By Mylika Scatliffe,
Special to the AFRO
On Oct. 18, 2017, Brittani Dubose of Baltimore gave birth to Edward James Dubose. There was just one challenge– she was only 22 weeks and three days pregnant.
She and her husband already had the nickname “Jamie” on hand for the newborn, but he lived for only 10 minutes, taking his last breaths in his father’s arms.
The grief was unbearable. The couple struggled to deal with the unimaginable loss.
But then Dubose found a new purpose.
Now 33, she actively works to channel the grief of her profound loss into a legacy. On Dec. 3, 2021, she founded a non-profit organization called A Gentle Embrace: From Mama to Mama.
Days after her baby died, Dubose described having a tearful,public meltdown at a Walmart photo center when she discovered that most of the photos taken of her baby at the hospital with a disposable camera did not properly develop.
“That’s when I realized how vulnerable I really was,” said Dubose.
“It is hard to deal with pregnancy and childbirth to begin with. The hormonal fluctuations during and after pregnancy can cause both physical and psychological changes and issues for women,” said Dr. Deval Zaveri, director of the Women’s Mental Health Program at Sheppard Pratt Hospital in Towson, Md.
“Some women suffer more emotionally than others. The risk of psychological problems is increased with pregnancy and birth losses, including miscarriage and stillbirth,” Zaveri said.
Dubose discovered countless online communities in support of women who’ve had live births, but not as many for women who’ve experienced pregnancy and birth loss. Not long after losing her son, Dubose reached out to her doctor because she had so many questions about the birth and why her son died. When she was discharged from the hospital, she wasn’t provided much explanation about what she experienced or what to expect in the aftermath of her child dying.
“I read online about women whose milk came in days after losing their babies and thought to myself ‘my milk better not come in,’ and what happened? My milk came in. I didn’t know what
to do. I was still in the grip of the nesting instinct, wanting to buy things for the baby and get our home ready for the baby, but I had no baby to get ready for. Nobody told me I would feel this way!” Dubose said.
Dubose called the hospital and was given some helpful tips to dry up her milk, including applying cabbage leaves to and avoiding hot water on her breasts. Her doctor also implored her to remember that none of what happened was her fault.
“While the information was helpful, I felt like I should’ve been told before I left the hospital. I don’t want any other mother to feel that way, like she is flailing, looking for answers with nowhere to turn in the midst of her grief,” said Dubose.
Dubose’s sorrow eventually sparked a fervent desire to see women in similar circumstances supported. A Gentle Embrace: From Mama to Mama provides care packages to mothers who have experienced pregnancy or infant loss. The packages are curated to encourage mothers to practice self-care and allow themselves to grieve in a healthy way.
Before the beginning phase of her non-profit work, Dubose described fighting her grief so badly that she woke up one day feeling hungover but had not consumed one drop of alcohol. She went to an urgent care facility where she received a battery of tests. The results revealed that nothing was physically amiss.
When the doctor asked what was going on in her life and Dubose told him her baby recently passed away, his reply was simple: “It’s your grief.”
Angela Greene, a licensed clinical professional counselor with Heart and Mind Counseling Service based in Westminster, Md., spoke with the AFRO about birth loss in Baltimore.
“The national average of birth loss in the United States is 6.4 per 1000 births. In Baltimore city it is 8.8 per 1000, and among Black women the number increases to 10.6 per 1000,” she said.
When counseling those mourning pregnancy or infant loss, Greene tries to honor each bereaved woman by moving away from the traditional terminology surrounding the grieving process. “We’re used to thinking of the different stages of grief, but when a woman loses a baby it is what we call complex grief. Complex grief encompasses every area of her life – the emotional, physical, and mental. It waxes and wanes, and the amount of time a woman grieves varies, depending on what her journey looks like,” said Greene.
“This process is compounded for Black women because we’re seen as ‘strong’ and not having time to grieve and feel our pain,” Greene explained further.
“I was fighting my grief so much that I was making myself sick. Being Black and grieving is a process all by itself, because we’re not given permission to grieve like everyone else,” said Dubose. “We’re constantly told how strong we are and how we have too much to do, too much to take care of to take time to properly grieve.”
Dubose attended a support group in the early days after her son’s death.
“I cried and cried at that first session, and for the first time I felt like I didn’t have to explain my tears or worry about people around me not wanting me to feel my feelings because it made them uncomfortable,” said Dubose.
Dubose wanted other women, particularly Black women, to know and see that it’s OK to allow themselves to grieve in a healthy way.
“Grief is continuous. It doesn’t get easier; we just learn how to manage it. Grief is love; the love for the person we’ve lost – be it a baby or anyone else- does not go away because they died,’ said Dubose.
Her mission started small; Dubose read a book titled, “Empty Cradle, Broken Heart: Surviving the Death of Your Baby” and it spoke to so much of what she was going through that she wanted to share it with others. She contacted the publisher to see if they could donate some books; they were not able to donate but they shipped 20 books to her at half price. Dubose offered them to the women in her support group, secretly fearing they would not be receptive.
Dubose need not have worried– they were all grateful beyond measure. “One of the women told me she felt ‘seen’ by the book,” said Dubose.
While A Gentle Embrace: Mama to Mama is available to any mother, the nonprofit’s board members are all Black women. Dubose said this was done on purpose because she believes it is important for Black women to know and see there are other Black women experiencing these losses and talking about them. Her board members are all women she met in the first days of attending the grief support sessions and she regards them now as sisters.
“Some mothers find it helpful to talk. Others find catharsis through journaling or writing poetry. The important thing is to honor each woman’s journey and perspective of how they need to work through their fear and devastation after losing a child,” said Greene.
Today the care packages include the “Empty Cradle, Broken Heart” text, a pregnancy and birth loss awareness pin, a poetry book with space for journaling, candles, body butters and other items designed to encourage women to create healthy space for their grief.
“Every October, A Gentle Embrace: From Mama to Mama mails 30 free care packages to mothers whose lives have been impacted by pregnancy and infant loss. Our hope is to grow our fundraising efforts to support mothers year-round,” said Dubose.
Since 2019 A Gentle Embrace has supported 102 mothers with care packages.
For more information on this non-profit organization or to donate, follow A Gentle Embrace on Instagram @agentle.embrace.
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