It’s one of the hardest things a person can go through, and for many families, it’s a sad reality: pregnancy and baby loss. It’s why the Dubai marketing and public relations agency TishTash came together late last year with an assortment of local organizations and support groups to hold the first-ever Love Through Loss.
The goal of the day-long, online event was to support a UAE community of women and men, and to raise awareness across the Middle East and beyond about the many issues that arise and the resources there are available. The event included sessions on all kinds of pregnancy and baby loss, as well as womb healing, the whole IVF process, father grief and childlessness.
Surviving baby and pregnancy loss
Janine Schuett is a self-professed IVF warrior and certified nutrition coach specializing in weight loss for women. Her goal is to help women battling weight gain as a result of fertility treatments — a situation that she knows all too well. After 11 rounds of IVF and five miscarriages, Janine says losing weight was the first step to regaining her physical, mental and emotional well-being.
“I just wanted to get better, which for me the first step was to lose weight. I gained a lot of weight throughout the procedures and pregnancies. I gained over 20 kilos, which also put a lot of pressure on [me] because the person I saw in the mirror was not the person I wanted to see and I wasn’t the person I wanted to be”, she says.
“I just decided to take better care of myself. Then I turned to coaching. I started working with a life coach to remove a lot of the beliefs, obstacles and issues that I developed during my IVF journey. Even though I had accomplished so much in life, failing at pregnancy made me feel like I [wasn’t] worth anything anymore”. With the help of an expert, Janine was able to overcome all that she’d gone through and ultimately became a nutrition coach to help others do the same. Her best advice to other women going through their pregnancy journey is to talk to people.
“Try not to win a gold medal by trying to be strong. Allow yourself to feel your true feelings and let people know but do not expect the people around you to be there to help. Connect with people who really understand what you’re going through. Work with coaches, counselors, connect with groups. Don’t put the pressure on your family because they’re not able to help you. They don’t understand what we are going through.”
Experiencing baby loss in the UAE
As some of the panelists who shared their experiences could attest, things can get even more painful when UAE authorities get involved.
Joanne Hanson-Halliwell, founder of Small and Mighty Babies, is calling for more sensitivity.
“I was on a call earlier this morning as part of this series of talks and one of the ladies was sharing her personal journey with her stillbirth and she said that she got a text message from the police regarding her criminal case,” she said.
Simply associating criminal activity with baby loss by way of a stillbirth or similar situation can be harrowing for the parents and causes undue stress. During times like this, families want and need compassion more than anything else.
Vivian Albertyn, of Middle East Funeral Services, says this is where his organization comes in. “Let us deal with the police, rather than the family. That would be my advice.”
Middle East Funeral Services is a division of Middle East Assistance and a pioneer of the funeral industry in the United Arab Emirates. He says although some progress has been made with respect to helping families through the tragic loss of a baby, there’s still more work to be done.
“We can only keep on going,” says Vivian. “I would still like to see bereavement rooms for parents so that they don’t have to come down to the basement, to the mortuary. I always feel that’s very disrespectful for them.”
Supporting for loss
Since 2013, Small and Mighty Babies, which operates in both the UK and UAE, has supported families through high-risk pregnancies, premature birth and the neo-natal journey. Love Through Loss was launched in 2016 to provide memory boxes to those who experience neonatal, pregnancy loss and stillbirth. Each box contains a range of items, which serve as important touchstones for parents as they grieve their loss. They include a notebook to record their thoughts, a private letter to the parents from the Little Angels – Love through Loss Support Group, funeral arrangements assistance, a grief consultation with Lighthouse Arabia, Treasured Memories Inkless paper kit for hand and footprints and more. Eleven items, each one with a very important purpose, to record a moment in time and a little life that was so important.
Both endeavors bring together a diverse community of people in the spirit of supporting one another. Small and Mighty Babies was founded by Joanne Hanson-Halliwell, who was inspired by her own experience. Following a complication called a placental abruption, she gave birth to her son in May 2013 at just 30 weeks. With no accessible support at the time, Joanna decided to bring a few people together whom she’d met during her time in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and that’s where the organization began.
Support through IVF
IVF Support UAE is a hub of information for all things fertility in the UAE. The website contains information about IVF clinics in the UAE as well as other resources. It’s also a gateway to a community of people who are currently or have previously been through fertility treatment. IVF Support UAE has also partnered with leading IVF clinics in the region, to offer exclusive cost savings to group members.
Dubai-based Cassie Destino started IVF Support UAE after going through two IVF cycles as a new expat in Abu Dhabi. She found it isolating to be looking for and undergoing fertility treatment so far away from her friends and family back home, ultimately having twins born from her third IVF cycle in 2015; a boy and a girl. Her goal for IVF Support UAE is to provide a wellspring of fertility treatment resources and information for all would-be parents.
A different kind of loss
TFMR Mamas offers support groups and resources to help this community, who made the decision to terminate their pregnancy for medical reasons, feel supported and not alone. TFMR Mamas was created by Emma Belle after losing her daughter Willow to TFMR due to Edwards Syndrome in October 2020. The loss was shattering; after experiencing infertility and five rounds of fertility treatments, it wasn’t a place either she or her husband thought they would be in.
Believing that humans are not built to get through their hardest days alone or in isolation, and that we heal in community, she created a supportive space to provide monthly support groups and paid weekly support groups for TFMR Mamas as well as private Facebook groups for both parents.