In 2017, Jill Beckman and David Gaynes lost their son Solomon prior to birth. He was 36 weeks and three days when Beckman experienced a placenta abruption, which instantly caused a fetal demise. During birthing, Beckman began hemorrhaging. Not only had she lost her baby, but she almost died giving birth. 

“It was awful. We weren’t expecting it. I had a normal pregnancy. No issues at all. We weren’t prepared,” said Beckman, who had a healthy pregnancy before with her son Johnny, now 6. 

During her recovery, Beckman realized she and her husband were processing their grief completely differently. She wanted him by her side all the time, while he needed space and to keep busy.

They attended a once-a-month infant loss group at a local hospital with a social worker, but the couples changed every month, requiring them to have to repeat their stories again and again, and it was run by a social worker who had not experienced having children let alone the loss of one. 

“We didn’t get past the story-telling stage and we didn’t bond with the other parents because they were always new,” Beckman said.

That’s when friends told them about Pockets of Light, a Montclair-based support group for couples with the loss of a pregnancy or an infant. And that’s when they met Erin and Tom Truxillo also from Montclair who started Pockets of Light about four years ago after their own loss. 

In 2008 while living in North Carolina, Erin’s first child Hailey was stillborn a month shy of her due date. Since the loss of Hailey, Erin and Tom have had two healthy children who today are 8 and 9 years old. But in 2015, they again experienced loss with a miscarriage at 10 weeks. 

In their grief, the couple got involved with a nonprofit called KinderMourn in North Carolina that offered support to parents who lost their children. After relocating to Montclair four years ago, Erin, along with Denise Cante and Jennifer Brown, co-founded Pockets of Light to offer consistent support to couples who have experienced the same type of loss.

Losing a child to miscarriage or stillbirth is an “invisible unique loss” too many parents still experience, the Montclair couple says.

“We had no idea this still happened, and most people don’t,” Erin said.

At the Sept. 24 council meeting, Councilman Rich McMahon declares Oct. 15 as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS/STAFF
At the Sept. 24 council meeting, Councilman Rich McMahon declares Oct. 15 as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS/STAFF

Nationwide, 15 to 20 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, said Erin.

In Essex County the fetal mortality rate from 2013-2015 — the most recent numbers available — was 9.3 per 1,000 babies born, according to vital statistics. 

The group has reached over 200 grieving parents in the New Jersey and New York area in just under four years.

“It’s a very lonely experience losing a baby no one has known or seen. It’s an invisible loss,” she said. “Society in general has a hard time discussing death. Put death with a baby, and it’s worse.”

Erin completed perinatal bereavement training and currently facilitates support groups for Pockets of Light. The group offers three options to parents — a seven-week support group, one-on-one-counseling, and a Tuesday evening drop-in group. 

Men are very much a part of the grieving equation, said Erin. Her husband, along with another facilitator, Mike, help run the programs to give the men’s point of view. 

“The men are kind of left on their own during and after the loss. Emphasis is placed on the mom and baby. And men are fixers, feeling they have to fix everything,” she said. “Men will come to the group and it may be the first time they have talked about their feelings of grief.”

Stillbirths and miscarriages are a woman's health issue from a medical perspective, but the father has lost that child too, said Tom.

In order for the grieving process to work for both partners, they have to learn to lean on each other, he added.

“With men, the grief is delayed. We want to make sure everything is taken care of,” Tom said. “Our wives, the burial, dealing with family and friends.”

Beckman said that’s what happened with her husband.

“He managed everything and it delayed his grieving process,” Beckman said. “Tom made us both see there was nothing wrong with his grieving process.”

During the seven-week program, the same couples attend each week. Couples share their stories during the first week, then each week another subject is covered, such as the differences in grieving between men and women, managing family and friends, how to deal with doctors and nurses, and how to cope with triggers and special occasions. 

“Not only is there a natural progression throughout the program, but you really bond with the other couples,” Beckman said. 

Last year, Beckman and Gaynes received good news — she was pregnant again. But because the cause of the placenta abruption in 2017 was unknown and doctors considered it a high-risk pregnancy, she was frantic and stressed. She asked herself, ‘Would it happen again?’ 

Again Pockets of Light offered her support with its Pregnancy After Loss Group. In May, she gave birth to a healthy son, Leslie, through a scheduled C-section at 36 weeks. 

“Having Pockets of Life changed everything. To be with people like us, people don’t understand this kind of loss unless you have gone through it yourself,” she said.

Beckman said her mother had a stillborn child when times were very different. People didn’t discuss it and her mother didn’t get to see the baby. Beckman and Gaynes were able to spend time with Solomon. 

People still don’t know how to acknowledge the loss of a pregnancy or an infant at birth, Erin said. 

“‘God works in certain ways.’ ‘Things happen for a reason,’ they say. People just need to listen and not try and fix it, because they can’t,” she said.

The devastating trauma with the loss of a child during or after childbirth can be compounded by a community's inability to address the loss making parents feeling even more isolated, Tom said.

“We wanted to start the conversion on the issue that is still very prominent today, but is still not discussed, and also to remember those babies who were lost,” said Erin about approaching the mayor to set aside a day of awareness in Montclair.

Mayor Robert Jackson commended the couple in taking a “real tragedy” and then turning to strengthening others who have experienced the same loss.

New Jersey has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality rates in America, according to the NJ Department of Health.

On Tuesday, Sept. 24, First Lady Tammy Murphy and the New Jersey Department of Health today announced the award of a $2.1 million a year grant for five years from the Health Resources and Services Administration to advance health equity and address disparities in maternal health outcomes.

The grant funding will be used to promote innovative, evidenced-informed strategies for improving maternity care delivery in the state and the elimination of disparities in outcomes for mothers and their babies. The grant will also support maternal mortality and morbidity data collection and analysis with a focus on moving data to action.

“Every mother deserves the opportunity for a healthy birth experience and a healthy child,” said First Lady Tammy Murphy.