Living with the loss of an unborn child or a baby is deeply painful. Thousands of women, their families and their partners bear this burden each year – some never acknowledging it aloud.
First established in 1988, Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Day marks a day on which those who have lost a baby can honor their memory and remind others who may have endured the same loss that they are not alone.
Nancy Miltsch, RN, is a Certified Childbirth Education with Rochester Regional Health. She shares how some people go through the experience and what those around them can do to be supportive.
There are several causes for premature death in an unborn baby or an infant, including miscarriages, stillbirths, SIDS, birth complications, and other medical conditions. As many as 1 in 5 pregnancies result in miscarriages, according to the World Health Organization.
After the loss of a pregnancy or baby, women who carry the baby tend to go through a more intense season of grieving. Since they physically carried the child, the pain is often not one they feel just emotionally and mentally, but also physically.
Partners and their children go through their own process of mourning, as well. While it may look different and vary from person to person, the feeling of pain and loss are something that can and should be talked about openly. Above all, be patient and kind with one another as you deal with this loss.
In more recent years, having a miscarriage or stillbirth is something that is discussed more openly than it used to be. The painful loss of an infant and a life that could have been is becoming less of a stigma to be hidden and more of an acknowledged cross that millions of women have had to bear.
Grief is a strong and overwhelming emotion that stems from a significant event in a person’s life. This feeling of sorrow is common and can last for either a short or an extended period of time.
“There is no textbook for grieving,” Miltsch said. “When it comes to expressing feelings of pain and loss, there is no right or wrong way to go through it and no specific amount of time in which a person should ‘move forward.’ Each person goes through the process differently.”
If you feel like you are struggling with how to express your thoughts and feelings, there are some suggestions that may help you begin that approach.
Talk with a therapist or spiritual leader – Making the choice to open up about your loss is a significant moment. Some people seek out a therapist or counselor to speak with, while others place more trust in a pastor, minister, or other faith leader.
Find a group – Support groups for women and/or families who experience pregnancy and infant loss are widespread, thanks to the Internet. Facebook groups exist to offer advice and support, along with in-person gatherings.
Share your story – Giving voice to your emotions and thoughts can be cathartic for you personally, and help others who may have gone through a similar journey. Whether you choose to write it just for yourself or make it public is your choice.
Take care of yourself – You are going through a traumatic time. As much as you are able, try to get up and move around – small steps, a little at a time. Don’t shut others out completely; finding support through people who care for you is a good thing.
It is natural to want to reach out and comfort those going through such a painful time in their life. Finding the balance of giving someone the support and the space they may need can be challenging. Remember that the decision of who a person wants to interact with and how often they want to do so is their choice to make.
If you are unsure of how to be there for your loved one, here are a few ways to approach them.
Reach out – You don’t have to have the perfect words for someone. A simple acknowledgement of “I’m sorry, I don’t know what to say” or “I want to help but I don’t know how” can be helpful. A phone call, text, letter, or card can be a measure of comfort.
Listen – Offering an ear can be just what someone may need. Other people may share words of advice and talk to your loved one or friend, but being present and hearing what they have to say can sometimes be more helpful than you think.
Ask how you can help – This can take many forms – going for a walk, bringing over a meal, listening to them talk, taking care of their children for a short period of time. Always check in beforehand; allowing the person to make the decision to ask for help can be part of their healing
Using the baby’s name – This can be done with the discretion of the parent(s) of the baby. If they are comfortable, use his or her name when referring to them. Naming the child as a person can be an important part of the grieving process for some parents.
Continue to check in – In times of death and loss, people are usually quick to respond with condolences and offers of support in the first few days. Check back in with your loved one and their family as time goes on.
“Grief does not always happen in a straight line,” Miltsch said. “It can sneak up on you at times you may not expect. Having a person or group to lean on can be very good for your mental and emotional health.”
On October 15 at 7 p.m., people can light a candle as part of the Wave of Light in remembrance of and solidarity with those who have experienced the death of an infant or loss of a pregnancy. If you light a candle, keep it lit for at least one hour.
Wherever you may be in your journey of grief, Rochester Regional Health is ready to give you whatever support you need. From counseling to medical appointments, our providers are compassionate and understanding about your needs.Talk with Someone
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