“Can I talk about it?” Five simple words have rarely meant so much to me. But coming from a dear friend in the wake of my pregnancy loss, it was exactly what I needed to hear. It opened a communication channel that proved invaluable to my grieving process.
Pregnancy loss isn’t a subject we talk about openly. Many of us are still uncomfortable talking about the death of a person who has enjoyed 70 or 80 years on this planet, so we have a long way to go on the loss of an unborn child.
But we need to start. As women, when we fall pregnant, we naturally assume everything will be well. Sadly, for one in four of us, that isn’t the case. The frequency of miscarriage is much higher than many people realise. Each year it creates a silent trauma for more than 103,000 Australian families.
In most cases, couples experience the loss and keep it to themselves. Or, at the very least, will only tell their close family and friends. They will run a gamut of emotions, including sadness, shame, grief and everything in between.
Managing this period is challenging not only for the couple but also their support networks. And it’s a period when, perhaps more than ever, you need the support of your tribe.
I personally think this is because of a personal shame we put on ourselves and the feeling we have somehow ‘failed’. That as a woman, producing a baby is something we should naturally be able to do. We don’t talk about our failures, only our successes. Which makes those moments of loss weigh even heavier on us.
We are all aware of the magical ’12 week’ marker on our pregnancy journey as the time when it is ‘safe’ to share the impending arrival with our tribe.
As Bears of Hope co-founder Amanda Bowles says: “We immediately begin building a life around those two lines. All of that planning and the hopes and the dreams and the thoughts of what our family’s going look like, can be taken away in an instant. What this translates to is if someone experiences loss prior to 12 weeks and not shared the news with anyone, as a society we are telling them to suffer in silence.”
However, sharing exciting news doesn’t guarantee a smooth pregnancy. Sadly, even after 12 weeks and the joy that comes with telling people, medical issues can be discovered that turn peoples’ whole worlds upside down.
In January of this year, I found myself in this exact situation. We told friends before the 12-week mark we were expecting our second child, but my life changed forever during our 13-week scan.
It’s a day indelibly etched into my internal calendar. It’s the day we were told our unborn son had a 1 in 32,000 medical abnormality. This led us down a terrible path toward the hardest decision of our lives: to terminate the pregnancy for medical reasons.
It was something I never expected to be confronted with; in fact, I had never met anyone else who had suffered this same situation. It was by far the most challenging few weeks of our lives.
And in that darkness came a ray of light. I was sent a bear from Bears of Hope. It introduced me to this beautiful and supportive organisation that sustains families who have experienced pregnancy and infant loss.
It also tapped into my empathetic self. It made me realise how we all stumble and fumble in our desperation to cope with loss. What do you say to someone who has lost a child? And as a parent who has suffered that tragedy, what can someone do that would help me?
Typically, friends and family do not know what to say or how to act when they have someone close to them experience pregnancy loss. It is certainly true of my experience.
It is human nature to want to fix things but, sadly, pregnancy loss is not a problem that can be remedied by any repair. All we can do is be there and offer support.
Here are Amanda’s suggestions for support networks on what you can do to help:
- The best thing to say is “I’m so sorry” or “I don’t know what to say”
- Make offers with ideas you can deliver. Don’t say “let me know if there is anything you need”; generally the couple is not in the headspace to know what they need.
- Offers may include: Cooking a meal(s), grocery shopping, cleaning, washing, ironing or mowing the lawns.
- Suggest babysitting other children.
- Regularly check in on them every 4-6 weeks after the loss. This period when people have moved on with their lives can sometimes be the hardest.
- It’s ok to talk about the angel baby and keep the memory alive.
When my friend asked if she could talk about my loss, it began a sometimes painful, often tearful dialogue. But it was the start of the next step of my journey.
No matter at what point a couple experiences a pregnancy loss, it doesn’t change the love, hopes and dreams they had already carved out into their minds for their unborn child. As a society, we need to acknowledge pregnancy loss and allow people to talk about their experiences instead of making them grieve in silence.
The grief of an angel baby doesn’t get easier, but with the help and support of our tribe, we can make the journey a little more manageable.