Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness covers miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDS, and any unexpected death of an infant. The movement began in 1987, and on October 25, 1988, President Ronald Reagan designated the month of October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month.
The movement was organized without the aid of cellphones, computers, or the Internet by Sherokee Ilse, Susan Erling, and Rhonda Wintheiser. They wrote letters and called other groups with similar missions and invited them to write letters congress. In the spring of 1989 as a celebration of the success and declaration by President Reagan, hundreds of bereaved families traveled to Washington, D.C. and carried 500 baby quilts displaying the names of thousands of babies.
In addition, October 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. This campaign began in 2002 and was spearheaded by Robyn Bear, Lisa Brown, and Tammy Novak. They petitioned the Federal and State governments and by October 15, 2002, 20 states had signed proclamations. Since that time several other countries have also adopted proclamations, including Canada and Italy.
International Wave of Light is a campaign for people to light a candle at 7pm on October 15 in each respective time zone and leave it burning for at least an hour in remembrance. The goal is to have a continuous chain of lights spanning the globe for a 24-hour period.
Here are some shocking statistics. Every year, there are approximately 4.4 million pregnancies confirmed in the US alone. Almost 1 million of those pregnancies end in miscarriage, more than half of which occur before 20 weeks gestation. Twenty-six thousand are termed still born, which refers to babies lost after 20 weeks gestation. Another 19,000 infants die in the first month after birth. Thirty-nine thousand more occur within the first year of life, mostly as a result of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) which has no single identifiable cause despite years of research on the subject.
The emotional fallout from this kind of loss poses an additional problem. According to a study discussed in US News and World Report, miscarriage and its repercussions is an area in our culture where we have an unfortunately high level of ignorance and low level of skill when it comes to comforting parents regarding their loss. Sometimes, there are things that are said that are downright cruel. For example, a couple had announced their pregnancy on Facebook before the usual 12-week mark, then also shared their loss. One person said that people should respond to these types of things with “congratulations on your miscarriage.”
So, what can a caring person do to help a couple who has experienced a miscarriage, still birth, or loss of an infant (either from SIDS or a traumatic event)?
• Allow the couple the opportunity to grieve and talk about the loss on their terms
• Give their loss the respect it deserves
• Do not speak to the medical issues unless you are qualified to do so AND have been asked to do so
If you are a someone who has experienced pregnancy loss, whether it be early in your pregnancy, in the middle, at the end or after the child is born, there are resources and support available through local crisis pregnancy centers and through an organization called First Candle. Their mission is “helping babies survive and thrive,” but also to provide grief support to families when they don’t. Their grief support hot line can be reached by calling 1-800-221-7437, with counselors available 24/7. There are also specific bereavement support groups available. For more information on pregnancy loss, please visit www.nationalshare.org or www.firstcandle.org.
By: Rachel Clark, RN, BSN