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A space for grieving whānau

A new Wairarapa support group aims to foster connection and empathy through a shared journey of baby loss.

Registrations have opened for the region’s first baby loss support group, hosted by Masterton-based whānau support service Hōkai Tahi, beginning early next month.

The support group, held at Hōkai Tahi’s Hessey St premises, will follow a six-week programme tailored to parents’ needs, and cover a range of topics. These will include grief and identity, the physical and mental side effects of grieving, incorporating memories into daily life, expression through art, navigating relationships, and handling comments from others.

Hōkai Tahi service manager Rebecca Vergunst said the group was open to any parents grieving the loss of the baby – whether they had experienced a miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death [within the first 28 days of life], or loss of a child in infancy.

“We recognise that everyone’s journey is different, and welcome anyone who is grieving, no matter the reason their baby died, their age, or gestation,” Vergunst said.

“There is no right way to grieve – we invite you to come as you are into a space of empathy, acceptance, and aroha.”

Baby loss, while less common than in previous generations, affects hundreds of New Zealand families each year. The most recent data from the Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committee recorded 310 stillbirths and 153 neonatal deaths in 2020. It is estimated that between 13,000 and 15,000 New Zealand women experience miscarriage every year.

Vergunst said there were several baby loss support groups, in a range of formats, around New Zealand, but this is the first of its kind in Wairarapa. Hōkai Tahi took “inspiration and advice” from other groups and experts, including perinatal and infant loss educator Vicki Culling, in setting up its support group.

The group will be facilitated by Hōkai Tahi support coordinators Debbie Aporo and Lorraine Goulton. Aporo is a registered counsellor, currently working in the health and addictions space at Pathways Wairarapa, and Goulton is in her third year of a Bachelor of Counselling.

Both women aim to provide an inclusive and safe space for parents to share the lives of the babies “that did not get to see the world”.

Vergunst said each cohort will be capped at 10 participants to allow time for discussion and sharing. She added that the Hōkai Tahi space is fully accessible and offers breakout areas for participants needing time away from the group.

Hōkai Tahi plans to run the group several times a year.

Registrations for the baby loss support group are open until March 29. The first session will be held on Monday, April 8, from 7pm-9pm.

For more information, and to register, visit www.hokaitahi.nz/supportgroup

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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