which Finlay says helped her get through the months following the loss: “I had this tragic experience but we’re all in this together. I can share with other moms and we can talk about how to navigate through it together.”

“It’s my time to be Harrison’s mom. I can talk about him, and talk to other moms who have been through it. I don’t ever want to forget that experience, as much as it hurts. I never want to forget that time I had with him.”

Finlay started writing blog posts about topics discussed in SHARE, so she could explain her grief to friends and family. “I wanted people close to me to understand what I was going through — how I felt on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, on Harrison’s due date in August. It’s an awkward topic. There is no guide for how people deal with the death of an infant.”

In October 2019, the Finlays started attending Sharing HOPE at Edward Hospital. Sharing HOPE (Having Optimistic Pregnancy Expectations) is for parents who have experienced a loss and are now pregnant or considering pregnancy. The group meets on the fourth Tuesday of every month at Edward.

“It’s all about moving forward and trying for your rainbow baby,” Finlay says. (A rainbow baby means a baby born subsequent to a miscarriage, stillbirth, or the death of an infant from natural causes).

Before their first Sharing HOPE meeting, the couple learned they were pregnant again. “It was bittersweet when we first found out we were pregnant again. We were actively trying, but at the same time, there were so many nerves because of what happened to us,” she says.

Her first appointment to confirm the pregnancy was with Jody Freeman, M.D., an independent obstetrician and gynecologist on the medical staff of Elmhurst Hospital, the same doctor who delivered Harrison.

Since then, Finlay says her pregnancy has been a positive experience, although a bit nerve-wracking. “This pregnancy has been easy. I’m so thankful for that. I know that at the drop of a hat it can all be taken away from me.” But, she adds, “Sharing HOPE has shown me that these pregnancies are completely different. What happened to us was an isolated thing. It didn’t mean it would happen to every pregnancy after.”

Finlay says she’s also thankful for her doctors and nurses. “I don’t know if we would have been ready to try for another baby five or six months later if we didn’t interact with the people we did at Edward-Elmhurst. Their bedside manner is amazing. They gave us a lot of comfort knowing they have our backs,” she says.

Finlay adds, “It could have been so much worse last spring. It was awful. But there’s a lot of due diligence in bereavement. Edward-Elmhurst takes time to go through the psychology of it and support families after. It’s a journey and they realize that.”

The couple is expecting a baby boy on July 1, 2019. “I’m really excited for this new baby, but I still have achy pains in my heart. Harrison would be 10 months old now,” says Finlay.

The couple just attended their last SHARE meeting at Elmhurst Hospital on Feb. 5, 2019, since Finlay is now 20 weeks along in her pregnancy and showing. They continue to attend Sharing HOPE.

“I have a soft spot for the SHARE program. I used SHARE as a way to help my grieving process. It doesn’t just end the day you deliver, it’s with you forever. SHARE has given me a way to compartmentalize everything and go through it month by month. I’m still grieving the loss of Harrison, but it doesn’t sting as hard anymore,” says Finlay.

“People can use the program as an outlet for their grief. It has really helped us move forward,” she adds.

Edward-Elmhurst Health has a dedicated team of nurses, social workers and chaplains trained to provide family support in the event of a perinatal loss.

Join us for “Finding Your Oxygen Mask: The Importance of Self-Care with Perinatal Loss” on Tuesday, March 19 from 7 - 8 p.m. at Elmhurst Hospital. A special SHARE support group meeting will immediately follow this program for those interested.

Learn more about SHARE and Sharing HOPE. For more information about SHARE, call 630-527-3263.

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