Trigger: Mention o infant death.
A normal pregnancy comes with its ups and downs. From extreme exhaustion to morning sickness in the first trimester, to the first time you hear your baby’s heartbeat or feel your baby move, you always take the good with the bad. Unfortunately, not all women can revel in the bliss of being pregnant for the full term. Some never get to hear their baby's heartbeat; others never hear their baby cry because they'll carry their baby to term, only for it to be stillborn. It’s not fair and it’s not always explained. But it's a loss- and women need to know that they're not alone.
The excruciating heartbreak that follows a loss of pregnancy or infant is one that can barely be described. It's gut-wrenching; you wonder what you did wrong and question if you'll ever have a baby. Your heart has been broken into a million little pieces, yet you're supposed to carry on as if nothing happened. Some try to give you reassurance by saying things such as, “You’re young. You’ll get pregnant again. There must've been something wrong with the baby. You can try again soon.” But none of that fixes your broken heart.
Nearly 15 percent of women will experience a miscarriage in their lifetime. It’s not a topic that many women wish to discuss either. Up until recently, there was a lot of shame associated with miscarriage and infertility. That's why women may feel like they can’t openly discuss their losses. Like anything, as more awareness reaches to the uninformed, there will be fewer women who believe they need to hide their pain or are alone in their grief.
Women will feel a range of emotions after a miscarriage; from guilt to shame to anger and extreme sadness. All of these are completely normal feelings to have after such a loss. The lasting effects on their mental health can run into subsequent pregnancies and shadow what should be an exciting experience, casting waves of doubt and fear and anxiety onto the current pregnancy. 1 in 100 women have repeat miscarriages which will also begin to take its toll on the mother’s mental health.
Miscarriages aren't the only loss that you may experience during pregnancy. Maybe you manage to reach full term. But one day, during the final weeks of your pregnancy, you realize it’s been a while since you've felt your baby move. You chalk it up to the busyness and preparation of your baby's arrival. When you put your feet up at the end of the day, you wait for your baby to start moving away. You wait to see their foot move across your round belly- but yet you feel nothing.
You feel terrified when you rush to the doctor. You explain your concerns and pray that the baby's just feeling cramped in your oversized belly. But when the ultrasound tech leaves to talk to the doctor, you immediately know something is wrong. Yet you never imagine what you will endure next.
Your doctor then explains that your baby has passed, and you'll have to be induced now. There's no known cause and no answers given as to why this happens. Sometimes it’s because there's an issue with the placenta, or the cord wrapped itself around the baby’s neck to restrict blood flow. Sometimes it’s an undiagnosed infection or even an undetected chromosomal defect. There's no one cause, and it can affect any mother.
Imagine going through an entire pregnancy- feeling full of anticipation to meet your little one. But in the final days of your pregnancy, your baby unexpectedly dies in your womb. You must deliver your baby while knowing you'll never hear them cry or look you in the eyes. It's a devastating experience for anyone- and its aftereffects can last far beyond grief. You're also at a greater risk for postpartum depression. You want to have another baby, but you’re terrified that it could happen again. A stillborn affects one in 100 pregnancies in the United States and is defined as the death of an unborn baby after 20 weeks of gestation.
Another devastating, unpredictable loss that a mother may experience is the loss of their baby within the first 12 months of life due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). An otherwise perfectly healthy baby can go to sleep, only to never wake up again. For many, there's no explanation or way to predict why it happens. Yet it's the leading cause of death in infants from one month to 12 months of age. Accidental suffocation may be a culprit; but more often than not, a grieving mother isn’t given any concrete answers to why this happened.
I'm one of the lucky ones who've never experienced a loss like this. Having said that, I know many people who have. In my group of friends, I have some who've had a miscarriage (some have had multiple, too). I know others who had to make the decision to deliver a baby that would never survive outside the womb or terminate a pregnancy because of genetic defects. I follow a woman on social media who one day posting about building her dream home and then described another day that she lost her 18-month-old son. There was no explanation or cause of death- it was merely attributed to unfortunate circumstances.
I feel for these women and their families and can only imagine their grief. But I can’t say that I know the feeling- and I hope I never will. But 15 percent of women do know. They don’t want to hear that they can try again or that it’s “God’s will.” They want to hear your sympathy. They want to grieve for their baby, and not have to hide their suffering. You can help by telling them you're there for whatever they need. Bring them a home-cooked meal, let them cry on your shoulder, and/or support them the best you can. Also, leave any cliché attempts of condolence at the door.
In 1988, then-President Ronald Reagan declared October as National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. The hope was to spread awareness regarding pregnancy and infant loss. A campaign was launched nearly two decades later to make October 15th National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. On this day, candlelight vigils and remembrance ceremonies occur all across the United States and Canada, as well as many other countries across the world. Many of those who've been touched by miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDS and infant loss come together to remember the lives that have been lost, promote greater awareness of these losses, and bring support to those who have experienced such a loss.
If you or a loved one have experienced the devastating loss of their child, please join the movement to remember those losses. Stand among your fellow warriors and share your grief. On October 15th of this year, light a candle at 7PM in your respective time zone to create a wave of light around the world in memory of babies who died during pregnancy and in infancy.