October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. You may not have known that, and that’s ok. I certainly didn’t . . . until we lost Anna.
It was at our 20-week ultrasound visit that we heard the words that no parent ever wants to hear –
“I’m so sorry. I cannot find a heartbeat.”
Those words changed our lives forever. We were parents with empty arms unsure of how to navigate the new world in which we found ourselves – a world in which we felt isolated and alone.
Unless you have lost a baby, having a month set aside for baby loss may not seem important. But this type of loss happens to approximately one out of every four pregnancies. That means it is highly likely that you or someone you know has experienced miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant loss. After losing Anna, I was astounded by the number of people – men and women – who quietly approached me to let me know that they too had suffered a loss. Many of them had been carrying this secret in their hearts for many years, even decades, and I could tell that it was a relief of sorts to be able to say the words out loud.
And that is why October is so very important.
Many people experience baby loss in silence, and the reasons for this are varied. But real healing comes from being able to acknowledge our losses, and we need to feel supported in our grief. Having a special month set aside gives us permission to speak our babies’ names out loud and to acknowledge that they did in fact exist. It provides us with opportunities to connect with others who have had similar experiences, reducing the feeling of isolation.
After Anna died, I found myself longing to talk about her. I didn’t often get the chance, but it felt so good to say her name when I did. I was so afraid that she would be forgotten – not by me, but by others. I thought that if people saw me smiling and carrying on as usual that they would think that Anna was only a footnote to my life. But how do I acknowledge my child without making others feel uncomfortable? The answer was found in the month of October.
Baby loss is an uncomfortable topic in many ways because no one talks about it. October is the perfect month to start a conversation. If you feel comfortable doing so, share your story. Let others know that baby loss is not something that happens to others, it’s something that happened to YOU. Some of us would prefer a more private approach. Set aside a special time for you to focus on your baby – write in your journal, plan a special private memorial, or arrange a butterfly release.
While October provides an opportunity for the 1 in 4 to share their experiences with the world, it is also a chance for the world to show support for those who miss their babies. But because we don’t often know what to say or do, we do nothing. So, what are some things you can say to someone who has lost a baby? Let’s start with some things NOT to say:
- “Everything happens for a reason.”
- “At least you can get pregnant.”
- “At least you have other children.”
- “Good thing it happened early.”
- “At least you didn’t really know the baby.”
Words have power; and even if offered with the best of intentions, they can hurt deeply. A good rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t say it to someone who lost a child born alive, don’t say it to someone who lost a baby in utero. What are some things you should say instead?
- “I’m so sorry.”
- “I am here for you.”
- “It’s ok to cry.”
- “Would you like to talk about [INSERT BABY’S NAME HERE]?”
Don’t feel the need to fill the silence with empty words or words that may hurt. A simple “I am so sorry” and simply acknowledging and validating someone’s grief can be extremely meaningful.
As you can see, October isn’t just another month. It is a powerful opportunity for those of us who have lost a baby to step forward from the shadows to share our light with others and provide friends and family a chance to reach out to acknowledge the little ones we will forever hold in our hearts.
Monica Alley is the co-founder and executive director of Anna’s Grace Foundation, a nonprofit organization that offers emotional and financial support to families in the Greater Baton Rouge Area that experience miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant loss. For more information on how you can recognize Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month, listen to the Anna’s Grace Foundation Hope & Healing Podcast.