Meet Our Miscarriage Support Group Facilitator: Brandi Gillen-Hing!

After I suffered 2 second trimester miscarriages, one in 2009 and one in 2010, I felt very lost and alone. I started finding myself gravitating to people who have had similar experiences, and looking to a future career of mental health support. I learned that sharing my experience with others helped some of the heaviness of loss lift up off of me.

I met Carol in 2016 shortly after the birth of my second living child, and was instantly elated to find out that Empty Arms existed! There was a place, other than chance meetings with other bereaved parents (some of whom became my closest friends), where the truths I lived with every day as a bereaved parent could be talked about. I immediately wanted to be involved, and set out on a path of becoming a facilitator for Empty Arms. So here I am a year later hoping to make safe the discussions that are hard, and hoping to be a supportive listener to anyone in need.

Brandi

Meet Our TFMR Support Group Facilitator: Lindsey Rothschild!

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I chose this picture for my bio because it was a very happy day. It was my birthday in 2010; I had hiked up Mt. Tom; I was pregnant with twins and was just beginning to show. Shortly after, my life changed dramatically. I had to say goodbye to my twin daughters, Flora and Bea, both of whom received catastrophic diagnoses. The devastating grief compounded with the trauma of trying to make sense of everything in a short period of time and having to make the most heart breaking of decisions of my life are experiences that have forever changed me. Learning to find a new normal has been a difficult journey and one that I can't even imagine without the support network of Empty Arms.

The gift my twins have given me is the ability to walk this road with others. I’m so honored to be a co-facilitator of the TFMR group. It is a great privilege to make space for families facing this devastating loss and to be able to connect from a place of understanding.

Meet our Board: Jessica Kuttner!

Empty Arms is so excited to introduce Jess Kuttner! Jess will serve as a resource for peer companions and support group facilitators. Welcome, Jess!

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While I have not personally experienced the loss of a baby, my early life was certainly shaped by loss.  My mother was diagnosed with cancer when I was 17 and lost her battle with it 3 years later when I was 20.  In the months just prior to her death, my mother started what she called a "healing circle" with close friends and family to process the impending loss together.  This incredibly potent experience planted a seed in me about the power of group support in the face of heartbreaking loss.

I currently work as a psychotherapist in private practice and specialize in postpartum mood complications, grief and loss, and trauma.  I am trained in the MotherWoman model and facilitated mothers groups for two years in Ashfield through It Takes a Village. I have been a member of the Franklin County Perinatal Support Coalition since 2013.   I also volunteer as a Healing Circle Leader (group facilitator) for Comfort Zone Camp, a weekend bereavement camp for children who have lost an immediate family member.

I have experienced both personally and professionally the deep connections that can be forged in the wake of loss, and the healing that can happen through coming together with others who are on similar journeys.  Empty Arms weaves together several of my professional interests and personal passions and it is an absolute honor to be joining the board.

Meet Our Support Group Facilitator: Anna Westley!

The season of infertility between the births of my son and my daughter was the darkest time in my life. We started trying to conceive when our son was three. We welcomed our daughter the day before our son's eighth birthday. In between was month and after month of devastating disappointment, debilitating depression, and increasingly crippling isolation as our friends welcomed new babies year after year. I sought answers and solutions, endured tests and treatments, explored alternative avenues for growing our family and struggled to find coping strategies and emotional support. If there was a safe space where I could have gone to be in community with others walking this path, I would have gone in an instant!

Since 2005 I have worked with families as a birth and postpartum doula. In 2012 I took the MotherWoman training and, in collaboration with It Takes A Village, started a weekly support group for new mothers in rural Ashfield, where I live. I know how powerful and healing it can be when people gather to share what's really going on for them in a safe, supportive, non-judgemental space. During my infertility years I often wished there was a local infertility support group that I could attend. It is a dream come true and an honor to offer such a space to struggling families through Empty Arms Bereavement Support.

Meet Our Support Group Facilitator: Marisa Pizii!

My name is Marisa Pizii, and I have lived in the Pioneer Valley for 11 years. I first met Carol in a MotherWomen training in 2009. In 2010, I ended my pregnancy with my son, Josiah, due to a difficult prenatal diagnosis. 

I'm thrilled to join the Empty Arms facilitator team and support families, especially those who have Terminated for Medical Reasons.  I believe strongly in the supportive nature of community, and the power of this work in building support and healing. Community is at the heart of healing, and it was at the heart of my own healing journey. 

I'm currently the Program Director with the Prison Birth Project, and I facilitate a parenting from the inside support group. 

Meet Our Board: Jacqui Kates!

My name is Jacqui Kates and I am an Obstetrician/Gynecologist in the Pioneer Valley. I have lived and worked in this area since 2006. It was soon after that I first encountered Empty Arms. At the time, I was in private practice in the Northampton area and had a strong desire to provide extensive emotional support for my patients.

