May you know the immensity of divine love, even in the smallest footprint;
May the expectation that holds your longing transform into hope in this present moment;
May the treasure of memory swaddle your sorrow in a blanket of tenderness;
And may our lights of remembrance embrace you with community and support.
Today, October 15, has been designated Pregnancy Loss and Infant Death Awareness Day. I wrote these words of blessing this morning, hoping they would somehow be carried to all those who would be touched by them. So, you can help me with that by reading and sharing.
I am writing this blog post today for two groups. First, I write to my cherished friends who have experienced the loss of a pregnancy or the death of an infant. I write to remind you that you are loved, understood, supported, and remembered. I hold you in my heart today, and pray this blessing for you. I am also writing today for those who have never given any thought to the subject of pregnancy loss or infant death. Please, keep reading and allow yourself to learn something more about an experience that many people avoid talking about, pass judgement on, or simply are oblivious about. This is important to our communities and to our world, as well as to our individual lives.
Just to share a brief history, Pregnancy Loss and Infant Death Awareness Day is recognized by multiple groups and bereavement support organizations around the globe. Since 1988, on the 15th of October, people around the world light a candle at 7 p.m. in their respective time zones to recognize and raise awareness regarding these losses which are all too often unseen and unspoken. This lovely New York Times blog today tells a wonderful story of the commemorative day’s beginnings and describes its meaning for one of many families who grieve and remember.
I write and speak often about reproductive and perinatal loss; I wear this as part of my professional identity. It’s part of my personal story, too, although that isn’t what drew me to this cause in my professional life. I, like many women, are part of an unintentional sisterhood of experience. I came into this work quite serendipitously but I remain because it is important to the fabric of our humanness to be sure to give voice to this experience. The reason that I try to intentionally bring awareness to pregnancy loss has to do with how much silence, stigma, and misinformation still exists for women, couples, and families who grieve when a pregnancy doesn’t end like they hoped and imagined it would. I write and speak for families who have had a baby die, and no amount of love, tenderness and effort could have prevented it from happening. These are sad, tragic losses. There are also transformative stories of growth within their grief. I have been companion to many who are grieving, and I am transformed by their experiences as much as my own.
So, today, I want to share a few things I have come to know through my research, my counseling, and my own personal and human encounters with loss.
I want to let people know that 25%…one in every four…women has had a recognized pregnancy loss in her life.
I want you to know that the number is actually larger than that, because of all the pregnancies that end even before they can be officially recognized or acknowledged.
I continue to be amazed that whenever I speak, a woman (or more than one) comes up to tell me her story that hasn’t been shared for years, or possibly ever. Far too much silence still remains.
I want to talk to everyone about the fact that there is no shame in having a pregnancy begin…and then end…and it doesn’t mean that a woman did anything wrong, that there is something wrong with her or that she could have changed the experience.
I convey to all readers of this blog that some people grieve the loss of a pregnancy as an expectation, some grieve it as a fetal death, some grieve it as the death of a baby…and our individual moral and ethical belief systems are far less important to convey to the grieving than is our compassionate, human response of authentically saying “I’m so sorry this has happened to you, and I’m here for you.”
I want to tell people about the amazing parents I know who care for their babies who will not survive even days or weeks or months. And, I want to tell people about the amazing parents I know who make the most difficult choice imaginable to terminate a pregnancy for a host of very powerful reasons, all of which require deep thought and emotional turmoil. And all of these amazing families are worthy of compassionate understanding.
I wish I could tell you about each one of the people I know who hurt so deeply, are misunderstood and judged and questioned, and yet who find the strength to go on and thrive, making valuable contributions to their own families, communities, and the world at large. Philanthropic foundations, musical tributes, books, fund-raising events, peer support organizations and countless loving gestures to improve the fabric of human kindness all originate from people who have been deeply touched by pregnancy loss and infant death.
I can tell you about amazing resources that exist for information and support. I spent a lengthy and wonderful time on the board of the Pregnancy Loss and Infant Death Alliance (www.plida.org) and work closely with my dear friends at SHARE Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support (www.nationalshare.org), Bereavement Services (www.bereavementservices.org), the MISS Foundation (www.miss foundation.org), the Association of SIDS and Infant Mortality Programs (www.asip1.org), the CJ Foundation for SIDS (www.cjsids.org) and First Candle (www.first candle.org). Go visit their websites, and see what helpful information they have to offer for professionals, caregivers, clergy, grieving families, workplace colleagues and caring friends.
I can also share what I have myself written and spoken about, and I’ll do that in a few ways right here. You can read the full text of a journal article I wrote for Social Workencouraging dialogues on reproductive loss across multiple settings of social work practice to break the silence. You can listen to an episode of the Social Work Podcast I recorded a few months ago with my friend and colleague Jonathan Singer. You can send me a note, email me, share your story or ask me what else you want to know. I am always delighted to have a conversation.
Lastly, you can light a candle. Tonight. 7:00 p.m., wherever you are.