October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month. One in four women experience pregnancy loss. Pregnancy and infant loss include miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth, SIDS, infant death, etc. This provides an opportunity to honor the babies that have been lost, support their families, and raise awareness regarding pregnancy and infant loss so people don't feel isolated in their experience. Almost everyone has been impacted on some level or known someone who has experienced these types of losses.
My first miscarriage, I found myself in shock and disbelief as I tried to wrap my brain around the mere excitement of being pregnant (again) and the all too sudden loss of the new life that left too soon. Barely having time to get excited and then feeling guilty and remorseful for my uncertainty regarding another pregnancy. The range of emotions was palpable. I didn’t feel like anyone else could truly know the depth of pain I was feeling in that moment. The moments of that day are forever etched in my memory.
Too many women have similar shared experiences. The Mayo Clinic estimates 10-20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates about 24,000 babies are still born in the United States each year. Yet, as a society we are uncomfortable with this type of loss. These are known as a disenfranchised loss meaning they are poorly supported or understood in our society. Women will often deal with both the emotional and physical impacts in isolation. We haven’t been given permission to grieve the loss of an unborn child/ren in a healthy way. Losing a child is known to be the most stressful event one may experience in their life. These experiences are often accompanied by overwhelming fear, sadness, anger, worry, guilt, denial, depression and grief.
Kubler-Ross defines five stages of grief, these include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. With any loss, it is important that we allow ourselves to feel each of the five stages. Many individuals will alternate between the stages repeatedly. If we don’t deal with each of the stages of grief, our pain will manifest itself in other destructive ways. The grief doesn’t go away, but will continually resurface over the course of our lives during other painful experiences. Unresolved grief will likely have negative impacts on our physical and emotional health. It leads to feelings of isolation, loneliness, depression, anxiety, and confusion.
It is important to have the support of family, friends, community, and others that have shared experiences when dealing with grief and loss. This allows our pain to be validated and helps us to feel understood. Society as a whole is uncomfortable with grief and mourning, often times because people don’t know what to do to help. Be open and honest with others about what you need. It is okay to ask someone to just sit with you, to hold you in your space of pain. It is an important part of our healing to evaluate our grief experience in regards to loss. If you feel like you need more help than your friends and family can provide, a therapist trained in grief and loss can help you work through these experiences.
As the month of October comes to a close, I hope and pray that anyone who has been impacted by this type of loss finds a way to honor oneself and the loss experienced no matter how recent or long ago. The pain is real and the pain of this loss doesn’t just go away. I know the immense pain you have experienced. A piece of my heart will always be missing. We don’t ever “get over” our grief, we learn to adjust our lives to live with the loss/es we have experienced.
Julie Nielsen, LMSW