October is probably one of the biggest months for awareness. There's Breast Cancer, Domestic Violence, Down Syndrome and perhaps the one that is the least talked about but affects most of us-- baby loss or pregnancy loss. Today is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, and we need to talk about it.
I had my first child at age 21. I have a rather large extended family (many are women), and the discussion of pregnancy and infant loss never came up. As military spouses, we move away from our biological families and start to build our own support system. This family-- my military family-- is who introduced me to the struggles and pain that so much of our community experiences and subsequently suffers in silence.
One after another, I learned of friends who were struggling to conceive and carry to term, experiencing miscarriage after miscarriage, experiencing premature labor and/or their precious sweet babies were stillborn. Every time my heart broke with theirs. While not limited to just my Milso friends, I was closer to their devastation. I saw their hurt in real-time while I balanced supporting my friends who were not in my physical vicinity, but devastated just the same.
As a friend and someone who didn’t have these trials but fiercely wanted to support my friends, I knew that I needed to learn how to support them through tragedy and beyond. It wasn’t enough for me to say “I’m sorry” and not talk about it because it was hard. I had to do more. This month, in honor of Infant and Pregnancy Loss Awareness Month, we should charge each other with supporting these women and their families while being silent no more.
Here are 5 Ways to Support Your Friend through Baby Loss:
1. Acknowledge her painThere’s nothing quite like hearing the news that a friend has lost the baby that they loved so deeply, and that you loved too. It knocks the wind out of you. And while she’s grieving, friends are charged with being strong. Being strong is great, but it doesn’t mean moving on or trying to convince her to move on too. Please don’t throw a “You can try again,” at them. They have the right to grieve properly, and you are allowed to grieve with and for them.
2. Never ForgetWhether your friend has children down the road or other children already, she will never forget the child(ren) she lost. She will always wonder how life would be if they were with her. Tell her it’s okay to share those dreams and wonderment with you.
3. Be open to having honest conversationsWhen I became pregnant with my third child, I had 3 friends who’d just experienced miscarriages and were struggling to conceive again. One of my worst fears was telling them I was pregnant again. I was riddled with guilt of how easy it had been for us, and how much they longed for their children. I took them each aside individually and had very candid conversations about how I felt. I didn’t make it their job to “make me feel better”, but I needed them to know that they were in the forefront of my thoughts. Each expressed happiness for us while admittedly heavy-hearted about their own situation. It was in these open, honest and tough conversations that we bonded even more. People just want to know you care.
4. Follow Her LeadThere are many times in life that we just don’t know what to say or do; and pregnancy and infant loss is definitely one of those times. Following her lead is one way that you can be supportive without worry of saying the wrong thing. For instance, if she talks about her baby often and celebrates their birthdays, etc., then do that with her! If she’s quieter about what happened, you can acknowledge her in other ways like sending a card to let her know you are thinking about her. However she chooses to honor her child, you can support her and honor alongside her.
5. Celebrate her on Mother’s DayShe is a mother with empty arms. Send her a message, flowers, anything to acknowledge that she is indeed a mother. Don’t forget her on this very special day.
From what I know, pregnancy loss or baby loss affects an entire family-- mother, father and even their children. One in four women is affected by pregnancy and infant loss. That is a staggering number, and it means that someone you know is likely affected, if it isn't you. This month and always-- commit to being a support to the ones who are affected.