By Marie McAden
As much as she loves the holiday season, Tonya Doctor isn’t looking forward to all the usual festivities this year.
She dreads the big family gatherings, seeing Santa at the mall and hearing her friends talk about the toys they are buying their children for Christmas.
Six months after she lost her only child, Doctor is still struggling with her grief. This time of year is especially difficult with so much of the holidays focused on children.
“I don’t do well being around kids,” the Yemassee resident said.
To help her cope with the loss of her son, Doctor has been attending Beaufort Memorial’s Parents’ Bereavement Support Group held the first Tuesday of every month.
“When you’re grieving, you feel like you’re all alone,” she said. “I come from a large family, but no one understands what I’m feeling. Losing a child is a whole different kind of grief. Talking to people who have gone through the same thing has helped.”
Beaufort Memorial started the Parents’ Bereavement Support Group earlier this year at the urging of hospital chaplain Ed Morgan and labor and delivery nurse Tiffany Heath.
“It’s heartbreaking to watch parents lose a baby and not be able to do anything but cry with them,” Heath said. “Now we can offer them a resource for support after they leave the hospital.”
For Doctor, it was a lifeline during one of the darkest times of her life.
Manager of two Beaufort County Department of Disabilities and Special Needs homes, Doctor had always wanted children, but had trouble getting pregnant. At age 41, she finally conceived.
But months into the pregnancy, she developed an infection in her uterus, causing her to go into premature labor at 23 weeks.
“I didn’t even know I was in labor,” she recalled. “I was just having some spotting.”
Her physician sent her to the Medical University of South Carolina where she had an emergency C-section. Zahir was born May 28, 2016, weighing just 1 pound, 6 ounces.
“He was so tiny, he could literally fit in the palms of my hands,” Doctor said. “They didn’t think he was going to live.”
With his lungs too immature to function on their own, he had to be put on a ventilator. At five months, a tracheostomy tube was inserted in his windpipe to keep him alive. He also needed a gastrostomy tube to feed him.
But her “Fat Man,” as she affectionately called him, continued to improve and gain weight. When he was 10 pounds, Doctor finally got to take him home – nearly nine months after he was born.
“I took time off of work to stay with him,” Doctor said. “I played with him, took him to church and took pictures and videos of him. We had fun.”
But on Mother’s Day weekend, Zahir took a turn for the worse. He died a week later.
“I was heartbroken,” Doctor said. “We were planning his birthday party. Instead, I had to plan his funeral.”
Before she left the hospital, a nurse gave her a card with information about the Beaufort Memorial Parents’ Bereavement Group.
Overcome with grief, she began attending the meetings.
“It doesn’t matter at what age or how you lose a child, it’s a tragedy that is hard to overcome,” said Morgan, who lost his own premature son. “The support group allows parents to share their experience and grieve with others who have been through it.”
Talking about Zahir and learning how others cope with their grief has helped Doctor accept her loss.
“They told me it’s OK to cry if I go into a store and see a baby,” she said. “It’s comforting to know I’m going to make it through this.”
Beaufort Memorial Parents’ Bereavement Support Group
Meetings are held at 7 p.m. the first Tuesday of every month in classroom 350-C of Beaufort Medical Plaza, 989 Ribaut Road. For more information, call Heath at 843-522-5176 or 843-522-PRAY (7729).