The parental loss of a child is devastating and widely considered the most tragic type of loss. But less commonly talked about is the loss of a baby, during or after pregnancy – an incredibly painful experience that can often lead to complicated grief. Today, October 15th, is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day – a day to honor the lives of those lost through miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDS, and during infancy.
About 10 to 20 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, and stillbirth occurs in about 1 in 100 pregnancies. Each year in the United States., about 2,500 infants die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (known as SIDS), and in 2017, the rate of infant mortality was 5.8 deaths per 1,000 live births.
Many factors complicate the grief process for these heartbreaking losses, including:
- The sudden, unexpected nature of the death, leaving little or no time to mentally prepare
- The absence of a definite cause in some cases, which often leads to guilt
- The involvement of the legal system in cases of sudden infant death, which can add significant stress and trauma
- The impact on siblings (older siblings who resented the arrival of the new baby tend to feel guilt and remorse)
- Intense strain on a marriage or relationship, often involving tension, communication breakdowns, and anger
- Fear of having (or trying to have) another child
- Feeling that the loss is socially-negated (common with miscarriages; a woman may have not announced her pregnancy yet, and she may feel shame and isolation in a society that prioritizes motherhood)
- Self-blame or blaming the other parent/one’s partner
- Loss of expectations, hopes, and dreams for the child’s future – “the family grieves as much for what they might have had as for what they’ve lost” (Worden, 2009).
While each situation is different and everyone grieves differently, it’s so important for parents who suffer pregnancy or infant loss to have a space in which to share about their grief, where they can feel heard, held, validated, and supported. Individual grief counseling can be a good place to start, and joining a support group for parents with similar losses can be immensely helpful.
Additionally, finding ways to memorialize one’s child can be therapeutic and healing. This may include:
- Naming your baby
- Having a memorial and/or funeral service
- Lighting a candle or planting a tree in their honor
- Writing a poem or letter to your baby
- Establishing rituals to pay remembrance to your baby during holidays and special occasions, such as putting an ornament on the tree each year for them
- Creating a collection of items related to them, such as pictures, footprints, a lock of hair, sonograms, cards received from friends
What bereaved parents need others to know is that while their babies’ lives were short, they mattered, and they always will. Mothers who suffer miscarriages are mothers. Babies gone too soon have made a forever impact on those who love them and carry out their legacy. Today, let us hold their memories and their parents in our hearts and thoughts.
Worden, J. William. Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy: a Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner. Springer Publishing Company, LLC, 2018.
Emily Lockamy, MA, LPC is a licensed professional counselor at Chrysalis Center who specializes in grief counseling.