Honoring Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month
Pregnancy and Infant loss.
First, do no harm. Not an actual quote from the Hippocratic Oath, a modern version of which is typically sworn to by most physicians, but an easily identifiable maxim in our culture.
I think that’s a really good place to start when we’re talking about October and presidential designation as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Let’s go with the basic premise of kindness before anything else.
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month
October 15 is designated as the specific day of remembrance. This day, this month, has special meaning to the #OneInFour women who experience a miscarriage at some point in their lives. That number grows exponentially when all the partners of these women or those who’ve had miscarriages that aren’t reported are added.
Many who experience miscarriages or infant loss do not get emotional support around these devastating losses- people don’t know what to say or even more, don’t know what NOT to say. Infant loss, despite the brevity of a baby’s life, is reported to be among the most painful losses ever experienced by a human being.
Thirty years ago, the president of the United States, Ronald Reagan, proclaimed this month to honor these heartbreaking losses and while the numbers of miscarriages and infant losses have changed, the challenges about grieving have not.
We Still Don’t Know What to Say or Do
Having trained as a Grief Recovery Specialist several years ago, I know our well-meaning friends and family try to offer comfort when a loss is experienced. The love is there. The compassion is there. All good intentions are there.
The understanding of what is needed is not there. In fact, we are woefully ill-prepared and undereducated as to what is truly helpful in the middle of heartbreak. We turn towards cognitive, brain-based sentiments and messages that leave the broken-hearted among us feeling more isolated and alone at a time that they need more from us. Not less.
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RMA of Connecticut Honors Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Day
We do this because we know first-hand that not every pregnancy comes easily. We know that not every pregnancy progresses as we hope that it will. We know that every pregnancy loss is heartbreaking and needing medical treatment to become pregnant adds yet another layer of desperation and chaos. We know that a loss at any point, including a fertility treatment cycle like an IUI or IVF not succeeding, is heart breaking.
Four Things to Understand about Pregnancy Loss
A few things to understand about loss. A person who experiences a loss often has physical manifestations of the emotional grief.
- A person who is grieving because of a loss is often exhausted.
- Often, they have a much shorter attention span and they may even seem confused and/or less able to focus.
- With a pregnancy loss, there is a hormonal shift that exacerbates feelings and often procedures that are invasive and painful. Physical recuperation from these medical procedures can take much longer because of the loss and grief.
- If the loss is of a child, there are reminders everywhere. Some people want the baby’s things put away immediately. Some want them left where they are. Don’t presume that you know better than the grieving parents. Listen to them respectfully about what they need, even if it’s counterintuitive to what you think. Remember, they know best for themselves because they are ones experiencing their loss.
Four Things Not to Say to Someone Who Has Experienced Pregnancy or Infant Loss
None of us want to add to another person’s pain! Here are a few examples of what to avoid saying when a person has experienced a pregnancy or infant loss:
- “They are in a better place.” Please resist urging your beliefs on someone who is in pain. While that may be what you believe, how does that help a person whose heart is broken? Does that mean they shouldn’t feel sad or bad?
- “You will go on and have another pregnancy/baby,” or, “Appreciate the ones that you do have.” Each loss is individual and specific. One baby or pregnancy does not replace another one. Our hearts grieve for this pregnancy, this loss, and the future we were longing for with them.
- “God has a plan for you.” Again, this may be your belief. In the midst of heartbreak, this kind of comment can make a person in pain angry at God, which is certainly not a healthy goal. A loss of a much-wanted pregnancy or beloved baby does not have to make sense - don’t feel like you must make sense out of it.
- “I know how you feel.” Even if you have experienced a loss that is similar, you are not the person grieving. Each of us comes with our own life history, beliefs and experiences. Talk about your own loss, briefly, at an appropriate time - that can certainly be helpful as it may encourage the griever to talk about their own loss.
Three Sentiments to Say to Someone Who is Grieving
Tread lightly here and remember that ignoring a loss isn’t the answer. Yes, it’s really uncomfortable to witness someone else’s pain! Don’t know what to say? Here are a few things that you can say that are appropriate:
- “I’m sorry for your loss.” Simple. Appropriate. Empathetic.
- “Would you like to tell me about what happened?” Offering the person a chance to talk, to cry, to retell what has happened is often very comforting in that the person who is grieving can express their feelings instead of holding them in. Keep in mind that a funeral is typically not the place to do this. Choose a place and a time where the person can cry without being distracted. If they do want to talk, look at them while they are speaking. Listen. Put away everything else. Be there for them.
- Offer something specific. Saying that you are available for help is kind. Telling the person that you can bring dinner, drive to a doctor’s appointment with them, take their dog out for a walk is more concrete and more easily accepted than a more general offer. A well-known quote by Ella Wheeler Wilcox from her best-known work Poems of Passion, specifically "Solitude,” which contains the lines...
Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone.
Our message is radically different. We will laugh with you. We will weep with you.
You are not alone. Even when that is how you feel. We are here with you.
We honor your losses and remember them with you.
The History of Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day
Robyn Bear and Lisa Brown, Founder and Co-Founder of www.october15th.com, vigorously support the awareness of these important losses. On their website, they share the history of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.
Robyn Bear, founder of www.pain-heartache-hope.com envisioned a day when all grieving parents could come together and be surrounded by love and support from their friends and families, a day where the community could better understand their pain and learn how to reach out to those grieving. This would be a day to reflect on the loss yet embrace the love. While our babies’ lives where so brief, they were also very meaningful. Yet, there was not a time to talk about them. Our society seemed to forget or perhaps, simply didn't know how to reach out. Since October had been proclaimed "Awareness Month,” she chose a day, in the middle of the month to become, "Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.” On September 28, 2006, House Resolution #222 was passed in the House of Representatives supporting the goals and ideals of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.
I encourage you to listen to this remarkable video that shows the House of Representatives discussing House Resolution #222. The commitment to and understanding of infant and pregnancy losses is a testament to our heart break.
This month let’s make a change in how we talk to each other about losses that hurt so deeply.
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About Lisa Rosenthal
Lisa has over thirty years of experience in the fertility field. After her personal infertility journey, she felt dissatisfied with the lack of comprehensive services available to support her. She was determined to help others undergoing fertility treatment. Lisa has been with RMACT for eleven years and serves as Patient Advocate and the Strategic Content Lead.
Lisa is the teacher and founder of Fertile Yoga, a program designed to support men and women on their quest for their families through gentle movement and meditation.
Lisa’s true passion is supporting patients getting into treatment, being able to stay in treatment and staying whole and complete throughout the process. Lisa is also a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist, which is helpful in her work with fertility patients.
Her experience also includes working with RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association and The American Fertility Association (now Path2Parenthood), where she was Educational Coordinator, Conference Director and Assistant Executive Director.