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Minneapolis nonprofit supports mothers after loss of parental rights

"They leave that final court proceeding without any support around their grief and loss."

MINNEAPOLIS — On a Tuesday morning at the Minneapolis office of the nonprofit Bellis, the coffee is brewing and cookies have just come out of the oven. 

It's an effort, executive director Jenny Eldredge says, to make the office feel more like a home. A comfortable atmosphere to help the women arriving for that day's support group talk about a subject that is anything but.

"It's all painful," said Nicole Peter to the group. Peter's parental rights to her two children have been terminated after a struggle with drug use and criminal charges.

"I was a meth addict, and actually addicted to a lot of different drugs," she said.

Peter says she has been sober for four years, but the pain of not parenting her biological children is still there.

"I think they have forgotten me. I think they've completely forgotten me," she said. 

Peter has found comfort in Bellis' support group for women who have had their parental rights terminated. The women share their stories and offer understanding that only they can. 

"They offer each other this acceptance that you can't get anywhere else," said Eldredge. 

Eldredge says the group is the first of its kind in the country, emblematic of the few resources offered to birth mothers after their rights are terminated. While efforts are made and resources given to keep children with their birth parents prior to a legal termination, once that comes, Eldredge says birth mothers are often on their own. 

"They leave that final court proceeding without any support around their grief and loss," she said. "I think their grief is uniquely stigmatized."

As of October 1, 361 women in Minnesota have had their parental rights terminated, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Services. 

The official termination follows what is often a long legal process to determine whether a person can safely parent their child. 

"It's really hard to talk about. It's very shameful," Peter said. "I am a completely different person now and I feel like the women here know that."

Bellis' support group meets in-person on Tuesday mornings and virtually on Tuesday evenings. For more information, visit their website here.

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