By Monica Novak

I didn’t see it coming. None of us did. How could we? For Heidi, Tracy, Wendy, and me, it came with the words, “There’s no heartbeat.” For Dawn, Beth, and Darlene, the crushing blow was, “There?s nothing more we can do.”
Miscarriage, stillbirth, infant death–these were things that happened to other people. Until they happened to us.
Except for Beth and Heidi, none of us knew each other before our losses that began in 1994. One by one we were led to a monthly support group for pregnancy and infant loss at a suburban Chicago hospital where my daughter Miranda had been stillborn. Each of our losses had been different. Delivered prematurely were Dawn’s triplets, Darlene’s twins, and Beth’s son, all six babies born too early at the time for medical technology to save them. Born still were my daughter, Heidi’s daughter, and Tracy’s son. Wendy had lost two babies to miscarriage when we met her. Yet despite our differences, the seven of us discovered instant common bonds, understanding each other’s grief so deeply when those around us–our family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and sometimes even medical caregivers–didn’t or couldn’t comprehend.
The biggest, and often most painful, misconception of others was that because none of our babies came home alive from the hospitals, we must not have been very attached to them, and therefore not grieving the same as if we had lost older children. “You’re young, you’ll have more children.” Yes, but I wanted THIS child. “It wasn’t even a baby, it was a miscarriage.” But I heard the heartbeat and saw the growing baby on the ultrasound screen–arms, legs, hands, feet, eyes, ears, nose, mouth–perfect in every way. “God needed another angel in heaven.” But I needed this baby here with us. I needed to be her mother, to feed her with the milk that leaked from my breasts the day we buried her; to teach her big brother how to help me change her diapers; to walk her to school on her first day of kindergarten and walk her down the aisle on her wedding day; to cry tears of joy on the day she delivered her own baby, my grandchild. I had a lifetime’s worth of hopes and dreams for this child, and now she’s gone and those dreams are shattered. The hole in my heart will be with me always, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be happy again.
These were the feelings that the seven of us understood and shared. Once a month, we came together with other parents and the compassionate nurse named Pat who facilitated our support group meetings, talking and listening, crying and laughing, and letting go of the pain little by little, finding strength and hope from each other, and especially from those who were ahead of us on this path, seemingly leading us out of the dark tunnel.
Several months into our journey, we realized that the second Thursday of every month, support group night, had become our lifeline. And we didn’t want it to end at 9:00 pm. A new monthly ritual began. One by one, we would drive out of the dark parking lot and follow each other to the Omega restaurant, a favorite among the locals, offering everything under the sun from pancakes to pork roast and a bakery case that made you want to skip dinner and move right on to dessert. Our habit became French toast.
As our French toast soaked up the syrup and whipped butter, we soaked up the stories from the past four weeks. Dawn, who had lost triplets, found herself living in a neighborhood with families of triplets around every corner. Her saving grace was a new friend she had met who had also lost a baby, and the two of them often took long walks, laughing that the other mothers with young children were probably whispering to each other that it was nice the women with the dead babies had found each other, but not to talk to them because it might be contagious.
Heidi, Beth, and Darlene told us that between our monthly meetings, they had found another support group to attend because once a month wasn’t enough, earning them the nickname — support group groupies.
Stories of basal body temperatures and ovulation predictor kits abounded, many of us on a quest to become pregnant again. When Tracy announced her new pregnancy and their plans to sell their tiny house and move into a larger family home, she laughed that prospective buyers must be confused about the untouched nursery, still ready and waiting for the baby that never came home, when there was no sight of any children in the house.
Beth and Heidi shared the story of the night they sat in a car in the park at 1:00 in the morning sharing the contents of their babies’ keepsake boxes with each other, talking and crying, while a homemade lullaby tape played softly in the background. Suddenly a bright light poured in through the window, and the police officer at the other end of it wanted to know what they were doing. They laughed describing to us the look on his face when they told him about their dead babies, and that they were “sitting here having a moment.”
We always wondered each month whether Darlene would show up with a new job adventure to tell us about. She was so obsessed with being around babies or baby things that she bounced from nanny job to daycare center to sales clerk at two different baby stores.
We cheered as Beth told us about her idea for Good Grief, a store just for the grieving, stocked with sympathy cards, birth and death announcements, artwork with serene scenes and comforting quotes or verses, angel statues, and inspiring music for memorial services.
We shared struggles, like Wendy’s blame and guilt over her miscarriages because she was a nurse and “should have known, should have been able to do something, should have been able to find a reason.” We shared our hopes of new life growing inside us, the new fears that now came with pregnancy, and the conflicting emotions of joy for the new babies and continued grief for the lost babies. We shared the excitement of signs we often received, that we believed were messages of love from our babies who were somehow still with us.
Our monthly meetings and restaurant rendezvous were not the only way our support group friendships blossomed and grew. When Darlene miscarried baby Andrew at 13 weeks, Heidi and Beth were by her side as the chaplain baptized his tiny body cradled in a seashell.
After months of failed infertility treatments, when Dawn finally found herself pregnant and on bed rest, Beth and other friends brought meals, making sure Dawn didn’t starve to death.
When I gave birth to my daughter Casey, Beth and Heidi were among the friends and family who turned my hospital room into a block party.
Just one month later, on the second anniversary of Miranda’s stillbirth, I was surprised to find myself missing her so much. Heidi and Beth had also just survived Brittany’s and Joshua’s second anniversaries, and were still feeling the aftershocks, too. Heidi, Beth, and Wendy came over to my house that night, a bottle of wine and pie in hand. As they took turns passing baby Casey around, we laughed a lot and cried a little and stayed up way past our bedtimes.
In the fall of 97, Heidi, Beth, Wendy, Darlene, and Pat, our support group facilitator, took a road trip to the National Share Conference in St. Louis. They carried a banner, like at a rock concert, but instead of “We love you Bono!” the banner listed the names of their remembered babies.
In June of ’98, Beth surprised us with a special birthday invitation. Joshua, Brittany, and Miranda were all turning 3 (in heaven), the invitation said. And she was hosting a celebration picnic at Josh’s cemetery. The seven of us sat on blankets, eating and watching our kids shoot each other with water guns from behind headstones. We laughed at Dawn’s story of once being so obsessed with her triplets’ gravesite that she had gotten on her hands and knees and trimmed every blade of grass with a pair of scissors until her hands were covered with blisters.
When Beth gave birth to her next baby, Heidi was her labor coach. At Heidi’s next delivery, Beth was there to support her.
When Wendy finally gave birth, Heidi and Beth were both by her side. Since coming to the support group, Wendy had lost two more babies to miscarriage, a total now of four. Ultrasounds had her in a near panic, remembering all those times when she was told her baby no longer had a heartbeat, so for months Heidi and Beth took turns driving Wendy to her doctor visits while the other babysat all of the kids. Now calling themselves “the doulas,” Beth and Heidi had earned spots at Wendy’s blessed event.
In the middle of all of this, Heidi and Beth somehow found the time to create and publish Love Notes, a newsletter for our local support group community.
I think it was Heidi who first used the analogy that we started out like sorority sisters–the incoming freshman class–from scattered towns and various backgrounds, with different losses, all drawn together, bound by this one thing. We became soul sisters. We supported each other, yet didn’t realize we were doing it; it was simply a means of survival. How we looked forward to those monthly meetings, counting down the days until we could all be together again to share our recent ups and downs. Sometimes those nights at Omega went on forever. It didn’t matter what we had to do the next day–this was our night and it was top priority.
Although my six friends and I, now fondly referred to as The Good Grief Club, went in new directions and our time together has lessened, our heart connections remain strong.
Many of us, led by Heidi and a group of dedicated parents, were involved in the building of an angel garden at the hospital where Miranda was born and where our friendships began.
We often run into each other at events like memorial services and angel gardening days, or fundraisers like the annual luncheon or the Walk to Remember.
Sometimes we pick up the phone to chat or e-mail each other for an impromptu rendezvous at the zoo or the pool; not often enough we meet for a girls’ night out, sharing our lives and retelling old stories.
We try to remember each other’s babies on anniversary days, sending cards or flowers, or making phone calls.
And every year we try to schedule an annual family picnic.
I think my friends and I would agree that the deaths of our babies nearly destroyed us. But together we grew stronger. Together we found courage. Together we had hope. And as those once-gaping holes in our hearts began to fill up with love and happiness, we realized that if we could survive this, nothing in life could ever completely shake us from our foundations or take away all of our joy.
Together, in that knowing, we found peace.

