October 15 marks a day of reflection for many parents across the U.S. – National Infant and Pregnancy Loss Remembrance Day. Many people have experienced the arrival of a new baby and all the joy, wonder, and fulfillment of long-held hopes that such a life-changing event brings. But what do you do when the unthinkable happens and that dream is never realized? Far fewer people have experienced this life-changing event. For those who do, however, there is a scar left on their hearts that never completely heals.
At Full Circle Grief Center in Richmond, I work with parents who have suffered the incredibly painful loss of a late-term pregnancy or infant. These events are not common but they are more frequent than most think. Stillbirth, the death of a baby at or after 20 weeks gestation, occurs in 1 out of every 160 pregnancies in the United States. In recent years, the infant mortality rate has been roughly 6 infant deaths per every 1,000 live births. The causes of these deaths included congenital abnormalities, complications from premature birth, and SIDS.
Though many have never experienced this type of loss, most of us do know someone who has. We wonder, “What do I say?” “How can I help?” Here is what I have learned from the parents with whom I work:
If a friend or family member has suffered a perinatal loss, he or she needs support from their loved ones. Too often loved ones feel that they do not know what to say so they say nothing and give the griever “space.” This can result in feelings of loneliness, sadness, and resentment – not only have they lost a baby but they have lost a friend as well. So, reach out. Let the griever know you love them and want to help. If they want space, they will tell you. Do not be afraid to ask, “what would be most helpful to you right now?”
It is ok to say, “I don’t know what to say but I’m here for you.” Most parents who have lost a baby want to talk about what they have been through and they want to talk about their baby. Many are afraid that no one will remember the life that, while so precious to them, no one else got to know. It is a selfless and generous act to sit and just listen.
As you navigate holidays and celebrations within your family or group of friends, keep the griever in your thoughts. Reach out as a holiday approaches and offer support. Send a Mother’s Day or Father’s Day card to let them know you are thinking of them. If you are giving a baby shower for a mutual friend, ask the friend who is grieving if they would like to be there, and be willing to accept the answer you get.
You may need to reach out more than once before your loved one responds. Your kindness will not go unnoticed but it may be too difficult early on for the griever to pick up the phone and say “thanks.” Continue to reach out. Many people in the griever’s life will not, so be the person that your loved one can count on.
Look for resources that might be helpful to those who are grieving a perinatal loss. In Richmond, there are therapists who specialize in this type of grief and there are many ways to find support online. At Full Circle, we offer free, 8-week support groups that meet in the evening and are facilitated by a professional counselor. Here, parents can connect with each other, talk about their grief, learn healthy coping strategies, and remember their babies. Through the shared experience of perinatal loss, these group participants form bonds with one another that last well beyond the group itself.
For more information about Full Circle Grief Center, visit www.fullcirclegc.org. Anyone in the Richmond area grieving the loss of an infant or pregnancy is invited to attend a candlelight vigil being held at Roslyn Retreat Center (8727 River Rd) on October 15 at 6:30 p.m. To R.S.V.P, email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness, visit www.october15th.com
This article was written by Carrie Schaeffer, LCSW from Perinatal Bereavement Services Manager, Full Circle Grief Center.