Each year in the U.S., a significant number of women and their families are impacted by the loss of a baby or infant during pregnancy, birth, or infancy. The grief that follows this life altering experience can be overwhelming, frightening, and may result in feelings of anxiety or feeling alone.
The Perinatal Loss and Bereavement Support Group at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital offers help to anyone who is dealing with miscarriage, stillbirth or newborn death and offers understanding, friendship and bereavement support in an effort to assure parents that they are not alone in their grief when their baby has died.
The free support group is conducted by Vicki Zeilinger of Canyon Country. Zeilinger, who during 30 years of marriage has suffered 10 miscarriages and the death of her son Timothy at 38 weeks, is the mother of three children ages 22, 15, and 13. Seeking help to get her through her grief, Zeilinger joined the bereavement support group in 1994 following Timothy's death. Soon after, she assisted the group leader with other grieving families and now runs the group full time.
"It's a great place to connect with others who have had losses," Zeilinger said. "They share their stories and encourage one another. We talk about the grieving process and how it is different for everyone.
"I'm just a mom trying to help."
More than anything, she said, parents want their dead child validated, and their existence acknowledged. Putting together a scrapbook of their short lives can be helpful, said Zeilinger, who prepared a book about Timothy.
Many times, friends and acquaintances do not understand that grieving parents do not want to forget about their lost child. "They tell them to just go on and that they can have more children," she said. "But pushing away those feelings of grief is not what they should be doing. They need to remember their child's due date and their date of death."
Zeilinger advises friends of the bereaved to be supportive. "Send a card or talk to them; that means a lot."
Henry Mayo's support group offers parents a place to allow them to feel what they are feeling and to be heard, she said. "It's a safe place."
The first meeting of the free support group will be Thursday, February 17 in the Pavilion Conference Room, located on the hospital's campus, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. The group meets the third Thursday of each month. For more information, call (661) 253-8607.