Empty Arms – Reaching Out to Parents Living with Loss 

Catherine Pegram

Bringing home baby is one of a parent’s most exhilarating experiences. But what happens when a woman who has waited months to be a mom leaves the hospital with empty arms – and goes back a crib that will never hold her child. A group of mothers who’ve lived through that kind of loss is reaching out to others like them.The Empty Arms support group in Bangor was started two years ago by a woman in Old Town, who was desperately searching for help as she struggled with the death of her daughter.”I had a seizure. I had to be intubated. I nearly died.”Aimee Gerbi’s third pregnancy was filled with complications that nearly killed her and ended when she was almost six months along. “I remember saying okay, how are we going to save the baby and I distinctly remember him looking a me and saying, I don’t think we can.”In January of 2007, Gerbi lost her third daughter, Sophie, and while she recovered from physical pain, the emotional pain deepened. “And I remember sitting there thinking, I don’t feel lucky – I don’t feel lucky at all. I lost my baby girl. I felt broken, absolutely broken.”Out of that brokenness, Gerbi searched for other mothers who could understand her. And when she couldn’t find that in Maine, she started Empty Arms at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. It’s designed to help parents cope with miscarriage, stillbirth and infant death – and validate the lives of their babies.”When the baby’s first placed on you, you want to wrap your soul around that child and never let go. That doesn’t change if the baby’s not alive. That feeling doesn’t change.”Laura Leighton knew early in her pregnancy her son, Willows, wouldn’t survive. He died 30 minutes after he was born.”I just assumed you get over it kind of thing, like I assumed everyone did who I had ever heard of who had a baby that had died.”She joined the Empty Arms support group a few months after it was formed – helping her realize she had a right to grieve her son’s death and accept him as part of her life. “I remember Amy saying at that first meeting, it’s not when we learn to get on without them, it’s when we learn to get on with them that we actually start moving in a productive way in our lives and I think that’s so true.”Since the deaths of Sophie and Willows, Gerbi and Leighton have given birth again. Evan, Gerbi’s fourth child, is nine months old. Her daughters Megan and Erin are 4 and 6. Winn, who’s 8-and-a-half months old, is Leighton’s first daughter. Although their babies have a special place in their hearts, both moms say they’ll never replace the ones they lost – nor should they. “How many kids do I have to have to plop a little 2 year old between Meghan and Evan? How many more babies do I have to have to get that back? I’ll never get it back, I’ll never get it back. There’s going to be a gap there. And it will be celebrated every January 22nd and it’s never going to go away.”And that’s what the Empty Arms support group tries to help others who’ve experience a loss understand – that baby was and always will be a part of them.Helping family members and friends realize that, though, and extend their support can be just as difficult – a concern we’ll talk about Thursday night at 6 o’clock.