Embracing Compassion and Honoring Our Babies: World Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day
During the month of October, we pause to acknowledge those families who have walked through immense loss due to miscarriage, stillbirth and infant death. Back in 1988, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the entire month Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month, writing it “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.” The day of remembrance occurs on October 15th each year. It’s a time to honor and remember those families who have lost a child during pregnancy or lost an infant. Because many couples don’t feel comfortable sharing news of their loss, miscarriage can be very isolating. By participating in World Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, you can help break the stigma of silence that can sometimes accompany a devastating loss.
Understanding Pregnancy and Infant Loss
Both miscarriage and stillbirth describe pregnancy loss, but they differ according to when the loss occurs. According to the Centers for Disease Control, a miscarriage is usually defined as loss of a baby before the 20th week of pregnancy, and a stillbirth is loss of a baby at 20 weeks of pregnancy and later. It is estimated that as many as 26% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. That means 1 in 4 women carry the burden of losing a child. About 80% of all reported miscarriages occur in the first trimester. In 2020, about 21,000 stillbirths were reported in the United States. I personally know all too well the emotional toll miscarriage and stillbirth can have on parents. In 2016, we unexpectedly lost our son Cooper at 36.5 weeks in the delivery room. Just seven months later, we received the devastating news that we lost another baby boy, this time at 11 weeks. Obviously, those losses felt different but they were each painful and jarring. Since that tumultuous year, I have personally grieved with dozens of mamas across the country who know the unimaginable pain of losing a child.
Losing a child at any stage can be devastating. It’s important to share our stories of loss so more families feel comfortable talking about miscarriage, stillbirth and infant loss. Here, our son visits his brother Cooper’s grave. We unexpectedly lost Cooper at 36.5 weeks from a spontaneous detached placenta.
Coping and Support
Grief is so very hard. If you have lost a baby, you may go through the traditional five stages of grief that include denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. As you navigate a pregnancy loss or infant death, you may:
- Feel sad or depressed
- Get angry at yourself, your partner or your family
- Feel apathetic about daily tasks or begin to isolate yourself
- Forget things easily or have difficulty concentrating
- Feel guilty about things that happened surrounding your pregnancy or death of the infant and play the “what if” game
These are just a few emotions you may deal with. It’s important that you seek help and/or counseling if you feel professional intervention is necessary. If you ever experience thoughts of suicide, call or text 988; the confidential help line is available 24/7. You may also benefit from finding a support group. Talking with other couples who have been where you are can be SO encouraging.
Resources for Further Help and Information
Organizations like March of Dimes, PALS - Pregnancy After Loss Support, and Share - Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support offer a variety of resources, advocacy, and opportunities to tell your story and get more involved. From online communities and forums to events across the country, there are numerous ways to make a difference. On October 15th, you can participate in the International Wave of Light ceremony by lighting a candle at 7pm local time to honor all babies gone too soon. Keep your candle lit for at least one hour to create a continuous “wave of light” across all time zones covering the globe! During early October, Laurelbox will be offering giveaways for their new custom “Wave of Light” memorial candle. Check out Instagram for more info.
A few books that helped me process our losses were "Grieving the Child I Never Knew” as well as “Anchored: Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Infant Loss.” The latter one has multiple stories of loss, which I found helpful in the weeks following Cooper’s death and our miscarriage. The phrase “Misery loves company” is real and knowing you aren’t the only person who has walked something tragic and sad does help.
Honoring Our Babies
After you experience losing a child, there is a quiet fear that this precious tiny life will be forgotten, either by yourself (which seems impossible) or by friends and family. Finding creative and special ways to remember and celebrate their brief but meaningful lives can be healing and comforting. Laurelbox offers so many beautiful and thoughtful infant loss gifts to memorialize these lost babies and participate in child loss awareness month. I personally love (and own) the gorgeous feather memorial wind chimes as well as a number of Christmas ornaments. One of my favorite ways to keep my heavenly boys’ memories alive is hanging these ornaments on our Christmas tree and explaining to our living children why they are so special to me. Another meaningful tradition is lighting a memorial candle every year, either on their birthday, due date, or heavenly birthday. You could even create a memorial garden with special flowers, a bench and a plaque as a way to commemorate their short life. Whatever you choose, know there is a healing effect in memorialization.
However you choose to participate in World Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, make sure to reach out to those around you who you know have lost a child. Even if that loss happened 50 years ago, ask them about their child or let them know you are thinking about them and their loss. Remember, no parent “gets over” a loss like this. We just learn to live with it and (hopefully) become more empathetic and caring individuals. If you are grieving a child lost, I am so sorry. Know you aren’t alone. There is a community of mamas and dadas who have walked a similar path and we are here to offer compassion and understanding. I would like to end with a movie recommendation. I recently watched “The Starling” starring Melissa McCarthy on Netflix and I think they did an impressive job of showing the complicated emotions that accompany losing a child. I cried, I laughed and I connected with the characters in a real way. I highly recommend it, though be sure to have some tissues nearby!
Lanna Britt was a national news producer in Washington DC for nearly a decade covering politics, breaking news and current events. She now lives with her husband and three children in Richmond VA. She has two sweet babies she’ll meet again in heaven.