One in four women will experience the loss of a pregnancy or infant at some point in their lives

In her weekly column Dr Michelle O'Driscoll shares advice if you or someone you know has suffered from pregnancy or infant loss
One in four women will experience the loss of a pregnancy or infant at some point in their lives

This month marks pregnancy and infant loss awareness month.

PREGNANCY and Infant Loss Awareness week was recently marked, with a view to raising the profile of such experiences, and the impact they have for years to come. It honours the lives lost, and gives an opportunity to parents, grandparents, relatives and friends to connect, remember and commemorate.

Such loss can occur in many forms; miscarriage or stillbirth, late term loss, ectopic pregnancy, chemical pregnancy, molar pregnancy, neonatal loss or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

One in five pregnancies end in miscarriage, half of which are unexplained. Extend the statistics out to the almost 400 babies that are stillborn or die shortly after birth each year in Ireland, and the figures accumulate to one in four women who will experience loss of pregnancy or infant at some point.

Such high percentages mean that we are all touched by this topic in some way, either directly or through the experience of loved ones. Despite this, such losses often go unspoken about.

While the conversation is gradually opening up about this type of grief, some stigma still exists around speaking about loss, particularly in the earlier stages of pregnancy, and so much goes unsaid, unshared.

What not to say

It can be very hard to know the right thing to say at times like this. Usually, the person experiencing the loss just wants to be heard, to have their grief seen and validated.

Our typical responses, however, can sometimes unintentionally discount or minimise the experience, leaving the person feeling more isolated and alone than ever.

Recognise your own discomfort, but try to set it aside in the hope of enriching your interaction. Pause to consider the impact and interpretation of your words.

Instead of saying “everything happens for a reason”, try saying “this must be really hard”. Instead of saying “at least you’re able to get pregnant” try saying “I see how much pain you’re in”. Instead of saying “it wasn’t meant to be”, try saying “I’m here for you”. Instead of saying “it was early days”, try saying “Take as much time as you need to grieve this loss”. Instead of saying “at least you have other kids” try saying “I’m happy to listen, or to just sit with you.”

By not minimising the grief or brushing aspects of it under the carpet, you’re validating the experience. By opening up the conversation instead of shutting it down, you’re destigmatising the experience. By offering a listening ear and acknowledging the pain, you’re supporting healing.

Partners in grief

For partners also, pregnancy loss can be incredibly difficult to navigate, especially in the case of earlier losses. The support and sympathy is of course understandably directed towards the woman who was pregnant, with the emotions experienced by the partner at risk of being overlooked.

Partners can feel helpless, unsure, and just as devastated as their other halves. 

They’re acting as a support system themselves, while often hiding their own experience to appear strong and in control.

Remembering the impact that loss has on them too is hugely important for their long-term wellbeing.

Awareness of supports

Supports in the areas of bereavement are offered in a variety of settings depending on your situation. The website pregnancyandinfantloss.ie is a wealth of information for those who have experienced loss, or are acting as supports for those currently going through it.

Signposting to bereavement support teams around the country, fact sheets about common causes of loss, and a variety of additional support services can all be found here.

Individual hospitals also have their own services to avail of, and do amazing work in the area of bereavement support.

Every loss is a huge loss to those who have experienced it.

Sensitive and considered communication is vital to those who need the support, and to be carried through.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR 

Dr Michelle O’Driscoll is a pharmacist, researcher and founder of InTuition, a health and wellness education company.

Her research lies in the area of mental health education, and through InTuition she delivers health promotion workshops to corporate and academic organisations nationally.

See www.intuition.ie

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