“Why I do this work”
by Susan Jacobsen ATR-BC, LPC
You may wonder why I have chosen to do this work. Why I have chosen to wade into the trauma and grief of those who have lost a baby? I will tell you why. From as long as I can remember I wanted to be a mother. I spent all of my 20’s and most of my 30’s as a single professional Art Therapist and counselor. I taught parenting classes, I worked with other people’s kids. When I met Jim, my sweet, amazing husband and we married I was over the moon at having the things; love and marriage that I had wanted for so long. When I became pregnant with our first child I felt beyond blessed.
In one day in October, it all came crashing down. I developed HELP Syndrome, my son died, I was fighting for my life, and my strong, loving Dad was having open heart surgery. This was such a low point in my life. I was fortunate to be surrounded by friends and family and I appreciate all of them. I also knew that there was nothing anyone could really do to change the reality of any of it. It felt so inescapably sad and painful. Prior to this I was one of the most positive people I knew. One of my colleagues even called me “Mary Richards”. I simply couldn’t call up my inner Mary Richards at that time. I was fraught with worry; worried for my own health, worried about my dad, worried that more of my world would be taken away. I would panic when Jim was at work. What if my blood pressure spiked and I was alone? what if something happened to him on the way to or from work? What if I could never have a baby? I tried to cope in the ways that had worked in the past. Nothing really helped. It felt like I was going to always feel this way. I doubted myself. I doubted my own judgment. I doubted God’s love for me and mine for him. Going back to work seemed impossible given that being a therapist puts you into other people’s trauma and they deserve someone who has their own shit together.
It took time. It took surrender to what is. It took coming up with new ways to cope to bypass my own resistance and fear. It took being open to alternative treatments and permission to walk out of baptisms and making empowering decisions about my next birth. It took intentionally grieving for my son Henry and the two other babies that were miscarried too early to know their names. Clawing my way out of that place remains the hardest thing I have ever had to do. There are still anxious times related to parenting my son Jens, who is now 11 years old. Once you have lost a child and fought your way back from that you cannot bear the thought of ever going through it again.
So, when you ask why I do this work. The reason is, I have been there. I also have the professional skills to help others wade through this dark, murky time. Every parent who has lost a child deserves treatment from someone who gets it. You get to grieve and you get to parent in the ways that honor your process and honor your love for yourself and your child. You do not have to pretend that your baby’s life didn’t matter just because it was brief. You do not have to explain the unexplainable to anyone.
Doing this work does require that I continue to take care of myself. Going to yoga, massage, doing artwork, spending quiet time in the woods, and setting boundaries with others are not luxuries, they are radical self-care that I must do to continue to be who I need to be in the midst of this work. I can only pour from a full cup. Healthy grief and post traumatic growth are not only possible but necessary in this journey. If you are that person who has known the loss of a child, I see you, I am you, and we will navigate this grief together.