For 28 years, St. Joseph Hospital in Breese has been assisting families whose children have died, either prior to birth or at any age after birth.
Director of the Women and Infants Center at the hospital, Helen Essenpreis, remembers 1986 when a colleague suffered a loss during pregnancy.
“I became aware of the need to do more to support families,” she said.
And so the hospital began to recognize that loss with a memorial service on the third Thursday in October. Every year a particular theme and memento are created for parents.
Essenpreis said the first year they sponsored the service some women said they were so glad to be able to share their loss even after many years because a loss like a miscarriage or still birth was not discussed, much less grieved publicly.
“The memorial service recognizes the child’s life,” Essenpreis said. Each child’s name is called.
It’s important to recognize that child and the grief that family experiences, she said.
“As soon as a woman is pregnant,” the mother and father “think about who that child will grow up to be. All those dreams are shattered when the child dies,” Essenpreis said. That grief “is never over” even though the initial pain may fade.
And while the memorial service is held once a year, the hospital supports a SHARE group for parents of children who have died.
Sister Jane Lamb of the Hospital Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis in Springfield, Ill., started the group, which has more than 75 chapters in 29 states. Headquarters is in St. Charles, Mo.
Sister Jane died in 2005.
Locally, Karen Gebke facilitates the group in Breese.
Gebke asked several members of the group to share their stories.
She has also suffered the loss of a child.
The common theme running through all of the stories from mothers who have lost their children before birth is the support they receive through SHARE, which meets monthly at St. Joseph’s Hospital.
“The support group is important so people do not feel alone, Gebke said. “It is a place where people know how you are feeling. We have been through it. We know the struggles.”
Those who attend the meetings can speak openly, share their sorrows, their fears, and talk about the children they have lost.
Kristi Johnson of Breese, who lost a son said she and her husband, Marty, began attending the SHARE group in August 2012, “immediately following our loss of Lucas. We felt like the meetings were a safe place to talk about our feelings with people that actually understand what it’s like to lose a baby because they have experienced it as well.”
The friendships formed in the group often extend beyond the meetings so that they can support each other “if we are having a bad day,” Johnson said.
Stacy Stein of Mascoutah described the loss of her child in October 2012 as “the toughest day of my life.”
Sometimes it’s difficult to put feelings into words.
“Leaving the hospital without a baby in your arms is an unexplainable feeling,” Stein said.
“I was given information about SHARE at the hospital.
“That November was my first meeting. I met some wonderful people, some who had recently suffered a loss, some who had lost their child several years prior.
“It was the first time I didn’t feel alone in this process. My family was supportive, but the individuals in the SHARE group understood.
“They were in my shoes. They were going through what I was going through. They didn’t judge.
“It became a place to openly grieve. It became a place to keep his memory alive. I wish we all could have met under different circumstances, but I thank God every day for directing me to my SHARE family,” Stein said.
For more information about SHARE, please call St. Joseph’s Hospital or find the hospital on the web. For the national organization, please go to nationalshare.org.
Story and photos by LIZ QUIRIN