October has been designated as pregnancy and infant loss awareness month. In 1988 Ronald Reagan designated October as pregnancy and infant loss awareness month to acknowledge the lives of these babies and the grief that these families face which very often is not acknowledged and since there have been many initiatives.
On October 15th at 7:00 pm individuals from several countries around the world light a candle in remembrance of these lives that were lost so soon in an effort to create a wave of light across the globe.
It is no doubt that the loss of a baby through miscarriage, infant death or stillbirth is a traumatic experience for couples. These types of losses are often not fully understood by the couple as they are sudden and many times there is no clear cause. Often times these losses and the complicated feelings the couple have are misunderstood by people that they encounter in their lives as well. Most people can understand and empathize with losses of older children or adults because there is a person that you had a relationship with that you had to say goodbye to. This we are prepared for as our elders model this for us in society. Perinatal loss is less discussed and difficult to process.
When a couple loses a child through miscarriage, which is a lost pregnancy prior to 20 weeks in duration, stillbirth or infant loss the experience of grief is inevitable. Thankfully in more recent years these children are beginning to be acknowledged and ceremonies to honor their life are available for couples to have closure.
Studies show that couples that lose a child often experience anxiety, depression, PTSD, complicated grief and feelings of isolation. These symptoms can be minimized some in cases where there is understanding within the couple’s relationship, supportive family and friends, formal counseling or a support group. Time and time again the isolation that these individuals feel is the thing that comes up in conversation and in my own experience.
The trick to the isolation that comes with perinatal loss is that at times individuals choose to isolate and manage the emotional stress in a safer place and without needing to explain all of the feelings that they are struggling with. These feelings can feel so heavy and in many ways do not always have words. Child loss can bring people to the very core of their being. Sometimes taking a break from the public and seeing families with children running around just makes the pain worse. In these times I often advise clients, and even found myself, that knowing what you need in any given moment and giving yourself permission to do so creates a space for healing and allowing for rest physically, emotionally and even spiritually. I would call this self care, and self awareness.
Moments where the isolation is about being different or feeling misunderstood are the toughest moments. It all starts out as a typical loss, people say the same things that they say when a person loses their parent or friend. Empathy abounds. Then after a couple of weeks, everyone else has moved on and many times feel the need to question why the individuals have not. This is sadly typical in some other types of losses as well I am certain, however our topic is perinatal loss. Often this lack of understanding creates a type of isolation that is not productive to healing. One way to help is to educate people that do not have the experience so that they may choose to be more supportive.
So here is why We (collectively) haven’t “moved on”:
- We have been planning and practicing to grow up and parent since we were old enough to hold a baby doll (3 or 4 years old).
- When we heard the news that we were pregnant we saw a whole life before us that included future plans and it ended abruptly without warning. We had no plan for this.
- We have been trying for 5 years to become pregnant and we are getting older and worried that this was our last chance to be parents. (In cases of infertility)
- We love the baby that we have never met or met only for a short number of hours or days and it seems so unfair that we don’t know much about him (her).
- Our siblings and friends are all having babies together and we cannot share in the joy and the future play dates.
Of course there are many more reasons, but the main point is that if you, a friend or a loved one are feeling isolated after child loss due to miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss there are things that can help. Grief groups are a great start if you are finding little understanding or don’t feel comfortable talking to anyone in your immediate circle. If the group idea does not appeal to you, seek professional support from a counselor that has experience with grief and loss or infertility and child loss. There are people in the world that understand even via online support that can be found on the resolve.org website. There are also several others out there and I will have one here soon. Will keep you posted on that.
So, when you light your candle for your little one(s) lost too soon on Oct. 15th at 7pm, remember that you are not alone in this celebration of your angel(s). You are joining families across the globe. It is my sincere wish that you experience peace, hope and belonging.
~Penny Lupo, author