As an obstetrician, I am fortunate to share the moments of immeasurable joy with my patients; I am also honored to be present for, and bear witness to, the overwhelming sorrow that is experienced when a child dies. Therefore, I am forever grateful to be able to guide my patients and friends toward Empty Arms. This is a welcoming community full of caring, non-judgmental folks who offer meaningful support and compassion that extends beyond the clinical setting.

I have recently become a member of the Empty Arms Board. In this role, I am very hopeful that I will be able to help reach more individuals and their families to assist them at such pivotal moments in their lives.

I currently work as an obstetrician/gynecologist at Women's Health Associates in Westfield and Springfield. I am also on staff at Baystate Medical Center, where I supervise and teach residents and medical students. I have been fortunate enough to have an outstanding medical training, but traditional training often ignores this particular aspect of our patients’ lives. I consistently strive to incorporate the psychosocial aspects of medicine into my teaching.

My professional interests include the psychosocial determinants of health, adolescent gynecology, community outreach, and perinatal mood disorders (including postpartum depression and anxiety). I have worked with MotherWoman, training other healthcare professionals to diagnose, treat, and support patients with perinatal mood disorders. I also volunteer and am the vice-president of a local private school board. I live in Northampton and in my rare and ever so precious free time, I try to spend every second soaking up time with my extraordinary family. 

Meet Our Peer Companion & Support Group Facilitator: Emily Brownlow!

I first came to Empty Arms in January 2013, after the stillbirth of my daughter Ruby. For years I attended meetings every month, and stayed in contact with the families I met there for support and friendship. Empty Arms has been a steady undercurrent in my life since, through mourning the loss of my daughter, parenting my then 2-year old son through the grief, living through three early losses, and the amazing subsequent pregnancy and birth of my second daughter. I am now honored to be a member of the peer companion team, supporting newly bereaved families through their losses and assisting hospital staff with memory making.  I also co-facilitate the monthly bereavement group with Carol, and assist with administrative work from time to time.  The next big step for me is going back to school for a nursing degree, so that I can continue my work with folks through this complex and sad and beautiful process of building our families, and caring for each other along the way.

Meet Our Founder: Carol McMurrich!

Seeing Empty Arms grow and thrive nourishes my soul every day. When my baby Charlotte died in May of 2003, I was bereft and so alone. I sat in my home, surrounded by the walls that should have been celebrating the birth of a new life, and cried. Even when people came, I felt alone. Never would I have dreamed that 7 years after her birth, I would be happily parenting four living children and energetically working to build Empty Arms. I could never have imagined that at the same time, Charlotte was still an important and integral part of our lives.

At that time, I craved the presence of someone -- it could have been anyone-- who would either simply listen to me, and not feel compelled to try to make me feel better, or someone who actually understood the depth of my grief. It felt to me as if nobody on earth could possibly understand how truly unbearable this loss was for me. There I was, with possibly the strongest support system a woman could ask for - an intact, supportive, loving family of origin, a husband I could lean on, amazing friends who did cry with me - but still I felt lonely.

I needed a community to feel part of where mothering Charlotte wouldn’t make me different, or where having had her wasn’t a problem to fix. I knew I needed a place where she could be part of my life, where I could cry and feel sad about her, and also laugh at the ridiculous things people said to try to make me feel better. I wanted to dare to hope for happiness in the future without fearing that people would think I’d forgotten Charlotte.

It’s my hope and tentative belief that Empty Arms provides exactly these things. When I see a room full of people laughing together at a meeting (and we always laugh, don’t we?) it fills me with the deepest gratitude that our community has come together over what for most of us was our most difficult experience. In our meetings and social gatherings, there is no sense of having to abandon our past or separate ourselves from our grief in order to pursue happiness. We all walk forward together, one step at a time, knowing that there will be hard days, but hoping that there will also be joy. Joy never negates pain. But it sure does make it easier to manage the pain when there are moments of sunshine in between. Having a roomful of people, or even just one friend, who can listen to you and understand from their own perspective is immeasurably important.

Witnessing the joys that have followed losses are among my proudest moments. To know that people who have met one another in Empty Arms meetings and have formed true, lasting friendships is a gift to me. To be able to witness family after family brave a subsequent pregnancy and bring home a living baby is breathtaking. Over and over again, in different ways, families can and do rebuild. What confidence in the human spirit I am able to gain watching so many families and individuals reassemble their lives piece by piece. Now, after eight years, I am able to even watch some of the people who came to me in their darkest moments rise up and turn to help others.

