Article by Michella Conrad, M.Ed., Doctoral Intern
October Is Observed as A Commemorative Month for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness
If you or a loved one has lost a child to stillbirth, miscarriage, sudden infant death syndrome, or any other reason during pregnancy or infancy, please join us in raising awareness during Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month in October. Each year, tens of thousands of families throughout the United States are devastated by their loss. However, the suffering of these families and the importance of their children’s lives are hardly recognized. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed October as the month to acknowledge the pain of bereaved parents to provide solidarity for the many families who have endured such a heartbreaking loss.
It has been shown that the loss of a child affects each parent individually and causes marital issues. Previously resolved marital difficulties often reappear, sometimes with increased severity. After the loss of a child, parents may experience various emotions, including shock, denial, anger, despair, hopelessness, and guilt. Parents may attach more tightly, allow each other room to mourn separately, momentarily detach themselves from each other, blame each other, exhibit scorn for the other’s method of grieving, etc. After the death of a child, parents may choose to connect temporarily in dramatically different ways, which may lead to further issues. These tensions may be reduced by recognizing and letting the grieving process commence. The family’s makeup also changes when there is a loss in the family system. A child might become an only child, or another child in birth order may assume new duties within the family by becoming the eldest child. Alternatively, parents may be childless, increasing the risk of divorce and suicide. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 4 women experiences pregnancy and infant loss. Non-Hispanic Black women and American Indian/Alaska Native women are twice as likely to have a stillbirth than non-Hispanic White women, Asian or Pacific Islander women, and Hispanic women. Research indicates that racial differences in mother and infant mortality are intimately linked to a worse quality of maternal health care, socioeconomic variables, and institutional racism in healthcare.
Not only does increasing awareness of pregnancy and infant loss promote the likelihood that grieving families will get understanding and support, but it also increases education and prevention measures, which may lead to a reduction in the number of occurrences of these kinds of tragedies.
Every individual is distinct in their response to loss. However, many families have likely experienced this situation more than twice, and it is sufficient to endure it once. So, it is important to normalize this circumstance and illustrate how common this is. If you have suffered from miscarriage or infant loss, you and your child(ren) will always be remembered, particularly during this month. Grief is a strong and challenging experience, but so is human resiliency. The death of a child may need bereavement therapy for adults with normal mental health and a good support system. Parents must adjust to a new way of life to cope with their child’s death. Parents must accept their infant’s death and reassert their own life while finding methods to commemorate the deceased child. Assimilation of the end and recollections of the departed into a new life is a lifetime process. Grief is a natural aspect of the human experience. People who are grieving may naturally prefer to halt everyday activities for a while to express their pain in solitude. As with the general grieving process, the length of isolation required varies widely across individuals. Recognizing the signs of grief and the necessary step toward recovery is important.
Common manifestations of grief include:
- Change in sleeping habits
- Mood swings
- Lack of concentration
What healthy grief looks like:
- Allowing the grieving process to unfold
- Expressing emotions surrounding the loss
- Discussing what occurred and asking questions or searching for more information
- Recognizing that there is no timeline for child loss
- Forgiving and being patient with others and oneself
- Identifying methods to commemorate
- Seeking therapy
- Practicing mindfulness meditation or yoga
- Finding local peer to peer support groups
- Keeping a journal
- For 24 hours grief counseling Call 1-800-221-7437.
- Surviving the Death of a Baby Pamphlet from FirstCandle.org (https://firstcandle.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Surviving-the-Death-of-a-Baby.pdf)
- Arbor Day Foundation Tree Memorial (https://shop.arborday.org/commemorative-trees-in-memory)
How can advocates support the bereaved?
- Remember specific details about the deceased and discuss them with the parents.
- Express condolences on anniversaries and holidays
- Be a source of comfort.
American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (2022). Grieving the Loss of a Child. Retrieved from https://www.aamft.org/Consumer_Updates/Grieving_the_Loss_of_A_Child.aspx
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Stillbirth data and statistics. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/stillbirth/data.html
Harvard Health. (2014). In brief: Mental illness and the death of a child. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_
The American Presidency Project. (2022). Proclamation 5890—Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, 1988. Retrieved from https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/proclamation-5890-pregnancy-and-infant-loss-awareness-month-1988