1 in 4 women will experience a pregnancy or infant loss.
The 1 in 4 statistic is often used by health professionals in a way to try and take away some of the pain their patient is feeling after experiencing a pregnancy or infant loss - to explain that it’s “common.” That miscarriage is something that many women experience, that losing a baby happens to hundreds of families each day. While bringing up the commonality may be an explanation it's not the mother's fault, it doesn't take away the fact that bereaved parents immediately feel isolated after they have learned of the loss of their baby. Feelings of guilt and anger take over. Questioning why this happened to them, why this happened to their baby.
Yes, losing a baby happens much more than we realize. But that doesn’t mean the bereaved families experiencing these losses feel any less alone in their journeys. The truth is that you are the only one who truly knows your experience and the love you felt for your baby. Not even your partner can know the inner workings of your grief. You deserve all the support you need to navigate your grief journey and to incorporate your loss into your new normal.
It’s not just a statistic. It's me.
Grandparents grieve twice after the loss of a baby.
First, grandparents are mourning the devastating loss of their precious grandchild, who they’ve already created future dreams with. They may have imagined themselves teaching their grandchild a hobby, going on a special vacation, sharing family traditions, or simply just enjoying their time together. From the moment a pregnancy is announced, there is a future of a new generation. And the moment that is taken away, the loss of those precious dreams is forever grieved.
Grandparents also experience another loss after a baby has died: their own child’s former self. The bereaved parent is changed in ways they only truly know, but the grandparents often observe these changes and mourn for the person they've always known. As a parent, you desperately yearn to protect your child from pain, but this pain can’t be fixed. Knowing you can't take the suffering away from your precious child is hurtful, confusing, and downright maddening at times.
It's not to say that grandparents are grieving "more" than the parents who have lost their baby. Grief, pain and suffering shouldn't be compared as it's so unique to each person who is experiencing it. Grandparents are trying to navigate their own journey of grief, which can be very complicated, and they deserve support as they mourn their grandbaby's death.
Grandparents grieve, too.
Grief from the perspective an old man talking to someone who has lost a child:
"Alright, here goes. I'm old. What that means is that I've survived (so far) and a lot of people I've known and loved did not. I've lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can't imagine the pain it must be to lose a child. But here's my two cents.
I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don't want to. It hears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don't want it to "not matter". I don't want it to be something that just passes.
My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can’t see.
As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.
In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.
Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out.
Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too. If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.”
In recent years, more movies are being centered around a theme of pregnancy or infant loss. It's incredibly important for filmmakers to create these movies so our society as a whole can shift our views on discussing baby loss, grief, and supporting bereaved families.
Some of the more popular films include Return to Zero, The Starling, The Light Between Oceans, and Pieces of a Woman. Please note that if you have experienced a pregnancy or infant loss and should you decide to view any of these films, it may be triggering for you. Please have a self-care plan in place and a support person you can view the movie with or talk to afterwards to process your feelings.
As grief affects each person so differently, it can be tricky to recommend one film over another. Some people may connect with a specific movie plot or find a character's own grief process more relatable, where someone else may have the opposite reaction. However, our community as a whole has said Return to Zero seems to be the most realistic portrayal of stillbirth and the parents' grief journey afterwards. The Starling did not receive great reviews from our community. Specifically, one scene between two of the characters discusses the "stages of grief" and gives the impression that each person follows these stages in a linear timeline. The reality is quite the opposite, and you do not "graduate" or fully complete a stage. It's highly probable that you will feel those particular feelings again at some point, though maybe not to the same extreme.
The Light Between Oceans focuses on many themes in the plot including pregnancy loss and the after-affect on the mother and the decisions she makes for the future, as well as how grief can greatly affect a person's mental health and wellbeing. There are a few scenes that may be triggering as the portrayal of going through physical aspects of miscarriage are shown. However, the director included a realistic view to show the audience how truly tragic losing a baby is. This is similar for Pieces of a Woman, where the beginning 45 minutes of the movie focuses on the birth of the baby. It appears the director really wants the audience to be engaged in the birthing process to feel the grief and unimaginable loss the parents will go through later on.
Have you seen any of these movies and what are your thoughts on the storylines? What other movies have you seen with the theme of baby loss? Please share with us in the comments.
Unfortunately there's no quick fix for grief or a fast-forward button. But there are things you can do to help take care of yourself, even if it gives you just a few minutes of relief each day.
- Embrace the comfy clothes. Wear your favorite sweatshirt, treat yourself to a new pair of slippers, or curl up in a soft blanket.
- Try reading for 10 minutes before you go to bed - it may just help you fall asleep faster.
- Whether you decide to journal privately, share your story on social media or create an art project, these are all ways to express your feelings. Don't keep it all bottled up.
- Trouble falling asleep or waking up frequently is common while grieving. Don't be afraid to bring this up to your provider. Try laying down for just 20 minutes during the day to at least rest, even if you can't fall asleep.
- Connecting with nature can be very healing - getting some steps in for light movement and feeling the sunshine is a huge plus.
- Find a new way to honor your baby - some ideas: share your story in a support group, wear a remembrance bracelet, paint rocks and hide them around your town, drop off some goods to your local food pantry, create a playlist of meaningful songs.
- Keep hydrated - it sounds silly, but remembering to drink water or tea is important. Your body is physically healing, as well, and needs the nourishment.
What will you do today to take care of yourself? Share any other ideas with us here in the comments.
For the month of November, we displayed a beautiful "Thankful Tree" in our Center for Child Loss. Sweet little leaves were decorated with the names of the babies we are missing each and every day. After experiencing a pregnancy or infant loss, we know that the holidays can be overwhelming, daunting, and even more of an emotional roller coaster. We hope this tree reminds you that there is room in heart for both grief and gratitude and that your baby is with you as you continue to travel this grief journey.
