Everything about Infant Loss is tough. I know. I was there. Speaking up about this extremely difficult experience, thankfully, can help. I learned that the hard way. Here’s what I mean. After I lost my first child, I lost myself a bit. My usually very vocal bright light dimmed to a dull, quiet, barely-glowing flicker. I did not really talk about it. I certainly did not deal with it. I tried to bury my pain under the busy-ness of my business. I masked my anger with silence, which eventually bled into other areas of my life. My voice was all but gone. I pushed people away and isolated myself. I stopped celebrating. I just stopped. My interactions with people were merely shallow, yet cordial, routine and programmed responses. On the outside I may have looked okay. I was anything but on the inside. Until one day when I’d finally had enough. I started to talk about my experience and feelings, with my husband first and then, with others. I quickly found that vocalizing my feelings was helping me to process them. I learned several things on my road to finding my light again. Here are a few lessons that stand out.
Silence = Stigma
One of the first things I realized after experiencing infant loss, was how many other people had experienced one as well. People I’d heard of, people I was related to, people I knew well. . . so many people. The numbers support this. Most common statistics quote that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in infant loss, some even claim as many as 1 in 3. I could not wrap my head around how many people had “been there” because that fact did not reconcile with the other fact that I’d never heard about this. Nobody mentioned it before. It was like being inducted into a secret society, then learning that some of your own friends and family had been members for years. It made no sense. It was not clear if the silence had intensified the stigma, or if the stigma was responsible for the silence. Somewhere in the cyclical motion it was evident that the two were connected. The best way we can combat the stigma is to spread awareness, hope, education, resources and solidarity . . . by breaking the silence.
Time Is Not Enough
Time will help, somewhat, but not on it’s own. As with any loss time in and of itself is not always enough. Infant loss can be devastating to an individual or family. Assuming that someone will just feel better with time is not wise. Counseling, therapy, prayer, meditation, and support groups should all be considered. If sadness or anger become debilitating please seek help for yourself or suggest help for your loved one. Be especially diligent if you notice prolonged negative effects. Just because someone has returned to work or to a normal routine does not mean that they are “okay”. In fact, sometimes this is done to simply mask or avoid larger problems (take my story above as an example). Please, do not ignore your pain in hopes that it will just go away eventually.
Grief Does Not Mean Guilt
Grief is often accompanied by guilt. It’s natural for us to want to blame someone in a dark time. This can be indirect. You may, for example, have a feeling of guilt about not spending more time with your grandmother. You likely don’t associate that guilt from being to busy with directly causing your grandmother to pass. This difference is where infant loss gets even more complicated. It may seem logical to assign blame to yourself after losing a child. After all, it is a parent’s duty to protect a baby. Mother’s may feel that their own bodies have betrayed them, perhaps they should have been healthier. Fathers may think that if they’d been more involved or attentive things would have gone differently. The hard truth is, there is nothing you could have done. If there was, you would have done it. So would I. Think your logic all the way through. Aren’t there women who take fewer health precautions and still have uneventful pregnancies? What about those who don’t even realize they are pregnant until they deliver. Aren’t there less attentive fathers? The fact is that blaming yourself is unfounded, and does not help. This tendency to blame oneself can quickly lead to deep depression or anger. Guilt may initially feel easier to process but it is just a diversion from the feelings that are more difficult to work through. This is another reason why speaking up can be a big benefit. Seeing that you are not alone in your experience or feelings helps to validate them. When you feel less isolated you won’t need to rationalize with guilt as much.
These are not easy conversations. They are, however, necessary. There is support out there. Be it the listening ear of a close friend or the advice of a complete stranger in a support group setting. There are whole communities of help waiting. Speak up to get started on your journey to healing after infant loss or, better yet, speak up if you have been there to help someone else along. Whoever and wherever you are, please know that you are not alone or forgotten. Know that there is hope.