11/08/11 — Moms help create new support group for other women who have lost a child

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Moms help create new support group for other women who have lost a child

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on November 8, 2011 1:46 PM

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Counselor Melissa Harrell, right, of Life Solutions Counseling, and Rhonda Dutton, mother of two, who several years ago lost a baby, have started a support group for others who have experienced a similar loss.

One of the hardest things that Rhonda Dutton ever had to do was give birth to a baby she would never raise.

And even though it's been six years now, the memories of that day are still fresh.

"I was eight and a half months pregnant," she said. "On May 6, I went into labor. My husband took me to the hospital."

It was the Friday before Mother's Day.

She was hooked up to a monitor, but there was no heartbeat and no explanation.

Faced with the option of a Caesarian and a scar to forever remind her of the loss, she chose to deliver the baby.

Two days later, Mother's Day, she was in church, where a few unaware parishioners asked questions about the baby.

She made her way to the altar, offering up a prayer for understanding and peace in the midst of her pain.

"I asked God, if this is your will, could we please have a child this time next year?" she said.

The following Wednesday, the day before Mrs. Dutton's birthday, they buried her stillborn child, whom they named Lillian Jeanne.

And while that was a time of unfathomable heartache, her prayer on the altar would be answered in a miraculous way.

"The very next year, on (Lillian Jeanne's) birthday, on the exact day, Okey was born," she said. "The nurse came in and there was a sign, 'Baby Boy Dutton, 5/6/05 but they wrote over it '06 -- they actually wrote her birthday and then wrote over it."

She is thankful for her two children, Madeline, now 13, and Okey, 5. But she can't help but wish there had been someone to lean on during those dark days, someone who understood what she was going through.

"I started going to MOPS -- Mothers of Preschoolers -- and one day (counselor) Melissa Harrell gave a little presentation," she said. "Afterward, I told her my story, and asked, 'Is there any kind of support group for people like me?' She said no, but if she ever heard of one or started one, she'd let me know."

That inquiry made an impression on Mrs. Harrell, a licensed professional counselor with Life Solutions Counseling.

"Usually I know where to send people," she said. "That was one time I just felt at a loss."

Through her practice, she has counseled women who lost babies, through miscarriage or during infancy.

In 2008, she had formed, "HEARTS for Mom," an acronym for Helping Engage Area Resources Together. That support group, though, was for pregnant women and mothers experiencing perinatal and postpartum depression and anxiety.

After the encounter with Mrs. Dutton, suddenly she found herself facing a new challenge.

"It just kept coming up, coming up," Mrs. Harrell said. "This is just a real hurt for families. ... This is one of those things that everyone wants to brush aside -- what do you say?"

She researched an existing organization that focused on the issue, Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support, Inc. Currently, there is only one other group meeting in the state, in Charlotte.

Until now.

Mrs. Harrell and several women like Mrs. Dutton banded together to launch a Share support group in Goldsboro, recently holding an organizational meeting.

"The women, they're kind of removed from their losses as far as time," Mrs. Harrell said. "They were instrumental in wanting to be there for other women."

Mrs. Dutton said she is grateful to be able to encourage others who experienced some of the things she did, knowing she can lend support.

"We had our first meeting and I left, I just cried," Mrs. Dutton said. "I felt like I had not lost (my baby) in vain. It was like, OK, I can do this to help other women. It's not going to be a total loss.

"I'm excited because there are things going on and people sharing. There's nothing like having someone next to you and you know that you both have the same thing in common. ... A loss is a loss. I liken it to a scar. It's always there but it fades with time."

The Share support group will meet once a month. It will be a very relaxed, informal atmosphere, Mrs. Harrell said.

"When you get these women together, you'll find that a lot of the issues, they really bond to one another," she said. "We also wanted to make sure fathers are welcome to come, and siblings, older children, they experience these losses."

Meetings are free and will be held the third Thursday of each month, at 6:30 p.m. at Life Solutions Counseling, 501 Patetown Road, in The Brick Village, Suite 17. For more information, call 922-2597.

"You can come one time; you can come every time," Mrs. Harrell said. "We just want people to feel welcome. Our hope is that we will grow into a place that has outreach for these people."

The HEARTS for Mom group meets the fourth Wednesday of each month at noon at The Partnership for Children office on William Street. Mrs. Harrell co-leads that group with Shannon Weeks.