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Last updated: Mon. Sep. 10, 2007 - 11:04 am EDT

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Grieving together

Support group helps women cope with death of babies, before or after birth

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To join the group

The Perinatal Loss Network is a support group for parents who have experienced the death of a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth or shortly after birth. It meets 7-8:30 p.m. the second and fourth Thursday of every month. The meetings are held at Parkview Women's Health Center, 11123 Parkview Plaza Drive, Suite 200. There is no cost. RSVPs are requested by calling 672-6500.

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Many couples dream of one day holding a baby in their arms, counting every finger and toe. But for thousands of parents, the joy of finding out they are expecting a baby is short-lived due to miscarriage or discovery of a serious birth defect.

Many endure the loss silently.

“We were so excited when we found out I was pregnant - all the plans, the dreams,” said Molly White of Fort Wayne. “Miscarriage had never crossed my mind.”

For Kristin and Mike Koning, who had two sons, ages 2 and 4, knowing another baby was on the way was met with as much excitement as learning about the first two pregnancies. Within the first 15 weeks of the pregnancy, however, an ultrasound showed the baby had a meningocele, a fluid-filled sac at the base of his brain, and cysts on his kidneys.

Both women journeyed through the land of grief. Both also found rays of hope through the Perinatal Loss Network. The network is a local support group assisting parents who have experienced the death of a baby, either before or after birth.

Parkview Hospital provides outreach information and space for the group at the Women's Health Center adjacent to Parkview North Hospital. St. Joseph United Methodist Church's Linda Martin serves as group facilitator. As the church's Minister of Care, she has specialized training in perinatal loss grief counseling.

Passing ‘tissue'

When Molly White's doctor said she should stay off her feet, she did exactly as ordered in hopes the spotting in the 10th week of pregnancy would end. Thanks to technology, White and her husband heard the baby's heartbeat during an ultrasound.

“The baby was still OK, but the doctor said I had a 50-50 chance of carrying this baby. I went home and was still hoping and praying,” she said.

Later that night, the cramping began. Two days later she passed some tissue. On the third day she realized she was losing the baby.

She took the tissue in a small bag to the doctor's office. A nurse took it with little or no comment.

“I thought, ‘That's my baby in that bag. Can't you say something?' ” At a checkup, White was told the tissue was “a product of conception.”

White went home - but life for her had changed.

“I'd never experienced true grief before. I went into shock for awhile. I became really depressed. I thought I was losing my mind.” Many of her acquaintances hadn't known she was pregnant. She cherished the ultrasound pictures. She wanted to scream to people, “I've lost a baby. I never got the validation of that,” except from her husband and family, she said.

White's mother heard about the support group and encouraged her daughter to attend. For the first time, “I found others who knew how I was feeling. I was encouraged to talk about it. Linda's commitment to me and all of the women involved is one of the most comforting memories of my grief journey. I honestly would not have been able to navigate through it all without her,” White said.

White made a scrapbook that includes the ultrasound pictures and written thoughts of the child she never got to hold. She and her husband named the baby, something group members are encouraged to do.

“We talk about ways we can honor the children,” Martin said.

When a second miscarriage occurred, White felt she was handling the loss much better than the first time. Then guilt set in that she was not grieving the loss of that baby as much as she did the first one. At Martin's encouragement, she sought individual counseling.

White attended the group for a year. Today, she and her husband have an 8-month-old daughter, Sydney.

“She's such a joy. Looking back over the past three years was quite painful,” White said, yet she acknowledges growth and maturity. “. I realize that other people are going through things that we know nothing about.”

An hour of life

When Kristin Konig showed up for the Perinatal Loss Network support group late last fall, her belly was round and large. She already knew her baby had Merkel-Gruber syndrome, which causes the kidneys to remain undeveloped. “It is incompatible with life,” she said.

The Konigs chose to carry the baby for as long as possible. While some might consider abortion with such news, “I said, ‘This is my time with my baby,” Kristin Konig said.

Showing up, obviously pregnant, to a support group for parents who have lost babies concerned Konig, “but I thought, once they hear my story, they'll understand.'” Most did, she said.

The Konigs discussed with their sons the fact that their baby brother was sick and that he would not be coming home. They named the baby Noah, which means peace and rest. Konig had professional photos taken of herself during the last weeks of pregnancy.

At Martin's encouragement, she journaled about the pregnancy. Martin and other group members gave support. The couple asked family and friends to pray.

“The nice thing about the group is if you need to talk, they will listen,” Konig said, noting shower time was “my crying time. The tears would flow and flow.” Mike Konig wept many times on his drive to work.

Kristin Konig carried the baby nearly 35 weeks, just a few weeks shy of full term. The Konigs were at Mike's work Christmas party when labor began. Noah Scott Konig was born on Dec.14 weighing 5 pounds, 6 ounces. For the one hour and 42 minutes of his life, Noah was held by his parents, brothers and grandparents.

One of the most poignant memories Konig has is a comment made by then-2-year-old Drew. When he saw his baby brother, wrapped up in a blanket, soft and quiet, he said to Konig, “‘Mommy, Noah is all done dying.' ‘Yes,' I said, ‘He's all done dying.'”

Nearly nine months later, Konig said she has no regrets on giving life, as short as it was, to Noah. She still attends the support group. Many suggestions from other group members have helped her, including one that she forgo a graveside service and have only a funeral.

“I had given my baby up so many times that I knew I could not see him put into the ground. That is not how I wanted to remember him,” she said.

“The support group is a place that is comfortable, where I have felt free to consistently go and talk about Noah, where I knew I wasn't burdening my other friends and family,” Konig said. “I don't have to feel like I'm the party-pooper if I talk about him. That's sometimes how I feel when I'm with other people.”


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