I am honored and proud to be part of this organization. In the beginning, it felt like “my” organization, but now it feels like ours-- the board, the community, the families. We are interconnected and all give in our own ways to make this community a lifeline for those who desperately need it, and for those who continue to rely on it years down the road.

 

Meet Our Board: Jean Monska!

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Hi, all! My name is Jean Monska,  and I attended my first Empty Arms meeting less than four weeks after losing my first child, Addison, to a stillbirth at 41 weeks gestation on April 3, 2008. For the first year after losing Addison, my husband, John, and I were at every Empty Arms meeting. These meetings were our lifeline; they literally kept us from going crazy and gave us a safe place to discuss our feelings with people who truly understood our grief.  When we were ready to start trying for another baby, I joined the Subsequent Choices group, which helped me deal with the constant fear that I felt during the pregnancy.

Now almost eight years and two beautiful healthy boys later, I continue to honor Addison and work with Empty Arms on their Board of Directors as their Treasurer.  I feel blessed to be able to work with such a great group of individuals on a cause that is so close to my heart. I am able to use my background in banking (as Assistant Branch Manager at a local bank) to help Empty Arms. This gives me such a unique and special way to honor Addison. I am still amazed at how much this tiny organization from eight years ago has grown into the organization that it is today.

I never imagined that I would lose Addison when I was pregnant. I am thankful that Empty Arms has given me a safe and positive way to honor and parent Addison.

When I am not acting in my capacity as the Treasurer for Empty Arms I enjoy reading, exercising and most importantly, hanging out with my family.

Meet Our Board: Greg Reynolds!

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My name is Greg, and I miss my daughter Charlotte. Charlotte was born still on May 13, 2003 into the arms of two adoring and devastated parents. A beautiful baby girl. We spent just a few short hours with her. We have some pictures, some keepsakes, and our memories, but we don’t have our little girl.

Following Charlotte’s birth, it’s hard to know how, when, where or why we were able to allow our grief to co-exist with daily life. It just happened. We attended a local bereavement group and found comfort in hearing other parents’ stories. Eventually when my wife, Carol, founded Empty Arms, we were able to channel the power of grief (and grief is very powerful) into helping others. Although I no longer facilitate support group meetings on a regular basis, when I do I am still moved to tears when I hear parents talk about their babies. Especially when fathers speak. It must be something about hearing dads openly express themselves that seems to me so rare and precious. It is truly a blessing that Empty Arms provides the space and structure for everyone to share his/her/their story. Where else in the world can you let yourself be so vulnerable, express such raw emotions, and have people really understand your story?

I have worn some different hats for Empty Arms. I have provided personalized support for fathers. I serve as Trivia Master for our annual trivia night (so if a question is too hard, you know who to call!). I think as with many men, my grief has demanded that I do things in addition to talking. It has been incredibly helpful for me to channel my grief into projects and action, and I hope to help others learn how to do the same.

I am also a high school French teacher. I enjoy playing hockey, skiing, hiking, camping, playing music, singing, traveling, and spending time with my four amazing living children and my incredible wife.


Meet Our Board Member & Support Group Facilitator: Erika Parker!

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                                   Sierra's feet

My name is Erika and I have two children in my home and two who live only in my heart, with the living two bookending the two losses in the middle. In the summer of 2009, I was in the midst of my third pregnancy, having just learned that my baby likely would not survive and feeling completely alone, when an Internet search first led me to Empty Arms.  We named that baby girl Sierra Rose. Shortly after I found Empty Arms, at about 27 weeks gestation, she died and was born.

Three weeks later, I went to my first Bereavement Support Group meeting. For many months, the time between meetings couldn’t pass quickly enough for me. Empty Arms was my lifeline, one of the very few places I could speak freely about my experiences and feel heard and understood. I needed to tell Sierra’s story over and over, and each time I was met with compassion and a chorus of “me too!” I was also able to dig into painful memories and tell the story of my first loss, a miscarriage at 13 weeks, and to give that baby a name, Skye, which I mostly only share within the Empty Arms community. Eventually I became pregnant again and the Subsequent Choices group became my lifeline for a while.

Around the time of the healthy birth of my second living child in the fall of 2011, I realized I wanted to find ways to serve the Empty Arms organization and help others as I had been helped. I began facilitating a Parenting After Loss group and joined the Board of Directors. Currently, the Parenting After Loss group has morphed into a monthly, informal playgroup, but I am always willing to run the formal support group again any time there is interest or need. Now I periodically attend the main Empty Arms Bereavement Support meeting as a voice from farther down the road. I also write thank-you cards to donors and I am reviving our tradition of sending anniversary acknowledgement cards to Empty Arms families.

For me, staying connected to Empty Arms is part of the way that I mother Sierra and Skye, and although I am going to meetings now to help support others, I still always find compassion, understanding, perhaps a new perspective, and I leave feeling supported too.

