The loss of a pregnancy can be an isolating experience for a family. People don’t always know what to say, or how to help.
Start Healing Together is trying to change that.
Eastern Regional High School teacher and Washington Township resident Jackie Mancinelli attended a workshop in February presented by Jim Boice and representatives of the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA). It focused on supporting members who experience miscarriages and stillbirths. After having lost two pregnancies, Mancinelli attended the workshop to find out the basics, but left learning so much more. It was the first time she heard that grieving parents have the right to bereavement days in cases of prenatal deaths, and how common they are.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in 100 U.S. pregnancies results in a stillbirth each year. According to March of Dimes, 10 to 15 percent of known pregnancies end with a miscarriage. Miscarriage refers to the loss of a pregnancy before 20 weeks; stillbirth refers to pregnancies lost at 20 weeks or more.
Mancinelli wanted to do something with the information she learned and reached out to her colleagues at Eastern to see if anyone would be interested in a support group. She received an overwhelmingly positive response. By March, the English teacher had founded Start Healing Together with several co-workers; it now has 20 members at Eastern and five chapters at other local schools.
“The goal for Start Healing Together is trifold: to make educators aware of their rights, to offer emotional support and to direct them to helpful resources,” said Mancinelli. “This kind of grief can be very difficult to navigate, especially considering the stigma surrounding infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal loss. To help alleviate the stigma, we encourage open dialogue. We hope that the information from our group can provide comfort to those that need it most.”
Pregnancy loss is still difficult to talk about publicly. Boice shared how it is often the little things that can hurt the most. Well-intentioned phrases like “It’s for the best” or “You can always try again” can do more harm than good.
“You need to be sensitive for a while,” he explained. “I know through my wife’s experience, just getting up and going to work is a huge deal, especially for our members in early childhood ed(ucation). Imagine somebody has a miscarriage or stillbirth and they’re teaching preschool or first grade. It’s just so hard.”
Boice said what helped him and his wife after they lost two pregnancies were local support groups, where they could talk with others who shared similar experiences.
“Dads and fathers grieve much differently because we don’t have that physical connection,” he noted, “”but we’re still grieving the loss of our children.”
George Kemery, an English/Creative Writing/Debate teacher at Eastern, has not experienced pregnancy loss, but has people in his life who did. When Mancinelli asked if he wanted to be involved with the organization, he gave an enthusiastic yes.
“It’s about trunking information and making sure everyone understands that it’s not a group for ‘damaged’ people,” Kemery noted.
Mancinelli said what meant the most to her during difficult times was the honest conversations she had with people, and having friends reach out and actively ask, “What do you need right now?” rather than saying “I’m here if you need me.”
“With going through all of this grief personally, I feel much better equipped to handle the grief in my classroom with my students,” she said.