As many of you may know, October is pregnancy and infant loss awareness month.
Many of the lovely ladies I know within the infertility community have had their lives and families touched by infant or pregnancy loss. Amy and I lost our first baby last year. Nothing can prepare you for that feeling. The elation of getting pregnant, followed by the uncertainty and then the crushing emotions of the loss and having the carpet pulled from under you and the assumed future becoming nothing more than a wish.
I read this article on Huffington Post this morning. It really struck a chord with me. The writer (who also happens to be one of my favourite Broadway people) hit the nail right on the head when she said that loss is like “the Voldemort of women’s health issues”. People do not want to talk about pregnancy loss particularly. It’s taboo. And that bothers me no end that people react in such strange ways when told about losses.
For us, it started even before we lost our baby Squishy. When we mentioned that we had bought things, we had friends tell us not to buy stuff – not to curse it. Don’t get too excited, wait until twelve weeks… I was confused. Hold on. Don’t buy things?! At this point we had been trying for two years. This was the most exciting thing ever to happen to us. Why wouldn’t we celebrate? But also, on the logical side of things, what difference would buying things, telling a few people, or (god forbid) being excited make?
This is where I have my biggest struggle. Pregnancy loss, miscarriage, however you would like to refer to it, is a medical problem. Babies don’t miscarry because their parents bought something for them. They don’t miscarry because someone got too excited. Their short lives don’t end because the parents told people. Miscarriages are caused by medical issues, not by some perceived “curse” brought on by people having emotions. Why not be excited? Why not buy things if you want to? Why not tell people if that’s what you want? Yes, one in four pregnancies end in loss, but that means that three in four do not. Generally, I don’t see why a couple should spend the first twelve weeks of a pregnancy in muted silence, too afraid to talk about their much wanted baby “just in case they curse it”. Of course, some couples choose not to tell or buy things, and some are scarred by previous loss, which are obviously different situations. But what I mean is, why does society expect us to keep quiet? Why do people give you “that look” if you tell before twelve weeks or buy something?
Now, bearing in mind people’s caution about loss and insistence that we don’t talk about babies before that magical twelve week threshold, you would think that when loss occurs people would know how to deal with it. No. No they don’t. Think about any other loss. Someone loses a grandparent, a family member or a pet and people easily say “I’m sorry.” and “Is there anything I can do?” It’s still a difficult situation, but somehow society has come up with acceptable things to say to acknowledge that loss and let the person know that they have support. With pregnancy loss, people don’t seem to know what to say or do.
We found that when we lost Squishy, people reacted in a few different ways. There were the people who just said “I’m so sorry” and offered help if we needed it. Those people were so appreciated. It was nice to have the loss acknowledged. My dad (who generally doesn’t do emotions) sent us a package in the post – just some sweets and a note to say he and my step mum were thinking of us. I cried A LOT over that as it was a lovely gesture of support. But then there were the other people. The people who just ignored it – like it hadn’t happened. Some family did this and that hurt an awful lot. One day we were going to be parents and everyone was excited and then the next day everyone had moved on. That was hard.
Then there were the “commenters”. I know a lot of people say these things out of not knowing what is appropriate to say, but some of these things are horrendous. “It is so common”, “this happens all the time” and “I know a lady who lost five babies”. All relatively reassuring. Then we have the “It was just a ball of cells“, “you’ll get pregnant again” and “it wasn’t really a baby though, was it?” Those people are the ones that make me steam. I know it’s not intentional, but those things completely derail what is a very real loss and make it feel incredibly insignificant. Scientifically, yes, our baby was a ball of cells. HOWEVER it’s not about that. It’s about the what could have been. It’s about the fact that that “ball of cells” was the same as what we all were in early pregnancy. All of us were a ball of cells at some point in our lives – doesn’t mean we were insignificant at that point. Far from it.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that we need to remember that a loss is a loss. It doesn’t matter how early in pregnancy, it’s still a loss and the parents have the right to grieve. Advice isn’t needed. Well meaning “it was just a ball of cells” isn’t required. People should just say “I’m sorry” and offer support if needed. Don’t tell parents to be not to get excited or not to buy things for the baby. Yes, we bought a lot for Squishy and yes, for a long time it hurt when we looked at it. BUT on the flip side we knew that there would be a baby one day. Whether they were conceived by me or by Amy, or whether they were fostered or adopted, there would be a baby to wear those things. If people want to buy stuff, let them. No baby ever miscarried because of tiny baby grows or booties being bought.
This pregnancy and infant loss awareness month, think about those around you. One in four pregnancies ending in miscarriage is a LOT. That means most of us will know at least one person who has experienced loss of either a pregnancy or a baby. Talk about it. Normalise it. And remember, it’s not your fault. It’s never your fault.
Pregnancy and Infant loss awareness day is October 15th. Please consider lighting a candle to remember. I’ll be lighting a candle in memory of Squishy and all the other babies that were gone too soon from their parents’ lives.
Below are some of the posts I wrote around the time that we lost Squishy. Trigger warning here as some of them are quite detailed. Please practise self care before reading and consider if you’re ready for details.
(Just a note here. I didn’t talk about infant loss as I have no experience of it and it is a different kettle of fish, as far as I am concerned. I think it probably comes with a whole different set of emotions and I didn’t want to try and put something that I know nothing about into words.)