In 1988, President Ronald Reagan dedicated October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Since then, over a dozen states and the House of Representatives have marked Oct. 15 as a special day of remembrance for infants lost prior to birth.
This is undoubtedly a good thing, yet there remains a general silence and lack of support for those who have lost through miscarriage, stillbirth, and abortion. As a result, millions of bereaved men and women are left isolated and alone in their grief.
By and large, our culture does not acknowledge perinatal loss and doesn’t afford those impacted the normal grieving rituals that are available after the death of an older child or adult.
It is striking that although 2 million couples will experience miscarriage or abortion in the United States this year, the typical medical or mental health professional has received little to no training to aid such people in their grief.
Studies indicate that this lack of training worsens the feeling of loss among patients and clients, since they are sent the unintended signal that they have no right to grieve.
This feeling of disenfranchisement can also stem from family and friends who are uncertain about how to help and are often terrified to say “the wrong thing.” It is out of this fear and discomfort that we typically choose to say nothing, not knowing that our silence is actually the most painful response of all.
Silence ignores the loss. And while well-meaning comments such as “You were lucky it happened early” or “You can always try again” may minimize the pain, the fact remains that this particular child will never be replaced.
Men and women often share with me how painful these reactions are and how as a result, they have learned to keep quiet about their pain. Mothers tell me, “No one understands why I feel empty and why I’m still grieving.” Fathers say, “No one asks me how I’m doing.” Siblings want others to know that “there are five of us, not four.”
So on this Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, let us choose to do something different. Let us seek out our family members, friends, and co-workers who have lost a child before birth and tell them that we are “sorry for their loss.”
It is very important to say these words and, if possible, to accompany them with a card or another token of remembrance.
It’s OK if your words provoke tears, or awkward silence, or initial shock. The fact that you remembered will ultimately bring comfort and solace and let the person know that they are not alone.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to grieve alone. We need a community to accompany us, to listen to us, and to assure us that the lost little one will never be forgotten.
It is through these acts of kindness and love that we can together fulfill Reagan’s call to “observe this month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities”—things that will ultimately bring hope and facilitate healing for the millions of families keenly aware that someone is missing.