We were all so very excited.
Our family was growing and I was going to get another sibling! I vaguely remember twenty years ago when my mom and dad told us the news. Of course, at first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about this declaration, since I was, after all, twelve years old and in middle school. But it didn’t take very long for me to get really excited about having another baby in the family.
And almost as soon as I had felt such overwhelming joy about this new baby in my life, it felt like someone took their calloused fist, balled up the joy I had felt in the palm of their hand, and crushed it with all of their strength. My mother went in for an appointment, and there was no heartbeat. She had lost the baby.
I can tell you that personally I have never experienced the gut-wrenching loss of a baby. But the sadness I felt for my mother was overwhelming. The deep, dark depression that my mother sank down into–it was almost indescribable. I can only imagine the sorrow and pain she felt in her broken heart for her unborn child.
For about two months, I rarely saw my mom leave her bedroom. She definitely didn’t ever leave the house. She couldn’t bring herself to face the world; she could hardly go on with her life. She had wanted that baby so bad, and she never thought miscarriage would happen to her. Luckily for my mom, she did become pregnant again, and this helped her get through the immense grief of losing her baby. Nine months later my youngest sibling was born, another girl might I add, and joy returned to our lives with her birth.
I’ve gone through the incidence of miscarriages happening to a couple of my closest friends. And to see them lose their babies–it’s one of the most unpleasant things I have ever experienced. Unfortunately, the subject of pregnancy loss is one that many avoid and refrain from speaking about. There is some sort of taboo associated with this occurrence, which actually, according to the Mayo Clinic, happens in 10 to 20 percent of pregnancies. That’s a startling number for us to consider, especially when people just don’t share very much about it.
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month
In 1988, President Ronald Reagan declared the month of October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. This luckily creates an avenue for us all to publicly and shamelessly acknowledge these losses. But why should any mother feel shame for losing her unborn child? Is it because there is a feeling of guilt that goes along with it? An irrational feeling that there may have been something that she did or didn’t do that caused her to lose her precious child?
In addition to experiencing the pain of pregnancy loss through my family and friends, I also have to recognize that of infant loss after birth. For almost eight years, I worked in the Neonatal Nurseries at the Medical University of South Carolina. Luckily, I worked most of my time in the Level 2 Nursery, where the babies were not quite as sick. So most of the infant loss that did occur I only heard about through word of mouth.
However, there are a particular few babies who passed away that stick out in my mind- one of which became very acutely ill on me as I took care of him in the early hours of the morning. I spent hours assessing him in great detail, doing lab work, assisting with abdominal x-rays, and putting him on oxygen. At shift change, I received an order to transfer him upstairs to the Intensive Care Unit, and I very quickly worked with my nurse practitioner and respiratory therapist to get him transferred. Unfortunately, within less than 24 hours, the infection in his tiny belly took over his little body, and he passed away.
I heard about his passing the next day when I came into work, and my heart was broken. The angst I felt for this tiny human that I had poured my soul into taking care of was overwhelming. But that was my job, after all. To care for these sick and helpless babies. And part of being able to do that is in the ability to detach yourself from the sadness and move forward. There were still babies left in the nursery that I had to now focus my efforts on. Babies that needed me, as that little guy needed me that morning.
You think of a baby, and you think of new life.
Of the beginning of life, and definitely not the end. But in reality, there are babies that die. There are mommies that go through unimaginable pain when they lose their child, even if it is one that never even gets to be born.
And so, I think we must use this month to really, really think about these families that have gone through such traumatic experiences as this. We must end the negative stigma that goes along with talking about these experiences. There is nothing shameful about losing a pregnancy or infant. If anything, we should be talking about it more, so that those who find themselves going through this experience can reach out and find the support that they need to not only grieve as they should, but to be able to move on, and find new meaning through their loss. And to give meaning to the life of the baby that they loved, no matter how short that little life was.