VIRGINIA BEACH — Four years ago, Old Dominion University alumna Michelle Juarez ’13 (M.S. Ed. ’15) was elated.
She would finally become an aunt. Her older sister, who had suffered two miscarriages, was pregnant with no apparent complications.
But Juarez’s nephew was born three months early. Twelve days later, he died.
“I went from planning a baby shower to planning a funeral,” Juarez said. And her sister “started isolating herself, and not just for a day or two or three or four. She felt like she had lost control of her life.”
Juarez now specializes in helping women like her sister.
At her Virginia Beach practice, Juarez primarily counsels women – as well as husbands and partners – who have experienced difficulties conceiving, have suffered miscarriages or whose babies have died.
“It’s a devastating loss,” said Juarez, 42. “But often other people don’t see the significance and don’t understand the emotional pain behind that loss.”
Juarez didn’t take a direct path to Old Dominion University – or to counseling. Her parents were in the Air Force, so she lived in more than a half-dozen locations – from Turkey to upstate New York – before college.
After graduating from high school in Virginia Beach, Juarez enrolled at Morgan State University in Baltimore. She left after she had her first daughter, returning to Hampton Roads and becoming a flight attendant. “I discovered new places, and I saw how listening could be very powerful and healing.”
But, Juarez said, “I got to the point where I wanted more.” She began taking classes at Tidewater Community College and transferred to ODU in 2011, still working as a flight attendant on weekends. Amazingly, she never missed a class because of a flight cancellation.
Juarez received her bachelor’s degree in Spanish and sociology. A volunteering experience at Seton Youth Shelters persuaded her to pursue a master’s in counseling.
At her practice, Reflections Counseling, Juarez sees women and men “with high levels of anxiety who are looking for coping skills. Often when they come in, they’re very broken. They’re in a black hole, and they can’t see the light.”
Grief, she said, “is not a linear process. They experience a lot of ups and downs. My goal is to give them the tools to manage the difficult feelings in a safe place.” Those tools include deep breathing and other relaxation techniques.
Juarez also counsels clients of Procreate Fertility Center of Virginia, as well as other medical facilities and doctors.
In February, she received a burst of good personal news: Her sister, at age 43, gave birth to a healthy boy. “She’s overly cautious because she knows how delicate life is,” Juarez said.
As for Juarez, “I can’t believe I am somebody’s aunt! I didn’t think it was going to happen.”