October was set aside by President Reagan in 1988 to be Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month as a way to honor the unique grief parents feel and to show them support. He said,
“When a child loses his parent, they are called an orphan. When a spouse loses her or his partner, they are called a widow or widower. When parents lose their child, there isn’t a word to describe them. This month recognizes the loss so many parents experience across the United States and around the world. It is also meant to inform and provide resources for parents who have lost children due to miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, molar pregnancy, stillbirths, birth defects, SIDS, and other causes.
Now, Therefore, I, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim the month of October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. I call upon the people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.”
Here are the stories of people who have chosen to share their grief and loss, as well as their insight on what helped them while processing their grief. My hope is that in providing an outlet to share their stories, I can take a small part in the effort to destigmatize the sharing of pregnancy and infant loss, destigmatize the grieving process(es) and expressions of grief, and help those who have not experienced this loss learn how to support those in their life who have. I have never directly experienced this kind of loss in my life. However, I know many, many people who have. Your grief and any other feelings you have are legitimate, no matter how long ago or how recently your loss happened.
“When I was 18, I had a miscarriage. I hadn’t even known I was pregnant. I was able to go to the doctors and they told me I had been about 5 weeks along. I had this feeling that I had a girl. I just knew I had a daughter. And 3 years later, I still think about her everyday. I’m nowhere near healed, and my heart rips apart every time I think of her. But I am grateful for the time I had with her, even if I didn’t realize it.”
Hannah shared that the most comforting thing her family and friends did as she grieved was just hold her and listen to her. On the other hand, she shared that something she was told when she was grieving that she wishes had not been said was, “You shouldn’t have been having sex.”
To someone who may be experiencing a fresh loss right now or is trying to figure out how to process through the grief of a past loss, Hannah says,
“It’s ok to talk about your experience. It’s ok to speak up. Sharing is a part of so many women’s path to closure and healing. There are people who want to silence us, or who don’t understand and therefore criticize. But we are here for you, ready to listen and ready to comfort you.”
To those who have not lost but may be walking through a parent or family who has, Hannah says her advice would be to simply listen to them.
“My first pregnancy seemed to be going well. My doctor would not see me until I was at least 8 weeks along. We were so nervous and excited for our first appointment to confirm my pregnancy and check on our baby's progress. The appointment was on 02.06.19. I was almost 10 weeks pregnant at the time, with a due date of 09.09.19. As I lay there during the ultrasound, the doctor pointed to our baby. My husband said, ‘look at our little peanut!’ My heart swelled with joy. Then the doctor said, ‘I can't find a heartbeat. Unfortunately it looks like you've had a missed miscarriage.’ Our baby measured 9 weeks, 2 days. My body was still acting pregnant, even though our baby had passed away a few days ago. We don't know for sure, but I believe in my heart our baby was a girl. I had another ultrasound on Valentine's Day to confirm there was no heartbeat. The next day I had a D&C, as my body was still acting pregnant and the doctor was concerned for my health. Three weeks after the procedure, the doctor did an ultrasound and was concerned as she determined tissue was still left inside. She prescribed pills that induced cramping, but it did not work and I had to have another D&C. Almost a month after my miscarriage, I was healing from two D&C procedures and grieving the loss of our baby. The hardest part of all of this was that we had not told anyone we were pregnant so no one knew what we were going through. I have never felt so isolated and alone before. This was absolutely devastating to me. We have nothing tangible to remember our first baby by and this is very painful to me.”
Julianne shared what helped her and her husband in the grieving process:
“I found comfort in support groups online and those who publicly shared their miscarriage/baby loss on social media. I found an online community of others who have had miscarriages. Unfortunately because we did not tell family or friends that we were pregnant, they didn't really understand or know how to offer support when we did tell them about our miscarriage. Because of this, we don't talk about it with family. If I do bring it up, the topic is quickly changed. I feel silenced by my own family and their lack of support and understanding.”
She also shared what she found very hurtful during her grief and what she wished had not been done.
“My first appointment after the D&C procedure, the medical assistant who was taking my vitals asked if I was there because I ‘don't want to get pregnant again.’" I began sobbing as I told her I was there because I had a miscarriage and desperately want to be pregnant. She didn't apologize and awkwardly left the room while I waited for the doctor. When I told family and friends that I had a miscarriage, I had several things said to me that were extremely painful even though I know they meant well. Some of the things said were: "at least you know you can get pregnant", "at least you weren't further along in your pregnancy," "there was probably something wrong with the baby," and "you can always try again."
To anyone struggling with the loss of their child during pregnancy or infancy now or in the past, Julianne says,
“I would first say, I am so sorry. Then I would say, your pain matters, your baby's life matters. I would encourage them to say their baby's name and share their story. I would also say that I'm here to listen, any time. These are the words I wish my family and friends had said to me. I wish whenever I brought up my miscarriage they would listen, not try to change the subject or remain silent because they're uncomfortable. It is so isolating to those who are grieving when we feel like we can't talk about it.”
Julianne also shares some practical advice for those people who may want to walk alongside their grieving friend or family member but aren’t sure how.
“If you don't know what to say, just remember that all you need to say is I am sorry and I am here for you. And then make yourself available. Offer to go get coffee or bring a meal over. If they want to talk about it, let them. Let them know their pain matters and their baby matters. For those who have had a miscarriage, we don't always have something tangible to remember our baby by, all we have is our story and our grief. Please let us share it if we want.”
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Human Defense Initiative.