October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month, with October 15 designated as a specific day of remembrance. This day, this month, has special meaning to many of us.
One of four women will experience a miscarriage. Many of us who experience miscarriages do not get support around this devastating loss. Infant loss, despite the brevity of their baby’s lives, can be the most painful thing ever experienced by a human being.
Below is the proclamation regarding Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness, from Ronald Reagan's archives. Whatever else is his legacy, whatever you think of him as a president of the United States, I urge you to read what he wrote, almost thirty years ago. Click here for what the proclamation says in its entirety.
The History of Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day
Robyn Bear and Lisa Brown, Founder and Co-Founder of www.october15th.com, vigorously support the awareness of these important losses. On their website they share the history of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.
“Robyn Bear, founder of www.pain-heartache-hope.com envisioned a day when all grieving parents could come together and be surrounded by love and support from their friends and families, a day where the community could better understand their pain and learn how to reach out to those grieving. This would be a day to reflect on the loss yet embrace the love. While our babies’ lives where so brief, they were also very meaningful. Yet, there was not a time to talk about them. Our society seemed to forget or perhaps, simply didn't know how to reach out. Since October had been proclaimed "Awareness Month", she chose a day, in the middle of the month to become, "Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day".”
On October 4, 2001, the House of Representatives unanimously passed support for the goals of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.
Listen to the remarkable video that is on the www.october15th.com website showing the House of Representatives discussing House Resolution #222. The commitment to and understanding of infant and pregnancy losses is a testament to our heart break.
Thirty years ago, the president of the United States proclaimed this month. The numbers of miscarriages and infant loss have changed, the challenges have not.
We still don’t know what to say. We still don’t know what to do.
Having trained as a Grief Recovery Specialist several years ago, I continue to see our well-meaning friends and family try to offer comfort when a loss is experienced. The love is there. The compassion is there. All good intentions are there.
The understanding of what is needed is not. We are woefully ill-prepared and uneducated as to what is truly helpful in the middle of heartbreak. We turn towards cognitive, brain based sentiments and messages that leave the broken hearted feeling more isolated and alone at a time that they need more from us. Not less.
RMACT Honors Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Day
On October 15, 2015, next week, Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut, (RMACT) will be wearing pins to remember and honor Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day and month. We will have bracelets available for those patients who would like to take one, either because of their own loss or in honor of those who have experienced loss. We do this because we know first hand that not every pregnancy comes along easily. We know that not every pregnancy progresses. We know that every pregnancy loss is heartbreaking- needing medical treatment to become pregnant adds another layer of desperation and chaos. We know that a loss at any point, even a fertility treatment cycle like IVF not succeeding, is heart breaking.
What do we do to help? How do we help rather than add to feelings of isolation and grief?
A person who experiences a loss often has physical manifestations of the emotional grief.
- A person who is grieving because of a loss is often exhausted.
- Often there is a much shorter attention span and they may even seem confused and/or less able to focus.
- With a pregnancy loss, there is a hormonal shift that exacerbates feelings and often procedures that are invasive and painful. Physical recuperation from these medical procedures can take much longer because of the loss and grief.
- If the loss is of a child, there are reminders everywhere. Some people want the baby’s things put away immediately. Some want them left where they are. Don’t presume that you know better than the grieving parents. Listen to them respectfully about what they need, even if it’s counterintuitive to what you think. Remember, they know best for themselves because they are ones experiencing their loss.
What To Say To Someone Who Has Experienced Pregnancy or Infant Loss
Here are a few examples of what is not helpful when a person has experienced a pregnancy or infant loss:
- “They are in a better place.” Please resist urging your beliefs on someone who is in pain. While that may be what you believe, how does that help a person whose heart is broken? Does that mean they shouldn’t feel sad or bad?
- “You will go on and have another pregnancy/baby” or “Appreciate the ones that you do have”. Each loss is individual and specific. One baby or pregnancy does not replace another one. Our hearts grieve for this pregnancy, this loss and the future we were longing for with them.
- “God has a plan for you”. Again, this may be your belief. In the midst of heartbreak, this kind of comment can make a person in pain angry at God, which is certainly not a healthy goal. A loss of a much wanted pregnancy or beloved baby does not have to make sense- don’t feel you have to make sense out of it.
- “I know how you feel”. Even if you have experienced a loss that is similar, you are not the person grieving. Each of us comes with our own life history, beliefs and experiences. Talk about your own loss, briefly, at an appropriate time- that can certainly be helpful as it may encourage the griever to talk about their own loss.
Here are a few things that you can say that are helpful-
- “I’m sorry for your loss”. Simple. Appropriate. Empathetic.
- “Would you like to tell me about what happened?” Offering the person a chance to talk, to cry, to retell what has happened is often very comforting in that the person who is grieving can express their feelings instead of holding them in. Keep in mind that a funeral is not the place to do this. A place where the person can cry is most appropriate. If they do want to talk, look at them while they are speaking. Listen. Put away distractions. Be there for them.
- Offer something specific. Saying that you are available for help is kind. Telling the person that you can bring dinner, drive to a doctor’s appointment with them, take their dog out for a walk is more concrete and more easily accepted than a more general offer.
A well-known quote by Ella Wheeler Wilcox from her best-known work Poems of Passion, specifically "Solitude", which contains the lines, "Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone".”
Our message is radically different. We will laugh with you. We will weep with you.
You are not alone. Even when that is how you feel. We are here with you.
We honor your losses and remember them with you.
Proclamation 5890 -- Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, 1988
October 25, 1988
By the President of the United States of America
Each year, approximately a million pregnancies in the United States end in miscarriage, stillbirth, or the death of the newborn child. National observance of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, 1988, offers us the opportunity to increase our understanding of the great tragedy involved in the deaths of unborn and newborn babies. It also enables us to consider how, as individuals and communities, we can meet the needs of bereaved parents and family members and work to prevent causes of these problems.
Health care professionals recognize that trends of recent years, such as smaller family size and the postponement of childbearing, adds another dimension of poignance to the grief of parents who have lost infants. More than 700 local, national, and international support groups are supplying programs and strategies designed to help parents cope with their loss. Parents who have suffered their own losses, health care professionals, and specially trained hospital staff members are helping newly bereaved parents deal constructively with loss.
The Congress, by Senate Joint Resolution 314, has designated the month of October 1988 as ``Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month'' and authorized and requested the President to issue a proclamation in observance of this month.
Now, Therefore, I, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim the month of October 1988 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.