Pictures and videos were shared on our Facebook and Instagram during November. Thank you to everyone who shared their babies' names with us and for the loving messages appreciating the tree.
On Friday, October 15th, 2021, the Massachusetts Chapter of The TEARS Foundation hosted a virtual Facebook Live ceremony to participate in the International Wave Of Light. The Wave of Light honors Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day each year on October 15th. Participants were encouraged to submit their babies' names in the beginning of October so luminaries could be decorated and displayed in honor of all babies gone too soon during the 10/15 ceremony.
The International Wave of Light started in 2003 and invites baby loss families, friends, and community members from around the world to join in remembrance of all babies gone too soon on October 15 at 7:00 pm in all time zones. Lighting begins at the International Dateline in the first time zone. Illuminations and candles remain lit for at least one hour, moving through each time zone as the Wave of Light travels around the globe. The result is a continuous chain of light spanning across the world for a 24-hour period, illuminating the night in love and light in honor of the babies we miss each and every day.
Participants shared their photos of candles lit at home along with the babies' names they were honoring in our virtual ceremony. We also received pictures from Worcester, Boston, and Lowell showing the Kenneth Burns Bridge, the Longfellow Bridge, the Zakim Bridge, and the Crosspoint Building lit up pink and blue for Pregnancy and Infant Awareness Day.
Everyone talks about the village needed to raise a baby. The need for support from relatives, support from other other parents with similar aged children, support from daycare and schools, and support from the overall community. Parents can't simply do it all on their own, especially in today's modern world where the expectations for parenting can be downright overwhelming.
From the minute a pregnancy is announced, the expectant parents hear all sorts of advice like "nap when the baby naps" or "you think you're tired now, just wait..." Some families luck out with a village - they have the support in place to get them through the rough days, someone else to rely on for advice or just to be a listening ear.
But what happens when the pregnancy ends unexpectedly? When the unthinkable occurs and the baby dies? The village tends to disappear. Maybe not right away, but often within weeks after the baby's death. The funeral is over, friends and family leave, and then the check-ins with the bereaved parents tend to become more and more spaced out. The world goes back to normal while the heartbroken parents are left to grieve alone, feeling more isolated than ever.
Some hospitals have a social worker helping while the parents are in the hospital, some have a clinician who will call to follow-up in the weeks following. But many hospitals do not have these procedures in place or are understaffed to adequately provide the ongoing bereavement care the parents will need. Some parents are handed a folder of resources but often the last thing a bereaved mother or father wants to do is read.
The village is needed so desperately to grieve the baby - not just in the weeks following the death, but in the months and years following. Grief is ongoing and while it may change over time, parents will never forget their baby and will always wonder what could have been. Bereaved parents deserve just as much support as they would have received should the baby lived - this is what our society needs to recognize.
As bereaved parents, we often feel like no one realizes how much we miss out on when our baby dies. The milestones, the “firsts”, all of those precious memories we wanted to create are ripped away. The minute you take a pregnancy test or receive a phone call to confirm you're expecting, you can't help but imagine a future with that child. Creating a list of names in your mind, browsing through the baby aisle at Target just to take a peek at all the cute clothes, wondering which features they will inherit from you.
The first word they speak, their first steps, the first day of kindergarten...how can you not think of those special moments immediately? Some parents even think farther ahead with high school graduation and walking their daughter down the aisle or dancing with their son at their wedding. In just a few moments' time, you are imagining an entire lifetime with someone you haven't even met yet.
It's absolutely incredible how your heart starts to swell immediately with all the newfound love for your baby. It's a parent's instinct to care for their baby, to teach their baby, to love their baby. That instinct is engrained from the very beginning, before we even truly know who that baby is.
We didn’t just lose a pregnancy.
We didn’t just lose a baby.
We lost an entire future of hopes and dreams.
A common myth surrounding grief is that you can only be sad, depressed, angry, indifferent - the more negative feelings that typically come first to mind. The myth continues with if you are feeling "good", you can't truly be grieving anymore. But that's simply untrue. You may feel excited but tearful at the same time about experiencing something without your baby, and that can be confusing. It may even cause you to feel guilt. This is where the gratitude part comes into play - how can you be thankful for things in your life when the person you want has been taken away?
Having that mix of feelings is completely normal - there is room in your heart for these emotions to co-exist. You don't have to be just happy or just sad...you CAN be both at the same time. You can be grateful while also being angry. It just takes some time to recognize it's okay to feel that way. Our society constantly pushes these ideas into our heads that missing someone who has died means you can only feel sad and that for you to experience joy again, you have to move on. The reality is that you can miss your baby and still feel the positive emotions.
A question we often receive in our support groups is HOW can I feel grateful again? There's no easy answer for this as it truly depends on the individual - your past experiences with grief, your coping skills, your support system - they all shape how you can move forward in your life without your baby physically with you. And let's be clear - grief involves learning how to move forward, NOT moving on. Training yourself to be completely present in the moment is a suggestion to try, though do not be discouraged as it does takes work. To start, instead of forcing yourself to be thankful for the big things, like your job or your home, focus on the little things. The comfort food from family that has gotten you through the really tough days. A hot shower that melts away your tears. Recognizing a random pink flower that connects you to your baby. A long hug from your partner. These things may seem simple but they add up and they will help you cope as you are on your grief journey.
There is room in your heart for both grief and gratitude.
There is room in your heart for both pain and joy.
There is room in your heart for both tears and laughter.
This is where we share YOUR stories - your loss matters, your baby matters, you always matter.