Brittani Dubose cradling her newborn son, Edward James Dubose, shortly after his birth at 22 weeks and three days. (Courtesy photo)

By Mylika Scatliffe,
Special to the AFRO

On Oct. 18, 2017, Brittani Dubose of Baltimore gave birth to Edward James Dubose. There was just one challenge– she was only 22 weeks and three days pregnant. 

She and her husband already had the nickname “Jamie” on hand for the newborn, but he lived for only 10 minutes, taking his last breaths in his father’s arms. 

The grief was unbearable. The couple struggled to deal with the unimaginable loss. 

But then Dubose found a new purpose.

Now 33, she actively works to channel the grief of her profound loss into a legacy. On Dec. 3, 2021, she founded a non-profit organization called A Gentle Embrace: From Mama to Mama.  

Days after her baby died, Dubose described having a tearful,public meltdown at a Walmart  photo center when she discovered that most of the photos taken of her baby at the hospital with a disposable camera did not properly develop.  

“That’s when I realized how vulnerable I really was,” said Dubose. 

“It is hard to deal with pregnancy and childbirth to begin with. The hormonal fluctuations  during and after pregnancy can cause both physical and psychological changes and issues for  women,” said Dr. Deval Zaveri, director of the Women’s Mental Health Program at Sheppard  Pratt Hospital in Towson, Md.  

“Some women suffer more emotionally than others. The risk of psychological problems is  increased with pregnancy and birth losses, including miscarriage and stillbirth,” Zaveri said.  

Dubose discovered countless online communities in support of women who’ve had live births,  but not as many for women who’ve experienced pregnancy and birth loss. Not long after losing  her son, Dubose reached out to her doctor because she had so many questions about the birth  and why her son died. When she was discharged from the hospital, she wasn’t provided much  explanation about what she experienced or what to expect in the aftermath of her child dying. 

“I read online about women whose milk came in days after losing their babies and thought to  myself ‘my milk better not come in,’ and what happened? My milk came in. I didn’t know what 

to do. I was still in the grip of the nesting instinct, wanting to buy things for the baby and get  our home ready for the baby, but I had no baby to get ready for. Nobody told me I would feel  this way!” Dubose said. 

Dubose called the hospital and was given some helpful tips to dry up her milk, including  applying cabbage leaves to and avoiding hot water on her breasts. Her doctor also implored  her to remember that none of what happened was her fault. 

“While the information was helpful, I felt like I should’ve been told before I left the hospital. I  don’t want any other mother to feel that way, like she is flailing, looking for answers with  nowhere to turn in the midst of her grief,” said Dubose. 

Dubose turned her pain into the service of others via the care packages she ships around the country to mothers who have recently experienced birth or infant loss. (Courtesy photo)

Dubose’s sorrow eventually sparked a fervent desire to see women in similar circumstances  supported. A Gentle Embrace: From Mama to Mama provides care packages to mothers who have experienced  pregnancy or infant loss. The packages are curated to encourage mothers to practice self-care and allow themselves to grieve in a healthy way. 

Before the beginning phase of her non-profit work, Dubose described fighting her grief so badly that  she woke up one day feeling hungover but had not consumed one drop of alcohol. She went to  an urgent care facility where she received a battery of tests. The results revealed that nothing was  physically amiss. 

When the doctor asked what was going on in her life and Dubose told him her baby recently  passed away, his  reply was simple: “It’s your grief.” 

Angela  Greene, a licensed clinical professional counselor with Heart and Mind Counseling Service  based in Westminster, Md., spoke with the AFRO about birth loss in Baltimore.

“The national average of birth loss in the United States is 6.4 per 1000 births. In Baltimore city it  is 8.8 per 1000, and among Black women the number increases to 10.6 per 1000,” she said.

When counseling those mourning pregnancy or infant loss, Greene tries to honor each  bereaved woman by moving away from the traditional terminology surrounding the grieving  process. “We’re used to thinking of the different stages of grief, but when a woman loses a  baby it is what we call complex grief. Complex grief encompasses every area of her life – the  emotional, physical, and mental. It waxes and wanes, and the amount of time a woman grieves  varies, depending on what her journey looks like,” said Greene.  

“This process is compounded for Black women because we’re seen as ‘strong’ and not having  time to grieve and feel our pain,” Greene explained further. 

“I was fighting my grief so much that I was making myself sick. Being Black and grieving is a  process all by itself, because we’re not given permission to grieve like everyone else,” said Dubose. “We’re  constantly told how strong we are and how we have too much to do, too much to take care of  to take time to properly grieve.”

Dubose attended a support group in the early days after her son’s death. 

“I cried and cried at  that first session, and for the first time I felt like I didn’t have to explain my tears or worry about  people around me not wanting me to feel my feelings because it made them uncomfortable,”  said Dubose.  

Dubose wanted other women, particularly Black women, to know and see that it’s OK to allow  themselves to grieve in a healthy way. 

“Grief is continuous. It doesn’t get easier; we just learn how to manage it. Grief is love; the love  for the person we’ve lost – be it a baby or anyone else- does not go away because they died,’  said Dubose. 

Her mission started small; Dubose read a book titled, “Empty Cradle, Broken Heart: Surviving the  Death of Your Baby” and it spoke to so much of what she was going through that she wanted to share it with others. She contacted the publisher to see if they could donate some books; they  were not able to donate but they shipped 20 books to her at half price. Dubose offered them to the women in her support group, secretly fearing they would not be receptive. 

Dubose need not have worried– they were all grateful beyond measure. “One of the women told me she felt ‘seen’ by the book,” said Dubose. 

While A Gentle Embrace: Mama to Mama is available to any mother, the nonprofit’s board members are all Black women. Dubose said this was done on purpose because she believes it is important for Black women to know and see there  are other Black women experiencing these losses and talking about them. Her board members are all women she met in the first days of attending the grief support sessions and she regards them now as sisters. 

“Some mothers find it helpful to talk. Others find catharsis through journaling or writing poetry.  The important thing is to honor each woman’s journey and perspective of how they need to  work through their fear and devastation after losing a child,” said Greene. 

Today the care packages include the “Empty Cradle, Broken Heart” text, a pregnancy and birth  loss awareness pin, a poetry book with space for journaling, candles, body butters and other items designed to encourage women to create healthy space for their grief. 

“Every October, A Gentle Embrace: From Mama to Mama mails 30 free care packages to  mothers whose lives have been impacted by pregnancy and infant loss. Our hope is to grow our  fundraising efforts to support mothers year-round,” said Dubose.  

Since 2019 A Gentle Embrace has supported 102 mothers with care packages.

For more information on this non-profit organization or to donate, follow A Gentle Embrace on Instagram @agentle.embrace.

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