Maybe if we don’t talk about it, we can pretend it didn’t happen.
It’s common to use this tactic when there’s nothing we can say to make a painful situation better, but it’s not helpful. It doesn’t mean the pain will go away.
October 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. It’s time for us to break the silence, acknowledge, and turn toward a pain so great we’d rather pretend it didn’t happen; the unimaginable pain of miscarriage, stillbirth, and loss of an infant child.
Infant loss still happens, and far too often. It’s so common that the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada estimates 15% to 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage or stillbirth. Some estimate infant loss to be one-in-four, from conception to the end of an infant’s first year.
Parents and families are often isolated in their grief. Well-meaning people never mention it or the baby’s name, leaving parents to believe their baby is forgotten. We’re drawn to offer empty platitudes, intended to soothe or give an answer, just to have something to say. This only increases the pain and isolation of grief.
I was surprised, many years ago, when a dear, long-time friend told me she’d suffered the stillbirth of her first child, a perfect full-term baby girl. I had no idea despite our close friendship. She’d been taught not to talk about it because it made people uncomfortable.
The wee girl my friend lost would be in her teens at the time she shared this with me. She’d carried this pain alone for far too many years. Every birth/death day was silently remembered, wondering what she’d be doing now and what she’d look like. Her baby—her child—lost but never forgotten.
I wish I’d known then what I know now about grief and loss. I don’t remember what I said but I remember listening as my friend shared the joy and anticipation of having their first child, the nursery was prepared and plans made, only to return home devastated. She was expected to accept it just wasn’t meant to be and forget it, yet this only magnified the pain.
As a society, we can do better to support people experiencing such horrendous loss. As we increase our understanding of the magnitude of the personal tragedy, we can better meet the needs of bereaved parents.
Shattered hopes and dreams, the pain of pregnancy-loss or death of a child is true and it lasts. Pretending it never happened doesn’t take the pain away and only serves to further isolate people in their time of great need.
It’s too common to stay away, believing they just need time alone, when it’s often our own discomfort of not knowing what to say or do to help them that keeps us away. There are no magic things we can say, but loving presence can be a gift.
To help, it’s imperative we reach out and recognize the trauma parents have experienced. This is the perfect time to remember grief specialist, Clair Jantzen’s sage advice to “just show up and shut up.” Be present and listen. They may want to talk, or not, but find out what would be helpful and then do that.
Cooking a meal, showing up to provide company and learning to be a compassionate presence helps parents know they are loved and not alone. Acknowledging the existence of the infant by mentioning their names helps parents know the babe is not forgotten.
A world-wide wave of light is planned for Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. as a way to remember these wee ones. People, in different time zones, will be lighting candles of remembrance, thus creating a wave of light around the world.
There are walks and ceremonies being planned in different cities (http://www.october15.ca/).
As a society, we can do better to support others during their time of great need. I know we can do this.
Kimberly, I will never forget.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.