By Larissa Nickson, as told to Sophia Vega
After being diagnosed during her own pregnancy, alumna Larissa Nickson MSW'10 has become an advocate and coordinator for preeclampsia and the Preeclampisa Foundation's NJ Promise Walk. Nickson also serves this community by providing volunteer support and resources needed to manage the emotional hardships caused by preeclampsia and other traumatic pregnancies.
From the Preeclampsia Foundation's website: preeclampsia is a disorder that occurs only during pregnancy and the postpartum period and affects both the mother and the unborn baby. Affecting at least 5-8% of all pregnancies, the only known cure is delivery of the baby.
Below Larissa Nickson details her own experience with preeclampsia and her work as an advocate.
Q: How did you become involved with Preeclampsia Foundation and Promise Walk?
A: In 2014, I lost my daughter due to preeclampsia. It was my first pregnancy and I was completely unprepared for what happened to me. The only cure for preeclampsia is delivery of the baby and since my body was no longer responding to medications and I was having severe, life threatening complications, I had to deliver my daughter when I was only five months pregnant. Charlotte Nicole Nickson was born sleeping on September 7, 2014.
After losing my daughter, I experienced significant grief and PTSD symptoms. However, because of my experience as a therapist, I was well aware of what I was experiencing and the things that I needed to do to help myself cope through this significant life event. I immediately began researching about what had happened to me. I found comfort in learning what preeclampsia was, possible reasons it happened to me, that I didn’t do anything to cause it, and that I wasn’t alone. Many other women had lost their babies or had traumatic birth experiences because of preeclampsia.
Through my research, I found the Preeclampsia Foundation and shared my story on their blogs. They reached out to me and connected me with the coordinator of the NJ Promise Walk, at that time. She told me all about the walk and how I could become involved. I quickly signed on to volunteer and have been active with the NJ Promise Walk ever since.
Every year our team, Remembering Charlotte, secures several sponsorships and other donations totaling a few thousand dollars. In 2017, I agreed to become a co-coordinator for the walk. That year I was also the Mission Family and was able to share Charlotte’s story with the several hundred people in attendance. In 2019, I agreed to become the coordinator for the walk and have run the walk for the past two years with an amazing committee of other women who experienced preeclampsia.
Q: How do you think your social work education intersects with your advocacy work with the Preeclampsia Foundation?
A: I think my social work education has impacted my volunteer work and advocacy with the NJ Promise Walk, as well as helping with my own ability to heal from loss and trauma. If I didn’t have the tools I’ve learned in grad school and in the field, I’m not sure how I would have survived those first few weeks and months after losing my daughter. I feel I had an advantage compared to others because I knew what I needed to do to survive. That is one of the major reasons I wanted to become involved in the walk. I knew I could be an outlet and help recognize when others were struggling and further ensure that they received the resources they needed to find professional support. Due to my background and experience in social work, I’ve worked to incorporate aspects of emotional healing into our annual walks.
Lastly, social work is often about giving a voice to those who can’t or who aren’t able to speak for themselves. By sharing Charlotte’s story every year at the walk, inviting others to share their stories and experiences, or even just having people come to listen who aren’t quite ready to share; We are giving them the opportunity to have their experiences heard, to recognize they aren’t alone, and to learn about what they can do to help others. People often seek me out for support about preeclampsia, traumatic pregnancies or pregnancy losses because my family and friends know how active I am with the foundation, the walk and sharing Charlotte’s story. Although I will always miss my daughter, I appreciate the honor it is to share her story and help others along the way.
Q: When will the next NJ Promise Walk be held?
A: Our 2020 NJ Promise Walk for Preeclampsia was held virtually in June 2020. We are beginning to make preparations for the 2021 walk which we hope can occur in person and will likely take place in May 2021.
Information about the upcoming NJ Promise Walk for Preeclampsia and specifically how to participate, sign up to volunteer, and donate can be found here: https://secure.qgiv.com/event/950225/.