How to Honor Grieving Parents
Today (October 15) is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Although many people may not know about this special day, chances are you probably know someone who has suffered a pregnancy loss. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, about 10-25% of clinically recognized pregnancies end in loss.
Sadly, in the past, women have often grieved their miscarriages in private. Despite the fact that about 1 in 8 women will suffer from a miscarriage in their lifetime, our society has never given space or attention to these grieving parents.
The good news is that this is beginning to change. Thanks to social media and growing attention to women’s issues, we are seeing a shift in the way we talk about pregnancy and infant loss.
As a mother who has recently lost a child, I can tell you that when I talk about my son and share my grief with the world, I am better able to carry my loss and let my pain move through me. Being vulnerable and authentic about the bad days and the dark nights has helped me to find purpose and healing as I mourn my son. I couldn’t imagine having to carry his loss without the support of my family and friends. I couldn’t imagine living a life in which I wasn’t able to say his name, share my memories of him, and honor his life story on an ongoing basis.
But when it comes to pregnancy or infant loss, we don’t give mothers and fathers that same support. People still tend to shy away from the topic of pregnancy and infant loss. It’s too much for many of us to even ponder: The idea of a baby dying feels so deeply wrong and terrifying that we instantly close up in fear and put up a wall around ourselves. This leaves so many women without any support or community when they lose their babies. No one knows what to say to a mother who has buried her infant, so they change the subject, cross the street, and try to just pretend the tragedy never happened. Women are shamed into silence, and sometimes even chided for their grief.
“You can always try again,” well-meaning friends might say, or “At least you have other healthy children.”
Although these words may be well-intentioned, the result is the same: Moms feel as though they are not “allowed” to grieve their pregnancy loss or infant loss as wholly and completely as people who grieve older children or other loved ones.
But, I am here to say: It doesn’t matter if you were just a few months along in your pregnancy or your infant was only on this earth for mere moments: Anytime a mother loses her baby she deserves full dignity and support as she mourns, however long it takes, and whatever form that grief takes.
Women like Chrissy Teigen have been part of changing the conversation around pregnancy loss in this country. When she lost her unborn baby Jack last year, she documented the experience on social media, unabashedly sharing her great loss.
Other public figures have also begun to share their experiences with miscarriages and pregnancy loss, including Nicole Kidman, Ali Wong, and Michelle Obama.
When women share their stories, we find the strength to connect to our inner power. We discover the words we need to help describe our own loss and our own pain. Grief is not meant to be a solitary journey. It’s a family experience, a community experience. In many ways, we have medicalized death in this county and taken death out of the home and out of the family. The unintended result of that is that we have become a grief-illiterate society. We are speechless and frozen when the topic of death comes up, especially the death of a baby. We don’t know the right words so we say nothing, or worse, change the subject or turn away when we see a grieving mother.
Today is an invitation to bring attention and dignity back to grieving parents. It’s a day for us to reflect on the fact that even if we don’t always know the ‘right’ words to say, we can still show up and be wholeheartedly present for people in pain. It’s a day to reflect on the fact that grieving is not shameful or weak or embarrassing: It’s sacred, it’s precious, it’s love personified.
I’m proud to be a grieving mother. I’m not proud my son died, but I am proud that our love is so deep and so unbreakable that I will always carry this profound grief. And in sharing my grief publicly , I hope I help other moms and dads feel the same way.