When Erica McAfee gave birth to a stillborn son and later suffered a miscarriage, she was looking for a community with whom to process her grief. Unable to find a community that looked and felt like her, she started her own: Sisters in Loss. This faith-based pregnancy loss grief coaching and doula service company helps women replace silence with storytelling around miscarriage, pregnancy loss, and infertility. We spoke with Erica about the amazing work she’s doing to shed light on pregnancy loss and help heal women in her community.
In 2012, you lost your son at birth—I’m so sorry for your loss. In this article, you talk about turning to the internet but not fully relating to the women sharing their stories because they didn’t look like you. Can you tell me more about this experience? What kind of stories were you finding, and why did they feel so different from what you were going through?
Yes, many women online sharing about their painful traumatic experiences of pregnancy loss and miscarriages were not African American. I could relate to them on the woman to woman level of experiencing loss, but I was unable to culturally relate to their experience. As a black woman I was raised to not share my most painful and intimate moments to anyone. This is a cultural experience that most African American families pass down from generation to generation where we don’t “put our business in the street.” We keep our deepest, darkest, painful secrets and memories amongst those in our household, and nothing is shared beyond those four walls. So, although I could relate to them sharing, I couldn’t understand why there weren’t more black women sharing like the women I admired. I realized many black women were not only suffering in silence from the loss, but also suffering from the cultural norm of “not telling your business.” I then began to share my experience to break that silence and wanted to give African American women a safe place to share their journeys to motherhood.
In 2014, you gave birth to Maxwell, your rainbow baby, after a difficult birth in which you both almost lost your lives. In just two years, you had so much experience with how fragile and fleeting life can be. How has this made you stronger as a mother, as a woman?
The experience of infant loss and becoming a maternal mortality near-miss has shaped the woman and mother I’ve become. As a woman it has not only made me stronger but has made me a giver. I was given a second chance at life. I do not take life for granted as I should not be here after being on life support, with over 8 blood transfusions, and having my family called in because they did not think I was going to make it. As a mother the experience of loss made me appreciate the blessing of having a child with special needs and a physical disability. Overall it made me realize how much my family, friends, and strangers prayed for me and continue to cover me in prayer.
I so admire your ability to turn your loss and pain into your life’s purpose. You became a pregnancy loss grief coach, as well as a birth & bereavement doula. What exactly do you do in each of these roles?
As a pregnancy loss grief coach I help women identify what triggers are causing them to feel stuck and alone in their grief. I also help women remove the fear and anxiety they may have during a pregnancy after loss, and help give them tools and resources to maximize memories and minimize regrets during their pregnancy. As a doula I support families as they are preparing to go through fertility treatments, during the pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. I also help and support families during the loss of their babies. I provide them tools and resources, and just am there to help guide them through memorializing and honoring their baby.
In 2017, you launched Sisters in Loss—a community to help black women heal after loss. Can you tell me more about your experience in building this community, and what’s next for Sisters in Loss?
Yes, I knew the statistics that Black Women experience pregnancy loss and maternal death 3-4 times more that white women. I wanted to create a safe space for us to heal, gain clarity, find hope and peace, and strengthen our faith and relationships. That is how the podcast was born and the subsequent community for us to connect, share our stories more intimately, and challenge each other to do the work to heal. The next chapter for Sisters in Loss is continuing to share stories on the Sisters in Loss podcast and in our community we will have more courses, conferences, and a Doula Training Certification Program. Our next live event is on Saturday, April, 13, 2019 in Washington, DC our Annual Sisters in Loss Brunch the tickets are on sale now at sistersinlossbrunch.com.
Recently, Michelle Obama described suffering a miscarriage, as well as her own struggles with infertility. Do you think the conversation around pregnancy loss is changing? How can we continue to make all women feel safe talking about this sadly very common experience?
Michelle Obama freed so many black women of the shame around miscarriage and infertility. She made many of us who struggled to get pregnant, stay pregnant, and bring a health baby home normal. If we are in the company of our Forever First Lady, then we are in good company. The conversation is changing and becoming more mainstream. We can no longer suffer in silence or stand behind the cultural norms in the black community of not telling your business. We can continue to make women feel safe by continuing to sharing stories. Our stories need to be told. If we stop sharing we do not give those who are struggling with grief and loss the chance to heal. Our stories have the ability and power to heal.
I know this is a loaded question, but what advice would you give a woman who is currently struggling with the loss of a pregnancy or death of a child? What resource(s) or advice do you wish you had back in 2012?
To the woman who is currently struggling with the loss of a pregnancy or death of a child, please know that you are not alone. The road you are traveling is your own, not anyone else’s journey. Grief knows no timeline. Take your time to heal and do not rush that process. If you feel like you need help, go to a therapist. If you feel like God let you down, tell him that. Do not let your feelings lay dormant in your heart. If you are unsure what to pray after your loss download my 7 day devotional of Healing Prayers. I wish I had the many resources that are available now, but mainly listening to stories of women who have experienced similar stories like mine. It is the reason I started the Sisters in Loss podcast and why I continue to share stories. Every story is different, but our common theme is sisterhood. We belong to a sorority we did not apply for, yet we are here to love on you, pray with you, and push you toward your healing. Join the Sisters in Loss community.