October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what this means. What does it mean to have awareness that some babies die – a lot of babies die, actually? What are we supposed to do with that awareness?
I think that awareness means different things to different people, depending on which side of the baby loss coin you happen to land.
For those of us who have lost a baby, October is a nice time to have a memorial event or to participate in a walk or to light a candle or to release balloons. A time to remember our precious little ones and to speak their names that we love so much and long to say more.
But it is so much more than this.
All of these things are generally done with other baby loss parents – other people who know the extreme, unspeakable pain of losing a child. And that is wonderful, and helpful and healing, because there is a community of support.
But we aren’t the ones who need awareness, per se. We already know babies die. We know how frequently it happens. We know the statistics involved for the situation under which our babies died, the heartache of leaving the hospital without our little ones, the grief that follows us around. We know picking up the pieces and trying to move on with a great weight crushing us. We know living every day feeling like part of you is missing, the price of headstones, the cost of digging a grave.
Believe me, we know way more than we ever wanted to know.
For the parents and siblings of the baby that died, awareness might mean knowing that they are not alone. Being aware that other people understand what they are feeling and can walk with them through their dark valley. It could be connecting with others a little farther along in their grief so that they can be assured that the pain they are feeling is not going to swallow them whole because sometimes, it feels like it might. It could mean knowing about organizations like The Compassionate Friends, and The MISS Foundation that can help them, books they can read, places they can go for support, and things they can do to honor their babies. We all long to make our little ones a bigger part of our every day. We want to talk about them. We imagined spending the rest of our lives with them. And now, for us, awareness means figuring out the answer to the question: where do we go from here?
But really, the people who need the awareness about baby loss are the people who have not gone through it.
For those people fortunate enough not to have lost a baby of their own, it means awareness that babies die. But not in the sense of some vague, occasional tragedy, like sometimes volcanoes erupt, or great white sharks attack, or sometimes meteors hit the earth. It happens in such a real and frequent way that it is very likely that they know at least one person who has delivered or held their own dead child. It’s not nearly as rare as they might think it is.
And yet, sometimes it feels like no one wants to hear about it. It’s too sad. They might not say it, but sometimes it feels like, I’m sorry, that’s too upsetting and I have enough going on in my own life right now. I just don’t want to think about babies dying. And that’s okay. Sort of. I do get it. But it’s curious that folks would probably be more understanding and sympathetic toward someone who is missing their dead pet than they are about a child. It’s easier to hear about missing your dog. Oh yes, I had a dog die once; I know how upsetting it is. They don’t know what to do with baby loss. It’s too tragic.
Somewhere, somehow, people need more awareness that lots of people have lost their babies. And they need to know what to do with that fact. They need to know how to handle it.
They need to be aware that there are things that they can do or say that can help. Little things, that don’t require a big investment of time or emotions. They can ask us about our child. Say their name. Remember their birthday and know that that will be a hard time for us. They can ask how we are doing, and not take “Fine” for an answer. (The real answer will probably never be “Fine” again, though it will be the one that we give when we don’t think people want to hear the truth.) They can count the babies we lost among our children, and not act like it’s weird or morbid to do so.
I think part of increasing this awareness is letting people know that we are the faces of baby loss. It’s not something that just happens to other people. Whether it’s through miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death, we had a baby that we wanted and that baby died. It happened to us. There are a lot of us, and our lives are still going on. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we are going to be completely needy – just an emotional drain on you – so you need to keep your distance because you’re just really busy with the PTA and soccer practice and stuff. But it means there is something significant and traumatic that happened to us and please don’t ignore it. We are not always going to collapse on you in tears or ask you to run errands for us because we can’t handle it. But please do know that we are struggling. Every day. Some days may be easier than others, but it’s always there. And talking about it doesn’t make us worse. It makes us better! Talking about our experience validates it and helps us to process it. It is healing. People need to know that I can say Brigid and Fiona’s names and talk about the trauma surrounding their brief lives and their deaths without bursting into tears. I’m dying to say their names more, actually, and would love to hear them say them, too.
So this October, we can light candles for our sweet little ones. We can release balloons and gather with other people who get it because that is so very helpful and important, and it feels wonderful to do. It is nice to have one specific time when all of us who have painful anniversaries all throughout the year can come together and remember together. But we can also increase awareness by letting other people know that we have a little one that we loved who is not with us. It might be hard to talk about them, because that’s the way things are right now, and people don’t always want to hear it. But that’s just it. We need to increase the awareness. Help them know what to do with it. Whether we have a sketch of our baby hanging in our homes, we wear a piece of jewelry with their name on it, or we just find a way to work them into the conversation, it’s only by talking about them more often that we can make people more comfortable with it and help them learn how to handle it.
And that, I think, is the whole point.