Akihiko Kano / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer
In an effort to help provide psychological care to women who have lost their unborn or newborn child, Kanagawa Children's Medical Center in Yokohama offers a place where they can talk about and share the experience of losing a child.
"My mood varies from day to day, but I'm slowly getting over it," a 32-year-old woman from Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, told 17 other women who gathered at Kanagawa Kenmin Center, also in Yokohama, in June. Speaking slowly to the group, Wataboshi-no-kai (group of women who have lost children), she explained she gave birth to her first son in April 2010 at the medical center, but the boy had lung problems. The baby, who could not breathe on his own, died the following day.
The woman said she began to stay at home as much as possible as it was hard to see families with babies outside. If she happened to hear the voice of an infant at a restaurant, she quickly left. "I wondered why I was the only one suffering such sadness," she said.
In October last year, six months after her son's death, the woman joined a meeting of Wataboshi-no-kai. After introducing herself, she told about 20 women and their family members her true feelings.
She also listened to the stories of the other women who had lost children, including one who could not talk but speak for crying. "I realized I'm not the only one to suffer this terrible experience," she said. Since she was able to hold her son in her arms and spend some time with him, even for such a short period, she gradually developed a sense of gratitude. "He came into the world despite his illness. He was there, he had his life," she said.
"Talking about my feelings made me feel better than holding them in. I'll continue to live with my sorrow without trying to defeat it," she said.
According to statistics published by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, a fetus death after the 12th week of pregnancy is considered a stillbirth. The death of a baby in the first week after birth is called early neonatal mortality.
In 2010, more than 1 million babies were born in Japan. In the same year, about 27,000 stillbirths were reported and about 880 babies died in the first week after birth.
Fifteen percent of all pregnant women are believed to experience miscarriages, including stillbirth.
Wataboshi-no-kai was set up in 1997 by volunteers, including a nurse at the center's health and welfare counseling center, to help mothers who have lost a child. Last year, the workshop, held three times a year, was added as an official program of the medical center.
One unique aspect of the group is that no doctors take part in the sessions.
According to an official at the counseling center, this is to allow women to talk freely without having to worry about the feelings of the doctors.
A 35-year-old woman from Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, is one of the participants. In May last year, she was told by her doctor that her 16-week-old baby's heart could not be heard by ultrasound. She had a stillbirth the following month.
She said every day since then has been hard, and she could not bear the sound of a baby crying. The turning point came when she joined the group in October last year.
"I usually can't talk about losing the baby. But here I can freely express myself. By listening to others with similar experiences, I feel better," she said.
Michiko Yamanaka, a doctor at St. Luke's International Hospital, is the editor of the book Akachan o Nakushita Josei e no Kango (Nursing for women who have lost their child), said being able to talk openly about their feelings with others who have had similar experiences helps women with their psychological recovery.
But such groups are only available in a few places.
Hiroshi Wada, the director of the Yodogawa Christian Hospital's center for perinatal mothers and children in Osaka, conducted a survey of 203 facilities, including those with comprehensive perinatal programs, last year. The survey, with a response rate of 63 percent, found 24 facilities, or 19 percent, introduced women who had lost a child to local self-help groups, while five facilities, or 4 percent, had their own support groups.
"The programs are effective [in supporting women], but the numbers are limited partly because the programs can place a great burden on medical institutions in terms of human resources, time or financial resources. Government-level assistance is required to lessen the burden on hospitals," Wada said.
(Sep. 4, 2011)