October 25, 2013

Hurt, help and hope: Couples seek support, healing after suffering miscarriage, stillbirth and early infant loss

Melanie and Pete Kuester enjoy spending time with Margaret “Maggie” Katherine, the newborn baby girl they adopted in August, pictured here at 10 weeks. After a miscarriage and ongoing infertility issues, the couple adopted Maggie through St. Elizabeth/Coleman Pregnancy and Adoption Services in Indianapolis. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Melanie and Pete Kuester enjoy spending time with Margaret “Maggie” Katherine, the newborn baby girl they adopted in August, pictured here at 10 weeks. After a miscarriage and ongoing infertility issues, the couple adopted Maggie through St. Elizabeth/Coleman Pregnancy and Adoption Services in Indianapolis. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

When Lauren Rush went to her doctor for a regular third trimester pregnancy checkup early this year, neither she nor her husband, Rick, could imagine they had already lost their baby boy.

“I remember feeling him kick just two days before,” said Rick.

But no heartbeat was found during the checkup. Lauren was sent to the hospital. Labor was induced.

At 32 weeks, Lauren gave birth to their stillborn son, John James. The umbilical cord had become knotted in her womb.

Unlike the Rush’s tragedy, most miscarriages happen much earlier in pregnancy. Statistics show that 15-25 percent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage at 20 weeks or less.

But those numbers are no consolation to the parents who lose their children before ever having the opportunity to hold and know them, or even to see them.

In these stories of hurt, help and hope, three couples share their experience with the loss of children to miscarriage, stillbirth and early infant death; the search for medical and emotional support; and the faith they relied upon to carry on.

‘It changes the fabric of your family’

After trying to conceive for several years, Melanie and Pete Kuester were thrilled when they found out they were expecting their first child in the fall of 2011.

“You start thinking about what they’ll be like, whether it will be a boy or girl, what will you name them,” said Melanie.

“And then, none of it happens.”

The Kuesters, members of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis, lost their child 10 weeks into the pregnancy.

Two years later, the sorrow is still fresh.

“I have a strong feeling it was a girl,” Melanie said as tears filled her eyes. “Her name is Elizabeth Ann. I can’t wait to get to heaven, and see what she looks like.”

Shaina and Peter Miller can empathize. The couple, also members of St. Monica Parish, lost two children to early-term miscarriages, as well as their daughter, Grace, who died from a brain hemorrhage eight days after her birth at 24 weeks.

“The medical society and society in general usually say [miscarriage] is not a big deal,” said Pete. “But we were affected by our miscarriages just as the loss of our child.”

Shaina nodded in agreement.

“It changes the fabric of your family,” she said.

An ethical and moral approach

The Kuesters struggled to find doctors to address their infertility problem.

“[Melanie’s doctor] just said, ‘Try this for six months, and if that doesn’t work we’ll try something else,’ ” said Pete. “The doctor didn’t even mention what might be the actual cause [of the infertility].”

So the couple turned to the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction in Omaha, Neb., where NaProTechnology (NaPro), short for Natural Procreative Technology, was developed. NaPro is an ethical and moral approach to reproduction issues that adheres to Catholic teaching (see related resources).

The Kuesters were asked to do a form of natural family planning (NFP) called the Creighton Model System, which involves tracking certain physical indicators during the course of a woman’s monthly cycle.

“NFP is still the ‘rhythm method’ to so many minds,” said Pete. “But it’s so much more. It’s actual science on how to achieve or avoid pregnancy without using contraceptives.”

Melanie was found to have several issues, including endometriosis, a problem with the uterine lining that is a common cause for infertility.

“It was so great to have them focus on and address real medical issues, not just blindly ‘try stuff’ for a while,” she said.

The Millers, too, turned to the Pope Paul VI Institute.

After losing Grace at 24 weeks, Shaina had a surgery that reinforces the cervix.

But she went on to have an early-term miscarriage. Then she delivered another preterm baby at 33 weeks—who did survive despite a hole in his lungs.

The Millers contacted the Pope Paul VI Institute to find the cause for Shaina’s pregnancy issues.

