Australian immigrant shines a light for bereaved parents of stillborn

After grappling with grief alone, Elysa Rapoport hopes to provide services she lacked after stillbirth.

Couple grieves.  (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Couple grieves.
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
When Australian immigrant Elysa Rapoport gave birth to a stillborn baby last year, she and her partner found themselves grappling alone in a web of devastation, with little professional help to guide them through the darkness. Only 10 months later a spot became available in a support group operated by the Maccabi Health Services, in Rishon Lezion, which Rapoport traveled to from Tel Aviv.
“The experience was very beneficial for me to meet other women who had been through similar experiences, and to have the moderation and input of trained and experienced professionals,” Rapoport told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. “But it was way overdue. I don’t want other women who feel they need support to have to wait 10 months to find it.”
Rapoport felt a lack of an Israeli umbrella organization for families in her position, similar to that found in her native Australia and other Western countries. Last month, one year after delivering a stillborn baby girl at 30 weeks, she decided to draw from her own experience and help others who suffer a loss of this kind in the future. “Today, in memory of our daughter that we never got to take home and bring up, my family is starting a campaign to raise money to establish a national support organization in Israel,” Rapoport wrote in a social media post with the launch of her campaign, which she hopes will ensure that “in the future, women and families in Israel who experience this terrible loss have access to the support they may need.”
Five out of 1,000 births in Israel are stillbirths but the subject is still taboo. Dr. Danny Horesh of Bar-Ilan University’s psychology department recently published research which found a “heavy burden” of post-traumatic stress and major depressive disorder in women who have suffered late pregnancy loss.
Rapoport’s family has begun fundraising to establish a nonprofit organization which will provide counseling services, information and support groups to hundreds of families affected every year by infant death-before, during or soon after birth. The idea is that the NGO will serve as a central turning point for those in need of support during and after these traumatic experiences. The organization plans to offer a 24-hour telephone support service. Additionally, it aims to link between all the current services that do exist, and refer women to the services they require, such as individual or group counseling. If a professionally moderated group operated by current service providers is not available at any given time, then the organization would open and run a group itself. The organization intends to utilize the vast experience and knowledge of trained professionals from overseas who have been running such organizations for many years and will conduct training for Israeli mental health professionals.
As an immigrant herself, Rapoport is sensitive to language barriers and the obstacles they can create, particularly in times of trauma and great stress, and because of this her organization will provide information in Hebrew, Arabic, Russian and English, The cause has so far garnered some $15,000 via both direct donation as well as through fundraising page titled “Starting Stillbirth Israel” on the Chuffed crowdfunding platform. The fundraising target is $100,000, the necessary amount to run the organization in its first year. Since launching the campaign, Rapoport has been approached by many women who have been through a stillbirth or whose babies have died soon after birth. “All the feedback is that women feel lost during and after this deep loss. They don’t know what services exist, how to access them, and they are desperately seeking group support services. This has only reinforced to me the need for a well branded and promoted national organization that can guide and support parents, both the men and women, through this dark period,” she said.
“Pregnancy loss and stillbirth are so much more common than we realize, because it is a taboo subject that people prefer not to talk about,” she noted. “This is understandable because it is very sad and confronting, and it is easier to remain innocent and think that every pregnancy results in the birth of a live, healthy baby. And in the majority of cases it does, but for those that don’t, it is a very isolating and lonely experience, and appropriate support is so vital,” Rapoport concluded.
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