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.
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.”
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.
Bereaved parents are masters at hiding their emotions. Carrying on with work and putting on a happy face so co-workers don’t ask insensitive questions. Saying everything is “fine” when it most certainly is not. Pretending to have moved on and be okay with attending a friend’s baby shower. Becoming experts at forcing back tears, avoiding certain aisles at Target, and ignoring the insensitive small talk at holiday dinners.
Except it's impossible to ignore the harsh comments, reminding us "it's time to move on" or "don't worry, you'll get pregnant again." The reality is everything is not fine. None of it is fine. Grief is beyond exhausting. The heaviness weighs down on bereaved parents every single day. It's a constant battle of taking steps forward and then having triggers interrupt any progress we felt we made.
Finding a support system to walk alongside in the grief journey is important. Being heard and seen by others who have similar loss stories can make an incredible impact on your own healing. We are here when you need to let your mask down (figuratively and literally). It's okay to let someone help you carry the weight of grief. ❤️
by Jillian, Patrick's mom
I follow a lot of pregnancy and infant loss groups. The last couple of days have been filled with posts defending Chrissy Teigan. It has triggered so many emotions to hear of the backlash she is receiving for sharing her experience and pictures. I have been very open about Patrick. But in those first few months after his birth I tried to do what I thought I had to. I tried to hold regular conversation with those that visited. Laughed. Joked. But I will tell you that in those few months I honestly did not think I was going to survive it. One night, over three months later, and after a bottle of wine, I decided to sign up for the March of Dimes walk and share Patrick in a more public way. I was so scared of the response I would get. But it was amazing. And it saved me. He was being acknowledged and there was no better feeling. It wasn't about me or Pat. This was about Patrick. We held our son while he died. That instant love we felt with the girls was no different for him. The thought of just acting like he didn't exist was debilitating. We were asked if we wanted an obituary. The fact that it was even a question was hurtful to me in that moment. Everyone else gets one, why wouldn't he? He was here. He existed.
For those that believe some celebrity had time to pose for pictures, I'm happy this is something you clearly never had to experience. Studies have proven the old way of dealing with baby loss were actually damaging women. So hospitals evolved. There are actual organizations that work with hospitals to come specifically for these moments. We didn't have a chance to have one there, but the nurses knew enough to take our phones and snap away. I had no idea until a couple of days later. And I am so thankful. We don't see what others might see. We see Patrick. We see our only moments with him.
Keeping Patrick to myself was sending me in a direction that was not good. Sharing him sent me in a direction that has kept our marriage strong and given us three beautiful girls.
You don't need to understand or agree with someone's coping skills. But respect them. Or at least keep your opinions to yourself before you cause more damage.
By Emily, Lena's mom
I delivered my daughter stillborn on January 10th, 2016. In the days and weeks following her death, many people reached out to me and expressed how sorry they were for our loss. “I can’t imagine the pain you are feeling” or “I can’t imagine what you’re going through” were common things said.
But how about, just for a moment, you try to imagine it. Try really hard to put yourself in this situation. Imagine you are lying on the table at a routine OB appointment as your doctor waves the Doppler over your belly, patiently waiting to hear a heartbeat. Minutes pass. No sounds detected. You follow your doctor down the hallway, half knowing that something is terribly wrong but half believing you be proven wrong. You lay on the table in the ultrasound room, and then you hear the words that will break your heart into a million pieces: “I’m afraid something has happened. This is where the heartbeat should be.” Now your reaction may have been different to mine – we react to shocking news in unique ways. But try to imagine what your reaction would have been in that exact moment. Screaming. Crying. Disbelief. Shock. Anger. Sadness. Questions. So many questions. Why? Why? Why?
Imagine having to go back home and wait two days before being induced. Imagine that your baby, who was living inside of you for more than five months, is no longer kicking, her heart is no longer beating. Imagine being at the hospital, in a room similar to where your son was born three years ago, but with the understanding this outcome will be very different. Imagine going through hours of excruciating labor only to know you won’t have a healthy baby at the end to make the pain all worth it. Imagine feeling so scared when it’s time to push – you know this needs to end but you don’t want it to, because then it will be truly real.
Now imagine this – the silence. Deafening silence. And then imagine holding your stillborn baby - examining her features, noticing how even though she is tiny, she looks very similar to her big brother. You want to scream as you hear a newborn cry down the hall while you hold your lifeless baby. Imagine watching your husband sob as he carefully holds your daughter. Nothing in these moments makes sense. You are thinking, “why did this happen to us?” “We’re good people, we don’t deserve this.” “This is so unfair.”
Weeks pass and sympathy cards and gifts arrive. Many struggle with what to say. “At least she wasn’t full-term.” “At least you’re young, you can have more babies.” “At least you have your son.” There is no “at least” when a baby dies. Imagine how hurtful these statements can be. Whether 8 weeks, 38 weeks, or 8 days old...your life changed the moment you saw the positive pregnancy test. Dreams for the future are gone, forever changed.
The next time you are about to say, “I can’t imagine”, I suggest you reconsider. Saying something like “I can ONLY imagine what you are going through” is more sensitive to a bereaved parent and shows you are willing to take on their pain, even if it’s for just a moment.
This is where we share YOUR stories - your loss matters, your baby matters, you always matter.