In the series “Light After Loss,” Modern Loss’s Rebecca Soffer discusses ways to navigate the long arc of grief and loss.
An estimated 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. In the United States, nearly 25,000 babies are stillborn each year, and more than 20,000 infants die shortly after birth. Chances are, either you or someone you know has experienced one or all these traumatic losses.
And yet miscarriages and stillbirths are still known as the “silent sorrow.” In a recent “Light After Loss” Facebook Live episode, Modern Loss‘s Rebecca Soffer hosted a discussion about these excruciating and complicated losses. She was joined by Andrea Syrtash, founder of Pregnantish, a site dedicated to helping people navigate infertility and modern-family building.
As October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, the discussion focused on how we can elevate the conversation about what so many families endure worldwide.
Here are some key takeaways:
Why do we do such a poor job of talking about these types of losses in our culture?
Pregnancy and infant loss have been, unfortunately, viewed as a taboo for much of history. In many parts of the world, women are seen in a different light when they have trouble procreating (though 50% of fertility cases are male factors). And so the shame associated with these types of losses can run deep (“What’s wrong with me? “Why isn’t my body working as it should?”)
Yet even the most seemingly perfect-looking family can have its own painful history. The more we start talking about our experiences, the more we can destigmatize the shame that still surrounds them.
Acknowledgment is integral when it comes to emotionally healing from a pregnancy or infant loss.
Many of us tend to distract ourselves with other thoughts because imagining the details of a pregnancy or infant-related loss is so painful. But just because we ignore someone else’s reality, it doesn’t mean they aren’t living it every single day. When we shy away from acknowledging this specific type of loss, we can make someone feel invisible.
How can you make someone feel acknowledged in their loss?
First, the don’ts: Besides complete silence, there are three words you should avoid when talking to someone suffering a pregnancy or infant loss: “Just,” “should,” and “at least.” Such statements – “At least you got pregnant,” “You should just adopt,” “and “Just think positively,” to name a few examples – only serve to minimize experiences. (And a note on telling someone to think positively: Keep in mind that people in war-torn countries deliver healthy babies every day in a stressed state. Positive thinking can only go so far.) Remember, unsolicited advice should not be your first step.
Now, the dos: The best thing to “say” to someone is to actually listen. Beyond that, feel like you can ask them how they are doing or how you can specifically be helpful during any given moment. Do they need help cleaning their house? Entertaining another child? Help with meals? And just meeting them where they are is powerful: “I’m sorry, that must be so hard” and “I am so sorry this happened to you” can go very far, as can asking someone what their baby’s name is, or what they were thinking of naming them. These children were likely very much alive in a parent’s mind and heart no matter when or how the loss took place. Offer a space where they can talk about them.
There are no Grief Olympics. If it’s hard for you, it’s a valid experience.
Sometimes people get caught up in comparing their grief experiences with those of others (“I’ve only had one miscarriage, but they had a stillbirth”). But heartache is heartache, and this is a defining moment in your life that is worthy of being acknowledged as a deep loss. The grief you are feeling is necessary.
Ways to find community surrounding this specific type of loss.
It always helps to have a few people on your list for when you really need to talk, vent, ask questions, or just lose it for a few minutes.
Social media can be overwhelming, but when it comes to pregnancy and infant loss, it can be a powerful community builder. Hashtags like #miscarriageawareness, #pregnancylossawareness, and #infantlossawareness bring people together to mourn, share, grieve and also access information. There are a lot of questions after a miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death. You may not fully understand why you miscarried or why your baby died.
Beyond the digital realm, it always helps to have a few people on your list for when you really need to talk, vent, ask questions, or just lose it for a few minutes. And oftentimes, they aren’t the obvious ones, such as your best friend. The opportunity for connection with other people who come out of the woodwork for you is vast: a friend of a friend who also had a miscarriage, a clergy person you happened to have a meaningful and helpful conversation with, etc. Once you know you have a few people you can rely on, you don’t need every single person to understand what you’re going through, because you will feel less alone and acknowledged.
Remember that ‘unmet love’ or ‘briefly met love’ is still love.
Just because you never met your baby, or only got to hold them after they were stillborn, or briefly got to know them after they were born, that relationship is still a relationship. You can still love someone that you didn’t fully know, and that’s worthy of respect. Don’t ever let anyone convince you otherwise.
This article was authored by ModernLoss.com, which offers candid conversation about grief and meaningful community throughout the long arc of loss.