By Joyell Nevins
Mission Valley nonprofit helps women through reproductive loss
You are not alone.
That’s what La Mesa resident Michaelene Fredenburg and the Mission Valley-based Life Perspectives want those who have suffered reproductive loss to know — whether miscarriage, abortion, stillbirth, the pain is real, and support exists. Life Perspectives comes alongside the women going through the grieving and healing process, and gives tools to the family and friends floundering beside them.
“The way those reproductive losses occur are different, but the way they experience it and how they deal is very similar,” Fredenburg said.
Fredenburg herself was 18 when she became pregnant unexpectedly. She was competing and teaching ballroom dance at the time. She and her boyfriend decided together that an abortion would be the best life decision. But what Fredenburg didn’t count on was the onslaught of negative emotions she felt afterward.
“I was confused and isolated. I blamed [my boyfriend], but I knew that was not fair,” she said. “I didn’t cope well. My own emotions and behavior started to alarm me.”
Fredenburg felt incredibly alone. But the pain became so intense, she knew that she had to reach out. And that’s where light began to creep in.
As Fredenburg started to heal, and learned that she wasn’t alone, she thought maybe there were other people who felt the same way. Fredenburg contacted a few organizations in the area and offered to share her story. Once she did, an amazing thing happened.
“When you share your story, people share their stories with you,” Fredenburg explained. “Then they started sharing their stories of loss through miscarriage, too.”
That was 25 years ago. Fredenburg began to realize that there was a great need for a safe space for those grieving reproductive loss: a community and a place to share their pain and their story, a place to bring hope and healing. According to the National Health Service, an estimated 1 in 6 pregnancies end in miscarriage. The Center for Disease and Control states that approximately for every 1,000 births, there are 186 abortions. That’s a lot of women affected.
Yet, there is still a “code of silence” surrounding these events, Fredenburg notes. Abortion has become a very politicized issue. Miscarriage often carries a certain amount of shame and guilt. When a friend of hers suffered a miscarriage, it struck Fredenburg that there were no sympathy cards in the greeting aisle for that kind of loss.
“It’s not that people are unfeeling or uncaring — we just don’t know what to do,” Fredenburg said.
So, Life Perspectives also gives tools for those surrounding the women.
“One of our truisms is it’s better to say something awkward, than to not say anything at all,” Fredenburg explained. “In saying something, you acknowledge them and what [they’re going through].”
In 2000, Life Perspectives zeroed in to solely focus on those affected by reproductive loss. In 2007, there was an internal organizational shift, and a focus on more digital tools. The websites “Miscarriage Hurts” and “Abortion Changes Me” were designed. Since 2008, more than 270,000 hurting men and women have visited those sites.
Just last year, the “Safe Place App” was launched — sparked by a conversation Fredenburg had with a random airplane passenger. He told Fredenburg of someone he knew who had experienced reproductive loss and said, “I know they’re hurting, but I don’t know what to do.” He mentioned how helpful it would be to have an app to reach those resources. Now, the Safe Place App offers a “Find Help Directory,” “Questions to Consider,” basic tips for how to be a safe place, and even a spot for journal entries.
Another resource Life Perspectives has developed based on outside requests are trainings. They go into hospitals, nonprofits and other related organizations and teach how to “engage men and women in the healing journey.” Yes, men too. Fredenburg notes that men are often ignored in these situations, but are still going through their own pain and suffering.
“Our policy is we emphasize men more than women in these trainings, since what we culturally do by default is the opposite,” Fredenburg said. “We have to overcome that.”
In the last 10 years, Life Perspectives has trained more than 1,600 pregnancy center staff, peer and professional counselors, church leaders, and nurses. They just got back from a trip to the Ukraine, where through a ‘six degrees of Kevin Bacon’ setup, were connected with a conference bringing together 80 mental health and reproductive professionals from across the country.
At these trainings, Life Perspectives will share stories of people who have gone through reproductive loss and practice dialoguing — what to say and what not to say. Despite the seriousness of the situations, the trainings are interspersed with places to laugh and have fun.
“They traffic in a lot of pain, so we focus on self-care with the trainers, too,” Fredenburg said. “We ask, ‘What will fill you up?’”
One of the trainings, “Reproductive Loss: Facilitating the Grieving Process,” meets the qualifications for three hours of continuing education credit by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. One of Life Perspectives’ next goals is to have even more of their training courses qualified for CEUs.
Fredenburg now has two adult sons and a husband of 23 years. Both of her sons are involved with Life Perspectives and passionately support the work her team does. Her husband Michael is a founding board member and volunteers for the office’s major technology needs.
“But most of all, he’s one of my biggest fans and the number one member of my support system,” Fredenburg declares.
How can you get involved?
Through lifeperspectives.com, you can link to the websites focusing on training, abortion and miscarriage. Donations are accepted on that site as well. The app is available in both Google Play and the iTunes App Store. Life Perspectives is also looking for volunteer and committee members to help prepare for their Side by Side 5K, their largest fundraiser of the year held annually in October. Visit the website or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.