October 15th is a special day. It is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. In 1988 President Ronald Reagan signed into law that this day we would remember all those little ones lost. Lost to miscarriage, stillbirth, or who died in their first year of life. Lost to their parents who were ready for snuggles and sleepless nights, not heartache.
Pregnancy and infant loss are a common experience. It is estimated by the World Health Organization between 17 and 22% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. Annually approximately 22, 000 infants die in the U.S. before their first birthday, 5.8% of all infants. I can think of five families I am close to that have experienced this type of loss. You probably can, too. While this experience is common, acknowledging the pain of this loss is not.
Historically, talking about infant death and miscarriage has been a taboo subject, one mired in stigma, with shame and guilt common. People are expected to stay silent and “get over it and on with their lives” quickly when a pregnancy is lost, because it is so common or perceived to be unavoidable.
Grief is a difficult subject when the person was known, no less a child who was not born, or stillborn. But the parents and loved ones that were planning for this little one’s future, they grieve.
This I know in my heart. And I know how it hurts to have that pain ignored.
When Bill and I were married just over a year, I was thrilled to find out we were expecting. Dr. Goforth, our local physician, assured me all was well. A very positive thing is he convinced me to quit smoking by showing me a picture of the placenta of a mother who smoked, and one who did not, and asking me, “Which do you want your baby to live in?” I quit that day.
Unexpectedly, at the end of my fourth month, I miscarried. Dr. Goforth was kind, but offered no explanation. “It just happens sometimes,” he said. But I felt such guilt. I had to have done something wrong. No one in my family had had a miscarriage that I knew about. (I learned later several of my aunts had experienced one, but never talked about it.)
I tortured myself – I must have done too much exercise, or too little, or eaten wrong. I was mired down in this guilt and sadness. And the 25 pounds I’d added while I quit smoking didn’t help either.
Since I wasn’t “sick,” my employer required me to come back to work the very next day. I was ok physically. Emotionally I was a wreak, crying over everything and nothing. I felt little support, even from people I knew loved me. Most seemed to avoid me. Or said things that made me feel my grief was not worthwhile, like, “The baby is in a better place, with God”, or “You can always have another.” Those words didn’t help – they hurt. I remember well those few people that sent me cards or called and said they were so sorry. Or my sister, Betty, who was pregnant with twins, she just let me cry and cry while she held me.
My husband, Bill, was so sad, too. I felt like I’d let him down. I didn’t know how to help him feel better, either.
Bill figured out how to help me, though. He took me away. We went to Gatlinburg for a long weekend, camping in Missouri, to Florida for a week to Disney. Getting away from that little room we’d decorated in Mickey Mouse was good for me. Little by little, I felt myself returning. It took about a year.
Grief from losing an infant is different from other loss. But, what to say to those grieving is not – mostly, keep it simple. “I’m sorry for your loss” is always appropriate. Just do it. Call them, or send that card, or bring the family food. Show you care. Let us stop ignoring the grief from losing a little one.
Heartlinks Grief Center posted on their Facebook page a link to a wonderful resource, the Highmark Caring Place. Their butterfly garden is filled with remembrances of those that have lost an infant. Here’s the link so you can create a butterfly:
You would think 43 years, two wonderful children and six grandchildren later, this long-ago loss would not hurt. But I still wonder who that little one would have been and am teary as I write this. My butterfly looks like this:
If you know someone who has lost an infant reach out to them with support and comfort. Your kindness can make all the difference.