Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month

Tuesday, October 13, 2020 - 5:45pm

In 1988, October was established as a month “to recognize the unique grief of bereaved parents in an effort to support the many families who have suffered the tragedy of pregnancy and infant loss. The goals of promoting awareness are to increase understanding of the pain grieving families are experiencing, and to improve education and prevention efforts – which may ultimately reduce the incidence of these tragedies.”  Star Legacy Foundation

We spoke with Joy Subrin, LMSW, IHeLP, who works in Banner Health’s OBGYN Outpatient Clinic Social Work Department, to discuss the emotional challenges that come with such a loss.

Joy Subrin, LMSW, IHeLPWhat are some of the first words of support to share with a grieving woman who has suffered a pregnancy loss or loss of an infant?

If someone you know has suffered the loss of a baby one way you can extend words of support is by saying, “I’m so sorry for your heartbreak and I am here to listen and support you.” That type of gentle open-ended statement of support will allow the grieving mother space to share how she is feeling and perhaps how you can help. Let the woman know that she is not alone, and she does not have to walk this path alone today, tomorrow or in the days to come. If you don’t know what to say, it is okay to tell her that. The honesty is genuine, validating and indicates you respect the family’s emotions. I understand wanting to say the right thing, but it is also important to remember that just being there is meaningful. Sitting with someone and being with them during a time of sorrow is an unspoken way to show your care and support. For her, the world just stopped and changed in a blink of an eye and having someone by her side can make a world of difference.

What are some of the common emotional responses experienced by grieving women? When should women seek professional help from a physician or a counselor?

Grief looks different for every person, especially if the loss was anticipated versus not anticipated.  Some of the common emotional responses include layers of sadness and devastation, shock and confusion, self-blame, fear and anger. The course of grief may follow a different order than the woman expected, and that is okay. There is not one way to grieve and allowing yourself to grieve is part of the healing process. If a woman experiences prolonged periods of time without sleep (sleep deprivation) or a period of two weeks or more of symptoms of depression, seeking out professional support is the next step. Many women engage in counseling and support groups to help resolve and heal.  

Pregnancy loss or the death of an infant can also be traumatic for other family members. How can the extended family members support each other during a time of loss?

A pregnancy loss affects the extended family and their hearts as well. The mother was not the only one preparing for the baby; the extended family was also expecting to share in the joys of a new family member. Every life, even if too brief, mattered to the family. It can be helpful to honor the loss with a keepsake item and a memorial service. Family members can also support each other by proving comfort through phone calls, sending a card, delivering a meal or special handmade art or a poem. Anything shared with each other that is from the heart.

Grief may surface again near milestones or at the anniversary date of their passing or expected birth date. These future dates are additional meaningful time to reach out to each other. Some families may share a meal on special milestone dates, light a candle or plant a tree in honor of the loss. Also, ask the name of their baby and call the baby by name. Let them know that their baby mattered, and you are honored to say their name.

After a loss, reaching out for support can be a comfort during a time of emotional change. I would recommend the following resources for support and information about coping with grief.