October is SIDS, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.
I always feel a little out of place speaking or writing about pregnancy and infant loss and its impact on my life, because I haven’t personally lost a pregnancy or infant. I feel like I’ll say the wrong thing. I worry about coming across as insensitive. But it is a very important issue and month for me, and for many who have experienced those things or work on behalf of those who have.
For almost 15 years, my work has intersected or focused on either preventing infant loss or representing the stories and interests of those families who have lost a baby.
My first intimate experience with infant loss occurred when I was in the Peace Corps in 1999. I vividly remember Jacqueline, a baby whose mother had died in childbirth. A woman who was a health worker I knew had essentially adopted Jacqueline, trying to save her life. In unhygienic conditions and without proper medical care, Jacqueline lived for less than a week. I still feel that I could have done something to help save that baby, but to this day I am unsure what.
In graduate school, I focused on maternal and child health. One internship brought me face to face with professionals, legislators and families who were working hard to figure out how to reduce prematurity and birth defects – the leading causes of infant loss.
Another internship brought me into the homes of poor women and families to help them have a healthy pregnancy. I vividly remember helping one struggling family negotiate with a grocery store manager to return a can of formula because they bought the wrong one and did not have enough money to buy another can of the correct formula for their newborn.
My career took me on a path that evaluated a state-wide nurse home visiting program in Oklahoma, during which we were able to demonstrate that the services that the program resulted in a lower rate of infant loss in our population.
Later, I supervised a program which pieced together the details of over 50 infant losses a year so a community team could try to figure out what could be done to support moms and families, and how the community could come together to help prevent other such losses. During that time, I interviewed mothers, and often the fathers, of babies who had died. I sat in their living rooms and listened to their stories, and held their hands, sat silently as they recalled tragic events and cried.
I will always carry their stories with me.
Throughout my children’s infancy, I couldn’t help but imagine those events happening to our family, and I think my sympathy and understanding grew. So did my passion for my career field. Today I am blessed to manage a public health program whose sole purpose is to help reduce the rate of infant loss in three communities in Virginia.
No, I don’t have a personal story to tell about pregnancy and infant loss. But I believe that when a family loses a baby, the community does too. It is a tragedy for us all. This month, my heart is with families who have lost a baby, and with the nurses, doctors, social workers, first responders, researchers, chaplains, friends, family and anybody else who work so that more babies will live.