Sara West was featured in the recent EXPOSE on Reproductive Loss, Infertility and the Mental Health Crisis Surrounding it. In the report, she shared briefly her journey after the loss of her son and her path through the “tasks of grief.” You can listen to her interview here: Rainbow Babies Unite Podcast Season 1 Episode 5 Sara West
Sara agreed to meet with Rainbow Babies Unite again this week to give some more detail about her journey and why she decided to join the organization Institute of Reproductive Grief Care and Life Perspectives.
Sara West is the mom of five kids and one angel. She has three boys who are 21, 20 and 19. She also has 2 daughters who are 11 and 9. They currently reside in Pacific Northwest where they enjoy hiking as a family with their two Siberian huskies.
When talking about her journey with loss, she said “My journey with loss had always been with people who had actually lived in the world; my grandparents, their siblings, friends and other loved ones. I always knew how to move forward in that grief because society had these norms for how we grieve someone who has lived in the world. There were customs… traditions that helped. But with the unexpected loss of my son at birth and an early birth at that. I had no clue how to move forward. I had family who had similar experiences, but I felt like I couldn’t even talk about my feelings with them because it is so painful. I took it upon myself to find ways to honor my son, and I didn’t really share those with anyone either. I think not building a support team was tougher on me than I thought at the time.— I was just trying to grasp control in any way I could because had no control over what had happened.”
For her, helping others through this journey has helped her work through her own grief from losing her son. She said that “there really weren’t any resources available to me during my experience and after the loss of my son, I was just sent home to deal — almost like I had just been discharged from some routine procedure.” She had to seek out the resources that should have been provided when she was in the hospital on her own.
She said “I didn’t even know where to go, but I know I just wanted to know if it was normal to still be grieving like I was.” Finding these resources on her own and working through her grief gave her a passion for others so now “I get the opportunity to provide those resources and tools to care providers and hospital systems so all families have a place to turn too.”
Not having any resources during and after the loss of her son made her journey through grief harder than most because she felt like she had no where to turn. She didn’t know how to process the grief or who she could talks to. She “repressed my emotions because a) it was so painful, and b) I had all of these other kids at home to continue being a mom to.” It took her 6 months before she could even open the memory box the nurse had made for her.
To complicate her healing, she suffered from a massive kidney infection that should have been caught during her time in the hospital after the birth of her son. “I remember feeling just broken. I felt as if my body just was failing me — it had failed my son, failed my hopes and dreams for my family, and now I couldn’t even physically be there for my family.”
Finding someone to talk to and share her story with gave her hope. She could finally take a step forward. She soon realized that she was also not along in her grief. “Unfortunately, there are so many others who have gone through loss, and feel like a failure as well. I just kept thinking, ‘why are we NOT talking about this?!’ As hard as it can be to actually make the move to talk to someone, I think it is even harder if you don’t.”
One of the things that she wishes had been provided after her loss were instructions or information on what to expect when she got home, like her milk coming in with no baby or how to handle returning to work after no postpartum period because her baby did not come home. She also wishes there was more resources on how to manage and handle her families grief. “Everyone grieves differently, but I couldn’t recognize that because I was so stuck in my own and was holding onto my pain. I was so scared to move forward for a while.”
Sara started out working in NICU as a speech pathologist and audiologist. After her personal experience with loss, she was led to work at the institute to help others through their journey. “I know the power in providing support for others who go through reproductive loss experiences — I know because people give me their gratitude all the time. I also know how empowering our work is for care providers. — because of us, they have the tools to be confident in their reproductive grief care practices and providing better support for their patients and better empowerment for themselves. “
Sara is one of many mental health professionals that has also experienced loss. Having experienced it herself, she becomes more empathetic towards those who have gone through it and it puts a passion into what she does. She is proud to share her story to help others learn how to grieve and work through their own grief.