October 15 – National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness

Written by

October 14, 2015

It’s an American norm to name days and months after selected causes. The purpose can vary: to build awareness, bring attention to, or to give words to something that is likely unspoken. October is designated for a number of causes, including National Domestic Abuse Awareness, Eczema Awareness, National Breast Cancer Awareness, and one that we rarely speak about, National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness.

In 1988, President Reagan designated the month of October to bring attention to these unspoken losses. Since 2002, October 15, in particular, has been recognized as the single day of awareness.  This movement has gained enough traction that worldwide at 7pm (local times) candles are lit to remember the babies who were gone too soon. However, the entire month still holds the awareness name as well.

I’m writing about this specific cause because it is considered to be a hidden loss. Nearly 1 in 4 pregnancies will result in a miscarriage, most typically prior to 12-weeks gestation. This is such an early point, that many women don’t realize that they are pregnant or since loss is a relatively common occurrence, they choose to keep the pregnancy hidden from friends and families. Doing so often results in women feeling that they can’t get support if the pregnancy results in loss because no one knew about it in the first place.

In addition to miscarriage, 1 in 160 pregnancies end between 20-40 weeks as a result of stillbirth. About half of the time, the cause of the baby’s death is unknown. The American Academy of Pediatrics launched a successful campaign to bring awareness to early infant loss due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Placing your baby on its back to sleep, having a fan circulating air in the room, and breastfeeding are common ways to reduce SIDS, which impacts 1 in 1000 infants.

Although the likelihood of loss after 12 weeks is much lower, when you are the “1” in the 1 in 4 or 1 in 100, your world comes crashing down. Pregnancy loss and infant loss are the losses of the hoped-for future and of the dreams that parents had for their children and their family. It’s the loss of normalcy when people ask about family building plans or how many children they might have and the answer becomes a struggle.

Often, people don’t know how to act around others who are grieving (no matter who they might be grieving for). A perfunctory “I’m sorry” is the social norm, but after that, there seem to be few rules or guides for how to navigate this. It makes sense to take the bereaved individual’s lead. For the loss of a pregnancy or baby, it is OK to inquire about how they are feeling and offer support or help. America is a culture of self-sufficiency, so accepting help, even when it is appreciated, is difficult.

When the loss affects someone you are close to, aim to follow up the offer. Assisting with household chores or child care duties (if the friend has living children), or offering to accompany her to doctor’s appointments are usually appreciated. Setting up food trains are very helpful in the early days after a loss. Even as time passes, let your friend know on special milestones (such as the anniversary of the loss or on October 15) that you are thinking of her. Men are often forgotten when it comes to loss. Make sure to focus on the bereaved father as well as the mother.

Death is a difficult topic of conversation—especially the death of a pregnancy or baby, and commonly, those who haven’t experienced this loss tend to stay silent. During this month of October, stretch yourself by reaching out to someone you might know who has lost a pregnancy.