I try not to bog down this blog with, you know, overly personal stuff. But there are some things I need to say today.
“A miscarriage is a natural and common event. All told, probably more women have lost a child from this world than haven’t. Most don’t mention it, and they go on from day to day as if it hadn’t happened, so people imagine a woman in this situation never really knew or loved what she had.
But ask her sometime: how old would your child be now? And she’ll know.”
― Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams
Today is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day. This day of remembrance was first observed in 1988, when President Reagan designated the month of October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, and Congress proclaimed October 15th as the official Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day in 2006.
I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t this also Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, LGBT History Month, and a whole host of other cultural, health, history, and other observances? Well, you’re right. Every month of the year is set aside for a variety of observances. But why is pregnancy and infant loss awareness so critical?
Think about it. How often do people express grief and offer support for those who have lost a loved one to cancer, other long term illnesses, or other tragic, more sudden losses? You can probably think of at least five people you know who have mourned the loss of a family member or friend in the past year. But how many people do you know who mourn the loss of an infant, or suffered a miscarriage or stillbirth?
Probably more than you think.
A 2004 National Vital Statistics report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) presented the statistics that, in 2000, a little over 15% of pregnancies in the United States ended in miscarriages or stillbirths, and about 27.5 thousand of the approximately four million live births in 2003 ended in the death of an infant under the age of one.
Those numbers a little too vague for you?
Well, how about this: one out of every four women in the US will experience the loss of a baby at some point in their lives.
That number strikes a little harder, doesn’t it? Now think back to when I asked you how many women you know who have suffered a miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant loss.
I think miscarriages, especially early miscarriages that occur in the first trimester of a pregnancy, comprise the losses that are “invisible” to the rest of the world. Often, early miscarriages happen before the news of the pregnancy is shared with the world at large. Many people may not even know a woman is pregnant when she experiences an early miscarriage. And because there was no visual “proof” that there was ever a baby, people either ignore or simply don’t recognize the grief.
But it’s real. It’s very, very real. And it needs to be acknowledged.
Many women are reluctant to share their grief for many reasons. Unfortunately, it’s often well-meaning but poorly timed or worded comments that make matters worse. Even if the following statements are logical or true, even if the grieving mother thinks or says these things herself, they don’t help:
“There must have been something wrong.”
“You can always try again.”
“Everything happens for a reason.”
“There’s always adoption.”
“Maybe you aren’t meant to have children.”
Now, at this point, you’re probably wondering why I’m going on about this, how I know anything about this at all.
Well, it’s because I heard many of those well-intended statements last August, after I experienced an early term missed miscarriage.
That’s right. I am the one in four.
My husband and I had tried for exactly a year to conceive, and we were beyond ecstatic when we finally saw those two pink lines on the home pregnancy test. We started window shopping for cribs and curtains, ordered new carpet for what would become our nursery and picked out paint samples. I turned into a total mushball anytime I passed the baby clothing section at a department store.
I did everything right. I took prenatal vitamins, watched my diet, kept up moderate exercise, tried to get enough sleep each night. I avoided foods on the “do not eat” list, tried to stay away from places where I could be exposed to second hand smoke.
And I was in love with my baby.
Then it ended. After experiencing some unexpected bleeding at the nine week mark, an ultrasound showed that my baby had died in utero around six and a half weeks into my pregnancy. There is no word in the English language – maybe in any language – to accurately describe how devastated I was. And what was worse, I couldn’t talk about it to hardly any one. And I actually felt like I wasn’t allowed to talk about it, like it wasn’t a real loss.
I reached a particularly low point just before Christmas 2011. My school year felt out of control; my emotions were running rampant, we were experiencing further frustrations because we were unable to conceive again, and I just didn’t want to be at work. I loved my students, loved seeing them every day, but my heart wasn’t in it. I felt like I wasn’t doing any of my students any good, and I could not stop thinking, “February 17th was supposed to be my last day of work for the year.” Plus, we were closing in on the one-year anniversary of my maternal grandfather’s passing; I had been extremely close to him, and his death rocked my family.
A very wise, very compassionate coworker, to whom I had confided the news of my loss, said something really liberating to me. I had finally broken down that afternoon in December. She sat down next to me and said, “You have suffered two huge losses, and your grief is profound. It’s okay for you to be sad.”
Suddenly, after that, I felt like I could talk about my miscarriage. I didn’t hire a skywriter or rent a billboard. But when people asked, “So when are you having kids?” I could say, “Well, we had a loss in August, but we’re still trying.”
I don’t go into detail. But it’s freeing – empowering – to be able to tell people. And it seemed like all these women I knew were coming out of the woodwork to share that they, too, had suffered miscarriages. This experience I felt so alone in had been shared by so many of my friends and family! And because I had the courage to say something about my loss, I found an unexpected support system.
A year and some change later, we’re still trying to conceive and have now moved into the realm of treatments for unexplained infertility. And it’s hard. It’s frustrating. And there are days I think I’ll never be blessed again. I’m a mother without her baby. But I’m trying not to lose hope, trying to remember there are options and avenues out there for our family. But it doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten my first baby, the one I never got to meet.
There are probably people out there, maybe even reading this right now, who would shake their heads about my sharing something so personal and private. Well, that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? If we women who have experienced the loss of a pregnancy are guilted into keeping silent, are made to feel that we’re not allowed to say anything about our grief, how is that going to help us heal? It only helps those people avoid hearing about a topic that makes them uncomfortable.
So that’s my story. The short version, anyway. You can find more information about the movement to recognize Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day at I Am The Face (especially take a look at their Myth Vs. Truth page).
And as for Barbara Kingsolver’s question about knowing how old my baby is?
Seven months, one week, and four days old.
And not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought about my angel baby.