Meet Our Board Member & Support Group Facilitator: Lexi Walters Wright!

Oh, am I a lucky gal. I’ve had the great privilege over the last several years to be steeped in Empty Arms in a number of ways:

  • As a facilitator of our monthly Miscarriage Support Group, I get to sit with families all over the Pioneer Valley as they try to begin to make sense of and peace with their early losses.

  • In our monthly Subsequent Choices Support Group, I join Carol in helping families navigate the sticky realm of pregnancy after loss.
     
  • As the secretary of the Empty Arms board, I find it wholly fulfilling to help dream up and execute new ways of expanding our organization’s reach to even more families in New England and beyond.

In nearly every meeting every month, I say to our families, “I’m sorry you have reason to be here, but I sure am glad you are.” Because six years ago this month, I joined this rotten club, myself. And what I needed more than anything during my first and second miscarriages was a sense that I was not alone in my devastation.

In the wake of my losses, I needed to know that the questions I had—why had this happened? How it would change me and my partner? What might be next for us?—were within the realm of normal, whatever that now meant. I felt unmoored. I felt invisible. I questioned whether my grief was selfish, silly, overblown.

And in my first Bereavement Support Group, I learned what I needed: My miscarriages mattered. They still do.

So do yours.

I would be so grateful if, after reading this, you might share our Empty Arms resources with someone you love who might need them. When I’m not leading groups, I’m a professional writer and editor and sometime librarian, so I love when the right information falls into hands that need them at exactly the right time.

(And if you feel moved to help support our work, I gratefully invite you to do so here.)

I’m now also the mom of an ebullient preschooler. But without question, my losses shaped the person—and parent—I am today. 

Meet Our Board: Megan Mayo!

Hi! I am so happy to be part of the Empty Arms family! My name is Megan Mayo, I have been married for 17 years to my husband, Lou. We have 2 great kiddos, Zachary (14) and Stefania (10).  I am a Registered Nurse and have spent my entire nursing career at Holyoke Medical Center. Since 1999, I’ve worked in The Birthing Center as a staff nurse and Childbirth Educator. I love caring for women and families and working in a community hospital allows me to give some extra TLC.

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Most of the time, when people hear where I work and what my job is, they respond with: “Oh, what a happy place to work!” or “You get to hold babies all day!” As we all know, that is not always the case. I do care for families at the happiest of times but I am also there at the darkest.  Out of my work with the families that I have cared for, grew my passion for improving perinatal bereavement care.  I knew there had to be more that we could be doing for families experiencing loss at Holyoke Medical Center. I’ve been chair of the Birthing Center’s Perinatal Bereavement Committee since 2007 and our main goal is for women to receive the same compassionate care no matter where they are cared for throughout the hospital system. We are continually evaluating our progress, working on educating staff in all departments, and making changes as we go. It’s a work in progress but I am proud of what we have accomplished so far!

I think it was 2008 when I met Carol.  A mailing from Empty Arms arrived at work and I called the number. That was the beginning of a beautiful collaboration! It felt good to have such an awesome support for these grieving families and for the staff that care for them! Since then, Carol has helped with staff trainings at my hospital, brought the Peer Companion Program to HMC, we attended The International Perinatal Bereavement Conference in San Antonio, TX, and here I am on the board☺

I became a Perinatal Bereavement Coordinator through Resolve Through Sharing, am a member of the Pregnancy Loss and Infant Death Alliance (PLIDA), and this Spring I hope to become officially certified in perinatal bereavement care (CPLC). So, while I am not a bereaved parent myself, my heart is in this work.  I look forward to being an active member of the Empty Arms Community☺

 

Meeting our Development Director & Support Group Facilitator: Beth!

Hi, Empty Arms community. I'm so excited and honored to be sharing this space with you. My name is Beth Pellettieri. I have met many of you, but not all of you, and I look forward to meeting everyone as my work with Empty Arms continues.

In January 2014, I emailed Carol and Lexi about volunteering with Empty Arms, and they quickly put me to work. I was new to the area, and looking for an organization that felt special and unique. My background is in women's health -- from teen pregnancy and HIV/AIDS, to providing support as a doula, and working in hospitals. My most recent gig was as board president for the Chicago Volunteer Doulas.

Empty Arms also hit an important note personally, as I had my own early loss in 2009. During that time, I felt lost and alone. The idea of an organization like this blows my mind in the best possible way. I'm grateful for the space it provides for families in the trenches of loss, and for those of us working through our journey of grief.

I'm thrilled to be our newest staff member. For now, my work includes increasing our development and fundraising activities, organizing databases, and improving our blog, communication and social media outreach. Please reach out with any questions, ideas, concerns. I'm really excited to be a part of this organization.