Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance/Awareness Day. I don’t blog much, but this is a topic near and dear to my heart. As many of you know, Monica and I lost one child due to low amniotic fluid and lost two others as vanishing twins.
The statistics on pregnancy and infant loss are horrific:
- Each year in the US, 11,300 babies die on the day they were born.
- 1 in 160 babies in the US are stillborn.
- 10% to 20% of all pregnancies result in a miscarriage.
- The actual number of pregnancies resulting in a miscarriage is probably much higher than 20% because many miscarriages occur so early in pregnancy that the woman doesn’t even know she’s pregnant.
Pregnancy and infant loss affects so many but gets so little attention. People are afraid to talk about it. Maybe it’s taboo because people don’t know how to talk about it. When it happened, I didn’t know how to talk about it. I still struggle with the topic. I do know this: the more I talk about it the easier it is.
I’m no trained expert, but through my own experience I have some tips for interacting and supporting those going through pregnancy loss:
- Don’t get scientific or legal with terminology. The grieving parents just lost a baby. Not a fetus. A baby. Their baby.
- Don’t try to rationalize or explain. Telling a grieving parent “Something must have been wrong and this is for the best” or “God wanted another angel” doesn’t help. In fact it can make it worse.
- “At least” are probably the worst words you can use. “At least you didn’t know the baby,” “At least it wasn’t really a baby yet,” “At least you are young and can still have another one.” Nothing truly supportive can come after “at least.”
- Don’t directly mention the baby. Stick to things like “I’m sorry for your loss,” and see where the conversation goes.
- Actually, don’t mention any baby, pregnancy, or miscarriage. If you have a story, no matter how supportive or positive you think it may be, save it for another time. It won’t help right now. Trust me.
- The one exception is if you personally experienced pregnancy or infant loss. In that case, it may help as grieving parents are seeking people to connect to who can truly understand their pain. It better be personal experience though and not a story about your friend, sister, or somebody else. I might sound arrogant saying that, but while grieving it was true.
- Speaking about children may be OK, but it’s best to avoid the topic altogether if you aren’t sure.
- Listen, listen, and listen. Let the grieving parents speak and let them guide the conversation wherever they want it to go.
- Just because you are listening doesn’t mean you should be silent.
- Grieving parents cry. They may try to hold it back in public, but they do cry. It’s ok to cry with them. In fact it’s appreciated.
- Most people are sympathetic the first time they see the parents but never mention the loss again. Often they avoid it and pretend it didn’t happen. Grieving takes a long time and a simple “How are you holding up?” every once in a while goes a long way. It opens up the door for more conversation if the grieving parent so chooses, but it doesn’t invade their privacy or force them to talk if they don’t want to.
It’s like any other great pain: you never get over it; you can just hope to carry on. Some couples jump back on the wagon as having a child is the only way to lessen the pain. Others need to step back and can’t even think about trying for a long time, if ever. Either way, be supportive because they need it.
I’ve gotten to the point where I can freely talk about pregnancy loss. It was a hard long road and I couldn’t have done it without my best friend, Monica. We walked that road together.
Anyone needing a friend to talk to can always give me a call. It doesn’t matter if we see each other all the time or barely at all. I know the dark loneliness of it all and am certainly willing to extend an ear.