When someone shares they are expecting a baby, there’s always a wave of excitement and enthusiasm that follows, but for all too many, the surge of joy, hope and expectancy is cut short with loss. Women around the globe have had the shared experiences of pregnancy and infant loss and October 15th is the National Day of Remembrance for them. It’s a day that asks the world to pause, to remember, to grieve, and to learn that so many people carry these stories and have lived experiences of loss.
How many people you may wonder? Tens of thousands of American families feel this pain each year. The March of Dimes says as many as half of all pregnancies may end in miscarriage, (the exact number is impossible to determine because a miscarriage can occur before a woman may know she’s pregnant), but for women with known pregnancies, about 10-15% result in miscarriage. According to the World Health Organization, There are nearly 2 million stillbirths every year, and 15% of reproductive-aged couples worldwide are affected by infertility. A miscarriage is described as a loss of pregnancy before 20 weeks of pregnancy. There are different instances that can factor into the loss, but all losses come with their own pain and circumstances.
In 1988 President Ronald Reagan declared October as a month, in recognition and respect that families facing this type of loss feel. This started new awareness, education, and prevention efforts, but has not solved the crisis. In addition, there is a stigma around pregnancy and infant loss, that it shall remain silent or unspoken. The nation’s leader in the prevention and care of pregnancy loss, stillbirth, and neonatal death, The Star Legacy, has exceeded the traditional efforts by adding in their “#NeverBeStill” campaign, that “seeks to break the silence surrounding stillbirth and other pregnancy/infant losses by not only educating the public about ways to support bereaved families but also empowering expectant mothers to have a healthy pregnancy – because every pregnancy deserves a happy ending!” (https://starlegacyfoundation.org/)
Every one of us can help to make this world a safer and healthier place to talk about pregnancy and infant loss. We can do it with the “3 Ls.”
#1 L – Listen. Be a good listener. Listen to other people’s stories, pain, fear, loss, or anything they must share around pregnancy and infant loss. Many times, people just need to share. They need someone to listen.
#2 L – Learn. Before you just ask a woman on why or how she lost her pregnancy or why they post on social media, or why they can’t just “get over it,” learn. You can start by learning about the facts of pregnancy and infant loss, you can try to learn more about how and why people grieve in various ways, and you can learn about how important it is for people to share their truths. Instead of judgement ask, “what can I learn?”
#3 L – Legitimize. When you legitimize someone’s grief, sadness, anger, worry or really any human emotion or reaction, you give them power. The person who is hurting can feel helpless, they can feel like they are wrong or invincible. Validate them, validate their feelings and be present in what they are willing to share.
These tips are important because we will all have times when we just need support. There will be times when we wish the people around us could just hear us out, and make the effort to learn about our circumstances, and times when all we need is for one person to say, “I believe you.” This won’t “fix” anything and it doesn’t diminish the heartbreak at hand, but it may just be what the person needs to get through that moment.
The same rules should apply to message boards and social media. People will sometimes share because they finally feel brave enough to speak, they share because they want others to learn, they want to be transparent about their pain, and sometimes they share because they just don’t know what else to do with their suffering. Other times people will share on social media, so they don’t have to contact everyone and retell their stories over and over. Instead of offering advice or tips, or even maybe your own experience that was worse, practice the 3 Ls. Many people value their friends and relationships on social media, they share the best of news and sometimes the hardest stories. Before you say, “why are they telling the whole world?” Maybe stop to think, “wow, I am so proud they invited me to know more about them.” Offer that post or comment with the same care you would if they told you one-on-one.
This month, like many awareness months, comes with the hard truth that while you may feel you are helping, others can still be hurting. It’s a reminder and calls for us all to offer more kindness to those around us, and to speak out about things that really matter. Let’s all practice our compassion this month, and all year long to break the silence, end the stigma, and fight for better outcomes, education, and healthcare – #NeverBeStill
Director of The Wellness Center