Some challenges in life tend to be difficult to share.
For a pregnant woman, it can happen when the doctor delivers devastating news, dashing the hope she also carries within herself. It is shocking and overwhelming.
She feels alone, with no one to whom she can turn. Of course, relatives and friends want to help. Although well meaning, they just don’t know what to say, or how to respond appropriately. Words and platitudes ring hollow and rub salt into the most tender of wounds.
Hearing oft-repeated reactions also fall short — reactions including “Oh, don’t worry, miscarriage is so common,” or “You’re going to try again,” or “It just wasn’t meant to be.”
Learning to accept fate, she swallows her emotions, soldiering onward and returning to her routine. All the while, it seems that in her world everyone else is busy being pregnant and having babies. Friends are waddling around with big bellies, pushing baby carriages, or complaining about lack of sleep and stretch marks. But, she feels isolated and unhealed, carrying a loss that is so difficult to share, and so hard to bear alone.
But there is a place to get help and support. Women and their spouses who are experiencing pregnancy and infancy loss no longer need to suffer in silence. Reva Judas of Teaneck is the founder and director of NechamaComfort, an organization that supports families who have endured losses due to miscarriage and infant mortality. These losses often directly affect spouses and the immediate family. One in four pregnancies results in miscarriage; consequently, many people and communities also are affected.
Nechama means comfort in Hebrew. The organization has an extensive and broad reach for families facing these tough times by providing crisis intervention, individual and group counseling, monthly support groups, Jewish burial support, and guidance for medical personnel.
A detailed website, nechamacomfort.org, provides timely and concrete information to support families going through these challenges, including a list of tips, and do’s and don’ts that suggest practical ways to help. High up on these lists are appropriate ways in which to allow for positive and supportive communication by listening and allowing for expression of feelings without passing any judgment.
To Reva Judas, this is a life mission. She certainly has been down in the trenches, suffering through six miscarriages; her first son, Pesach, died only 12 hours after his birth.
As a former early childhood teacher, Ms. Judas uses her education, life experiences, and speaking skills extensively through NechamaComfort. She also received a chaplaincy certificate from Hackensack Medical Center and was trained by the Resolve Through Sharing program in La Crosse, Wisconsin, to counsel family members going through the grief process, lead support groups, and to teach techniques that help reduce fear and uncertainty.
When I spoke to Ms. Judas, she was open and eager to share her own story in the hopes of inspiring others in similar situations while continuing to process her own losses.
Deeply passionate about supporting and guiding people through these troubled waters, Ms. Judas said: “We help people move through it, not past it. It’s important to talk about the grief and the trauma. People should not have to suffer silently the way I did, burying difficult emotions. There are some women who even have post-traumatic stress syndrome even years after their losses because they haven’t processed those emotions.
“It’s crucial to articulate those feelings, and you need time to grieve to process those feelings,” she continued. “And it’s never too late mourn. I sometimes suggest lighting an extra candle on Shabbat, saying yizkor, or any other tangible way of remembering.”
At one of the speaking engagements for NechamaComfort, she was approached by a woman in her 70s. The woman miscarried twins in 1978, and this was the first time she spoke openly about her loss.
Nowadays, prenatal attachments form early in pregnancies with the advent of sonograms, which are detailed and performed within the first several weeks. As a result, women begin planning early and they prepare psychologically as well. This makes miscarriage even more complex.
Although the focus is on the woman, husbands also are directly affected. “This is a unique kind of loss, because it happened to the couple at the same time,” Ms. Judas said. “Although men do not experience the physical aspect, they are experiencing similar emotions. In certain cases, it may be more challenging because they feel they need to be strong for their wives. Our organization gives husbands an outlet to grieve too.”
Danny Judas, Reva’s husband, talked about his own memories and perspective. “It was difficult going through the miscarriages and the loss of my son,” he said. “People didn’t know how to respond to our situation back then, and we didn’t receive the support we needed. At times like these you shouldn’t be alone.
“Thank God, we have four great children, but we still think about the losses. The pain does not fully go away. You are a changed person. At my son’s bar mitzvah, I spoke about Pesach, and it hit a chord with everyone in the room. It was very emotional.”
Mr. Judas also finds deep meaning in the mission that his wife has embarked upon, and to which she is so committed. It is also clear that as a couple they have found important avenues in dealing with their painful memories, by talking openly, providing information, and helping others in similar situations.
Most of all, Danny and Reva Judas want you to know that with NechamaComfort, you no longer need to feel alone.
Esther Kook of Teaneck is a learning specialist and freelance writer.