Pregnancy and Infant Loss: The Silent Suffering

Pregnancy can mean different things to different people, but one thing’s for sure: it’s definitely life changing! From the moment a couple sees that positive on the pregnancy test, nothing is the same. What follows are months of doctor’s appointments, morning sickness, anticipation, anxiety, and more.

But for some parents, this life-changing experience takes an unexpected turn. While they’d been planning on welcoming a new child into their life, complications can lead to either death during pregnancy or shortly after birth. These losses during pregnancy or infancy are unfortunately both all too common and often overlooked. 

The purpose of this post is to raise awareness of the unspoken pain so many parents face, as well as give you some tools to help those who are struggling with grief.  

The Loss

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, about one million pregnancies each year end in some kind of loss (1), whether that be a miscarriage (loss before 20 weeks pregnant) or a stillbirth (loss after 20 weeks pregnant but before or during delivery). Anywhere from 10-25% of all known pregnancies end in miscarriage alone (2). In addition to these losses during pregnancy, about 24,000 babies die after birth while still in infancy (3).

While these losses don’t affect everyone in the exact same way, losing a baby before, during, or after birth has a serious impact on the parents. Research shows that miscarriages can take a big emotional toll on both women and men, even if the baby was lost very early on in pregnancy (4). Research also shows an equally strong reaction to stillbirths as families struggle to cope “for years and sometimes decades” (5).

With all of the emotions and grief to sort through, parents need support now more than ever. Unfortunately, they often don’t receive the support they need to cope with their loss (6).

So what can we do to help our loved ones cope with the tragedy of pregnancy or infant loss?

Helping Loved Ones Cope

Helping loved ones deal with loss during pregnancy or infancy can be really tricky. Often times, these parents may need help from professional counselors as they work through their grief. (They also may benefit from support groups online or the free bereavement materials from March of Dimes.)  But there are a few things we can do as friends and family members to acknowledge their loss and support them in the process. 

The American Pregnancy Association suggests a few ways to help your loved one cope with a miscarriage (7). These also apply to stillbirths or the loss of an infant as well. 

  • Listen. As part of the grieving process, a parent may just need someone to tell their story to. Genuinely listening with love can go a long way as they try to heal. 
  • Validate their feelings. Let them know that their grief and emotions are normal, and that this is all a part of the healing process. Even if it’s been some time, don’t tell them it’s time to move on or get over it. 
  • Be ready to talk about the baby. They may not always be ready to talk about the baby, but when they are, be there. Talking about their baby is a healthy part of coping with grief.

Break the Silence

So many mothers and fathers struggle alone with the loss of their baby. But it doesn’t have to be that way! This pregnancy was still life-changing and still should be talked about. As friends and family, we can be there to support those who are experiencing the grief of losing their child so they don’t have to suffer in silence.

 

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Picture retrieved from https://www.pexels.com/photo/affection-baby-birth-black-and-white-266055/

References

1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Maternal and Child Health Bureau. (2013). Child Health USA 2013. Rockville, Maryland: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from 

https://mchb.hrsa.gov/chusa13/perinatal-health-status-indicators/p/fetal-mortality.html

2. American Pregnancy Association. (2017, May 2). Miscarriage: Signs, symptoms, treatment and prevention. Retrieved from http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-complications/miscarriage/

3. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (n.d.). How many infants die every year? Retrieved from https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/infant-mortality/topicinfo/Pages/statistics.aspx

4. Leis-Newman, E. (2012, June). Miscarriage and loss. Monitor on Psychology, 43(6), 56. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/06/miscarriage.aspx

5. Cacciatore, J. (2013, April). Psychological effects of stillbirth. Seminars in Fetal and Neonatal Medicine, 18(2), 76-82. Retrieved from

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1744165X12001023

6. Cacciatore, J. & Bushfield, S. (2007). Stillbirth: The mother’s experience and implications for improving care. Journal of Social Work in End-of-Life & Palliative Care, 3, 59-79. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1300/J457v03n03_06

7. American Pregnancy Association. (2017, April 19). After a miscarriage: Supporting friends & family through loss. Retrieved from http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-loss/

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