Today, October 15th marks the global day of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance.
Marking the end of the globally recognised Baby Loss Awareness Week, today is a day that holds a special meaning to so many of us. A day when families across the globe can come together to remember, grieve and honour all the babies that never got to stay.
Because pregnancy and infant loss is common. So very common that on average, about one in four pregnancies will end in miscarriage, and many, many families every year will experience the heartbreak of having a stillborn baby.
But just because pregnancy- and infant loss is common, and most of us will either go through the experience ourselves or know someone who has, it does not make the grief and heartache any less for those experiencing it.
"Every loss is personal," reminds Lynn Cassidy from The Miscarriage Association of Ireland.
"Losing a child, whether you were seven weeks or seven months pregnant is heartbreaking, and to so many going through this, there is still this enormous taboo around speaking openly about experiencing pregnancy- and infant loss."
Wave of Light
This, Cassidy explains, is why today, and the Wave of Light event, is so important.
"Many experience pregnancy loss before they even know they are pregnant, others again lose a baby so early on in their pregnancies they haven't really broken the news they are pregnant to people. And then, when they suffer a miscarriage, they often struggle to talk about their loss and many say they feel lonely in their grief, as family and friends might not realise what has happened, or people don't really know what to say or how to talk about it."
So this week, and especially this evening, where bereaved parents across the world light a candle for their babies who never made it earth-side, matters greatly to so many.
"Remember that with pregnancy loss, many who experience it won't have a grave to visit, they won't have this one place they can go to remember and be close to their baby that they lost, reminds Cassidy. "So being able to light a candle, and knowing that so many others around the world are doing this very same thing at the very same time, it means so much."
A lonely grief
Chances are, we will all know someone who has either gone through or will go through a pregnancy- or baby loss. But when someone we care about or someone we know has experienced this, it can be so very difficult to know what to say – and what you can do to show your support in this very heartbreaking time.
"Many who suffer a miscarriage or baby loss find that many people in their circle, be it friends or co-workers, almost avoid them in the beginning, often leaving them feeling both more alone, and many also reporting to feeling almost embarrassed about their grief, as if they shouldn't be this upset," explains Cassidy.
"The real reason is probably that for many, they just don't know what to say to someone who has suffered a loss like this. They don't know what to do, and are more than likely worried that mentioning it to the person it has happened to will make them more upset."
The most important thing you can do is to not avoid the person who has suffered a loss – and to let them know you are there for them now.
"It is so important to reach out to someone who has suffered a pregnancy- or infant loss. But make sure you say the right thing, and don't cause more upset – even if this wasn't your intention."
Here is Cassidy's best advice for how you can help someone who has suffered a miscarriage or baby loss – what to say, and what you should absolutely not say:
Say how sorry you are
The most important thing, Cassidy explains, is to acknowledge the loss and the grief.
"Tell them how sorry you are this happened to them," she urges. "They are grieving, they are in despair. Just because miscarriage happens to so many, just because it happened early on, it is still a loss to them. They still had hopes and plans and dreams for this baby, and by letting them know you empathize with their pain and their loss, you are validating their feelings. It is OK to be sad, and to cry and to be upset. They lost a child, and you are letting them know how sorry you are that this terrible thing happened to them."
Many want to talk about their loss, and letting someone know that you are there for them and that you want to listen, is often so very important to someone who has suffered a miscarriage.
Being there for someone who has experienced a miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal loss doesn’t have to mean instinctively knowing the right words to say, but just demonstrating your willingness to listen can relay to grieving parents that you are willing to be there for them and hear about their baby.
"There is so much comfort in just having someone listen to you," says Cassidy. "But remember too that everyone copes with grief differently. Not everyone wants to talk and talk about their loss, some need more space. But just letting them know you are there and that you will listen, gives them comfort, because they know that should they want to share, that you will be there."
Don't worry about feeling uncomfortable
Pregnancy and baby loss are topics that many people still find uncomfortable speaking about openly, and in general, many of us find it hard to know what to say to someone who is grieving, worried about saying the wrong thing, or feeling like we are adding to their distress by mentioning what happened to them.
"Don't pull away from someone who has suffered a loss," says Cassidy. "You might feel uncomfortable, but they need you, so do say you're sorry. Ask questions. Let them talk, and just listen. This isn't about you not feeling uncomfortable, it is about someone you care about getting comforted in their grief."
Help with practical things
To someone who has gone through a miscarriage or the loss of their baby, their world has crumbled, and so offering to help them out with practicalities and tasks is a kind and caring thing to do, encourages Cassidy.
"If they have older children, maybe offer to babysit, or to do the school-runs for them until they are ready to face the outside world again. Bring food, offer to hoover the floors or fold the laundry, any little thing you can do to make their lives that little bit easier right now will be of such help to them."
What not to say
It can be so easy to want to minimize someone's pain – and even though it is coming from a good place, you really need to be so careful with your words when comforting someone who has suffered a pregnancy or baby loss.
"Don't try to put a band-aid on someone's grief by minimizing what they are going through," reminds Cassidy. "Often when we hear of someone's tragic news, we automatically try to find a silver lining in the sadness for them, a way of making the individual who is in pain feel better. However, remember that the devastation of losing a baby is not something that can be softened with an optimistic statement."
This means you should never tell someone who has suffered a miscarriage things like. "You're young, you'll have another baby." Or: "At least it (the miscarriage) happened early on." Or: "You just need to get back to normal life now, and then you can try again."
"A loss is a loss, and every loss is personal to the person it happens to," Cassidy reminds us. "Don't say things that make them feel you are dismissing their pain now – even if that isn't your intention."
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can contact The Miscarriage Association of Ireland on 01- 873 5702 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also contact Féileacáin (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Association of Ireland) on (028) 513 01 or email at email@example.com.