Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Pregnancy & Infant Loss: Honor The Baby's Life

"When a child loses his parent, they are called an orphan. When a spouse loses his or her 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, stillbirths, birth defects, SIDS, and other causes."

- Ronald Reagan, proclaiming October to be National Pregnancy and
Infant Loss Awareness Month, 1988

I am one of the many, many faces of pregnancy and infant loss. At 16, I experienced a miscarriage at 12 weeks after an unintended pregnancy. I have several good friends who suffered through miscarriages and stillbirths before finally having successful pregnancies. Throughout my career in the NICU, I have helped parents navigate their child's devastating (and sometimes fatal) illnesses. Every one of these mothers has a story. And we should listen to their stories.

When death faces us or a loved one, we shy away from it. Death is a dark, scary place, and it's in our nature to avoid things that are unsettling or threatening. But mothers who have lost their children, especially unborn children, are frequently alone in their grief. Most people want to be supportive, but feel unsure of what to do. I can tell you all the things that you SHOULDN'T do from personal experience, but I'd like to focus on what you should do:

Honor the baby's life.

Yes, it's that simple. No matter how brief a baby's life is, a mother longs to feel that her baby's life was significant. When I miscarried at 16, I felt like no one gave a rat's ass that I had just lost a very real baby. I was offered ever-so-helpful words such as, "Oh, you're young... it's for the best," or "You can try again when you're older." Seriously, it was as if everyone was HAPPY that my pregnancy ended. My experience guides me in my interactions with mothers who are going through similar losses.

I ask the grieving mother how she decided on her baby's name. I gladly look at the pictures of a mother's stillborn child and point out similarities to the parents such as, "Oh, he has your eyes!" I am a supportive presence in the room as a mother cries. (The cry of a mother as her baby is dying is the most agonizing, soul-shattering thing one can ever experience.) I listen to her pregnancy and birth stories, sometimes repeatedly. I make keepsakes for the mother using embossed footprints and photos of the baby.

I implore all of you to take this approach with mothers who have experienced a loss. And to all the Janes out there going through the loss of a child, always remember that your child's life was significant. We would LOVE to hear as much about your child as you are willing to share.

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