Empty Arms – How Family and Friends Can Support Parents Living with Loss 

Catherine Pegram

Nine months of pregnancy all comes down to one day – the birth of a baby. For some women, though, the joy of pregnancy is overshadowed by grief when their child dies from a miscarriage, is still born, or only lives to see a few precious hours. A group in Bangor is reaching out to mothers living with that loss – and trying to show others how to help them, too. The Empty Arms Support Group offers parents a place to turn when the baby they longed for doesn’t survive. “I had a baby, I birthed a baby – a little girl – and her name is Sophie and it’s really, really important that she remain a part of our family.”Aimee Gerbi is a mother of four, but one of her children didn’t survive. Sophie died when Gerbi was six months pregnant.Sophie’s death spurred Gerbi to start a support group for others like her. She says the first step toward healing is recognizing the space left by a loss can’t be ignored. “I talk about her because she’s a part of our family – she’s the big gaping hole that nobody else can see and that nobody else can understand and I think that’s why I get together with these women as many times a month as we possibly can, because me saying the name Sophie doesn’t stop the room.” “We try to emphasis to every mother that’s here, even if they don’t have a living child, they are a mother. She’s a mother, but unfortunately, she has empty arms – she doesn’t have that baby to hold. “Pam Houston is a perinatal educator at Eastern Maine Medical Center and helps with the Empty Arms support group.She says it gives women a safe, comfortable place to open up about their baby’s death. “It’s something that happened. It’s something horrible that happened. It’s part of them. They’re not like pushing it aside. “Laura Leighton is a member of the group. Her 8-and-a-half month-old daughter, Winn, is her second child. Her son Willows died minutes after he was born. She says family and friends can help by acknowledging the lost baby.”In your daily life, it’s always there, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. But it’s always there, so if someone invites you to talk about it, it’s a really nice thing that you can share that part of your life with them.” Gerbi says recognizing important dates – like a due date – with even a simple card can mean so much. “Because the alternative is that you think, I don’t want to remind her and you don’t send a card and now that mom has walked down to her mailbox, opened the mail and there’s nothing there. Nobody has remembered. Not only does nobody remember, they all think I’ve forgotten. “Some families have pictures or locks of hair to remember their children. Others, like Gerbi – who nearly died during her pregnancy – never get to see them. That’s why the support group is working to build a memorial at Mount Hope Cemetery in Bangor to make sure no baby is ever forgotten.”This is part of who I am. I had a son who died so I don’t need to hide that. I don’t need to try to get over it or forget it because it’s just part of my story now.”As for the memorial, Mount Hope Cemetery has already donated the land for it.Folks with Empty Arms say they envision a tranquil spot for families to visit with a statue and a granite bench.They say they’ll continue working to raise money until they can start building.Empty Arms meets the fourth Wednesday of every month.For more information, log on to