LVIV – Two veteran trainers from the San Diego-based organization Life Perspectives, Michaelene Fredenburg and Katie Geppert, traveled to Ukraine on March 15-21 to conduct Safe Place. This is an in-depth training program designed to help grief counselors and health-care professionals provide more effective support services for families struggling to recover from the loss of a child, whether through miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion or early infant death.
The program happened thanks to the efforts of the Lectureship of Women’s Studies at the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU), which is supported by the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America; Early Birds (Ranni Ptashky), an association of parents of prematurely born children; the UCU Institute of Marriage and Family Life; the UCU Center for the Development of Public Health at the Faculty of Health Sciences; and the Medical Chaplaincy of the Lviv Archeparchy of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church.
Throughout the seminars, psychologists, hospital chaplains, seminarians, and health-care and social work professionals became acquainted with the methods of this program to support families that have suffered personal loss. “Many families have suffered perinatal loss, but it’s not socially acceptable to discuss this problem. For many do not consider this such a great loss, so men and women feel alone and do not have anyone with whom to share their feelings,” explained Ms. Fredenburg, founder and president of Life Perspectives.
The trainers recounted that one in four pregnancies in the world end in miscarriage or abortion, and one in 10 children are born prematurely. Among them are babies that do not survive. In such instances, communication with and support of the parents is very necessary. Family and friends try to help, but often don’t know how to do this properly.
Safe Place had the goal of forming a team of trainers for issues of perinatal loss throughout Ukraine, who would be there for families suffering painful loss and help them on the road to healing. Approximately 100 specialists from Lviv, Kyiv, Kharkiv, Dnipro, Zaporizhia and Odesa took part in the program, as did health-care workers from Macedonia.
“I was taken by the fact that the majority of specialists who work with hurting parents themselves have experienced perinatal loss. They say: As a specialist, I have enough knowledge and skills to help others overcome suffering, but I don’t have the strength to cope with my own pain. It is sometimes difficult for them to help others in a qualitative way because of their own feelings, so events like this not only help them to develop professionally but to heal psychologically,” said Kseniya Vervega, director of the Lviv branch of Early Birds.
The foundation of the Safe Place program is support for men and women who experience losses due to miscarriage, still birth, abortion and the inability to conceive, as well as for parents of prematurely born babies, children with disabilities or incurable illnesses.
“When we speak about health, we use the definition of the WHO, according to which ‘health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’ So we got involved with this training in order to emphasize the importance of individual accompaniment of those who suffer perinatal loss. Each of us is unique and needs a particular approach in order to heal wounds.” Halyna Horodetska, head of projects and programs at the UCU Center for the Development of Public Health, shared her thoughts.
Key in supporting people who have experienced perinatal loss is the expression of sincere compassion, to recognize their sorrow, to listen with kindness, to accept the emotions that women and men experience as a consequence of the death of a child. Life Perspectives has developed a reference book for this which helps people understand their own feelings and start on the path to healing.
“It was a revelation to me that it is possible to talk about such a complicated problem in such simple and understandable language. And this language can give an opportunity to reveal and touch on various feelings that are sitting inside. Even more, this language can heal and give great support to a family that is on the path to healing,” noted Tetiana But, psychologist and doctor at Kyiv City Maternity Building No. 1. Life Perspectives has for 10 years provided psychological support to families who have experienced such losses. In addition, it conducts educational seminars and training sessions for social workers, psychologists and the medical community, which directly works with such families and can introduce new approaches to support families and introduce the Safe Place program in its institutions and structures.
Ms. Fredenburg and Ms. Geppert also conducted the Safe Place training seminar for the medical community of the Communal City Children’s Clinical Hospital of Lviv.
“Sometimes in our place of work we encounter parents at the most difficult moment of their lives, when they have suffered irreparable grief. They have lost their child, part of themselves. And so my colleagues and I came to this training session to gain experience from our American friends on how to accompany parents in their grief, how to help them find a safe place and how to travel the path to healing. I hope that we will continue our cooperation with Life Perspectives and be able in our hospital to form a team to support families that have suffered perinatal loss,” admitted Natalia Myshchyshyn, senior medical nurse at the department of anesthesiology and intensive therapy for newborns.
Another important part of the activities of Life Perspectives is cooperation with the Catholic Church in the U.S.A. and Catholic social organizations. Its program was enthusiastically received by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, Arizona, headed by Bishop Thomas Olmsted. In cooperation with the Medical Chaplaincy of the Lviv Archeparchy of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, a three-hour training session was conducted for medical chaplains of the Lviv Archeparchy.