“The women who come to our center usually arrive emotionally shattered,” says Rivka Benedict, administrative coordinator of a new recovery and wellness center in Jerusalem for women after a stillbirth or newborn death.
“One woman who stayed with us had suffered four stillbirths, carrying immense pain and trauma from her previous pregnancies,” Benedict tells ISRAEL21c.
“During her stay at the center, she confronted her loss through counseling and support and realized she wasn’t alone. She met other women in similar situations and understood she had a place to open up and cope. When she returned home to her four children, she noted that she felt a hole in her heart had been filled.”
Launched in July, the unique center is a project of Yad Sarah, Israel’s largest nongovernmental social and healthcare service provider with 123 branches serving 1,250,000 Israelis annually.
Most Israelis know Yad Sarah as the place to go for free loans of medical equipment, but its volunteers also drive wheelchair-accessible vans, reach out to the homebound, advocate for the elderly at risk for abuse, provide in-home geriatric dental care, and more.
“Yad Sarah’s vision is to allow every individual to receive the comprehensive care needed to recover and return to a healthy routine with their family,” said CEO Moshe Cohen.
“As an organization that touches nearly every family in Israel, we are attuned to changing needs and adapt ourselves with tailored creative solutions.”
October 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day in North America.
Hotel within a hotel
The recuperation and wellness center is located inside Yad Sarah’s 18-floor Yermiyahu 33 Hotel, Israel’s first fully accessible luxury hotel. Its amenities include special accommodations for convalescents after hospital discharge.
The center for women who’ve experienced stillbirth comprises a dedicated wing of a hotel floor comprising 10 suites, with the possibility of expansion. It includes private dining and activities areas but guests may also use the hotel’s fitness room, hydrotherapy pool and Turkish hammam.
This mini-hotel is run in partnership with Nitzotzot Inbar, an organization that trains hospital staff about pregnancy loss and distributes supportive kits to parents who have experienced this trauma.
Cohen said the two organizations recognized the need to provide a response for the hundreds of women needing post-trauma care and a supportive environment after losing a baby.
The woman’s husband or companion is welcome to stay as well, although for now the emotional support part of the package is geared exclusively to the postpartum women. Benedict says she hopes to add support sessions for men in the future.
So far, 45 women or couples have stayed there, each for about three nights at a significantly subsidized price.
Seven more were due to arrive after the Sukkot holiday, but the center has temporarily been closed until the security situation in Israel is stabilized.
A lot of mourning involved
The project’s medical adviser is Dr. Chana Katan, an award-winning gynecologist, teacher and author.
Both Katan and her grown daughter experienced stillbirths, so it’s an issue close to her heart.
“Women who go through stillbirth go through the whole birth process with all the physical symptoms of women who have a live baby, and there’s a lot of mourning involved afterward,” says Katan.
“There wasn’t much recognition of the fact that they need more emotional support, and the hospital is not the place for that. These women must get the medical care they need in the hospital, and then the emotional support has to be provided on an outpatient basis,” she tells ISRAEL21c.
Israel is one of few countries with a network of maternity hotels for women physically recovering from childbirth. But this is its first emotional recuperation hotel for women after stillbirth, and it may be unique in the world.
Under Katan’s guidelines, the Yad Sarah hotel accepts women who are physically healed, usually at least a month after the birth. At this point they can begin accepting and dealing with the reality of their loss, she says.
“Sometimes women who go through this have had high-risk pregnancies and they are not healthy. They’re not candidates for us immediately, but they can come later. One woman told us she’d had a stillbirth 25 years ago and she wants to come. She said, ‘Why weren’t you here before?’
“The basic thing is the emotional part, the support of women who have gone through the same thing so that they feel they are not alone and can take the time to mourn,” says Katan.
The staff includes a social worker with experience in counseling women after stillbirths and emotional rehabilitation.
“The women are embraced with understanding and attentive listening, followed by supportive conversations,” says Benedict.
“Women have described that when they came here, they felt that there was finally someone who understood them and what they were going through. Obviously, they don’t recover from the devastating loss, but they certainly receive tools to strengthen themselves and deal with the void.”
Cohen tells ISRAEL21c that while the hotel is designed to meet the needs of ultra-Orthodox Israelis, “this service, like all of Yad Sarah’s services, is intended for everyone, regardless of their religion, race, ethnicity or nationality. We never ask anyone about their religious affiliation or their financial status.”
He added that Yad Sarah “has received initial support to embark on this project and is now seeking additional partners from around the world to participate and enable this lifesaving endeavor for these women and their families.”
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