If you or someone you care about has lost a child to stillbirth, miscarriage, SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), or any other cause during pregnancy or infancy, please join us in raising awareness for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Every October, we honor, celebrate, and remember the lives lost too soon. The babies we carried but couldn’t hold. The babies we had but couldn’t carry home. The babies who were carried home, but couldn’t stay. Tens of thousands of mothers and families in the United States are devastated by the loss of their babies yearly, but the grief of these families is rarely recognized. In 1988, US President Ronald Reagan declared October as Pregnancy and Infant Awareness Month, a month to acknowledge the grief of bereaved parents to support mothers and families. Approximately one in four pregnancies ends in grief — but it’s rarely talked about. Women are encouraged to wait until after the first trimester to share news of pregnancy because it’s when most miscarriages occur. This alone contributes to the stigma surrounding miscarriage and leads to poorer support experiences. As a result, we don’t have a shared cultural framework for how to support one another through pregnancy loss. Pregnancy loss is a devastating loss, no matter when it occurs.
The consequences and psychological impact of pregnancy loss are often overlooked. According to the National Institute for Health and Care Research, almost one in three women develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after early pregnancy loss. For some women, signs of PTSD, anxiety, and depression are still visible nine months later. A lack of meaningful support can also increase feelings of loss. Often, friends or family members aren’t sure how to care for those who are mourning. If someone is processing trauma-related loss, it deserves to be validated, no matter when the loss occurs. Promoting awareness of pregnancy and infant loss increases the likelihood that grieving families can receive understanding and support, and how loved ones can support grieving families suffering through pregnancy and infant loss-related traumas.
Here are some ways to support those struggling with pregnancy or infant-related loss:
- Understand How Feelings of Loss Work
When one loses a baby or child, their whole world is turned upside down and forever changed. They’re going to have many thoughts, feelings, and experiences surrounding grief. These experiences, thoughts, and reactions, may be different from anything your loved one has felt before. Along with the loss of their child, they may also experience the loss of their identity as a parent, the loss of the dreams they had for their child and the loss of a sense of safety or control in life. Grief is healthy and there is no right or wrong way to grieve. You may have heard of the “5 Stages of Grief”, and while the stages of emotions may play some role in some experiences, a parent’s journey through grief isn’t linear. And that’s okay. Grief can be very personal. Your loved ones may find themselves full of depression one day and full of anger the next. They may still be able to laugh and experience joy in some aspects. While feelings of sorrow and rage may subside over time, they never completely disappear. Grief is often described as standing in the ocean. When you first stand in the ocean, the waves are intense and knock you down. As time passes, the waves remain, but some grow smaller and one is more able to predict them and brace for impact. The grief of losing a child doesn’t necessarily get easier with time, but rather, one becomes stronger and more resilient. Grief never ends, it changes over time. Encourage your loved ones to be honest and share their emotions if they feel comfortable enough to. Grief takes many forms and is not the same for everyone. That said, some emotions bereaved parents commonly experience are guilt, depression, shock, numbness, disbelief, fear, jealousy, anxiety, and more. It is important to note that these feelings and thoughts may change over time.
2. Avoid Assumptions
Because grief isn’t linear, it is important to be mindful of where your friends or family are struggling with pregnancy or infant-related loss on a daily basis. It is important to avoid assumptions and be careful with your phrasing, and ask “How are you feeling today?”, versus “How are you feeling?”. Their feelings and emotions are going to change frequently, and just because they appeared to be doing well yesterday, doesn’t mean they are doing the same today. Ask exactly how you can provide support. Can you prepare and deliver a meal for them, clean, run errands, or take care of the children? Is there anything you can pick up for them? Parents may need different kinds of help at different times as they grieve. It is important not to assume, and to check in frequently.
2. Choose Your Words Carefully
Losing a pregnancy can affect expecting women and their families in many ways, even if they struggle to express their feelings. As a friend or loved one, it’s important that you offer support. Unfortunately, some people choose to say nothing when they learn of a friend’s pregnancy loss, and it’s no surprise why. Miscarriage is more common than many people realize. It can be uncomfortable to talk about, but it’s time to destigmatize the conversation and support each other. A person who has experienced a miscarriage may need to tell their story repeatedly. Show you care by your attentiveness, gestures, and eye contact. Be prepared to talk about the baby. Hearing others say the baby’s name can help a grieving person heal. Know when to be silent, sometimes it is best to be silent. A grieving person may just want someone to listen.
Things you can say:
I’m sorry that you have lost your baby.
I’m here to listen.
This must be really challenging for you.
- Help Connect Them With Resources
Offer your friends or loved ones actionable help — if they’re ready for it. If you sense the person who had the loss could use some help, let that inform what you say to them. Offering support to help do the research for them may be helpful.
Resources for Families:
The MISS Foundation www.missfoundation.org Provides support and resources to families after the death of a child from any cause. Also participates in legislative and advocacy issues, community engagement and volunteerism, and culturally competent, multidisciplinary, education opportunities. Provides online support groups, listings of local in-person support opportunities, and a regular newsletter for parents. The Foundation is committed to providing long-term support to families after a child’s death.
Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support www.nationalshare.org Provides support and information for families who have experienced the death of a baby through early pregnancy loss, stillbirth, or in the first few months of life.
AMEND: Aiding Mothers and Fathers Experiencing Neonatal Death www.amendgroup.com Offers a free counseling service to parents who have experienced the loss of an infant through miscarriage, stillbirth, or neonatal death. The main purpose of AMEND is to offer support and encouragement to parents having a normal grief reaction to the loss of their baby.
- Continue to Check In
Grieving doesn’t stop after a year, it can be a lifelong struggle. Many parents feel supported right after a loss, but the support disappears over time. It’s necessary to keep checking in on your friends and loved ones by asking how they are, and if they’d like to talk. Helping them maintain a connection can help them heal. When milestones such as birthdays or holidays come around, plan to do something special to honor their baby.
For those struggling with pregnancy or infant loss…
Be gentle and kind to yourself.
Grief can be isolating and make it difficult to perform daily tasks such as thinking, sleeping, or even eating. One day you may feel a variety of emotions, and the next you may feel numb.
You may feel guilty, but try not to blame yourself. We don’t know why this happens sometimes, it just happens.
Take one day at a time.
You may feel guilty, but try not to blame yourself. We don’t know why this happens sometimes, it just happens. Reach out to your employer as soon as possible to request time off. Sleep, eat, and spend time with your loved ones.
Share your loss.
Talk with your friends and family about your loss. Join a support group for bereaved parents, or connect with someone that has been in your shoes. It helps to know that you’re not alone.
Consider making memories.
Find ways to memorialize the baby. It can be healing to hold a funeral or memorial service for your child.
A loss of a pregnancy, the loss of a baby, the loss of a dream is never easy. Being able to acknowledge your loss and pain and lean on others for support to help you make it through, one day at a time.
If you are having trouble performing daily activities, it’s wise to speak with a therapist. Call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (800-273-TALK) if you are having recurrent thoughts of harming yourself or no longer wanting to live.