It was determined that she had low progesterone, a hormone essential for a healthy pregnancy. Low progesterone is a common cause of miscarriage.

The Millers did deliver a healthy baby girl after treating the low progesterone issue, but not before experiencing a second miscarriage.

‘We can help’

Couples with infertility issues—and even women with other reproductive health issues—now have closer options than Omaha.

The St. Gianna FertilityCare Center, a branch of The Kolbe Center in Indianapolis, now teaches the Creighton Model System of NFP, and has medical consultants who apply NaProTechnology to identify and address problems.

“Omaha is the ‘mecca of NaPro,’ ” said Kathryn Niswonger, a Creighton-certified instructor and registered nurse with St. Gianna Center. “But if you don’t want to start out there, we can help.”

While there are some services the center cannot yet provide, such as ultrasounds and diagnostic testing, the St. Gianna Center is the largest facility of its kind in the archdiocese, with four instructors and access to three doctors who serve as NaPro medical consultants.

Creighton instructors are also available in the archdiocese at Covenant Resources FertilityCare Center in Greensburg, as well as other locations throughout the state and in Illinois, Michigan and Ohio (see related resources).

‘Take this and do something good’

When Shaina had trouble finding a support group to cope with her miscarriages, she felt called to action.

“I decided I would take this [tragedy], and do something good.”

Shaina created The Jeremiah Project. The name honors the second child she miscarried. The Millers named him for the Old Testament prophet who was told by the Lord, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jer. 1:5).

The ministry offers short retreats for women and couples of miscarried, stillborn or early-loss infants. The retreats allow time for sharing, prayer, journaling, naming and honoring children lost, and Mass if possible (see related resources).

“It’s an answer for those who don’t want a regularly meeting support group,” Shaina said.

Others prefer ongoing support.

Lauren, who along with her husband is a member of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis, found help through a group called Heartprints Ministry at Holy Spirit Parish at Geist in Fishers, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese. Members of the monthly meeting group read and discuss books and Bible studies applicable to their situation (see related resources).

“That’s been healing for me,” said Lauren. “I can’t always talk about John the way I talk about [my 2-year-old daughter] Virginia. It’s been nice for me to have a group to talk to about things like how do you respond when people ask how many kids you have, or when they see you’re pregnant and ask is this your second—and how do you respond in a way that’s not too awkward.”

Men suffer from miscarriage as well.

Rick, Lauren’s husband, acknowledges that “it’s different than for mothers, but there’s still a need for support.”

Pete found it difficult to watch Melanie endure the miscarriage.

“The worst thing was there was nothing I could do to help her. That was really hard. I was helpless.”

Shaina hopes eventually to offer retreats for men through The Jeremiah Project.

‘I knew there would be a good outcome’

When Shaina suspected at 23 weeks that her first pregnancy would not go full term, she turned to the one refuge she knew she could depend on.

“I prayed, ‘God, whatever you’re going to do, do it for your glory.’ If I was going to suffer, I knew there would be a good outcome.”

She and Peter now have “three children in heaven,” as well as 3-year-old Ethan and 10-month-old Elise.

Lauren and Rick are expecting a second daughter in February. They have named her Anne Josephine—Anne for the mother of Mary, and Josephine for Mary’s husband.

Despite having lost their son, Lauren and Rick still find joy in his existence.

“We are sure of John’s destiny, and that he’s in heaven,” said Lauren. “We’re grateful to be his parents, joyful for that opportunity, even though we expected it to be different.”

Rick agreed.

“He’s no less part of our family. He’s a miracle like all babies, just a miracle that we didn’t get to teach or raise. God wanted him sooner than we expected, and it wasn’t our decision to make.”

As for Melanie and Pete Kuester, they turned to the loving option of adoption.

Through archdiocesan St. Elizabeth/Coleman Pregnancy and Adoption Services in Indianapolis, they were blessed with a newborn girl in August. Her name is Margaret “Maggie” Katherine.

“Given the choice, I’d still have us go through [the miscarriage],” Pete said. “It made us closer. It made us more faithful in ways.

“It’s worked out for us,” he said, looking down at the cooing baby in his arms. †

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