Monica Novak is a bereaved mother and author of the highly-praised memoir, The Good Grief Club: A True Story About the Power of Friendship and French Toast. She is the editor of Open to Hope?s Pregnancy and Infant Loss blog page. To learn more about her book and the subject of pregnancy and infant loss, please visit her website at

Article first appeared in the Spring 2008 edition of We Need Not Walk Alone, the national magazine of The Compassionate Friends. Reprinted with permission.

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Monica Novak

Monica Novak became a bereaved mother in 1995 with the stillbirth of her daughter Miranda, learning firsthand the devastation of saying goodbye to a much-loved, much-wanted baby before having the chance to say hello. Three weeks later, she began a journey towards healing when she attended her first Share support group meeting. Along the way, she and six other bereaved mothers formed a close bond that carried them through the grief of miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death, as well as the challenges of subsequent pregnancy and infertility. Having been at the opposite ends of grief and joy; despair and hope; indifference and compassion; fear and peace-sometimes simultaneously-she has captured these emotions and the story of her journey in a highly-praised new memoir titled The Good Grief Club. Monica writes and speaks on the subject of pregnancy loss and infant death and is involved with local and national organizations that provide support to families and caregivers. She is a member of the Pregnancy Loss and Infant Death Alliance (PLIDA). Her mission is to bring comfort and hope to bereaved parents worldwide and to educate and promote awareness to the physicians, nurses, clergy, counselors, family, and friends of every mother or father who has or ever will be told that their baby has no heartbeat or that nothing more can be done. The mother of three daughters, Monica lives in the Chicago area with her husband, children, and a rat terrier named Sami. For more information, please visit or e-mail Monica at Monica appeared on the radio show “Healing the Grieving Heart” discussing ”Miscarriage and Infant Loss.” To hear Monica being interviewed on this show by Dr. Gloria & Dr. Heidi Horsley, go to the following link:

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