PARK RIDGE, N.J. — Every month, a group of fathers who lost their infants before, during, or after birth gather in Park Ridge to talk.
The Men’s Perinatal Bereavement Support Group is run by Valley Hospital Social Worker Trudy Heerema. It gives the men a chance to process their emotions after the loss.
The opportunity, they say, is rare.
“This is a safe haven for all of us,” said Adam Yoskowitz of Mahwah, who started the group with another bereaved father, Canaan Himmelbaum of Scotch Plains.
The Hudson Shea Foundation, founded by Yoskowitz and his wife and named after their son , has funded the group since it began in 2012. Hudson Shea Yoskowitz died in 2011, shortly after birth.
“We laugh together. We cry together,” Yoskowitz said. “We raise our voice together. We do everything together. We’re men who, unfortunately, are part of a fraternity that nobody wants to be a part of.”
Yet it’s larger than many people are aware. According to the National Institutes of Health, there are 26,000 stillbirths in the U.S. annually. One of every 160 American pregnancies ends in a stillbirth.
Medically speaking, a baby is considered stillborn at or after the twentieth week of pregnancy.
This bereavement group, and others like it, were moved off Valley’s Ridgewood campus, Heerema explained, because participants don’t like going back to the hospital after they’ve experienced a loss there.
The fathers’ group processes many issues. One is negotiating the role of protector, a mantle of manhood.
“Fathers delay their own feelings to protect their wives,” Heerema said. “But it’s exhausting to be the protector all the time and the dad doesn’t always get to do the grieving he needs to do.”
Group member Rey Rosado of Rockland County put it this way: “You’re trying to be that rock.”
But rocks don’t speak or process, the members agreed Thursday night. Not even their wives realize what’s on their minds, Yoskowitz said.
Without a chance to talk and emote, some of the fathers get themselves in trouble.
“We’ve had some people in the group who dealt with the issue in other ways that weren’t the healthiest,” said member Rich Lindemulder of Pompton Plains. “This group helps men go down a path that’s positive.”
Member Dan Librot of Westwood said the other fathers helped talk him through a second pregnancy.
“For everyone else, pregnancy is a celebration. It’s a beautiful thing,” Librot said. “But it can be a really stressful, scary thing if it hasn’t gone well in the past. You can lean on the guys here.”
The tone of the meetings is not always down or difficult, the men point out.
If no one is struggling, the focus is on lighter subjects, Lindemulder said.
“But we really gravitate to the worst-case scenario,” he explained. “We set the tone of the meeting to whoever is hurting the most.”
The men lament that other hospitals in the area don’t offer a group just for men because it’s so helpful.
“What happened brings you down,” Lindemulder said, “but when you’re able to help someone else, that brings you back up.”
For more information, contact Trudy Heerema at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Hudson Shea Foundation will run an “Angel Walk” Sept. 17 at Van Saun Park in Paramus.