October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness month. Why the awareness? Why is there a need to call attention to babies who are lost through miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDS or for any other reason during pregnancy and infancy? The reason is simple: grief affects the mental health of anyone who experiences it. And grieving in a disenfranchised way can complicate the natural sorrow women and men go through when a pre-born child is lost. Although it’s estimated that 10-20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage (mayo clinic, 2019), for example, it is not culturally typical to share this loss with others. Fears of the grief being dismissed or the life not being acknowledged can cause women to suffer quietly or alone. The message is that something like a miscarriage isn’t “supposed to be” a very big deal.
Additionally, it must also be said that there is a vacuum of support for women who’ve had abortions as well. Taking the morality of such a choice out of it, this is still a difficult experience for those who go through it. Stigma or shame may cause women (and men!) to suffer silently on the one hand and yet on the other— feelings that they should somehow feel okay or empowered by their choice may leave some women confused about the flood of grief, anxiety or depression that they go on to experience after an abortion.
No matter how an infant was lost, whether this was early on in a pregnancy or a few months after being born, people can experience flashbacks, invasive memories, sleepless nights, panic attacks and even a general, strange sense of emptiness for which the English language can’t quite express. Grief is a powerful and mysterious thing.
This month, we honor all those who feel isolated in their pain, who feel socially abandoned in their sorrow. Your loss was real. It’s okay to hurt. Bereavement is normal. Be patient with yourself as it does its work in you and you engage in the process of healing. Know that you matter.
For more on grief and death support, check out 5 Common Phrases to Avoid When Someone Dies and 5 Alternatives.
Written by: Elizabeth Peck, a Clinical Mental Health Counseling Candidate at the University of the Cumberlands and a support assistant to Pax Family Counseling.